LIMA — An evidentiary hearing scheduled in the case of Frank Steinke, charged with aggravated vehicular homicide in a 2020 traffic death that claimed the life of a Wapakoneta woman, failed to materialize Thursday in Allen County Common Pleas Court.
What took place instead led Judge Jeffrey Reed to apologize to the assembled families of both the victim and defendant and to say he was “embarrassed” by what has transpired in the case.
Whether Reed’s embarrassment stemmed from the slow advancement of the case that is now more than a year old or was instead directed at the decorum exhibited on the part of the two attorneys involved was unclear, but the judge was clearly not happy.
After Defense Attorney Kenneth Rexford and Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Tony Miller hurled verbal barbs and allegations back and forth for several minutes, the judge intervened. Many of the accusations on the part of the lawyers centered on who was at fault for the slow progression of the case.
“The court is not interested in pointing fingers of blame at anyone, but it is embarrassing. The buck stops here. This has dragged on long enough,” Reed said. He emphatically stated that Steinke’s trial will begin June 28.
“I apologize to all the parties that I couldn’t get the trial scheduled sooner. I do blame COVID for that,” the judge said. “This is a very serious case and I apologize to the families, but don’t blame the attorneys for this taking so long.”
Steinke, 65, is charged in the March 11, 2020, traffic death of Nicole Schulte of Wapakoneta. Prosecutors say Steinke was driving under the influence of alcohol when his vehicle crossed the center line of state Route 501 and struck Schulte’s vehicle head-on.
Rexford successfully argued in an earlier motion that legal blood samples taken from his client following the crash should not be allowed as evidence at trial because Steinke had not yet been placed under arrest when he gave consent for a blood draw.
A subsequent defense motion seeks to limit testimony at trial surrounding a “medical blood draw” taken from Steinke following the accident.
Rexford bristled after Miller had suggested that defense motions and legal maneuvering have caused the case to lag.
“We have been requesting discovery materials regarding (blood) testing since July and we are finally just now getting things that should have been provided to us in the first month” of the case, the attorney said. “All I want, and all my client wants, is the information to which we are entitled,” Rexford said.
Among those items are photos taken by the Lucas County Coroner’s Office, the existence of which were only recently learned by prosecutors.
“There are people outside the (legal) system who have not been cooperating with the state, but it’s the state’s responsibility to obtain this information,” Rexford continued. “These photos that were not previously known of leads me to wonder what else might be in existence out of the coroner’s office.”
Miller said he would “categorically reject any implication” that the state has caused the case to drag on unnecessarily, “and I find it incredibly disingenuous for (Rexford) to claim the state has withheld” the photos in question.
Reed at that point had heard enough, wrapping up the hearing by getting both attorneys to agree to conduct themselves in a “professional manner” going forward and to work together to bring the case to trial on June 28.