By DENISE GRANT
Prominent Hancock County attorney Ralph Russo died in an automobile accident Wednesday afternoon near Sandusky. His wife, attorney Nancy Moody-Russo, was critically injured.
The apparent one-car accident occurred at 1:01 p.m. on U.S. 6 in Margaretta Township, Erie County, near Northwest Road, according to the State Highway Patrol.
The patrol said Russo was pronounced dead at the scene.
Moody-Russo was flown by helicopter to the University of Toledo Medical Center, where she was listed in critical condition Wednesday evening.
According to the state patrol, Russo was driving his 2007 Lexus sport utility vehicle when it went across the center line and off the side of the road. The vehicle hit a mailbox, a road sign and two trees.
The patrol is still investigating the accident, but said alcohol does not appear to be a factor.
Both Russo and Moody-Russo were wearing their seat belts, the patrol said.
Russo, 63, was a partner in the Findlay law firm of Betts, Miller & Russo, and specialized in real estate, commercial, corporation and construction law.
Born in New York City, Russo received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and a law degree from Ohio Northern University, Ada, where he was research editor of the law review.
Russo was an assistant prosecutor in Hancock County from 1979 to 1985, and an acting Findlay Municipal Court judge. He was president of the Hancock County Bar Association in 2008.
He also headed the Hancock County Republican Party for 10 and a half years, ending in 2001.
He was a member of the Ohio Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism.
He was attorney for the Findlay Publishing Co., representing it in commercial, open public meetings and open public records matters.
Moody-Russo, 68, is clinical coordinator of the physicians’ assistant program at the University of Findlay. She also holds a law degree from Ohio Northern University.
“Life is so fleeting. …I am just numb,” Hancock County Juvenile Court Judge Allan Davis said Wednesday.
Davis said he knew Russo while he was still working toward his law degree, and hired him as his first law clerk.
“He was such an engaging and interesting person. … He was interested in politics and in other people. We would talk for hours about old cases, the kids we have known over the years and the parents. … I don’t have anyone left to tell those stories,” Davis said. “He really was a great person.”
Tom Drake, of the Findlay law firm Drake, Phillips, Kuenzli & Clark, knew Russo from law school and gave him a good recommendation when he arrived looking for work in Findlay.
“Ralph was from Brooklyn, New York, but I think after attending Ohio Northern University, he liked the small town, Ohio life. He was a true, consummate professional. He was always prepared and always had a sense of humor,” Drake said. “I feel just terrible for his family. He was a great attorney. This is a big loss for our bar association.”
Hancock County Common Pleas Judge Reginald Routson said he was “shocked and saddened” by the news.
Russo served as a mentor to Routson as he began his own career as an attorney. Later, it would be Routson, as judge, who would appoint Russo as an acting municipal court judge.
“And I had the utmost confidence in him,” Routson said.
“He comes from a time when attorneys were collegial, could compromise and still protect their client’s interest. That’s rare now, to find an attorney with all three of those attributes,” Routson said.