By J. STEVEN DILLON
It was a different court and an unlikely spot for Alex Treece, an assistant county prosecutor who for the past 10 years has been on the right side of the law in Hancock County Common Pleas Court.
On Thursday morning, he found himself in Findlay Municipal Court, alone at the defense table, with only a judge, judicial clerk, bailiff, and a newspaper reporter present. Then Treece did what he would want any defendant to do: he took responsibility for breaking the law.
Treece, 39, pleaded guilty to a pair of traffic charges stemming from a March 1 non-injury accident near Findlay’s Cooper Tire & Rubber factory. He admitted to making an improper left turn that caused his sport utility vehicle to collide with another SUV at the intersection of Lima and Western avenues. He also admitted to leaving the scene of the accident.
Treece, who was not represented by an attorney at the hearing, indicated he wanted to proceed to sentencing. But visiting Judge Michael Burkett, a retired Fremont Municipal Court judge who was assigned the case this week, declined, saying he wanted more information before imposing sentence.
Burkett said he wanted to know about local court rules and procedures, more about the case, and more about Treece.
A pre-sentence report was ordered by Burkett, and sentencing was continued. The judge indicated he would like the hearing to be held within two weeks.
Treece, who will have an opportunity to explain his actions at sentencing, faces up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine on the first-degree misdemeanor charge of leaving the scene, and a $150 fine on the minor misdemeanor turn violation. He also could be subject to a license suspension and a restitution order.
During Thursday’s hearing, Director of Court Services Dave Beach, who also serves as the court’s chief bailiff, read from a police report that summarized the accident and follow-up investigation.
According to the report, Charlotte Brauneller of Rawson was driving a Ford Escape that collided with a Nissan Xterra, which police later determined was driven by Treece. Brauneller told police she tried to avoid the collision, but was unable to.
The impact disabled Brauneller’s vehicle, but the driver of the Xterra backed up and drove away, according to the report.
Jeffrey Bernhardt of Findlay happened to be in the area and observed the accident. He followed the Nissan several blocks and reported the license plate number to police, Beach said.
Police determined the vehicle was registered to Treece, and went to his residence, where they found it parked in the driveway. The vehicle had front-end damage, and an officer reported the hood of the engine was still warm.
But the officer was not able to make direct contact with Treece at his home. According to the report, Treece’s wife answered the front door and told an officer Alex was upstairs sleeping.
When asked by the officer if she thought her husband had been drinking, “she bowed her head and nodded in the affirmative,” Beach told the court.
No one was injured in the accident. Brauneller was alone in her car, but Treece’s two children were with him at the time of the crash, according to the police report.
Treece’s employment status with the county, meanwhile, remains unclear.
On Wednesday, county Prosecutor Phil Riegle placed his chief criminal prosecutor on administrative leave with pay. After Thursday’s hearing, Riegle said he would review the matter with Treece in coming days.
Treece has no criminal record. Municipal court files show he was cited for two traffic violations, both speeding, in 1995 and 1996.