Rhonda Vandermyde, 56, of Hamilton, was charged with a misdemeanor moving violation causing death, punishable by up to one year in jail.
The charge stemmed from a crash while Vandermyde was driving a Herman Miller semi-truck and trailer for her employer, VanEerden Trucking.
At the intersection of Port Sheldon Street and U.S. 31 in Port Sheldon Township, Vandermyde looked down to adjust the air conditioning in her cab. When she looked up, the cars in front of her were stopping for a red light. Vandermyde told police she didn’t have time to stop her semi, hitting a van in front of her, then a Jeep that was in front of the van.
The driver of the van had some minor injuries, but the driver of the Jeep, 60-year-old Ruth Bull, died at the scene.
Bull, of West Olive, is survived by three children and five grandchildren.
Because Vandermyde was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol and was not using her phone at the time of the crash, the Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office told The Sentinel it was limited to charging Vandermyde with a misdemeanor because of the lack of “aggravation factors.”
In court, Bull’s children and grandchildren sat in the gallery after placing framed photographs of their mother and grandmother near Ottawa County District Judge Susan Jonas.
“It’s a very sad, tragic thing the family is facing,” Jonas told the courtroom. “These kinds of cases are one of the hardest kinds of cases the court deals with. This offense used to be a felony, negligent homicide, and the Legislature changed the law. One of the reasons these cases are so hard is because these people who have lost a family member want that person to pay.”
According to Bull’s obituary, “People who knew her would say she was very patient, kind and extremely handy. She enjoyed crafting, tending to her flower and water gardens, traveling, reading and DIY projects.”
Vandermyde, who was soft-spoken in the courtroom, said she was “sorry for what everybody is going through” before she was sentenced.
“I could lock Ms. Vandermyde up for a year, but that wouldn’t make this easier,” Jonas said to Bull’s family. “It wouldn’t bring your mother back. I’m not going to impose jail in this.”
Instead, Jonas asked Bull’s family members if there was a particular cause Bull was passionate about, hoping she could order Vandermyde to complete community service in Bull’s memory.
Bull’s oldest daughter, Regena Bull, said her mother’s biggest passion was her family, especially after her husband died suddenly in 2009.
“She was very involved with all of us and we just loved the hell out of her,” Regena Bull said. “No. 1 was her family, No. 2 was her three Chihuahuas, which I’m taking care of now.”
Along with the 18 months of probation, Jonas ordered Vandermyde to complete 300 hours of community service at the humane society to honor Bull’s love of her Chihuahuas: Zoe, Zeke and Jorge. Additionally, Vandermyde must pay $1,585 in fines, which includes $500 in restitution to Bull’s family for an ambulance bill.
“I know the words sound meaningless, but I am sorry for your loss,” Jonas told Bull’s family. “I am.”
Bull’s family members will be filing a civil lawsuit against Vandermyde, Herman Miller and VanEerden Trucking today for negligence in their mother’s death.