FRANKLIN COUNTY, Ohio — An Ohio man has been charged in his wife’s death after police say he crashed while driving drunk -- and with a driver’s license that has been suspended 36 times over the past 34 years.
Robert Lee Ellis, 53, of Columbus, was driving with a suspended license the day his wife, Dawn Grubbs Ellis, was killed, according to Franklin County Sheriff's Office officials. Dawn Ellis, 51, died at the scene of the Oct. 16 crash.
Sheriff’s Office officials said in a statement that Robert Ellis is “one of the worst habitual, repeat offenders of drunk driving (they) have ever seen.”
Robert Ellis was indicted Dec. 2 on two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and two counts of operating a vehicle under the influence. The second charge of OVI stems from his status as a repeat offender, authorities said.
Robert Ellis has a total of 12 previous OVI convictions.
"He has no regard for human life, continuing to be an extreme danger to the motoring public due to his criminal behavior of operating vehicles while impaired," the statement read.
Robert Ellis' blood alcohol concentration was 0.185, more than double the legal limit for drivers, the day his wife died, according to the statement.
Accident investigators said Robert Ellis was driving a silver 1995 Chevrolet Silverado in Prairie Township the evening of Oct. 16 when he failed to negotiate a curve and went off the roadway to the right, striking a utility pole. He was taken to a hospital for treatment, while Dawn Ellis died at the scene of the crash.
Neither was wearing a seat belt, investigators said.
Robert Ellis was arrested Tuesday by members of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office’s SWAT team, according to the agency.
In an interview about two weeks after the crash, Robert Ellis admitted to WSYX in Columbus that he had been drinking the day of the crash, but claimed it was no more than a beer or two as he and his wife had lunch. He said they were driving home when an oncoming vehicle crossed the center line, causing him to lose control of the truck.
Investigators did not allude to another vehicle’s possible involvement in their public statement about the case.
"It was a tragic accident. It was never meant to happen, it just happened," Ellis told the news station.
When a reporter pointed out his 12 previous drunken driving convictions, Robert Ellis stood by his claim that he was not drunk when his wife died.
“I’ve already served my time and they’re over,” he said of the prior convictions.
Dawn Ellis' family has been fighting for what they consider justice -- Robert Ellis' arrest and conviction -- in the case since the day she died. Remembrances on her online obituary are peppered with the phrase "Justice for Dawn."
Her children and grandchildren wrote about how much they missed her. She is survived by two daughters, two sons and six grandchildren, along with her mother and four siblings.
Robert Ellis is not named in her obituary.
"It's so hard living without you," one of her daughters, Bobbi Spencer, appears to have written in November. "I still need you here. I will keep fighting the fight for you.
“Me and DeeDee will be your voice. We love you, Momma.”
Dawn Ellis' family described her as a loving woman who was always there for her family. Her Facebook page is full of photos taken with her children and grandchildren.
A candlelight vigil was held following Dawn Ellis' death outside Carniceria Brothers, the Columbus convenience store where she worked for 13 years. Her Facebook page lists her as the manager of the store.
"Anybody who knew her knew how big my mom's heart was," her other daughter, DeeDee Thacker, told WSYX.
Neighbors told WCMH in Columbus that Robert and Dawn Ellis' relationship appeared to be one sometimes fueled by alcohol. One neighbor, Steven McDonald, recalled the couple hitting the bars and coming home intoxicated late at night.
"Jazz (Robert Ellis) would be up on the porch passed out, and Dawn would be down on the sidewalk, calling for help because they was both drunk," McDonald told the news station.
Spencer told the NBC affiliate following her stepfather’s arrest that his criminal history made her worry about her mother’s safety every day. She said she was relieved that he was charged in the crash.
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