LISBON - The Leetonia man who drove over two pet ducks in the Columbiana McDonald's parking lot April 30 was sentenced to jail Tuesday, although he will only serve time if he violates his probation and community service terms.
Columbiana County Municipal Court Judge Mark Frost sentenced Jose D.E. Ramos IV to 30 days jail, with the full 30 days suspended on the basis that he completes 40 hours community service and two years supervised probation.
Ramos, 21, of Columbia Street, Leetonia, was originally charged with animal cruelty following the incident that resulted in the death of Don Snyder's pet ducks.
Snyder lives next door to the McDonald's restaurant and the two Swedish ducks - Sophia and Melvin - were accidentally released from their enclosure by a surveyor working on his property that day and wandered into the McDonald's parking lot.
The ducks were part of a five-duck flock and one died immediately after being run over, while the other died later as a result of the injuries.
Witnesses claimed Ramos purposefully drove over the ducks but Ramos has maintained he misinterpreted hand gestures from an onlooker attempting to shoo the ducks away from traffic.
The onlooker had said she was trying to get Ramos to stop, which he did briefly, but Ramos said he perceived her gestures as meaning to pull forward, which he did.
That Ramos had intent to kill the ducks remains unclear, which is why Frost reduced the charge on Tuesday to persistent disorderly conduct.
"This is a serious thing. This court takes this kind of thing really seriously. There are some real questions here ... The real question would be what was in the mind of the defendant at the time," Frost said.
Assistant County Prosecutor Don Humphrey Jr. agreed.
"The elements of the cruelty to animals charge are somewhat problematic. I think there is clearly a matter of recklessness on behalf of the defendant that day," he said.
He went on to say Ramos was prepared to testify during the sentencing hearing that he misinterpreted the hand gesture, but he was not called on to do so.
Snyder also attended the hearing and did not comment, but acknowledged that he consented to the plea agreement, which was the 30 days jail suspended, a $150 fine, two years probation, 40 hours community service and $40 in restitution.
Frost said to Snyder, "I'm not allowed to give legal advice and I cannot tell you what to do, but in the order of restitution, accepting the judgment is final. If you accept this restitution you would be barred from any civil (action) as a result."
Snyder said he understood.
Humphrey explained the $40 amount for restitution was based on the market value of the ducks and also advised Snyder that accepting the money would keep him from pursuing the matter any further.
"Mr. Snyder was less than happy with this situation today. He felt very affronted by this conduct. But (defense attorney Chip Newton) from his perspective also had difficulties. This resolution was reached because of the state of the evidence, not because of any feelings of animosity or animal loving or animal hating. I do not want to leave here suggesting to the court Mr. Snyder was happy with this solution," Humphrey added.
"Mr. Humphrey would not have gone along with this had you not cooperated," he told Snyder. "Because you are the person who was really injured here, you suffered the loss, I appreciate ... you are able to make a rational decision here."
Ramos apologized to Snyder and paid the $40 restitution to Snyder in cash immediately after the hearing.