Trooper hurt on I-75 improves slightly, goes into surgery

Brent Hill, 26, struck while investigating crash

FRANKLIN, Ohio - A rookie Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper, seriously injured in a crash on I-75, was able to go into surgery Thursday afternoon after his condition improved slightly, according to authorities.

Trooper Brent Hill, 26, of the Lebanon Post was out of leg surgery and moved to the ICU at Miami Valley Hospital around 6:30 p.m. The procedure was performed to set his leg.

Before surgery, Hill was in stable but critical condition with head trauma and leg injuries. He was conscious and responding to commands, according to officials.

A lieutenant with the Highway Patrol said Hill is making progress. He is responding to people in the room and squeezing his mother's hand but remains heavily sedated. The lieutenant said the next 48 hours will be critical.

"The support has been unbelievable," Lieutenant Matt Hamilton said. "We've had officers from as far away as Cleveland come down to pay their respects, to visit. I think over half of [Hill's graduating class] have come through the hospital already."

The Highway Patrol is investigating the crash that happened on northbound I-75 near milepost 36 in Warren County at approximately 11:06 p.m. Wednesday.

"It could take several week before we have a final word on how everything [happened]," Hamilton said. "We want to try to determine exactly what happened before the crash, during and after. So, those types of things do take time."

Hill, a newly commissioned trooper, and his field-training officer, Trooper Mike Steele, 48, also of the Lebanon Post, were on the scene of a one-vehicle crash involving an alleged drunk driver on the left berm.

Police say Victoria L. Zaagman, 20, of West Chester lost control of her 2001 Dodge Neon. According to police, Zaagman's blood alcohol content was allegedly found to be .049. Zaagman was arrested for failure to control her vehicle and for operating a vehicle after underage consumption.

Neither Zaagman nor her passenger, Hanna Cox, 19, were injured.

Hill was out of the patrol car investigating the initial crash when a vehicle that had lost control on the snowy roadway struck him.

The vehicle, a 1996 Buick Riviera driven by Andrew Combs, 22, of Vandalia, Ohio, sideswiped the patrol car and struck Hill and the vehicle involved in the first crash. There were no passengers in Combs' vehicle and no other injuries were reported.

Combs was attempting to change lanes when he lost control of his vehicle, officials said.

Hill was transported to Atrium Hospital in Middletown before being transferred to Miami Valley Trauma Center in Dayton. Combs remained at the scene and provided a statement to investigators. He was cooperative with the investigation and was released pending further investigation, officials said.

"Obviously [the field training officer is] shaken up, as any of us would be," said Ohio State Highway Patrol Captain Paul Hermes. "He's training the new guy, he feels responsible for him, and when you see one of your brothers out there getting hurt, it's traumatic."

Three northbound lanes were closed between State Route 122 (Middletown Exit) and State Route 123 (Franklin exit) and reopened at about 4 a.m. Thursday.

Assistance at the scene was provided by the Patrol's Crash Reconstruction Unit, Office of Investigative Services and Photo Lab. Warren County Prosecutor David Forshell, Warren County Sheriff's Office and Turtlecreek Fire Department provided assistance at the scene.

Officials said there are no aggravated circumstances but the driver could be charged with failure to control.

Speed, alcohol and drugs do not appear to be factors in this crash.

"We're trying to determine exactly the condition of the driver of the at-fault vehicle at the time of the crash, charges will be pending for a while until we have all our answers," Hamilton said.

Hill graduated from the patrol academy on Feb. 8. He was among six graduates who received special honors and was recognized for top performances in firearms.

He graduated from Franklin High School in 2005 where his former teachers told 9 On Your Side he made a lasting impression.

"He was just an upright kinda kid. The kind that always did the right thing, very polite and mannerly, always had a smile on his face. He was a wee bit shy, but once you got to know him, he'd open up and clown around with you. Just an overall good person," said Carol Snively, Hill's former math teacher at Franklin High School.

Snively said Hill remains in the staff's prayers as he recovers.

Linda Schafer had Hill in her study hall period for two years. She described him as quiet and studious.

"I always knew he would go on to do great things," said Schafer.

The crash remains under investigation by police.

Stay with 9 On Your Side and for updates as they become available.

9 On Your Side reporters Jay Warren Tom McKee and Mekialaya White contributed to this report.

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