Dramatic spike in road rage in Northeast Ohio: Is it 'contagious'?

Posted at 6:39 PM, Nov 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-15 17:31:14-05

We've all gotten a bit angry behind the wheel but flat out road rage is getting worse across Northeast Ohio.

On Your Side Investigators uncovered the proof that will open your eyes to the problems.

"My head is swollen everywhere on both sides, the back and front,” said one recent victim of road rage. He was beaten in North Canton to the point of stitches and staples. “I was hurt. I was bleeding everywhere, bleeding so bad that the whole front of my shirt was soaked."

Our investigation found there have been a lot more victims of road rage in our area over the last several years and more people like William Keener. We talked to him while he was waiting for a pre-trial hearing in Cuyahoga County.

"Why were you so upset when this happened?”

“I wasn't. Why are you so interested in this case?” Keener questioned.

Police dash cam video shows an incident where Keener was accused of intentionally ramming an elderly couple's car three times near Crocker and Detroit roads in Westlake back in May.

In the video, you can hear one of the victims say: “He hit the side of the vehicle on purpose."

Police accused Keener of pulling out his gun and threatening to shoot.

A witness called 911 when it all happened.

"It's definitely getting heated and the one (Keener) that caused all the problems is not backing down,” the caller said.

We asked Keener if he had anything to say to the victims.

“There are no victims in this case,” Keener said.

We looked at road rage incidents in 16 counties in Northeast Ohio. Statistics in only four counties were either flat or down. All the rest were up, some significantly up including Ashtabula County with a 65 percent increase, Geauga County with a 67 percent increase and Lorain County with an 88 percent increase. It all spells out danger for drivers.

"It was pretty scary, I could say,” Devan Johns said. “I've never had a car ever go into my lane like that on purpose.”

Johns knows all about that danger. He posted a video on YouTube after he was driving around Cleveland in the summer of 2015. That's when a pick-up truck kept hounding Johns and can be seen going into his lane with the driver yelling, and cars beeping as the pick-up driver was not paying attention and drifting into other lanes.

Johns managed to escape the angry driver but not without serious threats being made.

“He told me he was going to break my neck,” John said. “He was going to beat my dad up. All kinds of stuff. It was very hateful.”

Between 2012 and 2014, we found thousands of aggressive driving citations at local state Ohio State Highway Patrol posts, including Elyria, which is up 26 percent, the Cleveland post, which is up 90 percent, and the Ashtabula post, which is up 123 percent. 

But the question is: Why?

Dr. Sheerli Ratner is a clinical psychologist at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. She pointed to road rage as being a part of something bigger called intermittent explosive disorder. She told us 10 to 16 million Americans have the disorder.

"This is a larger number than people who have bipolar disorder and schizophrenia combined," Dr. Ratner said.

She said reasons for the disorder include genetics, stressful environments and medical conditions like substance abuse. Plus, she warns road rage, like some illnesses, can be contagious for all of us.

"If we're becoming more and more exposed to road rage, it is likely that we are becoming more frustrated,” Dr. Ratner said. “And over time, we develop and begin to mimic these kinds of behaviors."

The Governors Highway Safety Association reports, as of this month, only 11 states have adopted laws specifically defining aggressive driving actions. Ohio is not one of them. Neither is Colorado, but in that state, troopers send out letters when three aggressive driving complaints are filed against a driver. After five complaints, they go to their homes.

"Certainly an interesting angle to look at," said Ohio State Sentator John Eklund after we pointed out the Colorado program. He’s from Geauga County and is the Chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee in Ohio. He wasn't aware of the higher rates of road rage in our area until we told him about our investigation.

We asked if the numbers spark any interest from him to look into the increase in road rage cases.

“It sparks interest in me to discuss it further with the Department of Public Safety,” Senator Eklund said.

Many good drivers are hoping Ohio talks about it soon because more drivers like Keener are being convicted of things like aggravated menacing and criminal damaging.

“Traffic is annoying, but this is not the way to handle it,” said the Judge Nancy McDonnell in Keener’s case. “The police have better things to do than respond to people who cannot keep their cool in traffic."

He ended up getting a year-long suspended sentence, probation and was ordered to pay fines and restitution.

Before the trial, we asked Keener if he had learned anything from this road rage case.

“There's nothing that I needed to learn,” he said at the time.

After his court appearance, we asked if he now realizes what he did was wrong. “I have no comment," he said.