PREBLE COUNTY — Regina Fischer was driving home to Mansfield on I-71 in early spring of 2017 when she says she noticed Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper Chris Ward’s police cruiser following along behind her.
Ward’s car pulled up alongside hers for a moment before driving past, according to Fischer. Then, a little further up the road, she noticed it had pulled over and was sitting in the breakdown lane along the left side of the highway. After Fischer drove past, Ward pulled back out onto the highway and began following her again, eventually turning on his lights and signaling her to pull over.
After asking for Fischer’s license, Fisscher says Ward walked around to the passenger side of her car, allegedly to avoid traffic passing nearby on the interstate. Then, before she knew what was happening, Ward opened the passenger side door and “jumped in,” disengaging Fischer’s seatbelt and dragging her toward him by the hair.
“All the time he’s doing this, he’s telling me, ‘I know what you’re about.’ Apparently he said that to the other victims,” Fischer said.
Ward then proceeded to threaten Fischer before sexually assaulting her.
“He said, ‘You’re from Mansfield. I’ve got friends from Mansfield. You’re not gonna say a word,’” Fischer claims. “When it was over, it was like a light switch. He stopped, let go of my hair and threw me back into my seat.”
Ward then proceeded to make further threats, according to Fischer.
“He was smiling and telling me all the things he could do to me to make me keep quiet,” Fischer said. “He said he’d cut my tongue out if that was what it took.”
She says he then snapped a photo of her, told her again that he had friends in Mansfield who’d be “watching out for him,” and told her to enjoy the rest of her day.
Fischer didn’t immediately decide to come forward about the attack. Her husband was recovering from a heart attack at the time, she said, and she was busy raising two grandchildren. But the experience haunted her.
“For about a year and a half, I looked at every newspaper article that came up on my phone,” Fischer said. “I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t even know his name. But I knew his face. His hairline. Everything.”
When she saw the news break about one of Ward’s other assaults, she called and spoke to a female detective working on the case.
“She sent me a picture, and it took five seconds. I was 100 percent,” Fischer said. “When I told them what he said, that he ‘knew what I was about,’ they knew it was true.”
Fischer’s husband has passed away in the years since her attack, and Fischer herself now suffers from heart spasms.
“You can’t go through something like this without some kind of damage, I guess,” Fischer said.
When Fischer found out that Ward had attacked other women before her, she got angry.
“Why was he even out there to begin with?” Fischer asked. “He’s taken a lot away from me. It’s not his fault my husband died, but I missed out on a lot of time with him.”
“I want answers, that’s all,” Fischer continued. “Just answers about who dropped that ball.”
Fischer said she called Governor Mike DeWine’s office, which then referred her to the office of Ohio Public Safety Director Tom Stickrath.
“They took my information, but they never called me back,” Fischer said.
More disturbingly, Fischer claims she then received a phone call from a member of the Highway Patrol.
“They told me in no uncertain terms to go fly a kite,” Fischer said. “They said ‘You’re not gonna get anything. You’re not gonna get any answers.’ There was no niceness to the game at all. They wanted me to shut up so their horrible department doesn’t fall under a bad light.”
The officer in question told her his sergeant instructed him to call, Fischer claims.
All this took place in 2019, before Ward was indicted.
Ward stood trial on several sex offense charges in late 2019. Prosecutors from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office alleged that Ward groped two women during traffic stops, one of which took place on U.S. 35 in New Lebanon in 2015, and forced two others, including Fischer, to perform sex acts on him. A fifth woman, to whom Ward reportedly gave his phone number following a traffic stop in 2007, was allegedly groped by Ward after returning to the defendant’s home following a date.
Ward’s wife testified during his trial that the two met when Ward pulled her over for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. It was Ward’s ex who initiated the charges against him, claiming he’d touched a 15-year-old girl inappropriately while she was spending the night at Ward’s home in 2018.
Years before all this, Ward was given a “last chance” warning by his superiors after another woman reported him for touching her inappropriately, Fischer claims.
“A lot of things got swept under the rug. He got slapped on the hand,” Fischer said. Fischer questions why Ward wasn’t at least taken off patrol duty once these accusations surfaced.
“Don’t they have other things he could be doing besides running up and down the road attacking women?” Fischer asked.
Staff Lieutenant Craig Cvetan, Public Affairs Commander for the Ohio State Highway Patrol said he was unable to comment on any communications Fischer may have received from the OSHP. He did confirm that Ward had been investigated at least three times prior to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation inquiry that resulted in the A.G.’s office bringing charges against him, however.
According to OSHP records, Ward was investigated in April 2013 for allegedly accepting bribes; in January 2015 for touching a woman inappropriately during a traffic stop; and in April 2015 for unspecified “operational deficiencies during a traffic stop.”
Ward was provided with training in lieu of discipline in the Jan. 2015 case, according to Cvetan, because “he was unable to clearly articulate the type of search he’d conducted” on the woman lodging the complaint. Records of that training specify Ward was given instruction with respect to issues such as “developing probable cause and reasonable, articulable suspicion;” when an officer may legally place a subject in a patrol car; and legal statutes concerning pat-down and body cavity searches.
Fischer also questioned why Ward and other convicted sexual predators remain free pending sentencing for extended periods of time, most recently due to concerns about the coronavirus.
Ward was initially scheduled for sentencing in January; that hearing was rescheduled to April 7 pending results of a sex offender evaluation; and Ward’s sentencing has now been moved forward to May 6 “due to the current health pandemic,” according to Preble County Common Pleas Court officials.
“Since the governor said he wasn’t going to let sex abusers out of prison, why are the courts allowing sex abusers that are convicted to stay out on the streets?” Fischer asked.
Fischer said she hopes that Ward’s arrest and conviction will at least lead to some kind of lasting change in the way these sorts of incidents are handled and investigated.
“I’d like to change something,” Fischer said. “I mean, okay, he’s a sick guy. It happened. There’s nothing we can do about that. But how are we gonna change it?”
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @improperenglish