April hit-and-run suspect bound over on charges Tuesday

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A Manhattan man allegedly behind the wheel in a hit-and-run accident at the intersection of 12th and Bluemont in April faces a November 27th arraignment following a preliminary hearing Tuesday afternoon in Riley County District Court. Nicholas Blaha, who was named as a suspect in May, not only was bound over by Magistrate Judge James Kepple on the aggravated battery charge, but leaving the scene of an accident was added as a charge.

About a dozen witnesses were called to the stand by Riley County Senior Deputy Attorney Barry Disney during Tuesday’s preliminary hearing, recounting events of late that Thursday night April 13th and early on the 14th when the accident occurred. The early morning accident left 21-year-old Amber Wilhelm suffering from severe injuries after being struck by the vehicle, later identified as a white Chevrolet Silverado driven by Blaha. Wilhelm survived the crash but was lifeflighted to Stormont Vail for treatment and was hospitalized for some time.

Those taking the stand included law enforcement officials, friends and acquaintances of both the suspect and the victim, a woman also driving in the neighborhood at the time of the accident, and bar owners and managers who saw the suspect the night before the accident. K-State student Travis Wood reported walking with Wilhelm and another woman across the intersection, and turning around to see Wilhelm bent down apparently fixing a shoe when she was struck by the truck. Amy Gawlak was driving home after a stop at McDonald’s at Fourth and Bluemont and indicated she stopped when she saw the three pedestrians around the crosswalk. She also reported Wilhelm was squatted down, perhaps to fix a shoe, when the accident occurred.

Other witnesses talked about drinking alcohol the evening of April 13th at a house at Ninth and Bluemont, with a group including Blaha going to Aggieville, where more alcohol was consumed. Kaylie Perkins, who described herself as a good friend of Blaha’s, and who had dated him for a few years, talked about connecting with him early that morning of the 14th. While she admitted to being very intoxicated and not remembering much, phone records indicate she called Blaha and was on the phone with him for 10 minutes from 1:49 to 1:59 a.m., when he picked her up at a sorrorrity house in the 1800 block of Laramie. The accident was reported at 1:55 a.m.

An examination of Blaha’s vehicle indicated very minor damage to a front bumper and behind a headlight, with very minor abrasion to paint–but “nothing definitively” indicating an impact. The vehicle wasn’t examined until nearly a week after the accident, and some of the samples are still being evaluated.

Defense attorney Jeremy Platt called one witness to the stand during the close to three hour preliminary hearing. Platt questioned accounts of Blaha being drunk, with some witnesses only saying he was loud, but not necessarily slurring words or stumbling. Platt also questioned if the intoxication of some of the witnesses and discussion among those same witnesses might have impacted their memory of the events.

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Cathy Dawes

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