GEARY COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) -- A Fort Riley soldier appeared before a judge for the first time Friday and learned his charges in connection with a fatal accident officials say he caused on Interstate 70.
Gary Nelson, 22, of Junction City made his first court appearance in Geary County Friday morning via closed circuit cameras from the Geary County Jail. Geary County Attorney Steve Opat revealed during the hearing that Nelson is being charged with Reckless Second-Degree Murder, Reckless Driving, Speeding, Fleeing and Eluding and Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road.
Nelson was arrested Wednesday night after a high speed chase on I-70 that started in Geary County and ended with him surrendering to authorities in Dickinson County.
On Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013, at approximately 10:30 p.m., a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper on routine patrol along I-70 East near Grandview Plaza was passed by Nelson’s Chrysler 200 going the wrong way. The trooper tried to stop the car and a pursuit began as Nelson continued driving into oncoming traffic.
About two miles into the chase near mile marker 297 (near the Junction City Walmart), an SUV driven by Steven Green, 53, of Manhattan, tried an evasive move to avoid a head-on collision with Nelson and Green’s 2002 GMC Envoy ended up leaving the roadway, rolling over multiple times and coming to a stop on its top on an access road south of the interstate.
Green and a female passenger, 51-year-old Evon Obannon of Manhattan, were injured and taken to Geary Community Hospital. Green was treated and released but Evon Obannon was transferred to Mercy Regional Health Center in Manhattan for a multitude of injuries, including damage to her neck, spine and knee and a shattered leg.
Obannon's husband, 53-year-old Jake Black of Manhattan, was taken to Geary Community Hospital where succumbed to his injuries. He was pronounced dead at 11:30 PM.
Gary Nelson continued speeding into oncoming traffic but other drivers managed to stop and get out of the way of the chase. Authorities shut down I-70 eastbound at the Abilene exit. As Nelson approached the Chapman exit, officials say he slowed down, drove into the median, stopped and surrendered to police without incident.
When asked about reports that Nelson was suicidal at the time of the fatal incident, Geary County Attorney Steve Opat said: "That's what's been related to me. I can't confirm it."
Troopers declined to comment about the alleged suicide attempt but officials with the Kansas Highway Patrol and Riley County Police Department confirmed that the RCPD received a call Wednesday night from an individual who said that Nelson had made comments to them about harming himself that made the caller concerned for his health. Riley County officers attempted to locate him and were unable to find him until they heard the I-70 chase playing out on the scanners.
One of the Riley County officers called Nelson on his cell phone during the pursuit with troopers and tried to get him to stop and pull over.
Gary Nelson’s bond has been set at $100,000. An order has been issued preventing him from driving. The Geary County Attorney said he considers Nelson a flight risk and due to his “current state of mind,” thought he should remain behind bars. A public defender has been appointed to represent him. His preliminary hearing has been set for April 11, 2013 at 1:30 PM at the Geary County courthouse.
Fort Riley officials confirmed that Specialist Nelson works as a 92F Petroleum Supply Specialist with 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. He joined the army in November 2008.
Steven Green granted WIBW an interview Friday and said it was by the "grace of God" that he walked away from the crash with just ten stitches to a cut on his hand. But the trauma of what happened has left Green reeling and he said he doesn't know when he'll be able to get back behind the wheel of a car.
Green and the Blacks have been friends for several years and were returning home from the Kansas Star Casino near Wichita Wednesday night. Green was driving the Blacks' SUV- Evon was in the passenger seat and Jake was in the back seat.
Green said he was in the right lane and a semi truck was in the left lane when suddenly, the semi moved into the right lane in front of him and slowed down. Green went to pass the truck but when he got out in the left lane, he saw headlights and police lights coming right at them so he quickly moved back into the right lane behind the truck and was forced to slam on the brakes to keep from running into the back of the semi. The SUV fishtailed and started rolling. Green thinks the car did 5-6 rotations before coming to a rest on its roof.
"I don’t understand the reason someone was driving the wrong way down a highway... We just spent the day playing Bingo and going to a casino and we were headed home and encountered a car coming towards us in the left lane coming right at me. I was just trying to avoid an accident as best I could but it just happened so quickly and the next thing I knew, we were rolling down an embankment," Green said.
Green freed himself from his seat belt and crawled out of the upside SUV and pulled Evon from the wreckage. He said she was screaming for her husband who Green located behind the car, part of Black's upper body pinned beneath it. Black had been ejected during the rollover. Green told WIBW that Evon, a nurse, performed CPR on her husband despite her injuries until paramedics arrived and they were all rushed to the hospital.
You never think that you’re going to be in an accident. How many times a day or in a life have we traveled on a highway and you just never think it would happen to you, it’s something you always see on the news or read about in the newspaper," Green said during the interview. "I’m thankful to God that I’m still alive. I’m thankful that my friend Evon, she’s hurt, but she’s still alive and I’m just real sorrowful that her husband lost his life. Everyone was in so much danger that was traveling that path that night. It’s a true blessing that more people weren’t hurt."
Green said he is glad he had his seat belt on and as a crash survivor, he strongly encourages other drivers to do the same, "even if it's just going down the street to the store."