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Murder charge filed in fatal March crash

Washington

FORT WAYNE -- Allen County prosecutors filed a murder charge Friday against Jeremy Washington, accused of driving drunk and killing a local high school student in late March.

Washington, 35, of the 3500 block of Scarborough Drive in New Haven, also faces three additional charges of criminal recklessness, along with the new count of murder.

He is already charged with three counts of attempted murder, one count each of aggravated battery and reckless homicide, and two counts of causing death while operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

Washington barreled into the intersection of Stellhorn and Hobson roads, plowing into a car driven by 17-year-old Haley M. Nellum, a sophomore and varsity basketball player at Bishop Dwenger High School.

She had only recently received her driver’s license and was driving home that night after visiting a friend. Her mother happened upon the crash scene shortly afterward, but was unable to see that her daughter’s was one of the vehicles involved.

Nellum’s death was not ruled a homicide by the Allen County coroner’s office. It’s unusual for murder charges to be filed in cases where there is no homicide ruling.

The new charge against Washington is not the first time Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards has charged an allegeded impaired driver with murder.

In May 2012, Allen County prosecutors charged then-50-year-old Corina Hurtado with two counts of murder and other charges in a fatal drug-fueled traffic crash that killed an elderly couple at Taylor Street and Fairfield Avenue.

The murder charges against Hurtado were dismissed as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors. She was subsequently sentenced to 40 years in prison on charges of operating a vehicle with a controlled substance in her system causing death.

According to court documents filed Friday, the fatal crash, caused by Washington, reaches the level of a murder.

Washington’s 2013 Infiniti was traveling at about 103 mph when it slammed into the driver’s side door of Nellum’s car with such force it pushed the door past the center console and caused the vehicle to flip over multiple times.

“It is generally accepted that a gun that fires a bullet…is a deadly weapon,” Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Adam Mildred wrote in his motion to amend the charges. “The Infiniti operated by the defendant was retrievable, redirectible and directly controlled by (Washington).”

Comparing the speed of the bullet to the speed of the car, Mildred argued there was exponentially more momentum in the crash than there is in the impact of a bullet.

The additional criminal recklessness charges refer to the people in other vehicles at the intersection at the time of the collision.

The incident began with an argument at the Corner Pocket Pub and escalated far beyond the parking lot, enveloping the family of a high school student who happened to be out for a drive.

Washington and Chad Jackson of Wolcottville got into an argument at the Corner Pocket Pub, a pool hall at 3215 St. Joe Center Road.

Jackson was there with two other men, and Washington was with Clayton DeLong. According to court documents, Washington and Jackson began to argue, eventually being asked to leave by security. When Jackson and his friends went to leave the parking lot, they found Washington blocking the way out, according to court documents.

More words were exchanged, and Washington pulled a gun and began firing into an SUV in which Jackson was riding. Glass shattered, and Jackson told the other men in the car he’d been shot. As they drove him to a hospital with a bullet wound to his neck, Washington took off at a high rate of speed, according to court documents.

Washington got as far as the intersection at Stellhorn and Hobson roads where he crashed, seriously injuring his passenger as well as killing Nellum.

In a subsequent interview with police, Washington said he was fleeing for his life, and minimized his speed, saying he braked.

Data from the on-board computer in the car showed speeds reaching 110 mph in the moments prior the crash and braking only at impact.

And the investigation into the events leading up to the crash showed no evidence to bolster Washington’s claims someone fired a gun at him. Videotape evidence from the Corner Pocket Pub showed no evidence of any gunfire from the victims’ vehicle, according to court documents.

DeLong told investigators he only saw Washington’s gun during the altercation at the bar, according to court documents.

Allen Superior Judge John Surbeck granted Mildred’s motion to add the additional charges against Washington.

According to court documents, Washington had expired license plates and no insurance on the vehicle at the time of the crash, and had failed to appear on a number of traffic violations in the decade leading up to the March crash.

Washington is scheduled to appear in court Monday for a hearing.

rgreen@jg.net

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