PIERCETON — A man who allegedly fled an off-road vehicle accident that resulted in a fatality faces charges related to the crash.
Joel Russell Zehner, 39, 416 EMS R4 Ln., Pierceton, was charged with failure to stop after an accident causing death, a level 3 felony; and operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death, a level 4 felony.
On April 11, police responded to an off-road vehicle accident with injury on the east side of Ridinger Lake, south of North Webster. At the scene, police saw large clumps of dirt, grass and mud along the road. A half-full plastic bottle of Canadian Club whiskey and a cold Busch Lite beer can were found as well. After finding the debris along the road, police found a large pool of blood where the victim was said to have been located. Deep tracks circled the property leading to the area in which the pool of blood was located, according to the affidavit of probable cause.
Witnesses claimed Zehner was operating an off-road vehicle when it flipped and landed on Zehner’s passenger, Jason Tolle. Tolle suffered heavy injuries. Zehner fled the scene according to witnesses.
At the scene, Tolle was unresponsive, bleeding from the mouth and nose. A bystander performed CPR on him until medics arrived. He was airlifted to the hospital by Lutheran Air. Tolle later died as a result of injuries suffered in the accident.
Zehner’s vehicle was found about 2.5 miles from the crash scene, in the parking area of Deniston Resource Area. Police allegedly found Zehner with a firearm to his chin while using a cellphone.
Police persuaded Zehner to set down the firearm. However, he allegedly told officers that he was not going to live in prison for killing his friend. He also said he and Tolle had a few drinks before using his off-road vehicle. He said he lost control of the vehicle, which caused the accident. He said he left the crash out of fear. Zehner was eventually taken into police custody.
Police smelled a strong odor of alcohol emanating from Zehner’s person. Zehner exhibited slurred speech. His eyes were watery, red and bloodshot, said the affidavit. Zehner registered a 0.157% breath alcohol concentration after taking a portable breath test.
Zehner has two prior convictions for operating while intoxicated from January 2003 and February 2008, according to court paperwork.
On April 11, Zehner was booked in the Kosciusko County Jail. His updated bond is $20,250 surety and cash.