A Columbus man accused of plowing a truck into a local home while driving drunk – and starting a house fire in the process - was scheduled on Monday to sit before a jury of his peers ultimately tasked with determining his innocence or guilt.
Some new information obtained the defense attorney of Blake E. Spath, however, has pushed the 2018 case just a little further down the road in terms of a resolution being reached.
“This is Breanna’s case (Chief Deputy County Attorney Breanna Anderson), but my understanding is that the defense attorney requested additional time to review some new evidence that (the attorney) apparently got,” Platte County Deputy Attorney Jose Rodriguez said. “That's really it, there wasn't any new development or anything like that, they just needed time to review a few things.”
Anderson mid-afternoon Monday was not in the office to answer any of The Telegram’s additional questions.
The defendant is now scheduled for an October status hearing and an Oct. 28 jury trial in Platte County District Court, according to information provided by district court officials.
Spath was arrested on Dec. 10 of last year after he turned himself in to the Platte County Sheriff’s Office in the wake of a county warrant being issued Dec. 4. He was held on $10,000 bond with a 10-percent option, as previously reported by The Telegram.
The defendant is charged with driving under the influence of alcohol resulting in serious bodily injury, a Class IIIA felony. Under Nebraska state law, Spath could face a maximum sentence of three years in prison, a $10,000 fine or both.
A DUI in the State of Nebraska is a misdemeanor offense, however, the August incident involving Spath allegedly resulted in Shawn R. Esquibel, a passenger in the 2014 Ram crew cab pickup, suffering severe burns on 40-60 percent of his body, according to a warrantless arrest affidavit.
Esquibel was transferred from Columbus Community Hospital to Bryan Medical Center West Campus in Omaha due to the severity of his burns before ultimately being moved to the burn unit at Saint Elizabeth’s hospital in Lincoln, court records show. Esquibel’s left hip was also dislocated as a result of the accident.
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About 1:57 a.m. Aug. 30, Columbus Police Department Officer Jeffrey Uhl responded to a house located in the 600 block of 12th Avenue in reference to a vehicle entering a home, resulting in the vehicle and home catching fire, according to the affidavit.
Numerous people in the area were watching the blaze and notified Uhl that there were people inside of the burning truck. Both Spath and Esquibel exited the burning truck, and Spath indicated that there was another person in the truck, which there allegedly wasn’t.
Spath reportedly told law enforcement that neither himself nor Esquibel were driving the vehicle when it crashed, noting that a Hispanic male whose last name was Ramirez or Rodriguez was the culprit.
Court records show that officers spoke to a bystander who was on the scene moments after hearing the truck crash into the house and that he saw no one exit the truck prior to police arriving. Three other witnesses corroborated what the first witness told law enforcement.
Further investigation of the vehicle and conversations with people first on the scene led police to conclusively determine that there were only two people in the vehicle at the time of the crash when the vehicle slammed through a laundry/utility room.
While entering, the vehicle struck a gas meter located at the front of the property, resulting in the fire. Fire Chief Dan Miller estimated shortly after the incident that it resulted in a minimum $20,000 of damage. The homeowner, who was sleeping at the time of the accident, was able to safely vacate the house.
An officer on the scene who witnessed the defendant exit the truck also advised that he had a mark on his face consistent with having hit a steering wheel, according to affidavit information. A woman whom police had contact with following the accident said she loaned the vehicle to Spath and that he was the only person supposed to be driving it.
To receive treatment in the emergency room at CCH, Spath was required to provide blood and urine samples, according to court records. Using a search warrant, police accessed Spath’s medical records, which allegedly showed the defendant having a blood alcohol content of .310.
Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.