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A man accused of running a truck through the side of a home that started a fire, caused thousands of dollars’ worth of damage and left his vehicle's passenger severely injured in 2018, didn’t deny his actions for the first time in court Thursday.

Blake E. Spath, 41, of Columbus, entered a no contest plea contest and was found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol causing seriously bodily harm, a Class IIIA felony.

This comes in the wake of Spath having a jury trial postponed in early August after Platte County Deputy Attorney Jose Rodriguez noted that the defense requested some additional time to review some newly received evidence. The defendant’s proceeding was rescheduled for Oct. 28 before making his plea Thursday.

Spath is now scheduled to appear before Platte County District Court Judge Robert Steinke at 10 a.m. Nov. 26 for sentencing. A pre-sentence investigation report will be compiled for the judge’s review leading up to the sentencing date.

A DUI in the State of Nebraska is a misdemeanor offense, but the August 2018 incident involving Spath 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.

In the early hours of Aug. 30, 2018, Columbus Police officers responded to a house in the 600 block of 12th Avenue in reference to a vehicle entering a home, resulting in the vehicle and home catching fire.

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The fire ignited when the vehicle the defendant was operating struck a gas meter located at the front of the property, as previously reported by The Telegram. Columbus 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.

To receive treatment in the emergency room at CCH for minor injuries, Spath was required to provide blood and urine samples, according to court records. Using a search warrant, police accessed Spath’s medical records, which showed the defendant having a blood alcohol content of .310.

In other district court proceedings:

*Leighton R.C. Fortner, 38, of Omaha, pleaded no contest to attempting to violate a protection order, a Class I misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year imprisonment. A pre-sentence investigation was ordered and Fortner is scheduled for sentencing at 10 a.m. on Nov. 15.

*Cesar D. Garcia, 29, of Columbus, appeared before Steinke regarding two separate cases. In the first, the defendant pleaded no contest and was found guilty of theft by unlawful taking third offense. Through an agreement, a subsequent burglary charge was dropped/dismissed. In the second case, Garcia pleaded no contest and was found guilty of attempted second-degree assault, a Class IIIA felony. The defendant is scheduled for sentencing relating to both cases at 10 a.m. on Nov. 1.

*Levi M. Laska, 21, of Monroe, through a plea agreement was found guilty of the lone charge of making terroristic threats, a Class IIIA felony. A pre-sentence investigation was ordered and Laska is scheduled for sentencing at 10 a.m. Dec. 6.

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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News Editor

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram, Schuyler Sun and The Banner-Press newspapers. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2015.

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