AP NEWS

Prominent county case comes before judge for arraignment

February 24, 2019

A prominent county case came before Judge Robert Steinke Friday morning with the arraignment of Blake Spath.

Spath, the Columbus man accused of drunkenly driving a pickup into a local house causing a fire and substantial injuries to a passenger in the vehicle, pleaded not guilty to the lone charge of driving under the influence of alcohol resulting in serious bodily injury, a Class IIIA felony. Under state law, the defendant could face a maximum of three years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both.

The 40-year-old is currently incarcerated in Platte County Jail in the process of serving a 90-day stint for failing to pay child support, according to facility representatives. He’s scheduled for release May 5, as previously reported by The Telegram.

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 his 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.

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, as previously reported by The Columbus Telegram.

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, as previously reported by The Telegram. 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 BAC of .310.

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