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I-70 crash a suicide attempt

Soldier files no-contest plea in fatal April wreck near Junction City

By Corene Brisendine

A Fort Riley soldier has pleaded no contest to second-degree murder among other charges following a failed suicide attempt earlier this year that left one man dead.

Documents obtained by The Mercury Thursday show that Gary Nelson, 22, of Junction City, entered the plea last week. He awaits sentencing Nov. 12 in Geary County District Court on charges stemming from the April 3 incident in which Jake Black, a passenger in an auto that crashed to avoid being struck by Nelson, died.

The documents assert that Nelson decided to drive the wrong way on Interstate 70 that night in an attempt to end his life in a head-on collision. Instead, another vehicle swerved off the road to miss Nelson’s vehicle, rolling and causing the fatal injuries to Black, who was 53. Other occupants of the vehicle were injured.

The Mercury had previously reported that Geary County officials said Nelson was suicidal. WIBW reported Thursday that “investigation of Nelson’s background, including interviews with his chain of command, co-workers and wife, revealed that Nelson contemplated suicide to the extent of leaving funeral instructions and good-byes.” It was also reported that Nelson told police that he decided to drive head-on into a semi, but lost his nerve.

Troopers first spotted Nelson driving on the wrong side of the interstate near Grandview Plaza. The fatal wreck occurred about half a mile west of Chestnut Street in Geary County at 10:30 p.m. Steven Green swerved his GMC Envoy out of the way of Nelson’s Chrysler 200. But in doing so Green lost control and the Envoy rolled multiple times before coming to a rest on its top. Black died at Geary Community Hospital about an hour after the accident. The driver and a second passenger, Evon Obannon, 51, were also transported to the hospital.

Green was treated and released, but Obannon was transported to Mercy Regional Health Center with multiple injuries including damage to her neck, spine and knee and a shattered leg, WIBW reported.

Following the near miss-collision, Nelson continued to travel down I-70 to Abilene where troopers blocked the eastbound lanes.

He pulled off into the median before the exit and surrendered without incident.

Documents show that last Thursday Nelson entered into a plea agreement with Geary County Attorney Steve Opat.

Nelson pleaded no contest to second-degree murder, speeding, reckless driving and improper crossover on a divided highway. The minimum sentence for second degree murder is 109 months and up to 493 months in prison with fines up to $500,000. The minimum sentence for reckless driving is five days and a maximum of 90 days in jail with fines between $25 and $500.

The agreement states that the state will not file any other charges against Nelson if the judge agrees to the deal.

In addition, Nelson will not file an appeal or challenge his conviction.

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