On Thursday, Feb. 20, a drunk driver careened down Beall Ave. and flipped his vehicle after failing to navigate a turn onto E. University St. No one, including driver James D. Wheeler, was hurt. Wheeler, a Wooster local, was arrested at the scene and charged with driving while intoxicated, reckless operation of a vehicle, failure to control his vehicle and having a blood alcohol content higher than 0.08.
At about 10:50 p.m., Wheeler was seen driving erratically by multiple witnesses. Nick Isles ’14, who was standing in front of Bissman Hall, saw the light gray Ford Taurus speeding south on Beall Ave. “It took me a second to realize that this car was going much faster than it should have been,” he said. After swerving around a stopped car at the intersection of Beall and Wayne, Wheeler’s vehicle hit the sidewalk in front of Bissman Hall, narrowly missing Isles, who jumped out of the way.
“I was shaken up at first,” said Isles. “Any time you have to jump out of the way of a moving car like you’re somebody in Grand Theft Auto, it’s intense.”
Adam Shapiro ’14 and Isles both report that Wheeler pinballed down Beall Ave., bouncing between the sidewalk and the median. “I was expecting him to stop,” said Shapiro, “but he actually sort of sped up as he was coming down the hill through the crosswalk.”
Wheeler continued down Beall until turning on to E. University St. According to the Wooster Police Department’s accident report, Wheeler hit a tree on the corner in front of the Scheide Music Center, turned sharply to the right and flipped his vehicle after hitting a utility pole near Holden Hall.
Security and Protective Services officers Trevor Strock and Jamin Sprowl were the first to the scene. The Security report indicates that Sprowl smelled a strong odor of alcohol when he checked the driver for injuries. Wheeler had blood on his face but claimed to be unharmed. Wheeler was reportedly still talking on his cell phone and “shushed” Sprowl several times.
Sprowl proceeded to pull Wheeler from his vehicle and instructed him to lie on the ground until help arrived, but Wheeler stood up and began dialing his cell phone again.
“I don’t think he really understood the enormity of what just happened,” said Shapiro. “He was out of it.”
“I’m just glad nobody was hurt,” said Isles.
Minutes later the police arrived, followed by the fire department. By this time, a sizable crowd of student onlookers had gathered as well.
Wheeler was arraigned on Tuesday, Feb. 25 by the municipal magistrate.