A local driver faces four felony charges after being accused of striking a married couple from Columbus, killing the husband and critically injuring the wife, while they were walking along Taylor Road, then driving away from the scene.
Michael B. Demaio, 36, 2023 Chandler Lane, is being held without bond in the Bartholomew County Jail, jail officials said.
Demaio is accused of felony counts of operating a vehicle while intoxicated resulting in death, operating a vehicle while intoxicated resulting in injury, and failing to stop after an accident resulting in death and failing to stop after an accident resulting in injury, police said.
Demaio is accused of hitting Anshul Sharma, 30, a Cummins engineer, and his wife, Samira Bhardwaj, 28, both of Columbus, as they walked in a buffered bike lane of northbound Taylor Road at 7:15 p.m. Sunday, said Lt. Matt Harris, Columbus Police Department spokesman.
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The police department listed Bhardwaj’s last name with a slightly different spelling.
The couple, originally from India, were struck by a red minivan from behind as they walked near the entrance to Four Seasons Retirement Center, 1901 Taylor Road, near Lakeside Drive, Harris said.
Police don’t know how fast the minivan was traveling when it hit the couple, but the speed limit in that stretch of road is 35 miles per hour, Harris said. It still was daylight when Demaio is accused of hitting the couple and weather was not a factor, he said.
Bartholomew County Coroner Clayton Nolting said Sharma was pronounced dead at the scene. Nolting has listed the death as a homicide, saying Sharma died from blunt force trauma to his head and upper cervical spine.
Bhardwaj was listed in critical condition Monday at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, Indianapolis.
Members of the Indian Association of Columbus reacted with shock after the couple’s names were released.Krishna Rampalli, who has served as president of the association, said Sharma participated in many sports activities sponsored by the association, including volleyball.
An acquaintance at Cummins, Rajib L. Panda, said Bhardwaj’s brother arrived in Columbus on Monday from Atlanta.
“Everyone is very shaken,” Panda said.
Columbus police are awaiting blood test results on Demaio, but said he tested negative for alcohol intoxication, Harris said.Describing Demaio’s appearance and behavior as being slow to respond, with slurred speech during his arrest, Harris said police utilized a staff drug-recognition specialist to run Demaio through a number of field-sobriety tests.
The officer advised there was probable cause to arrest Demaio for being under the influence, although blood test results will determine what substance it might be, Harris said.
The area where the couple was hit, on the east side of Taylor Road, only has sidewalks on the west side the road, said Dave Hayward, the city’s executive director of public works and city engineer.The couple was walking in a 6-and-a-half foot bicycle lane, separated from the Taylor Road driving lane by a 4-foot-wide buffer striped section of pavement. A grassy ditch runs along the other side of the bike lane along Taylor Road.
Hayward said the decision to leave sidewalks only on one side of Taylor Road was made in the early 1980s when the road was built. Taylor Road was repaved and re-striped last summer with the buffer zone between the bike lane on the east side of the road and 11-foot traffic lanes, he said.
“People have walked in that shoulder area for years,” Hayward said of the stretch of road where the couple was hit.
Rebecca Stenner, Four Seasons executive director, said staff members reported that someone came into the retirement community offices Sunday evening to report the couple had been struck and to call 911. She said the couple did not have any connection to the Four Seasons facility.
Columbus police are crediting an unidentified witness with helping them find Demaio, Harris said.
The individual saw Sharma and Bhardwaj walking on Taylor Road on his way to another location to pick up a friend, and when returning, saw the red minivan with heavy front-end damage and a damaged windshield driving recklessly on Chandler Lane shortly after the couple was found, Harris said.
“He knew something wasn’t right and called it in,” Harris said of the witness. “Who knows how this could have turned out if he hadn’t made that call. We want to give kudos to that person. He gave us a great description of the vehicle.”
Police located the vehicle in a driveway in the 2000 block of Chandler Lane — just a few minutes east of the accident scene by car — and spoke to Demaio, who they identified as the driver, Harris said.
Demaio was inside the Chandler Lane residence when he was arrested, Harris said. The minivan had substantial damage to its hood and a cracked windshield, Harris said.