Knight sentenced in fatal drunk driving case

Saturday, March 3, 2007
Kanishka Bhattacharya (left) performs as Henry Drummond while Justin Bull (right) portrays Bert Cates in the DePauw Theatre production "Inherit the Wind," which runs four nights next week at the Moore Theatre.

A Clay County man will have five-and-a-half years in prison to think about his choice to drive drunk on June 4, 2006, leading to the crash that killed his girlfriend, 19-year-old Elizabeth Wehrheim.

Michael Knight, 21, Center Point, appeared before Putnam Superior Court Judge Robert Lowe Friday afternoon where he was sentenced to 11 years, less than six of those to be served in prison and the remaining years on probation.

The judge sentenced Knight to eight years for the death of Wehrheim and three years for causing serious injury to another passenger in his 2002 Oldsmobile Bravada, Nathan Archer who is permanently disabled because of the crash.

Wehrheim attended South Putnam High School prior to the crash that took her life.

Indiana State Trooper Chris Carter testified during Friday's sentencing that Knight was traveling at speeds in excess of 75 mph when he lost control of his car and crashed into a tree on CR 1000 South near CR 200 West, near Cloverdale.

Tests showed Knight had a blood alcohol level well in excess of the legal limit of .08 prior to the early-morning crash.

"This is a good example of how devastating drinking and driving can be," Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter said Friday after the sentencing. "Elizabeth's life has been taken and Mr. Archer lives with his injuries every day. The grief that Elizabeth's parents have gone through, you would wish on nobody."

Prior to January of this year, Knight had maintained his innocence in the crash, claiming during his initial court appearance last June that he was not the one driving.

In January, Knight changed his mind, pleading guilty to charges of drunken driving and causing serious bodily injury.

Knight told the judge he had attended a graduation party with Wehrheim the night of the crash and had consumed alcohol and smoke marijuana. After the crash that night, Knight fled to a nearby woods where police searched for him for nearly three hours before finding him back at the accident scene, receiving treatment in an ambulance.

Wehrheim's death was one of two fatal drunken driving crashes that occurred in Putnam County in 2006. Seventeen-year-old Ricky Johnston of Greencastle died May 21 while riding in a car piloted by a drunken driver.

Across the state, statistics from the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration reveal that one-third of the fatal accidents that occurred in Indiana last year were alcohol-related.

According to statistics compiled by national lobbying group MADD, Indiana saw 384 people die in alcohol-related accidents in 1999. Those numbers dropped to 304 in 2004 and 320 in 2005.

Regionally, Indiana fared better than all its neighbors except for Kentucky where 313 people died in alcohol-related crashes in 2005. Illinois saw 580 alcohol-related deaths last year, followed by Ohio with 505 and Michigan with 421.

Across the U.S. last year, there were nearly 17,000 people killed in alcohol-related accidents, accounting for 39 percent of all accidents, according to MADD.

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