The Bluffton man charged in connection with a Friday, three-vehicle crash that killed a 34-year-old Bluffton real estate agent on May River Road was charged with driving under the influence less than a week before the fatal wreck and admitted to drinking half a bottle of vodka on the night of the collision, police said.
Nikolai K. Wheeler, 27, was charged with two counts of felony DUI, one resulting in death and the other in great bodily injury, in connection with the crash near the Rose Dhu neighborhood that happened around 5 p.m.
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The third driver in Friday’s crash, an unidentified man, has been released from Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, according to Joy Nelson, spokesperson for the Bluffton Police Department.
“(The victim) has several significant injuries,” Nelson said.
The report said the man was found conscious in his vehicle and appeared to be bleeding from his head and arm. At the scene of the crash, the man said he was traveling westbound on May River Road when he was struck head-on by another vehicle.
Wheeler also was charged with hit-and-run resulting in death, leaving the scene of a collision resulting in great bodily injury and driving under a suspended license.
A Bluffton Police report detailing the crash quoted Wheeler as saying had consumed half a bottle of vodka and that some Xanax bars had “really messed him up.” The report said he made the first statement at the scene and the second as he was booked into the Beaufort County Detention Center.
“(Wheeler) also stated that he knew a friend (who) can take (Xanax bars) like candy,” an officer noted in the report.
A Monday police department news release said that Wheeler had a blood-alcohol content of .256 percent — more than double the legal limit of .08 percent.
The release also said Wheeler hit Mieczkowski from behind as they both traveled eastbound on May River Road. The impact sent Mieczkowski’s vehicle into oncoming traffic, where it struck the unidentified driver’s car.
The Friday charges join a prior DUI charge and driving under a suspended license charge filed against Wheeler on April 9, according to detention center records. Wheeler was released the same day he was booked into the jail on those charges.
Beaufort County Court records show that Wheeler has a history of traffic charges beginning in 2010 with a reckless driving charge that he pleaded guilty to.
That charge was followed by two speeding charges in 2012: one for going 10 miles or less over the speed limit, and the other for going 15 miles per hour or less over the speed limit.
In 2013, Wheeler was charged with speeding 10 miles per hour or less over the limit. He was also charged speeding in 2016 for going more than 15 miles per hour over the limit but less than 25 miles per hour over the limit, the records show.
Maj. Joseph Manning of the police department said Saturday that witnesses reported Wheeler driving erratically prior to the crash.
“Once they collided, (Wheeler) continued down the road and then crashed his vehicle, where he got on foot and fled,” Manning said.
Wheeler was denied bond on all charges, the release said, and remains in custody at the detention center.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to assist Mieczkowski’s family with funeral expenses. As of Monday evening, the account had already raised $12,490 of its $17,500 goal.
An article published by The Delaware News Journal in November 2013 lists Wheeler as a man who allegedly accused his adopted father, Christopher Wheeler, of molesting him as a child.
Christopher Wheeler adopted Nikolai Wheeler from Russia when he was 12 years old.
Two other men also accused Christopher Wheeler of molesting them when they were children. Their allegations prompted an investigation that authorities said revealed over 2,000 images of child pornography found on electronic devices seized from Christopher Wheeler’s Delaware home, the newspaper said.
He was indicted on 25 child pornography charges and sentenced to 50 years in prison before that ruling was overturned in the Delaware Supreme Court last year after a judge found that the warrants used to search Wheeler’s home were unconstitutional, the newspaper said.
Despite the accusations against Christopher Wheeler, Nikolai Wheeler was quoted in the 2013 as saying was grateful for being adopted by Christopher Wheeler and loved him.
“I love my dad very much and I’m grateful for what he did for me, and that’s that,” Nikolai Wheeler told the Journal at the time.
The investigation into Friday’s crash continues, according to police. Anyone who witnessed the crash or has additional information may call Sgt. Laura Rutland at 843-706-4598 or the Bluffton Police Investigations Division at 843-706-4560.