Driver pleads guilty in artist’s death
July 31, 2012
Gardnerville resident Jon Eugene McElhaney pleaded guilty Tuesday to drunk driving causing an accident Nov. 6 that resulted in the death of Wellington artist Reiko Hervin.
McElhaney faces up to 20 years in prison at his sentencing Sept. 25 by District Judge Dave Gamble.
He pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of an intoxicating liquor resulting in death or substantial bodily harm. His preliminary breath test was .131, more than the legal limit of .08 for driving.
He made a plea agreement with the district attorney’s office that calls for a recommended sentence of 3-8 years, but Gamble is free to sentence McElhaney to the maximum. He is ineligible for probation.
“I can send you to prison for 20 years,” Gamble said Tuesday.
McElhaney tearfully described the accident, describing his efforts to free Hervin from her vehicle. The 51-year-old died of her injuries Nov. 30 at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno.
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McElhaney said he was driving his pickup and towing his father’s disabled Jeep on a borrowed trailer. When he got to the top of State Route 208, he said the trailer started to roll out of control, resulting in a collision with Hervin’s vehicle in the oncoming lane.
“I got off the road, and I saw Ms. Hervin’s car to the right. I jumped out and tried to assist her. She nodded she could hear me,” McElhaney said.
He said the door to her vehicle was jammed, and he thought he saw smoke which turned out to be from airbags. He tried to disconnect the battery and took gasoline cans out of the Jeep to prevent a fire.
“I kept talking to her,” he said.
McElhaney said he flagged down an oncoming vehicle, and called for help.
“Sir, were you under the influence of alcohol?” Gamble asked.
McElhaney said before the accident, he and friends had been drinking and exploring mines in Nye Canyon near Sweetwater Mountain, about 16 miles from the accident.
“We were out in the hills drinking and looking through mines,” he said.
McElhaney said he stopped drinking before his companions because he realized everyone was intoxicated.
“I was the least intoxicated,” he said. “I quit drinking early.”
McElhaney said his father’s Jeep broke down and he borrowed the trailer which had been used to bring all-terrain vehicles to the site.
“I assumed the trailer was in good working condition,” he said.
According to the criminal complaint, McElhaney failed to comply with Nevada law regarding loading and securing vehicles and breakaway brakes which resulted in the trailer dislodging.
McElhaney is out of custody on $15,637 bail, and under the supervision of the Department of Alternative Sentencing.
He is ordered to abstain from alcohol and controlled substances and may not drive.
Hervin’s family attended the arraignment with Linda Finch, a member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.