Man charged in hit-and-run crash sits next to alleged victim in courtroom

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FRANKLIN, Ind. - A Franklin man charged in a hit-and-run crash that seriously injured three people made his initial appearance in Johnson County court Monday morning.

Will Slinger, 29, walked in off the street, into the courtroom, and sat directly behind one of the people injured in the January 23 crash he’s accused of causing.

The man he sat behind, Grant Black, had already entered the courtroom using a cane.  Black is still undergoing physical therapy to regain full use of his left arm, leg and hip.  Injuries from the crash initially had him using a wheelchair.

“It’s aggravating, you know,”  Black said after the hearing.  “I know that’s the system, it’s just amazing to me that he’s not in jail.”

Slinger appeared in Johnson County Superior Court 3 to hear three formal charges of leaving the scene of an accident causing serious bodily injury, all level six felonies.

The crash happened at the intersection of King and Forsythe streets on the east side of Franklin.  Investigators say Slinger was traveling at a high rate of speed in an SUV before hitting a 2004 Mecury Grand Marquis just before noon January 23. The impact sent the Mercury into oncoming traffic, where it collided with a 1996 Buick.  Slinger then fled the scene, said police.

Black, who was driving the Mercury, was transported to Methodist Hospital with multiple bone fractures, lacerations and injury to his spleen. The driver of the Buick, Mitchell Wohlmuth, was air lifted to Methodist Hospital and was in a coma following the accident. His wife, Mary Litwicki, suffered injuries to her arm.

In April, Franklin Police released a surveillance video of a silver Toyota Rav 4 that was seen leaving a Waffle House near the scene of the crash, about two minutes before the crash occurred. It appeared to match witness descriptions of the vehicle that left the scene of the accident.  An anonymous tip led police to a silver Toyota Rav 4 with damage to the vehicle’s front driver’s side at Slinger’s residence. Slinger’s father told detectives he believed his son borrowed the vehicle on January 23.  Authorities later spoke with Slinger, who confirmed he was the only one with keys to the Rav 4 on January 23 because it was his birthday.

Police arrested Slinger after their initial interview with him.  Slinger was able to pay $300 bond and leave a few hours following his arrest.

Black and other victims in the crash remain frustrated that Slinger isn’t in jail as he awaits his trial.

“Just all part of the system I guess,” Black said Monday.  “But it’s hard to believe with everything in his past that he was able to do that.”

Slinger’s past includes two prior OWI convictions, including a 2005 crash that killed April Mulry, with her husband and 5-week-old baby in the car.  While Slinger was out on bond awaiting trial for that 2005 crash, he caused another OWI crash, for which he was also later convicted.

Even as Black and others are frustrated with Slinger’s ability to be released on bond pending trial, Johnson County Circuit Court Judge K. Mark Loyd explained in April how the situation came to be.

Loyd explained that it was the way Slinger was arrested that makes a difference. Franklin police arrested him on the spot after an interview. Since they still needed to collect evidence and did not ask the court for a warrant, no paperwork was filed to increase bond and keep Slinger in jail.

Bond for a suspect who has not yet been charged by prosecutors in Johnson County is on a set scale. Bond could be increased once the Prosecutor files charges, if they are greater than the original charge Slinger was arrested on, but even then Loyd said the system is made to presume innocence and thus, Slinger is allowed out on bond but expected to comply with the court's orders.

State law makes leaving the scene of an accident causing serious bodily injury the lowest-level felony, Prosecutor Brad Cooper said.

Slinger’s prior record will likely come into play during the sentencing phase of the trial, if he is convicted in the crash.

Black says he understands how the legal situation has taken shape, but that didn’t keep him from feeling frustrated at seeing Slinger walk out of the courthouse after Monday’s hearing.

“He’s had chance after chance after chance after chance,” Black said.  “And I just don’t know if him being out of the streets is the best thing.”

“I can definitely understand that,” said Deputy Prosecutor Megan Smither.  “But he’s given a right through the criminal justice system and he exercised that right to bond out.”

“We are going to do everything we can to get justice the way that they (victims) want it,” Smither said.

“I hope that they put him away and they put him away for a while,” Black said.  “And while he’s there, he gets the help that he needs.”

Will Slinger has pretrial hearings set for September 7 and October 12.  His trial is currently set for November 1.

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