Both women hospitalized; driver charged with DUI

Shawntaye Hopkins

Katie E. Nelsen and Carlie B. Heath had dinner plans with their Alpha Delta Pi sisters at Toot’s restaurant.

But their plans were cut short.

The two students were injured after a car struck them at 6 p.m. Tuesday as they were walking on a crosswalk on University Boulevard near Jones-Jaggers Hall.

The driver, Melay Ember Nichols of Clarksville, Tenn., was charged with driving under the influence and refusing to submit to a chemical test.

Nichols was driving northwest on University in a white 1997 Lexus.

Nelsen, a Crestwood freshman, and Heath, a Spottsville sophomore, are the 11th and 12th students hit on University since 1992.

The last accident happened in February 2002.

Mary Nelsen, Katie Nelsen’s mother, said her daughter suffered injuries to her neck, chest and elbow.

Heath suffered injuries to her leg, Nelsen’s mother said.

Both students have are currently recovering at The Medical Center.

Campus police Capt. Mike Wallace said there will be a reconstruction of the wreck.

Nichols was released from the Warren County Regional Jail yesterday morning on $568.85 bond.

“I’m very, very sorry,” Nichols said yesterday. “I’ve been praying for their recovery.”

Louisville freshman Preston Parsons was sitting outside Meredith Hall when she heard a loud screech.

She said it sounded like car brakes.

A woman came running toward her and was yelling that someone had been hit and Parsons went to see what had happened.

“There was blood on the girls and their shoes and purses and everything were scattered everywhere,” she said.

Nelsen and Heath were almost lying on top of each other in the street, Parson said. They were directly in front of the car and the driver was trying to console them.

Part of the windshield of the Lexus was busted.

Nichols said she was driving to campus to pick up her sister – a Western student – so they could attend a T-ball game in Lampkin Park.

She said Nelsen and Heath may have started crossing before the light signal had changed.

“I was driving through,” she said. “It was ample time to get under it. I slammed the brake as fast as I could.”

Nichols said she got out of her car, knelt down with the women and held their hands.

Nichols cried as she told them they’d be OK.

“I was in shock and it looked like they were in shock,” Nichols said yesterday. “It was really, really awful.”

Nichols was given a blood test at The Medical Center after campus police obtained a warrant, and it was determined that she was under the influence of alcohol.

Wallace said no further charges are planned as yet.

Nelsen’s said she didn’t believe what had happened when a hospital representative called at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday and told her the news.

“I said ‘Oh my God,'” Mary Nelsen said. “The last thing you expect is something like that.”

She said her drive from Crestwood to Bowling Green seemed to take forever.

Mary Nelsen was met by ADPi members and Julie Ransdell, President Gary Ransdell’s wife, when she arrived at The Medical Center at 9:30 p.m.

Both Katie Nelsen and Heath had surgery yesterday.

Mary Nelsen also said that she’d heard that there may be safety issues with University.

The state Department of Highways installed the crosswalk and a pedestrian-activated traffic signal in 2001 to improve safety on University.

Gene Tice, vice president of Student Affairs and campus services, said the problems were resolved after the crosswalk, landscaping and other improvements were completed.

In addition to the crosswalk and traffic signal, a fence was put up to keep pedestrians from crossing in the middle of the street.

A horizontal traffic signal that only changes when the button is pushed was also added.

Tice said he does not think Tuesday’s wreck was caused by an unsafe intersection.

Nichols may have ran a red light, he said.

“The system is a safe system and I don’t believe there is really anything we can do to make it safer than it is now,” Tice said.

President Gary Ransdell agreed that the accident was not a result of an unsafe intersection.

“I think the improvements have helped a lot, but no intersection is safe if the driver is irresponsible,” he said.

Ransdell said he has not heard much about the incident as of Wednesday afternoon.

He said no street is safe is someone runs a red light, is driving drunk or speeding.

“We put a lot of thought and work into making that street safer,” he said.

But Ransdell had a few ideas that fell through.

He said he wanted to add a speed table, which is similar to a speed hump, but flatter. Ransdell said he also suggested making University a one-way street.

“Our students need to remember that this is not a Western street and there are four lanes of traffic,” Ransdell said.

University is a state highway.

He said students usually expect student drivers on campus to slow down for them – and they usually do. But Ransdell said many of the drivers on University are not Western students.

Heath’s family could not be reached for comment.

Mary Nelsen said she is confident both girls will recover.

“They’ll be OK,” she said.

Nichols said she was glad to hear that Heath and Katie Nelsen would be all right. She said she wants to visit them in the hospital, but doesn’t know how their families would react.

“I just want to tell the family that I am really, really sorry,” Nichols said. “It was completely an accident.”

Reach Shawntaye Hopkins at [email protected]