The driver who fled last fall after his girlfriend allegedly fell off his motorcycle and died on Interstate 35 has been charged with two felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide.
Myles W. Eckman, 24, of St. Paul, was charged in Washington County District Court, accused of operating a motor vehicle in a negligent manner while under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident.
At 4:43 a.m. Nov. 18, police received a report of a fatal accident near the Minnesota 97 interchange in Forest Lake.
Minnesota State Patrol troopers found Ena M. Bhatia, 21, of St. Paul, lying face down on the right shoulder of the northbound lanes between the Minnesota 97 and Broadway exits.
Bhatia, who was wearing brown Carhartt clothing, suffered serious head trauma, according to the criminal complaint.
Blood was found in the right lane near where Bhatia’s body was found, according to the complaint. A black leather jacket was found about 50 yards north of the victim; the pockets had been pulled out and there was “road rash” on the sleeves, the complaint states.
No vehicle or motorcycle was found nearby.
A witness who had driven by the scene reported seeing a motorcycle on the side of the highway and “a person standing next to a brown object (the victim) on the side of the road,” the complaint states. “The witness believed the object to be a deer.”
A trooper talked to Eckman’s father, who said his son and his girlfriend had left his house earlier that morning on his motorcycle going north toward Forest Lake. He said he had heard about the fatal crash and was worried about their safety.
Other friends of Eckman and Bhatia also called authorities to say the couple was headed to Mora, Minn., and could have been involved in the fatal crash, the complaint states.
According to the complaint, traffic cameras showed a rider falling off the back of a motorcycle at 4:38 a.m. At 4:41 a.m., the driver of the motorcycle can be seen circling back to the scene and “then leaving a short time later, exiting I-35 at (Broadway Avenue) in Forest Lake,” the complaint states.
The Anoka County Sheriff’s Office reported receiving a call about 10 a.m. that someone was pushing a motorcycle into a pond in Columbus. Eckman was found inside a nearby pole barn. While being taken into custody, he “asked if his girlfriend was OK,” the complaint states.
Law enforcement officers later towed a Harley Davidson motorcyle out of the pond.
Eckman told officers he had been drinking the previous night at a St. Paul bar and had a “double shot of tequila before he left the bar at 1:30 a.m.,” the complaint states.
According to the complaint, officers could “smell an odor of alcohol on him, his speech was slurred, his pupils were constricted, he had a burnt lip, his tongue had heat bumps and he had cotton mouth.”
Officers obtained a warrant to test Eckman’s blood. The draw tested positive for a number of drugs, including THC — an active ingredient in marijuana — and methamphetamine, the complaint states.
Weather was not a factor in Bhatia’s death; nor were there any defects to the motorcycle, according to an accident-reconstruction report. “The defendant failed to insure passenger safety on the motorcycle with his impairment and caused the death of the victim,” the complaint states.
Bhatia “had been moved from her initial resting place to the roadside shoulder,” the complaint states. “A witness observed the defendant moving the victim out of the road.”
An autopsy showed that Bhatia died as the result of traumatic injuries due to falling off the motorcycle; she suffered multiple broken bones and sustained multiple lacerations, contusions and hemorrhages.
The autopsy also showed she had amphetamine, methamphetamine and a blood-alcohol content of 0.26 in her system, the complaint states.
Eckman made his first appearance in court on May 1. His next hearing will be May 22. If convicted, Eckman could be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in jail and a $20,000 fine on each count.