A 39-year-old Mountain Home with a criminal history dating back more than 20 years is headed to prison after admitting in Baxter County Circuit Court on Thursday that he fled the scene of an accident that injured a 14-year-old girl.

Circuit Court Judge John Putman, sentenced Zachariah Lee Zelk to five years in prison after Zelk entered a guilty plea to a felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident with injury.

Zelk submitted his plea to the court without a sentencing agreement. When that’s done, the judge hears arguments from the prosecution and the defense as to what the sentence should be.

He told the judge had been in Care Center Ministries and was doing well when changes in the rules at the facility meant he could no longer stay there. Zelk admitted he had a significant drug problem but said that he was in the process of overcoming his addiction.

Deputy prosecuting Attorney Kerry Chism argued that Zelk needed to be punished for the accident he caused and then fled from. Chism told the judge Zelk had no insurance at the time of the accident.

Further, Chism told the the SUV that Zelk hit was carrying  a 14-year-old girl. The teen suffered minor burns from an airbag deployment, severely strained the muscles on her right side and suffered a significant case of whiplash.

“I hope Mr. Zelk recovers from his addiction, I really do,” Chism said. “But I also hope the people in the SUV had insurance because they’re never going to see a dime from this man.”

The accident

On April 10 of this year, Mountain Home police officer James Tilley responded to U.S. Highway 62 Business and Commerce Drive for a report of a hit and run accident.

When the officer arrived, witnesses stated the truck that struck the SUV fled the scene. Someone gave the officer the license plate of the truck. Further, they said the truck ran a red light, hitting the SUV hard enough to spin it 180 degrees.

When Tillery ran the plate number, he discovered it came back to a relative of Zelk’s. A nearby business had video surveillance footage of the truck. Tilley thought Zachariah Zelk was the driver when he viewed the video.

The video was good enough to show tattoos the driver had. Tilley then went to the parole office and viewed photographs of Zelk and his tattoos. they matched those seen in the video, according to the affidavit field in the case.

Tilley then spoke with the owner of the truck who said he let Zelk borrow the truck to return a piece of power equipment.

Other charges

In court on Thursday, Zelk also admitted that less than two months later he was found in possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.

In that case, Mountain Home police officer Cody Hillicker responded to a local restaurant for a report of a verbal domestic dispute. While responding to the call, Hillicker was told the aggressor had left the scene in a blue Ford.

As he was driving to the scene, Hillicker spotted a blue ford Taurus leaving the area. Hillicker turned around to follow the car.

He spotted the car in an apartment complex parking lot. When he approached the car, he found it was still running but unoccupied. People nearby told the officer the individual driving the car ran into a nearby apartment. Hillicker knocked on the apartment door and asked the resident for permission to search the home for the suspect.

The resident gave consent and said the car belonged to Zelk, who had just run inside the apartment. The officer found Zelk hiding in the bathroom. In the bathroom sink was a needle Zelk admitted to being his.

Further, Zelk admitted he had a bag of meth in his pocket. When Hillicker ran Zelk’s information, he discovered Zelk had a suspended license. The officer also discovered Zelk had no insurance, yet again, and that the tags on the car Zelk was driving belonged to a different vehicle.

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