SIDNEY — A Shelby County jury found Darren A. Nichols, 40, of Sidney, guilty on two charges and not guilty on one charge in a two day trial occurring May 10 and 11.
In the Shelby County Common Pleas Court, Nichols was initially indicted on one charge of failure to comply with the order or signal of a police officer, a third-degree felony, felonious assault, a first-degree felony, aggravated possession of drugs, a third-degree felony, and vandalism, a fifth-degree felony. The vandalism charge was dismissed, and the 12-member jury found Nichols guilty on all charges except felonious assault. They also found that Nichols caused a substantial risk of serious physical harm to persons or property while operating his motorcycle at excessive speeds and disobeying traffic laws, and that he was in possession of more than three grams of methamphetamine.
On Aug. 27, 2021, Sidney Police Officer James Jennings was watching traffic around 5 p.m. in the parking lot of Dekker’s Flowers on Main Avenue when Nichols, riding a motorcycle, passed him with no license plates. Jennings pulled onto the road to initiate a stop for a traffic violation as Nichols began to drive at excessive speeds and crossed a double yellow lane marking to pass a car. This led to an 11 to 12 minutes, 15.4 miles chase between Nichols and Jennings where Jennings reported he reached speeds of 112 mph and was still unable to gain on Nichols. During this time, Nichols failed to stop at numerous stop signs and passed multiple cars over a double yellow lane marking. The chase ended when Nichols and Jennings collided, causing Nichols to wreck his bike and have a compound fracture in his leg. This is why Nichols was indicted on the charge of failure to comply with the order or signal of a police officer and the dismissed charge of vandalism, because he was initially thought to have knowingly caused physical harm to Jennings during the collision.
At the end of the chase, Jennings’s police cruiser had undercarriage damage from an embedded, twisted piece of metal with spikes that Nichols was carrying in a saddle bag and a flat tire. There were two pieces of metal found at the crash site and one piece found in a truck on Nichols’s property, and they were frequently referred to as “road spikes” by Shelby County Prosecutor Timothy Sell, and testifying witnesses. These spikes were handmade by Nichols, as Nichols’s father owns a metal fabrication shop. An EMT found a black zip up bag in Nichols’s pocket while treating him for his injuries and handed it to law enforcement, which was later found to have 8 grams of methamphetamine inside. This encompasses the charge of felonious assault, because he was believed to have thrown the spikes at Jennings’s cruiser, and aggravated possession of drugs.
Five witnesses testified on behalf of the State of Ohio. Tyler Overman, an EMT for the Anna Rescue Squad who found the pouch containing methamphetamine; Nathan Mahaffy, an Anna police officer who Overman gave the pouch to; Rodney Robbins, a Shelby County sheriff and evidence technician who was on the scene and took the pouch to evidence; Chris Brown, detective lieutenant of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office who initiated the search warrant on Nichols’s property; and Meredith Goebel, a forensic drug chemist at the Miami Valley Regional Crime Laboratory who tested the substance in the pouch to confirm that it was methamphetamine.
Notable moments from the testimonies stemmed from cross-examinations made from Nichols’s attorney, Kenneth Rexford. Mahaffy testified that he opened the pouch while it was in his possession. When Rexford questioned him about why he would open the pouch without a warrant, Mahaffy said he was making sure it did not contain a weapon. Mahaffy typically wears a body camera, but the day of the incident was the first time he had tried to use it and the battery died, so the incident was not captured.
When asked if Goebel could use a reasonable degree of scientific certainty to confirm that the substance was methamphetamine, she said that there is no definition of scientific certainty that is agreed upon by the entire scientific community, so she would only state that the findings were her opinion and speak to her experience and training as a forensic chemist. Judge James Stevenson and the attorneys found this odd, because usually science professionals have no problem using this language in court to confirm their findings. Rexford attempted to have Goebel’s testimony thrown out for this as well as having to read the report that she wrote at length to answer questions, but Stevenson confirmed her credibility as a professional and the testimony was allowed to be used.
The next steps in the case are the pre-sentence investigation, in which Stevenson will review Nichols’s history, and the final sentencing from Stevenson.