Trial set to start in death of senior

Ralph Absher was hoeing weeds at the edge of his property when an older model sedan driven by a parolee jumped the curb and mowed down the semiretired businessman.

The driver, who initially gave authorities a false name and fled to Nevada after he was released on bail, comes to trial next week in a case that revolves around allegations of recklessness.

A witness told the court that he heard a rumble, like a hot rod, and saw a 1993 Chevrolet Caprice driven by Kelly O. Callahan cross into the oncoming lane to pass a slow-moving ice cream truck, then run off the road and hit the elderly man, whose body and straw hat went flying through the air.

In a letter to a detective, which is part of the official record in Stanislaus County Superior Court, Callahan's girlfriend, Rosanna Carroll, said they thought a dog might have run in front of their car, and had no idea what they had hit until it was too late.

"It was as if he fell from the sky, hit the windshield, which made Kelly involuntarily jerk the steering wheel toward the left as he put on the brakes," Carroll said in her letter.

Absher, 78, had been using a hoe about six feet from the edge of the road about 3:50 p.m. June 25, 2005. Neighbors who saw the incident ran to get his wife, Lucille Absher, who covered her husband with a blanket until authorities arrived.

Ralph Absher, owner of Dual Arch International, a real estate business specializing in foreclosures, died that afternoon.

Carroll fled to her mother's home a few blocks away on Chalone Court.

Callahan told police that he was Edwin F. Brekelmans, 54, and was wanted on a warrant from Arizona.

After he was booked in jail, the police checked on the warrant, then confronted their suspect with a photo of Brekelmans, prompting Callahan to reveal his true name after a moment of contemplation, according to court records.

Toxicology tests showed that Callahan had used methamphetamine in the two days before the incident. A background check showed that Callahan hadn't checked in with his parole officer in Auburn in two years.

According to court records, Callahan told police that he had been living as Brekelmans, an acquaintance who had died, because he couldn't get a parole transfer to Stanislaus County.

Authorities sent Callahan to Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, where he served time for violating his parole.

More than 2 and a half years after the incident, the case against Callahan remains on the books, in part because Callahan left the state after he posted $100,000 bail in July 2006.

Authorities found him in a motel in Reno months later. On March 27, 2007, Callahan was back in Stanislaus County jail, where he is held in lieu of $250,000 bail.

Callahan, 46, is charged with vehicular manslaughter and failing to appear in court, both felonies, as well as use of methamphetamine and giving false identification to authorities, both misdemeanors.

Vehicular manslaughter convictions often result in sentences of less than one year in jail. Callahan could get a stiffer punishment if prior convictions for assault with a deadly weapon and corporal punishment are considered.

At a preliminary hearing, defense attorney Robert Winston argued that the crash was a terrible tragedy, but an accident rather than a crime. Defense attorney Larry Cole, who now represents Callahan, said the case is not likely to be resolved with a plea deal when Callahan comes to court Monday.

If there is no deal, a trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 5.

Despite her loss, Lucille Ab- sher remained diplomatic, saying she would like the legal system to reach a decision and put the matter to rest. She won't waste her time on anger or bitterness, she added, because nothing will bring back the man who shared her life and helped her raise two sons.

"He just walked out of the house and 15 minutes later he was gone," Lucille Absher said.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.