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Passenger: Trooper said I was driving

Sandusky Register Staff • Nov 1, 2011 at 10:38 AM

Dressed as a German bar maid, 27-year-old Melissa Bubash slept in the passenger seat of a truck while a man wearing old western duds drove them along Ohio 13.

She knew him only as "Eric," she said, and the two were on their way home from a Halloween party, where he played the role of an Old West bartender.

The Cincinnati resident was startled awake when the truck slammed into a tree and settled in a neighbor's yard. The next thing she knew, she said, the man was telling deputies she was the driver.

The crash also roused a nearby resident from her sleep. The woman who called 911 found off-duty Ohio State Patrol Trooper Eric Wlodarsky wandering around, according to police. The resident handed Wlodarsky the phone.

"My girlfriend's driving," Wlodarsky told a sheriff's dispatcher.

It was the second thing he said after giving the dispatcher his name. (Hear the 911 call in a previous story here.)

Before hanging up, Wlodarsky asked dispatch to send troopers to the scene.

But Erie County Sheriff's deputies were already en route and got to the 10500 block of Ohio 13 first.

 Erie County Sheriff's Deputy Nickolas Kotsopoulos didn't buy Wlodarsky's story. In fact the off-duty trooper initially admitted he was the driver, according to a sheriff's report.

When Kotsopoulos pulled up and got out of his cruiser, Wlodarsky recognized him and seemed relieved -- the two were apparently acquainted.

"Hey Nick, are you going to handle this?" Wlodarsky asked the deputy. "What are you going to do?"

Kotsopoulos's answer was brief.

"I told him I was going to investigate this crash as I would any other crash," the deputy wrote in his report. "I could smell a strong odor of intoxicating beverages on Wlodarsky's breath."

After finding that neither passenger suffered injuries, the deputy checked the mangled vehicle. The gas tank was ruptured, the back bumper torn off and one of the back tires was missing.

He then returned his focus to the two costumed and displaced passengers. That's when Wlodarsky changed his story. He told Kotsopoulos that Bubash was driving, saying he'd initially lied to protect her.

"I told Wlodarsky that contradicted what he originally told me," the deputy wrote. "He then told me that he only said he was driving because Bubash was a nurse and she didn't want to lose her nursing license. Bubash was silent but looked at Wlodarsky in disbelief."

Cornered by Kotsopoulos on one side and Bubash on the other, Wlodarsky made an apparent pass at the deputy's integrity.

"Can't we just say she was driving?" he whispered to deputy, according to the report.

Kotsopoulos recoiled.

"I told him absolutely not," wrote the deputy. "I want the truth."

Kotsopoulos led Bubash away from Wlodarsky for a chat. She said she wasn't driving -- she'd only known "Eric" for about a month and "refused to lie for him."

But Wlodarsky kept up the charade -- even while changing his story for a third time.

"I'll take the hit for it," he told the deputy. The partial confession didn't satisfy Kotsopoulos.

"I told Wlodarsky I was only going to accept the truth -- him saying he would take the hit for it is not an answer," Kotsopoulos wrote in his report.

Finally he admitted to driving -- this time in front of another deputy, the sheriff's report states. With that question settled, the deputy moved his attention to the truck.

Inside the 2003 black Ford, he and found an assortment of empty beer bottles, a wine bottle and a loaded Glock 27 handgun.

But Kotsopoulos wasn't done documenting discoveries.

The sheriff's report stated Wlodarsky's performance on field sobriety tests along with a portable breath test result showed he was legally drunk. In fact, his percent blood alcohol concentration was 0.154 -- nearly twice Ohio's legal limit of 0.08 -- on scene. He also seemed unsteady on his feet and couldn't balance on one leg.

Before taking the breath test and failing field sobriety tests, however, Wlodarsky is accused of trying one more time to get out of the drunken driving charge. According to the report, Wlodarsky asked Kotsopoulos if they could just chalk the crash up as failure to control, and leave it at that.

The deputy refused and continued the investigation.

Although Bubash said Monday that she's forgiven Wlodarsky, she wasn't sure if he'd get another date.

"I was initially pretty upset about it," Bubash said about being tagged as the driver. "But in hindsight, now I understand he was pretty panicked."

Wlodarsky has been charged with operating a vehicle while under the influence, failure to control and possessing a weapon while intoxicated.

He's been placed on desk duty and relieved of his duty weapon, badge, and cruiser, pending an administrative investigation into the incident, Patrol spokeswoman Lt. Anne Ralston said.

"The investigation is going to move forward swiftly," Ralston said.

Wlodarsky was scheduled for an arraignment in Erie County Municipal Court on Monday morning but obtained an attorney, who postponed the hearing.

He did not return a call seeking Monday, nor did his attorney, Ben Chapman.

What was the KKK prank?

Eric Wlodarsky first made headlines three years ago for taking a picture of a fellow trooper dressed in Ku Klux Klan-like garb while on duty the day before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

In 2008, then Sandusky post Sgt. Eric Wlodarsky and Trooper Craig Franklin were disciplined after Franklin dressed up in Ku Klux Klan-like garb and Wlodarsky took his picture.

The two were on-duty the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day and said they modeled Franklin's costume after a Dave Chapelle skit as a joke.

Wlodarsky sent the picture on with his cell phone to another trooper.

Former Gov. Ted Strickland called for both men to be fired, but they contested the terminations.

Eventually, an arbitrator reinstated both men to their jobs under two-year last-chance agreements.

Under those agreements, they had to be model troopers.

Wlodarsky was demoted, transferred to another post and was ordered to undergo diversity counseling.

Wlodarsky's current post is in Milan, patrolling the turnpike.

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