Thursday April 27, 2023
By Eric Lagatta & Jordan Laird
Naimo Mahdi Abdirahman, whom family say was 27 and the mother of a now toddler son, was walking across Morse Road on Columbus' Northeast Side early in the morning of April 20, 2022 when she was struck and killed by a vehicle in a hit-and-run crash. On Wednesday, Columbus police Detective Demetris A. Ortega, 50, was indicted by a Franklin County grand jury on two charges stemming from that off-duty incident: a felony count of failure to stop after an accident and a misdemeanor count of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence.
A Columbus police detective has been criminally charged a little more than a year after he was identified by police as being a passenger in his personal vehicle that killed a woman in a hit-and-run crash on the city's Northeast Side.
Detective Demetris A. Ortega, 50, of the city's Northeast Side, was indicted Wednesday by a Franklin County grand jury on two charges stemming from the crash: failure to stop after an accident, which is a felony, as well as a misdemeanor count of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse, or a combination of them.
The charges stem from an early morning April 20, 2022 crash in which 27-year-old Naimo Mahdi Abdirahman was hit and killed while crossing Morse Road in the area of Walford Street, police said. The woman had come to the U.S. from Somalia as a child and had become an American citizen.
Ortega, who has been with the Columbus Division of Police since 2002, was initially placed on "relieved of duty" status, — which is essentially a paid suspension — following the crash, which occurred while he was off-duty. The Dispatch left a message Wednesday night with a division spokeswoman seeking an update on Ortega's employment status following the indictment.
Columbus police had responded around 2:40 a.m. on April 20, 2022 to a report that Abdirahman was struck by an eastbound vehicle while she was crossing Morse Road in the area of Walford Street. Abdirahman was pronounced dead at the scene by medics at 2:48 a.m., police said.
Franklin County Prosecutor G. Gary Tyack's office said in a news release Wednesday that Ortega was driving and failed to stop after the crash and left the scene. Through the investigation, prosecutors say it was determined that Ortega had been drinking and was under the influence of alcohol at the time the crash occurred.
The case was presented to the Franklin County grand jury, whose members heard testimony that detectives investigating the fatal crash were unable to locate witnesses, video or physical evidence that would help to conclusively identify Abdirahman’s location as she crossed the street.
Detectives also were "unable to determine to any degree of certainty that Detective Ortega was at fault in causing the crash," an essential element needed to seek a charge of aggravated vehicular homicide or vehicular homicide against him, the prosecutor's office said.Sources had previously told The Dispatch that Ortega was not driving at the time of the crash, but that the 2022 Kia Sorento identified as the vehicle involved in the crash was reportedly registered to him.
A media release from the Division of Police days after the crash said the driver of the vehicle was a female, who briefly stopped after hitting Abdirahman. A male passenger who got out to check on the condition of Abdirahman "appeared distraught" and reportedly told witnesses to call police, the release said.
Police have said that after the man, later identified as Ortega, got out of the car, the female driver continued eastbound on Morse Road before turning around to pick up the male passenger so the the pair could leave the scene.
Franklin County First Assistant Prosecutor Janet Grubb, who oversees the office's criminal division, told The Dispatch on Wednesday she did not know why police issued a release saying someone other than Ortega was driving. She declined further comment.
A spokeswoman for the Columbus Division of Police did not return a call Wednesday from The Dispatch seeking comment.
Ortega is scheduled to appear in court on May 10 for an arraignment, according to Franklin County Common Pleas Court records.
Columbus defense attorney Mark Collins, who is representing Ortega, told The Dispatch on Wednesday that Ortega will enter a plea of not guilty at the arraignment. He declined to comment further.
Members of Abdirahman's family had previously expressed to The Dispatch frustration with the lack of transparency from Columbus police during the investigation and with how slowly the investigation progressed. They also have said they do not know why she was crossing Morse Road at the time of the fatal crash.
Abdirahman was a member of the Columbus area's large Somali-American community, having emigrated to the United States as a young child. Government records indicated she was 30 years old at the time of her death, which is the age the prosecutor's office used in their news release. However, her family said she was born in January 1995 and was 27 at the time of her death.
The mother of a now 2½-year-old boy, Abdirahman was a graduate of Columbus' Centennial High School on the Northwest Side and had attended Columbus State Community College.
Dispatch reporter Peter Gill contributed to this article.