August 31, 2014

Elyria
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Road rage firefighter pleads no contest

ELYRIA — An Elyria firefighter accused of ripping a man out his car in a fit of road rage pleaded no contest Monday to assault.

Christopher Nilges, a 20-year veteran of the Fire Department, was ordered to pay a $200 fine, continue counseling, pay close to $200 for damage to the victim’s vehicle and avoid contact with the victim for five years.

A 60-day jail sentence and $300 fine were suspended on condition of good behavior for one year.

City Prosecutor Jay Grunda said the plea was a part of a deal he offered Nilges, 44, in exchange for dropping charges of menacing and unlawful restraint in connection with the March 9 incident on Grafton Road.

“I think justice was served,” Grunda said after the Municipal Court hearing. “He took responsibility with the assault and I’m confident with that we’ll never have another victim.”

Still to be decided is what will happen with Nilges’ job. Elyria fire Chief Rich Benton said he will meet with city Safety Service Director Chris Eichenlaub soon to discuss what disciplinary action to take, if any.

“Personally I wish the situation never happened,” said Benton, who was not the chief when the incident occurred. “We can’t tolerate that type of behavior from our firefighters.”

Eichenlaub, the only one with authority to approve any disciplinary action above a written reprimand, said he hopes to review the case and have a pre-disciplinary meeting, if necessary, within the week.

“I’ll review any policies in the department, any rules and regulations that were violated, if any, and if there were I’ll sit down with Mr. Nilges and we’ll go from there,” he said.

Nilges could not be reached for comment Monday.

The man who Nilges attacked, William Lockhart, 57, a former assistant superintendent in the Streets Department, told sheriff’s deputies he was northbound on Grafton Road near Indian Hollow Road behind two moving cars about 10 a.m. when an SUV began following him closely.

It began swerving and the driver made an obscene gesture. Thinking it was a joke from a friend, Lockhart said he waved and the SUV passed him and stopped in the middle of the road.

He said he recognized Nilges, who he knew from the city and playing softball, and Nilges began shouting obscenities and said, “I’m going to kick the (expletive) out of you.”

Lockhart said Nilges opened his car door and began pulling him out in “a very aggressive manner.”

He said he tried to shut the door, but Nilges pulled the door open again.

He told deputies his left hand, wrist and shoulder were injured as a result of trying to escape and being pulled by Nilges.

Lockhart told Nilges he was going to be in trouble and Nilges drove off after telling him he would

Contact Adam Wright at 329-7129 or awright@chroniclet.com.