Benton City man innocent of charges in hit-and-run

BENTON CITY -- A jury found a Benton City man innocent this week of vehicular assault and hit-and-run with injuries.

John Douglas Engelke was accused of crashing his pickup on the drive home from a bar and leaving behind his injured passenger.

His attorney, Peyman Younesi, argued to a Benton County Superior Court jury that the prosecution could not prove that Engelke was driving the Dodge pickup that crashed. The pickup had front and rear seating for four.

"It was a right and just resolution," Younesi said. "I appreciated the jury looking at all the evidence."

Prosecutors alleged that Engelke was under the influence early Feb. 5 when driving home from a Prosser bar. The pickup crashed at 12:35 a.m. on River Road, near Pendleton Road in Benton City, and landed in an embankment.

Engelke, who was 40 then, was accused of fleeing the scene and abandoning passenger Nicholas Thompson.

When law enforcement officers arrived, Thompson told Benton County sheriff's deputies that Engelke was the driver, according to court documents.

Deputies tracked Engelke's cellphone and found him in a pasture about 60 feet off the road, documents said. His head apparently had hit the windshield during the crash and he was staggering, slurring his speech and suspected of being drunk, court documents said.

Younesi said his client was disoriented after hitting his head and could not recall the details of what happened.

Thompson suffered a broken leg and was hospitalized.

Engelke also was acquitted by a Benton County jury in 2010. He was accused of punching a patron at The Palm Tavern in Benton City and driving his friend, Craig Shumock, away from the scene after Shumock allegedly stabbed another man.

Engelke said he wasn't aware at the time that John Burnett had been stabbed and said he and his friend acted in self-defense.