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ELDORA — The state is challenging claims Iowa’s hit-and-run statute is unconstitutional in the case of a driver accused of leaving a Minnesota man in a ditch after a 2015 crash near Iowa Falls.

Nikolas Andrew Stephens, 30, is charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident in the collision that killed 23-year-old Timothy Steven Nussbaum of Hutchinson, Minn., who was walking along highway to his motel Sept. 12, 2015.

Authorities allege Stephens moved his damaged truck and fled to Des Moines without summoning help or reporting the accident. While out on bond, he was arrested in January 2017 during a Story County traffic stop that turned up street drugs and prescription pills. In May 2017, he was arrested in a Marion County drunk driving crash, both involving the same truck as the fatal Iowa Falls crash, according to court records.

Stephens’ attorney, David Johnson of Clarion, had asked the court to throw out the Hardin County case, claiming Iowa’s hit-and-run law violates the Fourth and Fifth Amendments against self-incrimination and unlawful seizure.

A similar argument was used last year by reality TV star Chris Soules’ defense team in Buchanan County District Court. In that case, the judge dismissed the defense motion, allowing the case to proceed toward trial (unlike the Stephens case, Soules had called 911, identified himself and attempted to render aid but left before law enforcement arrived).

Stephens’ hearing to dismiss the charge had been slated for last Friday, but Stephens wasn’t available, and the matter was continued until later this month at the Marshall County Courthouse.

Assistant Iowa Attorney General Douglas Hammerand, who is prosecuting the case with Hardin County Attorney Rick Dunn, is resisting Stephens’ claim the law is unconstitutional.

“Iowa law imposed a duty to remain at the scene and would expose him to criminal prosecution if he refused to comply — but no particularized assertion of police authority limited his freedom to make that choice to disregard that duty, so there was no seizure at all at that point,” Hammerand wrote in a reply to the defense motion. He attached a copy of the ruling in the Soules case, which was decided by a different judge.

Meanwhile, Stephens is facing a probation violation hearing in Story County in connection with his January 2017 traffic stop. Corrections officials in November said Stephens had used meth, THC, opiates and other drugs while on probation in the fall of 2017 and, at that point, hadn’t undergone treatment or found employment.

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Police and Courts Reporter

Cops and courts reporter for the Courier

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