Man charged in death of bicyclist from Netherlands

Published 2:37 pm Thursday, October 29, 2009

Federal authorities have charged a convicted felon with manslaughter in the death of a Dutch bicyclist in northern Mississippi, and they say he was driving under the influence of morphine when he hit her.

Esther Hageman, 51, of Leiden, Netherlands, was struck by a sports utility vehicle April 22 on the Natchez Trace Parkway while riding her bike in Chickasaw County.

Wendell G. Blount is charged with manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter in Hageman’s death, according to a federal indictment dated Oct. 8. Blount faces federal charges because the scenic road is part of the National Parks system and is under federal jurisdiction.

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The indictment gives few details about Blount’s alleged morphine use, but says the drug “impaired his ability to operate a motor vehicle.”

An arraignment and detention hearing scheduled for Monday was delayed at the request of Blount’s attorney, David Hill of Oxford. Hill had no other comment Monday. The U.S. attorney’s office had no immediate comment.

The driver of the SUV that hit and killed Hageman stopped and waited at the scene, Chief Park Ranger Allen Etheridge has said.

Blount, 58, was released from federal prison in November 2008 after serving time on a drug charge. He was charged in Texas in 2006 and later convicted with aiding and abetting the possession with intent to distribute 23 kilograms of marijuana, court records show.

In 1997, he was indicted, but never convicted, for accessory after the fact to murder in Calhoun County in Mississippi. He later worked as an informant for U.S. Customs Enforcement in a money laundering case.

Blount was still on probation from the Texas arrest at the time of Hageman’s death, according to court records. The supervision of that probation has been transferred to U.S. District Court in north Mississippi, where his manslaughter case is being handled.

The Natchez Trace runs from Tennessee to south Mississippi along a historic series of paths once used by American Indians, explorers and traders. It is popular with motorists and bicyclists, but is also used by commuters. At least one other bicyclist has died after being struck by a car on the Trace this year.

Hageman was a veteran journalist for one of the Netherlands’ major daily newspapers, Trouw. For the bulk of her career she was on the education beat, heading the paper’s education team in the 1990s.

At the end of that stint she published a book called “A Decisive Year,” based on her experiences sitting in on a 6th grade class for an entire school year. More recently, she had launched a popular long-form obituary page for the paper.

She was not married and is survived by four siblings.