Witnesses recount events of April 2023 fatality accident

On the morning of April 26, 2023, Virginia Wagner of Lawrence was driving north on U.S. Highway 75 just south of Holton when she noticed “a little four-door black car” coming up behind her at a high rate of speed.

“You definitely take notice of a car that’s going that fast,” Wagner said.

Wagner, still driving on U.S. 75 through Holton toward Nemaha County, watched as the car tailgated other cars in front of it a few minutes later, then watched as the car attempted to pass two vehicles in front of it just north of the city. The car passed the two vehicles, but stayed in the southbound lane and “didn’t finish the pass,” she said.

Just as it approached 254th Road, the car, still in the southbound lane, slammed into the front of a white car driven south on U.S. 75, prompting Wagner to pull over and call 911.

“It was like a movie where you know what’s coming,” she said. “I remember thinking, why don’t you get out of the way?”

The driver of the white car, 74-year-old Melinda Wareham of Whiting, was killed in that accident, and the driver of the black car, 44-year-old Ayinde J. James of Fort Worth, Texas, was eventually charged with second-degree murder, driving under the influence and two misdemeanor charges in connection with the accident.

James, now 45, was bound over on the charges of second-degree murder, a level 2 felony, and third-offense driving under the influence, a level 6 felony, following a preliminary hearing on Friday morning in Jackson County District Court, where Judge Norbert Marek heard testimony from law enforcement, medical personnel and others regarding the accident and its aftermath.

James will next face an arraignment hearing on Friday, June 28 in district court. He remains in custody at the Jackson County Jail, where he has been held since the date of the accident, on $750,000 bond.

During the hearing, Wagner and Jeffrey Easum of Meriden both recounted being passed by James, driving a 2013 Dodge Avenger, at high speeds on U.S. 75 south of Holton that morning, as well as their recounting of the accident’s aftermath, with Easum stating that he “pulled over and tried to assist in any way I could” after coming up on the accident scene.

Jackson County deputy Brad Wingerter also testified about the scene of the accident, stating that he attempted to check Wareham’s wrist and neck for a pulse while she was still in her car, a 2010 Mercury Grand Marquis, but could not feel one. Wingerter also noted a brief interaction with James, who reportedly had minor injuries from the accident, after arriving at the scene.

For more on this and other stories, please log in to your holtonrecorder.net account and select “May 8, 2024” under “E-Editions.”

The Holton Recorder

109 W. Fourth St.
Holton, KS 66436
Phone: 785-364-3141



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