Trial begins for motorist accused in alleged Felton hit and run

Nathan W. Jester Jr.

DOVER — Trial of a 36-year-old Felton man accused of a fatal hit and run involving a pedestrian walking his dog opened Monday with attorneys previewing evidence during a projected two-day proceeding.

Nathan W. Jester Jr. believed he struck a deer on Willow Grove Road (Del. 10) on Sept. 6, 2017, according to his attorney in Kent County Superior Court.

He was told by an auto insurance agent that police did not need to be contacted during the process, his attorney said.

The prosecution maintains that Mr. Jester’s failure to remain where Roger L. Coberly Jr. died amounted to leaving the scene of a collision resulting in failure to report a collision resulting in death. That could bring six months to a year in prison and fines if convicted.

He also failed to contact police after informed by his girlfriend of a news release reporting a pedestrian fatal on Del. 10, Deputy Attorney General Kathleen Dickerson said.

While Mr. Coberly’s wife testified that the incident at 9:07 p.m. near their home took place under a moon “that was brighter than usual” and “where I could see everything,” defense attorney Andre’ Beauregard portrayed the surroundings as a very cloudy night with an impending storm brewing on a countryside road with no lights.

An anonymous tip alerted police to a damaged 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt at Mr. Jester’s Cedar Grove Church Road residence the next day. Ms. Dickerson said hair fibers, plastic headlight and mirror pieces at the crash scene were tied to the vehicle.

According to the prosecution, Mr. Jester’s Cobalt was found with a “windshield absolutely shattered and [a] large dent across the hood.”

Mr. Jester was arrested and interviewed by police within 17 hours of the incident, attorneys said, where he claimed to believe he had struck two deer at different spots the night before.

According to the deputy attorney general, the defendant said that while he didn’t see a deer, he believed to have hit one based on past history including a crash with one about three months earlier.

Police located Mr. Jester in a vehicle that passed by his home as troopers arrived looking for him. A traffic stop ensued shortly afterward, a trooper testified.

While the trooper initially said he remembered the Cobalt being covered with a tarp on the property, he couldn’t reference it in a report and then said he couldn’t be “100 percent sure” of his recall.

The trooper, who said he was at the home to assist in the apprehension and not to investigate the collision, said he did not ask why Mr. Jester had initially traveled past the home.

As word spread of the fatal incident on Del. 10, the defense said, Mr. Jester began to have “doubts in the pit of his stomach” about what might have occurred. According to Mr. Beauregard, however, that was in hindsight and did not indicate any criminal liability due to his deer-related thinking immediately after the collision.

There was no attempt to conceal the vehicle or repair it, Mr. Beauregard said. The Cobalt was left for the insurance company to evaluate.

Mr. Jester was indicted by a grand jury last Dec. 4, and pleaded not guilty.

Recalling the aftermath

In opening statements to Resident Judge William L. Witham Jr., who will determine the verdict in a bench trial, the defense pointed to Mr. Coberly walking with his dog in the same direction of traffic in dark clothing with no light for reflections, which are violations by law. According to the defense, Mr. Jester was not speeding on the roadway and never skid or hit the brakes.

Mr. Coberly’s wife, though, testified to hearing what she thought were brakes squealing followed by hearing an impact that went “Boom. It was loud.”

Testimony indicated that the stretch of road included a passing zone and 50 mph speed limit where “people fly by,” according to Mrs. Coberly.

The startled spouse recalled leaving their home, however, believing that their dog “Bubba” had gotten hit.

“I got to the steps and saw the dog,” Mrs. Coberly testified while trying to suppress tears throughout as family members in the gallery did the same with tissues provided by court personnel.

“I screamed for my husband and never got a response. I didn’t know what to do, I panicked …”

Upon locating her husband face down in a ditch three to four feet deep, Mrs. Coberly called 911 and followed orders to conduct chest compressions (counting two per second, according to the operator) for several minutes until first responders arrived.

During an approximately 10 minute recording of a 911 call played in court, an emotional Mrs. Coberly soon feared the worst during a futile effort to revive her husband.

Mr. Coberly was pronounced dead at the scene by Kent County Paramedics, Delaware State Police said at the time.

According to the prosecution, Mr. Jester’s Cobalt was found with a “windshield absolutely shattered and large dent across the hood.” The state police did not determine who was at fault in the collision, Deputy Attorney General Dickerson said.

The defense said Mr. Jester stopped at a country store after the strike, surveyed the damage and immediately called his girlfriend to report that his vehicle struck a deer.

Police said at the time that Del. 10 was closed for about four hours between Sandtown Road and Mahon Corner Road for the investigation.

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