Ex-Tower Hill leader’s adopted son held in fatal DUI crash; was central figure in dad’s child porn arrest

 Nikolai Wheeler, 27, faces charges in a fatal crash Friday night in South Carolina. Police said he was drunk and fled the scene. (inset: Nickolai Wheeler/Bluffton County Detention Center)<a href=“www.bigstockphoto.com/image-77999282/stock-photo-driving-under-the-influence”> (background: drunk driving/bigstockphoto.com)</a>

Nikolai Wheeler, 27, faces charges in a fatal crash Friday night in South Carolina. Police said he was drunk and fled the scene. (inset: Nickolai Wheeler/Bluffton County Detention Center) (background: drunk driving/bigstockphoto.com)

The adopted Russian son of a former Delaware headmaster convicted of child pornography is now behind bars himself after a fatal hit-run crash in South Carolina where police said he was driving drunk.

Nikolai Kovalesky Wheeler, 27, faces felony driving under the influence resulting in death and several other counts, after the Friday night three-car crash in Bluffton, S.C. His blood alcohol content was .256 percent — more than three times South Carolina’s legal limit of .08 percent — according to police reports released Monday. 

The fatal crash occurred just five days after Wheeler was arrested for drunk driving by the South Carolina Highway Patrol, Bluffton police said Monday.

Bluffton is near the Hilton Island resort town known as a golf haven. Wheeler, a 2009 Delaware high school golf champion who aspires to become a professional, has lived in the area for several years.

Wheeler was a central figure in the child porn arrest of his adoptive father Christopher Wheeler, who once headed the prestigious Tower Hill School in Wilmington. Christopher Wheeler was convicted in 2015 and sentenced to 50 years in prison, but in March 2016 the Delaware Supreme Court overturned his conviction.

In 2013, though, authorities had used Nikolai’s allegation that Christopher Wheeler had raped him when they lived in Illinois to help obtain a warrant to search Wheeler’s Tower Hill-owned mansion. Inside the stately brick colonial, police and prosecutors obtained thousands of images of child porn involving men and boys.

Nikolai had told the story about being raped by his father to police in Bluffton, who had responded to a 911 call from his father in Delaware that his adopted son was despondent and possibly suicidal. Nikolai told police then that he never reported the rapes by Christopher Wheeler because his dad would “pay him off,” the warrant said.

Two other men had also reported to authorities that Wheeler had sexually abused them as teenagers when he lived with their family in Westtown, Pa. After the men confronted him in 2013, they told police, he admitted the crimes and asked in writing about taking “appropriate steps toward resolution and restitution.”

Authorities in Delaware used the allegations by Nikolai and the other men to persuade a judge that Wheeler’s home or office would have evidence of witness tampering. Christopher Wheeler was never charged with sexually abusing either his son or the other men.

Christopher Wheeler, now 56, was convicted of 25 counts of dealing in child porn, though. But in March 2016 the state Supreme Court threw out the conviction. The justices ruled that the search warrant was unconstitutionally broad, but called Wheeler an “unsympathetic figure” and that “sexual exploitation of children is a dreadful scourge in our society.”

“There is always a temptation in criminal cases to let the end justify the means, but as guardians of the Constitution, we must resist that temptation,” the opinion said.

Less than two weeks after his adoptive father was arrested, I interviewed Nikolai Wheeler for The Wilmington News Journal, where I was senior investigative reporter.

At that time Wheeler would not discuss his abuse allegations against his father, but said he loved him dearly and was grateful he had adopted him in 2002 at the age of 12 from Russia, where he lived in extreme poverty with his widowed alcoholic mother and two siblings. His mother was often in jail, and the children were usually in orphanages. Wheeler also acknowledged then that he had a drinking problem.

“Today I speak English fluently. I speak Russian fluently. I play professional golf. I have a lot of good friends. He’s done a lot more for me than my real parents ever did. For that, I’ll always be grateful,” Nikolai Kovalevsky Wheeler told me then.

He has continued to live in Bluffton. On Friday at about 5 p.m., police said Wheeler was driving erratically when he slammed two other cars, killing one person and injuring another.

Bluffton police spokeswoman Joy Nelson said witnesses reported that Wheeler’s white Nissan 350z was weaving in and out of traffic at a high rate of speed on the 55 mph road before he crashed into the rear of a car driven by Cullen Mieczkowski, a 34-year-old local real estate agent. Mieczkowski’s vehicle went airborne and collided head-on with a vehicle going in the opposite direction.

Mieczkowski was pronounced dead at the scene. The man driving the third car was taken to the hospital for injuries described in police reports as a broken arm and a large bump on his head.  He was released Monday, Nelson said.

After the crash, Wheeler continued driving, then crashed again, and fled on foot, police said. He disappeared into nearby woods but soon walked out to where officers were waiting to arrest him, reports showed. 

Wheeler told officers at the scene he had consumed a half-bottle of vodka, and later at Beaufort County Detention Center told an officer he had taken the anti-anxiety medication Xanax, police reports said.

During an initial court appearance, a judge denied him bond pending future court appearances.

Wheeler also was charged with felony DUI resulting in serious injury, hit-and-run resulting in death, leaving the scene of a collision resulting in great bodily injury, and driving under a suspended license. 

Since the fatal accident, Nelson said, she has been informed about Wheeler’s history, including his adoption by Christopher Wheeler and the child porn case.

She said that despite Wheeler’s difficult past and his “extensive history” of substance abuse, “this didn’t have to happen. The gentleman that Wheeler killed was just leaving work. He was trying to home. Now his family is mourning him.”

 

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