A man accused of driving drunk through the parking lot of the West End Walmart and crashing into the building after passing out behind the wheel was ordered held on $75,000 bond Wednesday.
Steven James Barnhart, 32, made his first appearance in Justice Court by video following the crash Tuesday evening that prosecutors said caused extensive damage to the Walmart building and endangered numerous lives, including those of three teenagers who were in the car.
Judge Larry Herman set the high bond after prosecutors said Barnhart has an extensive criminal history that includes prior felony convictions for aggravated assault, escape, forgery and drug possession.
Herman ordered Barnhart to appear for arraignment in District Court on Jan. 19. He is charged with felony criminal endangerment and misdemeanor counts of DUI, driving without a valid license and driving without insurance.
Police, prosecutors and witnesses described a chaotic scene starting at about 7:20 p.m. at the large retail store off King Avenue West. A couple who had just parked said they saw a car race past them at an estimated 50 to 60 mph.
The car, a 2003 Pontiac Sunfire, sped toward the storefront, went over a sidewalk and crashed through a chain-link fence before smashing into the building, knocking out a portion of the exterior wall near the pharmacy entrance.
Prosecutors said statements from the three teenagers in the car and Barnhart indicate that the four had been drinking vodka in the car before the crash. The car belonged to one of the teens, but Barnhart was behind the wheel, prosecutors said.
According to court documents, one teen said they were heading between rows 4 and 5 on the Walmart parking lot when the three passengers noticed that Barnhart had passed out behind the wheel.
As the car accelerated, the three tried unsuccessfully to awaken Barnhart, screaming at him as the car raced toward the store.
Barnhart was trapped in the car as a result of the crash and had to be removed by emergency crews. One of the teens fled before officers arrived, but he later called police and gave a statement. Two of the teens were issued misdemeanor citations for being minors in possession of alcohol.
Barnhart and one of the teens were taken to St. Vincent Healthcare, where they were treated for cuts and bruises. At the hospital, Barnhart agreed to provide a blood sample for testing and to give a statement. He allegedly told an officer that he had been drinking alcohol before the crash but also believed he was diabetic and had blacked out.
During a second interview with an officer, Barnhart is reported to have said he had consumed two beers and three shots of vodka at his residence about 90 minutes before the crash. He also stated that he had not eaten a meal since the previous day and had only slept for three hours the previous night.
A prosecutor said in court Wednesday that there is no evidence that Barnhart has been diagnosed with diabetes.