Thursday April 27, 2023
The father of a Somali American woman killed by a hit-and-run vehicle on Columbus’ Northeast Side a little more than a year ago welcomed the indictment Wednesday of an off-duty city police detective in connection with her death.
“I am thrilled today and I trust the prosecutors and investigators, and I believe justice will prevail,” Mahdi Jama, 52, the father of the victim, 27-year-old Naimo Mahdi Abdirahman, told The Dispatch in Somali through a translator.
Abdirahman was reported hit while crossing Morse Road in the area of Walford Street around 2:40 a.m. on April 20, 2022. She was pronounced dead at the scene by medics at 2:48 a.m.
Columbus police Detective Demetris A. Ortega, 50, of the city’s Northeast Side, was indicted Wednesday by a Franklin County grand jury on two charges stemming from the crash, which occurred while he was off-duty. He is charged with failure to stop after an accident, which is a felony, as well as a misdemeanor count of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse, or a combination of them.
Abdirahman’s father, who lives in Gahanna, said his daughter was born in a Somali refugee camp in Kenya in January 1995. She came to the U.S. as a child and became an American citizen.
A graduate of Columbus City Schools’ Centennial High School on the Northwest Side, she had attended Columbus State Community College.
Abdirahman had one son, now 2 years old, and was living with family at the time she was killed, Jama said. He and other family members have said they do not know why she was crossing Morse Road at the time of the fatal crash.
Hassan Omar, president/executive director of the nonprofit Somali Community Association of Ohio in Columbus, said that Abdirahman had worked as a receptionist for his organization several years ago.
“She was wonderful. She was somebody with ambition — she was dreaming to become a nurse practitioner,” Omar said.
Ortega, who has been with the Columbus Division of Police since 2002, was placed on “relieved of duty” status, — essentially a paid suspension — following the crash. A spokeswoman for the city Division of Police indicated Thursday that his status remains the same following the indictment.
A media release from the Division of Police days after the crash initially identified the driver involved in the fatal accident as a woman, saying that witnesses had identified a “distraught” male passenger who got out to check on the condition of Abdirahman before the two drove off.
But Franklin County prosecutors said Wednesday in a news release that Ortega was the one driving and failed to stop after the crash and left the scene. Through investigation, prosecutors said it was determined that Ortega had been drinking and was under the influence of alcohol at the time the crash occurred.
Significantly, the charges brought against Ortega do not include aggravated vehicular homicide or vehicular homicide because investigating Columbus police detectives were “unable to determine to any degree of certainty that Detective Ortega was at fault in causing the crash,” according to the prosecutor’s office.
Ortega is scheduled to appear in court on May 10 for an arraignment, according to Franklin County Common Pleas Court records.
Columbus defense attorney Mark Collins, who is representing Ortega, told The Dispatch that Ortega will enter a plea of not guilty at the arraignment. He declined to comment further.
This is not the first case Ortega has faced for driving under the influence. He was temporarily relieved of duty by Columbus police in 2015, when he was found guilty for driving while drunk when he crashed into another car. At that time, he had a 0.134% blood alcohol content, according to personnel records obtained by The Dispatch through a public records request.
Brian Steel, executive vice president of Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge #9, said in a statement Thursday morning that the police union respects the grand jury’s decision to bring charges.
“This is a tragedy for all involved, and my sincere thoughts and prayers go out to Ms. Naimo Abdirahman, along with the family and friends she left behind,” Steel wrote.
Members of Abdirahman’s family had previously expressed to The Dispatch frustration with the lack of transparency from Columbus police during the investigation and with how slowly the investigation progressed. Still, Jama said he is glad that some charges have finally been brought in connection with his daughter’s death.
“I never slept without remembering. … I was worried about what’s gonna happen if this person who killed my daughter gets away without punishment,” he said.
Addressing the long period of time it took to bring charges, he said, “I do believe that everything takes a process. And I knew that this has been under investigation. … As an immigrant, I feel today included.
“I am joyful. … I will get enough sleep tonight.”
Dispatch reporters Eric Lagatta, Jordan Laird and Cole Behrens contributed to this report.