Sentencing set in death of Dutch bicyclist on Natchez Trace Parkway

By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Pres

JACKSON — A north Mississippi man convicted of being high on morphine when his vehicle struck and killed a Dutch bicyclist on the Natchez Trace Parkway is scheduled for sentencing on Thursday.

Wendell Blount’s sentencing comes more than two years after the death of 51-year-old Esther Hageman of Leiden, Netherlands. Hageman was a veteran journalist for one of the Netherlands’ major newspapers, Trouw.

Prosecutors say Blount was under the influence of morphine when his SUV struck Hageman on April 22, 2009, near Houston, Miss.

Blount, of Calhoun County, was convicted of manslaughter in April 2010, but authorities said he fled house arrest to avoid sentencing. He was captured last October in Baton Rouge, La. Legal wrangling in the case added more delays to the sentencing.

Blount faces up 13 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. His sentencing is scheduled to take place in U.S. District Court in Greenville.

Blount had been free on a $10,000 bond before his conviction and was allowed to remain free on bond pending his sentencing. But he fled house arrest in May 2010 not long after he was convicted and went into hiding, according to court records dealing with the forfeiture of his bond. He was captured in November 2010 by U.S. marshals in Baton Rouge. He was returned to Mississippi and ordered held without bond.

Blount’s sentencing will come nearly a year and half after his conviction, but his time as a fugitive is partly to blame for the delay.

Blount was on supervised release at the time of Hageman’s death due to a drug conviction in Texas. Blount was released from federal prison in Texas in November 2008 after serving time for aiding and abetting the possession with intent to distribute 23 kilograms of marijuana, court records show.

His supervised release in that case was revoked in March and he was sentenced to 21 months.

In 1997, Blount was indicted, but never convicted, for accessory after the fact to murder in Calhoun County in Mississippi.

Natchez Trace park officials have said he stopped after his vehicle struck Hageman.

The scenic road cuts through lush forests and fields of wildflowers from Tennessee to south Mississippi along a series of paths once used by Native Americans, explorers and traders. It is among the National Parks system’s most visited attractions and is popular with motorists and bicyclists, but is also used by commuters.

For the bulk of her career, Hageman was on the education beat, heading the paper’s education team in the 1990s .At the end of that stint she published a book called “A Decisive Year,” based on her experiences sitting in on a 6th grade class for an entire school year. More recently, she had launched a popular long-form obituary page for the paper.