The lead prosecutor in the Zahra Baker case is on administrative leave after he was arrested and charged with a DWI on Tuesday.
Catawba County's assistant district attorney Eric Robert Bellas, 45, of Morganton, was allegedly riding a bicycle on Clubhouse Road at Sunset Beach at about midnight Monday when he apparently flipped over a guardrail and fell off the bicycle, according to Sunset Beach Police reports and reliable O-N-E sources.
Bellas was at a N.C. District Attorneys Summer Association conference at Sea Trail Resort on Sunset Beach with District Attorney Jay Gaither that started June 19.
Gaither did not return messages left by The O-N-E; however, chief legal assistant Eric Farr issued a statement Wednesday stating Bellas was put on administrative leave at noon Tuesday.
"Mr. Bellas was placed on administrative leave and relieved of his prosecutorial duties as assistant district attorney," the statement read.
Bellas is involved with the Zahra Baker case, appearing at court proceedings for the case in Caldwell and Catawba counties. The 10-year-old girl disappeared in October, and her body parts were found scattered at various locations in Caldwell and Catawba counties in late October and early November. Her stepmother, Elisa Baker, was charged with second-degree murder for the child’s slaying.
The O-N-E asked what Bellas' leave from his duties means to the Zahra Baker case, but Farr said he was not authorized to comment.
Elisa Baker is scheduled to appear in court next week in Catawba County.
Gaither is expected to be back from the conference no later than Thursday.
It's unclear what happened in the alleged bicycle incident on Clubhouse Road at Sunset Beach. Sunset Beach Police Chief Lisa Massey said responding officer B.T. Cully arrived on the scene to find Bellas was in a bicycle accident and apparently intoxicated. Bellas was the only person on the bicycle and appears to be the only subject involved in the accident.
Cully wrote in his report's narrative that he was not able to determine the exact location of the incident because the bicycle was moved prior to his arrival on the scene. In addition, Cully wrote that Bellas was "uncooperative" when asked what happened.
Bellas refused to take a breath test to determine his level of intoxication. Therefore, Cully arrested Bellas and charged him with driving while impaired on a bicycle.
According to the N.C. Magistrates Association website, if an officer charges a person with driving while impaired, the individual will be asked to take a chemical test of breath or blood. Refusal to perform any required test will result in the immediate revocation of your driver's license for at least 30 days and an additional minimum 12-month revocation by the DMV, according to the website.
In certain instances, after six months of the willful refusal revocation elapsed, a judge may issue a limited driving privilege, the website stated.
Bellas was taken to the Brunswick Community Hospital because of facial injuries resulting from the bicycle accident. He was in the Brunswick County jail's custody by 2 a.m. Tuesday and released at 8:35 a.m. Tuesday.
Bellas had no bond amount listed, but was given a custody release into the care of Cynthia Bellas. A custody release is a court order declaring that a defendant may only be released into the care and supervision of a named responsible person, the N.C. Magistrates Association website said. The most common use of this release involves the parent of a juvenile defendant, the website continued.
The judicial official listed on the custody release form for Brunswick County is Judge J.A. Roberts.
Bellas is expected to be at Brunswick County district court Aug. 18 in Bolivia.