Local

Lead prosecutor in Zahra Baker case on leave after DWI charge

A local chief assistant district attorney - and a lead prosecutor in the Zahra Baker case - has been placed on leave after he was charged with driving while impaired early Tuesday near the N.C. coast.

Sunset Beach police arrested Eric Bellas and took him to the Brunswick County jail just before 2 a.m. He was released around 8:30 a.m., jail officials said.

Bellas is the chief assistant district attorney in District 25, which includes Burke, Caldwell and Catawba counties.

On Tuesday afternoon, the District Attorney's Office said Bellas was allegedly involved in a bicycle accident on the grounds of the Sea Trail Resort in Sunset Beach, where the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys is holding its summer association meeting this week.

Sunset Beach Police Chief Lisa Massey could not be reached by the Observer on Wednesday, but she told WSOC-TV that Bellas crashed a bicycle at the resort late Monday. He was charged when he refused an alcohol test, Massey told WSOC-TV, but his blood was not drawn to test his blood-alcohol level.

Bellas was placed on administrative leave and relieved of his prosecutorial duties at noon today, according to the District Attorney's Office.

In his mug shot, Bellas appears to have a black eye and several scrapes on his face.

Sunset Beach police could not be reached immediately to provide more details on the circumstances of the DWI charge.

Catawba County District Attorney Jay Gaither declined to comment Tuesday on Bellas' arrest.

Bellas is a lead prosecutor in the case against Elisa Baker, the woman accused in the killing of 10-year-old Zahra Baker. The girl was reported missing from her Hickory home in October, and her dismembered remains were later discovered scattered across rural areas.

Bellas was also the lead prosecutor in the case against a Caldwell County farmer who was charged in the death of his wife, Emily Anderson. Those charges were later dismissed.

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