New trial date set in crash that killed former sheriff, wife

Bryan Robertson

A March 9, 2020, trial in Owen County has been set for a Parke County man who faces felony charges in an alleged drunken driving crash that authorities say caused the deaths of a former Parke County sheriff and his wife.

Bryan Robertson, 42, appeared before Owen Circuit Court Judge Lori Thatcher Quillen on Monday. The judge also set pretrial hearing dates of Oct. 3 of this year and Feb. 17 and March 6, 2020.

Robertson's case was moved from Parke Circuit Court in June after Judge Sam Swaim said finding an impartial jury in the sparsely populated Parke County would likely be a herculean task.

Swaim also cited public perception and whether residents would believe justice is being impartially served in a community where former Sheriff Michael Eslinger and his wife, Darla Eslinger, were held in high esteem.

Robertson is charged with two Level 5 felony counts of driving while intoxicated causing death and two Level 6 felony counts of driving while intoxicated resulting in serious bodily injury.

The charges are related to the deaths of Michael Eslinger, 74, and Darla Eslinger, 73. They were killed in a Dec. 21 crash on U.S. 41 about two miles south of Rockville.

The Eslingers were passengers in a Nissan SUV driven by their teenage granddaughter, who was hospitalized.

A passenger in Robertson’s truck was also hospitalized with serious injuries.

Police said Robertson had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.117 percent. In Indiana, 0.08 percent BAC is the legal threshold.

Eslinger served as an Indiana State Police officer for 10 years and served four terms as Parke County sheriff, first from 1979 to 1986, then 2007 to 2014. He also worked 20 years for the Indiana Sheriff’s Association.

Darla Eslinger had retired after many years as the county’s emergency management director.