A woman killed last week after being run over repeatedly by vehicles on I-71 either jumped or was pushed from a vehicle, Columbus police said yesterday.
"We don't know with any certainty what she came out of ... (but) there's physical evidence that has her coming out of a moving vehicle," said Sgt. Brooke Wilson of the accident investigation squad.
Police don't know many details surrounding the Aug. 21 death of Jessica Lynn Nichols, including how and why she ended up outside of a vehicle that was traveling in the center northbound lane of I-71 just before 5 a.m.
"That's our question also," Wilson said.
Police were called to the stretch of North Side freeway, near the Cooke Road exit, by a truck driver who dialed 911 and said he thought he had struck a body in the road.
"She was already laying in the road," the driver told the call-taker. "I think it's a person."
As he stayed on the line with the 911 dispatcher, other vehicles ran over Nichols. She died at the scene.
Police now think a total of eight vehicles struck Nichols, but evidence shows she was alive when she left the vehicle she had been traveling in, Wilson said. Franklin County Coroner Jan Gorniak said an autopsy confirmed that Nichols was killed by injuries she suffered when struck on the freeway.
Court records show that Nichols, 22, lived mostly on the Hilltop in recent years. She had a history of prostitution arrests, and police are investigating whether that might have played a role in her death.
Crash investigators have spoken with patrol officers and detectives in the vice and sexual-assault squads in an attempt to find out more about Nichols. Police also have received a number of tips from the public and are trying to pin down her whereabouts in the hours before her death.
Anyone with information is asked to call the accident investigation squad at 614-645-4767.
Relatives of Nichols could not be reached this week, but residents who knew her from her Hilltop neighborhood said she had struggled with heroin addiction.