It was a murder allegedly foretold just a fortnight ago.
Had she been able to catch sight of the driver who hit her, he might have looked familiar.
On Wednesday morning, the same man — the same familiar face — again appeared outside of Zeljka’s nursing home.
This time, he had a gun.
And this time, he finished what he had begun two weeks earlier, killing Zeljka in a flurry of gunfire.
That man, police allege, was Dragan Sekulic.
He is Zeljka’s ex-husband and the father of their two children.
Authorities apprehended Dragan on Wednesday afternoon after a five-hour manhunt spanning several counties. He has been charged with aggravated murder, according to the CantonRep.
The murder has roiled Canton, a rustbelt city of about 75,000. But it has also raised questions about why Dragan was free to allegedly finish what appears to have been his dark obsession.
Dragan had turned himself in hours after the Nov. 24 car crash. When Stark County Sheriff’s deputies arrested him, they noticed a strong odor of alcohol and asked him how much he had had to drink.
“Way too much,” he told them, according to the CantonRep.
Prosecutors believed Dragan had hit his ex-wife on purpose and decided to charge him with felonious assault, domestic violence and operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
Dragan, identified as either 37 or 38 years old by local media, also had a history of alleged violence against Zeljka. He was charged with domestic violence and aggravated menacing in another court in late 2014, but those charges were eventually reduced to disorderly conduct, according to the CantonRep. Sekulic was convicted and given a suspended jail term of 30 days.
If convicted for the Nov. 24 incident, Dragan faced at least several years in prison, perhaps as long as a decade. When it came to the bond hearing on Nov. 25, however, Canton Municipal Court Judge John Poulos set Dragan’s bail at just $100,000.
The next day, Dragan paid a bondsman the standard 10 percent, $10,000, and walked out of jail.
Less than two weeks later, he allegedly struck again, shooting his ex-wife as she emerged from the Astoria Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation facility, a few blocks from the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Her purse and belongings lay scattered outside nursing home, according to CBS 19 reporter Paul Orlousky.
Dragan then climbed into a rental car and disappeared, swapping his car at the airport as authorities scrambled to find him. Nearly five hours after the shooting, a trooper manning a speed trap spotted the suspect as he drove past and pulled Dragan over. The trooper found a gun in Dragan’s car, although it’s not clear if it was the murder weapon, Fox 8 Cleveland reported.
Poulos’s decision to set Dragan’s bond so low has come under criticism.
“He already tried to kill her 2 weeks ago and the law still did nothing!” one reader wrote on the CantonRep’s website.
Poulos defended his decision, while also expressing anguish over its outcome. He said he decided to double the suggested bond from $50,000 to $100,000 based upon his experience and available court records, he told the CantonRep. And he said prosecutors did not recommend a bond amount.
“I’m not blaming anyone … but the red flags weren’t there,” he said.
At the same time, however, the judge also appeared to express remorse over the possibility that his ruling gave Dragan a second, and successful, alleged attempt to kill his ex-wife.
“I feel horrible about this situation,” Poulos told the CantonRep. “I sympathize with the family (and) with the children — it’s a terrible, tragic situation for the community. I feel terrible about it.”
“I think the judge made what he believed to be a good decision with the information that he had at the time and it’s always easy to look back,” Canton prosecutor Ty Hauritz told the newspaper. “But I don’t … think (the $100,000 bond was) out of the ordinary.”
Police said the couple’s two daughters were safe. Neighbors told NBC 11 that an aunt was watching after the children.
“They’re going through a lot, as you can imagine. They lost their mother today. They lost their father today. And they’re probably in a whirlwind of where their life’s going,” Stark County Sheriff George Maier told CBS 19.
Dragan Sekulic is originally from Serbia, local news reported. Zeljka was from neighboring Croatia.
“She was a very wonderful mother and person, we enjoyed just seeing her,” a neighbor told NBC 11. “We’re very saddened from the whole thing.”