April 4, 2014 at 1:00 am

Community reaches out to man beaten by mob in Detroit

Motorist beaten in Detroit
Motorist beaten in Detroit: A motorist was attacked and robbed by a crowd Wednesday after he stopped to aid a 10-year-old boy he accidentally struck with his pickup.

Detroit — The community has rallied around a motorist who was beaten and robbed by a mob after stopping to help a boy struck by his pickup.

Residents quickly contributed $24,000 to an online fundraiser for the driver’s medical expenses. A minister prepared to open a second fund.

And political leaders implored the public to help police find the people who attacked motorist Steve Utash, 54, of Clinton Township.

“This senseless vigilante-style attack is not the essence of who we are as Detroiters,” Mayor Mike Duggan and City Council President Brenda Jones said in a joint statement.

No arrests have been made in the brutal beating.

His family maintained a round-the-clock vigil at St. John Hospital in Detroit, where Utash, in a medically induced coma, remained in critical condition Friday with severe head injuries.

Utash continues to relive the beating, said Terry Emerick, a family friend.

Lying in a hospital bed, his arms thrash about as he cries out for help, Emerick said.

“It’s pathetic,” he said about the beating. “What prompts people to do heinous crimes like that?”

“We’re just waiting for him to wake up,” Utash’s daughter, Mandi Emerick, said from the hospital Friday.

She shuddered to think what her father had gone through.

Utash stopped to aid David Harris, a 10-year-old boy he accidentally struck with his pickup at about 4:10 p.m. Wednesday, near Morang and McKinney, while on his way home from work. He left his truck to check on the boy, and a group of about 12 men from the neighborhood, who had gathered after the accident, began to beat him, police said.

Mandi Emerick has since witnessed footage from surveillance cameras.

“It was hard to watch my dad hitting somebody,” Emerick said of the footage. “I think for anyone if they hit someone, your instinct is to stop and make sure they’re OK. But to see all of those people coming out of nowhere. I can’t imagine how scared he felt with them coming at him all at once.”

The attack garnered attention far beyond Detroit as news stories appeared in newspapers in New York and England.

From social media to the east side neighborhood where the attack occurred, some questioned whether race was involved.

A police spokesman, however, said the initial investigation didn’t yield a race-related reason for the attack.

“No one has given us a statement that was indicative that this was a racially motivated crime or anything to that extent,” said the spokesman, Sgt. Michael Woody.

Woody noted the city has endured a number of recent hit-and-runs.

“I think it was a culmination of that emotional toll,” he said. “We don’t act like this.”

The boy struck by the pickup was in stable condition and was being held at St. Johns as a precaution, said family members.

Police said the accident wasn’t Utash’s fault. They said the child wasn’t paying attention as he walked into traffic.

While a surveillance video from a nearby gas station captured the accident, it didn’t show the beating.

Police are hoping their canvassing of the neighborhood will turn up witnesses to the attack.

Calls for justice

David Harris’ father, Darnell, witnessed the attack after he and other family members rushed to the scene. He said none of the relatives joined in the attack and he didn’t recognize any of the people beating Utash.

“They hit the man and, when he fell, they all started dispersing,” he said.

Duggan and Jones, in their joint statement, asked the public to help solve the crime and appealed to the community to remain calm and patient.

They pointed out Utash had done the right thing by stopping and checking on the boy after the accident.

“We also are calling on members of our community who know the individuals involved in this brutal attack to step forward so that justice can be served and healing can begin,” they said.

Meanwhile, the Rev. David Bullock, pastor of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church in Highland Park, lamented that the attackers “immediately responded violently, which speaks to the work we have to do in Detroit, Michigan and across the nation.”

To mend any bruised racial feelings, Bullock said he planned to start a benevolent fund for Utash’s family and would ask other local pastors to join him.

Mandi Emerick said her father has no health insurance.

Utash’s family has created an online fundraiser account for him at gofundme.com.

By late Friday, 594 people had contributed $24,300 within 21 hours of the account opening.

Attack started immediately

The incident happened Wednesday afternoon when Utash was driving home from his job as a tree trimmer.

Harris was walking with a group of friends when he stepped off a curb and into the truck’s path, according to video from the gas station surveillance camera.

Utash stepped out of the company pickup to check on the child and was immediately set upon by a mob of between six and 12 people, according to different accounts.

The mob also took Utash’s paycheck and equipment from his truck, said Terry Emerick.

The attack occurred outside a gas station that is a popular neighborhood hangout, police said.

(313) 223-4186
Detroit News Staff Writers Christine Ferretti, Tom Greenwood and Oralandar Brand-Williams contributed.

'These kids today don't have respect (for) themselves so how are they going to respect their elders,' said resident Jean Pierre Saliard. / Todd McInturf / The Detroit News
Mandi Emerick, from left, Joseph Utash, Steven Utash and Felecia Utash (Family photo)
A 54-year-old man was beaten at the corners of Morang and Balfour streets ... (Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)