April 7, 2014 at 11:51 pm

4 in custody as Detroit beating probe widens into hate crime investigation

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 — With four suspects now in custody, police and prosecutors are “widening the scope” of their investigation into last week’s beating of a 54-year-old white motorist to include the possibility that the mob assault was a hate crime, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said Monday.

Two more suspects, ages 24 and 30, were arrested Monday in connection with the April 2 beating of Steven Utash of Clinton Township, while prosecutors announced charges against a 17-year-old and questioned a 16-year-old, both in custody.

Meanwhile, the victim remains in critical condition in a medically induced coma at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit.

Craig said reports that Utash was robbed by the mob are false.

“We’re widening the scope of our investigation,” Craig said when asked if the beating constituted a hate crime. “Both our strategy and the prosecutor’s strategy is widening, and those factors are being looked into very closely. I can’t reveal some things about our investigation, but that is definitely something we’re considering.”

Hate crimes may be charged locally or federally. In addition to federal laws, which carry up to 10 years in prison, Michigan ethnic intimidation statute is a two-year felony.

Maria Miller, spokeswoman for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, declined to comment on the hate crime aspect because the case is ongoing. Prosecutor Kym Worthy on Monday charged 17-year-old Bruce Edward Wimbush Jr. in connection with Utash’s beating.

Wimbush is charged with assault with intent to murder and assault with intent to do great bodily harm.

He was to be arraigned Monday in 36th District Court, but the hearing was postponed, and will likely take place this morning, Miller said.

“The facts of this case are unbelievably tragic,” Worthy said in a statement. “We have charged this defendant with a capital offense.”

In reviewing a warrant request against the 16-year-old in custody, prosecutors are trying to determine whether he should be charged as an adult. That teen is being held in the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Center, according to Worthy.

“By law, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office is able to take five days to determine whether the respondent will be charged as an adult,” the prosecutor’s office said.

The 16-year-old appeared in court Monday afternoon before Referee Anthony Crutchfield at the Juvenile Detention Center. The suspect is due back in court on Saturday.

Wimbush was ruled “incorrigible” by juvenile authorities in 2007, 2008 and 2010, according to court documents, although Wimbush’s files were unavailable Monday. In Michigan, being ruled incorrigible means a minor is guilty of repeated, serious misconduct.

The 16-year-old, who will turn 17 on May 19, has a 2012 truancy incident on his record, court records show. His parents and other relatives left the Wayne County juvenile center downtown without commenting to reporters about the charges.

An elderly woman claiming to be the boy’s relative said of Utash: “We pray he comes back to his natural state.”

Utash, a tree-trimmer, was on his way home from work at about 4:10 p.m. when police say he accidentally struck 10-year-old David Harris near Morang and McKinney.

When Utash left his pickup to check on the boy, a group of about 12 men from the neighborhood began to beat him, police said.

Police said Utash was not at fault in the accident and that the 10-year-old is recovering.

Craig blamed “a culture of violence” for the situation.

“I’ve not seen this kind of violent culture in other cities,” Craig said. “It certainly exists, but not to this extent. Several mornings ago, a 71-year-old man was beaten by a two-by-four. This happens in other places, too, but it’s all too common here. And Detroiters are getting fed up. They’re tired of being victims.”

Craig said he’s doing what he can to quell the city’s violence, and pointed out that crime is down since he took over as chief in July.

As of late Monday afternoon, nearly $120,000 had been raised online to help with medical expenses for Utash, who is self-employed and did not have health coverage, relatives said. The original goal was $50,000. However, family members say the cost of his treatments is running $17,000 to $20,000 daily.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers of Michigan at (800) SPEAK-UP (773-2587). Tips are anonymous.

(313) 222-2134

Detroit Chief of Police James Craig. / David Guralnick / Detroit News
A surveillance video from the nearby Clark gas station captured the ... (Lauren Abdel-Razzaq / The Detroit News)