Pontiac – A 70-year-old man charged in the 2015 freeway dragging death of a Michigan State trooper was acquitted of all charges Wednesday by an Oakland Circuit Court jury.
The jury of nine men and three women deliberated for four hours over two days before returning the verdict in the case of Charles Warren Jr. of Waterford Township.
He was charged with reckless driving causing death and failure to stop at the scene of an accident causing death in connection to the Aug. 28, 2015, death of Trooper Chad Wolf, 38, of Fenton.
Wolf fell off his motorcycle and was dragged three miles under a trailer Warren was pulling along Interstate 75 in Springfield Township. He died about 10 hours later in a hospital.
Warren’s attorney, Neil Rockind, argued Wolf was following too close to stop in time before hitting the trailer as Warren pulled onto an I-75 entrance ramp in the early morning hours. He said his client did not realize there had been an accident.
Rockind, who has had a reputation as a hard-edged defense attorney and, previously, as an assistant prosecuting attorney, wiped away tears before discussing the case with reporters after the verdict.
“In 24 years, I have never cried after a verdict,” said Rockind, who maintained his client should never have been charged. “This case was very emotional for the Warrens and for me.
“..The public perception of this case was so against us and the (judicial) system worked,” he said. “No question it (death) was a tragedy beyond a reasonable doubt. But it was not a crime.”
Warren, who has been free on $10,000 bond, broke down at the defense table as he heard the verdict.
Several of Wolf’s relatives and friends, including state police dressed in plainclothes, left the courtroom and the building right after the verdict. Like Warren’s supporters, some hugged and choked back tears, as well.
Assistant prosecuting attorney David Hutson declined to discuss the verdict or case and referred all questions to chief assistant prosecuting attorney Paul Walton, who could not be reached Wednesday.
The main charges against Warren were both felonies that carry a penalty of 15 years in prison.
Warren also was found not guilty of a lesser alternative charge, committing a moving violation causing death. That offense is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail.
The jury reached its verdict about an hour after receiving explanations on state law, which requires trailers to have rear reflectors and a braking light or face a civil infraction. They also heard that motorists – in any vehicle – are required by law to drive at a prudent, lawful speed and keep adequate space between themselves and other motorists to avoid an accident.
In a statement, Jim Santilli, chief executive officer of the Transportation Improvement Association in Troy, urged the Legislature to take action to prevent such crashes.
“It is alarming that as a society, we allow innocent people to be permanently taken away from their loved ones often without consequence for the person who caused the crash,” Santilli said. “I encourage the Michigan Legislature to improve motor vehicle laws and the licensing system to better protect innocent people. Trooper Wolf is a true hero who will always be remembered.”
A memorial service for Wolf was attended by hundreds of law enforcement officers from Michigan and beyond and several elected officials, including Gov. Rick Snyder. Wolf is survived by his wife and four children.
“We aren’t throwing confetti or celebrating ... this is a case where there are no winners,” said Rockind. “An extraordinary man died in this horribly tragic accident.”