Drunken driver pleads in I-94 crash that killed daughter

James David Dickson
The Detroit News
DeSandra Thomas

Detroit — A 47-year-old man pleaded guilty for his role in a drunken driving crash on Interstate 94 in July that led to the death of his 7-year-old daughter, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office announced Wednesday.

Wilburt Dion Thomas' trial was set to begin Monday before Judge Bridget Mary Hathaway in Wayne County Circuit Court. Instead at Wednesday's pretrial conference, Thomas pleaded guilty to manslaughter, with a sentencing agreement of 4 ½ to 15 years; second-degree child abuse, with a sentencing agreement of 4 ½ to 10 years; and drunken driving with an occupant under 16 years of age.

The sentences are expected to run concurrently, Thomas' attorney, Lillian Diallo, confirmed. The prosecutor's office dropped charges of second-degree murder, marijuana possession and open alcohol in a vehicle in return for the guilty plea.

"He can live with his sentence, but he can't live with the fact that his daughter is dead," Diallo told The News after the deal was reached. "He takes responsibility for the part he played in this."

For the operating a vehicle while intoxicated charge, Thomas is to be credited for time served, confirmed Maria Miller, spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office.

Authorities said Thomas had his daughter, DeSandra, with him while allegedly driving a stolen van on I-94 near Inkster Road in Romulus just before 2 a.m. on July 15 while he was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana.

The van crashed into a car on the shoulder of the road and struck a fence.

Thinking her father was dead, DeSandra grabbed her backpack, climbed over the fence the vehicle had struck and started walking from the scene near I-94 and Merriman, according to Michigan State Police.

She was texting 911 when she was killed by a vehicle driven by a woman on eastbound I-94 about 3:30 a.m., police said.

Thomas will be sentenced by Hathaway on Jan. 24.