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Judge orders road rage killing case to trial

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Howell — The wife of a Livingston County man killed by a gunshot to the head during a traffic confrontation described Friday seeing him collapse on the road “like a marionette puppet having its strings cut.”

Amy Flemming said she jumped out of the car, ran to her husband’s side and “knew he was dead,” although she put her hand on his chest and his heart was beating. She said she was in a “panic” and told him “Don’t go. ... I need you. Your children need you,” as blood ran out of his ear and nose.

Martin Edward Zale, the 69-year-old man accused of shooting Derek Flemming, 43, in the Sept. 2 road rage incident, was bound over for trial Friday after testimony in his preliminary examination.

During Flemming’s testimony, several of her relatives wiped away tears. Zale, charged with open murder and related firearms offenses, sat impassively staring into space or at the floor.

After being cut off by a pickup on Grand River in Genoa Township outside Howell, Derek Flemming — without saying a word — got out of his car at a stoplight, approached the driver’s side of the pickup and said to the driver “What’s your problem?” or “What’s your f-ing problem?” his wife said. Then, she heard a “pop” sound and saw her husband’s head snap back.

After she raced to her husband’s side, Flemming said she looked up at the driver of the pickup and “he had a stone cold face, staring at me. Emotionless.”

Before the shooting, Flemming said she and her husband had lunched in Howell and were enroute to pick up their children after their first day of school. Flemming said the two were driving east on Grand River about 3:30 p.m. when a pickup began driving erratically, first following too close to their bumper, then passing them and swerving in front of them and braking twice before speeding off again.

After being shot, the father of two children “dropped to the ground like a marionette puppet having its strings cut,” Flemming testified.

A bystander called 911 and Zale pulled his car off of Grand River onto a shoulder at Chilson, testimony showed. Zale was standing at the rear of his truck, a cellphone in one hand and a business card in the other when police arrived a couple minutes later.

Several bystanders pointed him out as “the shooter” and said “he had admitted the shooting,” Livingston County Deputy Ray Marino testified.

“When I went toward him, he said he was trying to get a hold of his attorney,” said Marino, who handcuffed Zale and put him in his patrol car.

Marino found a 9 mm Ruger holstered in the console of Zale’s truck.

An autopsy determined Flemming died of a single gunshot wound to the head, Howell District Judge Carol Sue Reader said.

Reader said testimony and evidence amounted to probable cause that Zale was responsible for the shooting and Flemming’s death and bound him over to stand trial in Livingston Circuit Court. He remains jailed without bond.

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