Driver didn’t seem to notice dragged cop, witness says

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Clarkston — A woman who witnessed the aftermath of a fatal dragging of a Michigan State trooper in August testified Wednesday the man facing charges in the death seemed more concerned in repairing his trailer than the body visibly wedged beneath it.

Eshelle Lillard testified at the preliminary examination for Charles R. Warren Jr. that she and her family were headed to Traverse City to take her oldest son to college about 6:30 a.m. when a Volkswagen Jetta pulling a utility trailer broke the early morning quiet at the Springfield Township rest area along northbound Interstate 75.

“It was making a clacking sound and I saw these sparks coming from behind,” Lillard testified. “I smelled something like burnt rubber.”

Authorities say the car was driven by Warren, 69, who is charged with reckless driving resulting in death and leaving the scene of an injury accident in the death of Trooper Chad Wolf. The charges are both felonies that carry up to 15 years in prison.

Lillard initially thought the vehicle, which passed a few feet from her own, might have a flat tire. As the family drove past she learned it was something more.

“It looked like a large trash bag underneath the trailer but my husband said, ‘That wasn’t trash. That was a body.’ ”

Lillard could see a body lying face down, some of the clothing pulled up exposing skin.

“I saw reflectors on sleeves and around the feet, maybe on boots,” she said. “ ... It was strange, eerie. We saw the body and the man (Warren) was fooling around in the trailer with something, but didn’t seem to notice the body and seemed fixated at getting something off the trailer,” she said, wiping away tears with a tissue. “He stared at us ... I called 911.”

Police arrived soon after and Warren was taken into custody at the rest area. He told Michigan State Police Lt. Tawana Powell he was headed up north to help a friend close on some property and was driving off Dixie Highway onto I-75 when he said he “hit a very large bump.”

“He said it was loud and seemed large,” Powell testified. “His trailer started pulling to the left and he saw sparks coming off the left side. He thought it might be potholes and it was causing a drag on the trailer. He believed he had a flat and was riding on the rim and when he saw the rest area, he pulled over.”

Investigators said the 36-year-old Wolf, who was married and father of four children, was dragged four miles until Warren pulled into the rest area and tried to change the tire and “police converged on him,” Powell testified. The tire was shredded, the wheel was bent, and then there was Wolf, who was rushed to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

In Powell’s interview with Warren, she said he seemed to have difficulty understanding what happened.

“Did I drag the guy?” she testified Warren asked her. “He seemed to be trying to play back in his mind what occurred.

“He said it was very dark and asked if it was a motorcycle.”

In cross examination by defense attorney Neil Rockind, Powell read from a statement in which Warren said “I’m trying to put two and two together and can’t believe it.’ ”

Warren remains free on bond but tethered and under house arrest pending continuation of the examination before Judge Kelley Kostin on Feb. 24.

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