Driver to stand trial in Oakland Co. deputy’s death
Independence Township – After hearing dramatic testimony and evidence – including a threatening cell phone recording made less than three hours before a tragic death – a district judge ordered a Macomb County man to stand trial in the Thanksgiving Day killing of an Oakland County sheriff’s deputy.
Christopher J. Berak, 22, is charged with first-degree premeditated murder and murder of a police officer in the death of deputy Eric Overall, 50, who was struck and killed after placing “stop sticks” across a Brandon Township road to disable Berak’s oncoming vehicle. Investigators say Berak drove off the road and onto the shoulder in an a deliberate attempt to hit Overall with his vehicle about 12:30 a.m. Nov. 23.
“I believe probable cause has been established,” Judge Joseph Fabrizio of 52-2 District Court said Monday. If convicted, Berak faces up to life in prison.
Assistant Oakland County Prosecutor David Hutson called two police officers to testify about their dealings with Berak before Overall’s death and how he refused to get out of his car or cooperate with them.
But perhaps most influential may have been Overall’s patrol vehicle video camera recording showing him getting run over by Berak’s Saturn and a cell phone recording Berak made less than three hours before the death, saying he would kill anyone who “touched” or tried to stop him. Both were played in court.
“We have shown premeditation here, your honor,” Hutson told Fabrizio, “... in (Berak’s) own words.”
A Shelby Township police officer testified that he stopped and ticketed Berak in that Macomb County community shortly after 10 p.m. Nov. 22 for speeding at 62 mph in a 45 mph zone. Investigators recovered a rant that Berak recorded on his cell phone – apparently to no one in particular – after having been ticketed.
“I am Satan but I am also God,” Berak said in the audio recording played in court Monday. “I am the voice of the Creator. I am here to take what is mine. ... If you touch me, I will kill you. ... If you try to stop me ... to ticket me ... I will kill you. ...”
Defense attorney Stephen Rabaut had argued that Berak had not broken any laws and was driving responsibly, even in two road stops and altercations with Lapeer County deputies less than an hour before Overall’s death.
Rabaut argued that intent to kill was never shown and that “at best, we might have reckless driving causing death.” Rabaut argued that during the meetings with police officers, his client never tried to injure anyone.
Lapeer County deputy Kenneth Paul testified he followed Berak for several miles after Berak had shown up at the Lapeer County Jail proclaiming he was “God” and there to break out one of his sons” (followers) incarcerated there. Berak had been pulled over by Paul but refused to unlock his vehicle and warned that if he was followed, he would commit suicide by removing his seat belt and running his car into a tree.
Paul, another deputy and a Metamora Township officer all followed him with emergency lights and sirens activated on their vehicles. Paul said Oakland County authorities were notifed that Berak was headed their way and when Lapeer County officers approached an intersection near Seymour Lake Road where they could see Overall’s patrol vehicle, they “backed off.”
A video recording from Overall’s patrol vehicle at the M-15 and Seymour Lake Road intersection was played in court Monday and showed Overall running across the road, placing the stop sticks and being hit by Berak’s car as it drove off the roadway onto the shoulder.
Among those viewing the graphic video was Overall's widow, Sonja, who wept and had to be comforted by friends. Berak bent over in his chair at the defense table and began sobbing, his head bobbing up and down.
Berak, who has past convictions for marijuana possession and fleeing and eluding police, was found mentally competent to stand trial last month after he was reviewed by psychiatrists at a state forensic center.
Overall, a 22-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, who is also survived by an adult son, had worked in area schools and was popular with students, their parents and school authorities. Hundreds of residents showed up outside the sheriff’s township substation for a candelight vigil in his memory. He was the first Oakland County sheriff’s deputy to die in the line of duty in 80 years.