Prosecutor: Driver who hit deputy was 'angry' at police
Pontiac — An Oakland County Circuit Court jury heard different views Wednesday on what led up to an Oakland County sheriff’s deputy being struck by a car and killed nearly two years ago in the early morning hours of Thanksgiving.
Christopher Berak, 24, of Macomb Township is on trial for first-degree, premeditated murder and homicide of a police officer in the Nov. 23, 2017, death of deputy Eric Overall.
“Christopher Berak was angry at law enforcement. He was in control of a vehicle and had been involved in two police stops,” said assistant Oakland County prosecutor Ken Frazee.
"… He had said in texts and in a recording that he was God and Satan and ‘If you touch me I will kill you. I will kill anyone in the courthouse that tries to touch me.'”
Frazee said Overall, 50, was in full uniform and had his vehicle’s lights shining on him as he stood on the side of the road under a well-lit intersection. It’s estimated Berak was driving his Saturn at 42 mph when he went onto the right shoulder and slammed into Overall, “launching” the victim and Berak’s vehicle into a wetlands.
A jury of nine women and five men also heard Berak’s defense attorney, Stephen Rabaut, describe his client as a “troubled young man” involved in a “sad case.”
“My theory is different (from Frazee's),” Rabaut told jurors. “You are going to hear an enormous amount of evidence and experts and testimony but you are going to come to the conclusion there was no intentional act to kill anyone … this was strictly accidental … (police) videos will show he drove the speed limit at all times and stayed in his driving lane.
“If he wanted to kill police, he had several opportunities.”
Not in dispute is how Overall died, run over by Berak’s car on the shoulder of a section of M-15 near Seymour Lake Road in Brandon Township. Overall, a 22-year veteran, had tossed “stop sticks” across a section of the rural roadway in an effort to disable the vehicle, which a dispatcher had alerted him was coming his way.
Rabaut’s theory is Berak was distracted by the four police cars following him and went off the road into Overall.
Less than an hour before the incident, Berak had shown up at the Thumb Correctional Facility about 25 miles away in Lapeer County, where he identified himself as “God” and announced he was there to break out one of his “sons.” When Lapeer County deputies attempted to stop and question him, Berak took off his seat belt and threatened to run his vehicle into a tree, Frazee said.
It was the second of four contacts with police that night, according to Frazee. In that incident, Berak received a ticket from Shelby Township police officer Scott Phelps after being clocked speeding 62 mph in a 45 mph zone.
Jurors watched a video of the traffic stop, in which Berak ignored Phelps' instructions to remain in his car, then explained he had just gotten off of work and was headed home but “zoned out” during the drive.
When asked why he didn’t obey Phelps’ instructions, Berak responded he was “a child of God and have rights.” He said if he appeared nervous or shaking, it was because he was “on medications.”
After being handed a ticket and given permission to drive away, Berak politely thanked Phelps for “your protection.”
Jurors also heard Kenneth Overall, the victim’s 22-year-old son, testify how he learned of the accident that night while working on an EMS crew in Pontiac.
Unable to reach his father by phone and knowing he patrolled in the area of the accident, he asked to be relieved of duty and drove to McLaren-Oakland Hospital in Independence Township, where he saw sheriff’s vehicles and an ambulance with a blood-stained interior. He pushed open the doors of the emergency trauma room and saw his father on a bed, surrounded by medical personnel.
“I could barely make out who it was,” said Overall, wiping away tears on the witness stand. "He was deceased … I closed the doors.”
A pizzeria co-worker testified that he and Berak has smoked marijuana from a vape pen in the parking lot outside Louie’s Pizza in Macomb County, where both worked as pizza delivery drivers.
Rabaut said in an earlier court hearing that there is no evidence Berak intended to hit Overall or even saw him standing on the shoulder of the road.
He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which can carry a penalty of up to life in prison without parole upon conviction.
Berak as been examined by psychiatrists and found to be competent to stand trial.
The trial, supervised by Judge Leo Bowman, is to continue Thursday. It is expected to included testimony from several accident reconstruction experts and last two weeks.