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Carmack to stand trial in drunken driving case

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Woodhaven — Detroit businessman Robert Carmack's legal woes worsened Tuesday as a judge ordered him to stand trial for drunken driving.

Judge Michael McNally, citing case law, ruled there was enough evidence to bound Carmack over in connection with his October arrest outside a Brownstown Township bar. 

Robert Carmack appears in 33rd District Court flanked by attorneys Amelia Zelenak, left, and Todd Lanctot on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.

Carmack was ordered Jan. 9 to stand trial on four felony charges involving a land deal in Detroit. In that case, authorities contend he never completed a $250,000 purchase of a 10-acre parcel at 7751 Melville in southwest Detroit but used draft documents to fraudulently represent that he owned the land before selling it in 2016. 

During a preliminary examination Tuesday, Brownstown Township police officer Matthew Foley testified in 33rd District Court that Carmack, 60, appeared extremely intoxicated when he left the Champion Sports Bar about 1:30 a.m. Oct. 27 and headed for his car, a red late-model Chevy Corvette.

"He was unsteady on his feet," said Foley, the only witness during the hearing. "He nearly fell to the ground multiple times."

Carmack's blood alcohol level tested at 0.257, more than three times the legal limit of 0.08 for driving, when he was arrested, according to authorities.

The officer said Carmack had bloodshot, watery eyes and that his speech was slurred.

Foley said he told Carmack he was not in a position to drive and advised him to find a ride home. Foley said Carmack was upset because officers refused to drive him home. Carmack, according to Foley, went back into the bar and then came back to his car and turned it on.

Foley said he blocked the car and asked Carmack to take a field sobriety test, which Carmack refused. The officer said he called the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office as well as McNally to get a warrant to arrest Carmack.

Foley said he took Carmack into custody because Carmack got into the driver's seat, turned the car on and applied the brakes.

Carmack's legal team argued Tuesday that Carmack did not drive the car.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Edward Zelenak, Foley testified that he did not see Carmack operating the vehicle.

"Did you see any shifting of the gears? Did you see any moving of the vehicle," Zelenak asked. The officer answered, "No."

In a phone interview hours after the hearing, Carmack said he didn't turn on his car's ignition.

Carmack has four prior drunken driving offenses dating to 1981, according to the judge, who said at the beginning of the hearing Tuesday that Carmack had attended 14 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, a condition of his bond.

Michigan Assistant Attorney General Oronde Patterson said during his closing arguments that "nowhere in the (the state law) does it say there has to be movement (of the vehicle)."

Patterson told the judge "movement of the car is immaterial" to the application of the state law on getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated.

Defense attorney Todd Lanctot argued, "The critical distinction here is whether the car was put in gear."

"Year after year, we have people have been out and they have consumed and maybe they consumed too much," he said. "They recognized, Judge, they've had too much. They make the responsible decision, 'I'm not going to drive. I'm going to call a ride, I'm going to call a cab.' Maybe it's freezing cold and they've got to wait 25 minutes. They sit in their car ... turn it on merely to have that heat on while they're waiting on a ride."

Lanctot said there is a "world of difference between merely turning on the vehicle (and) using it as a shelter versus putting that vehicle in gear."

Patterson countered, "The issue came down to whether the individual had control of the vehicle."

McNally said while case law is not as "clear as we would like it to be ... there's sufficient evidence to establish (Carmack) was operating the vehicle."

Carmack, who has been been embroiled in a feud with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, is due in Wayne County Circuit Court at 2 p.m. Wednesday for a final pretrial conference in the land deal case, which is set for trial Feb. 3. He could be sentenced to as much as 14 years in prison if convicted.

In the drunken driving case, Carmack is due in court for an arraignment on information Feb. 4. If convicted, Carmack faces up to five years in prison and up to  $5,000 in fines.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com

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