STANTON – A Howard City man decided to plead no contest to a fatal hit and run just before a trial went to a jury – and the charge may be reduced to a simple traffic violation.
Ronald Williams, 57, was originally charged with with failure to stop at the scene of an accident, resulting in serious impairment or death — a felony with a maximum sentence of five years and/or $5,000. He was driving a pick-up truck the night of April 21 when he struck and killed Tyler Helton, 20, of Sand Lake, on Stanton Road between Jones Road and Maple Hill Road in Pierson Township. Williams then fled the scene.
According to Montcalm County Prosecutor Andrea Krause, Williams pleaded no contest this afternoon to failure to report an accident – a misdemeanor. A trial about the fatal accident began Tuesdsay and was set to resume today with defense witnesses.
According to a plea agreement, if Williams pays restitution for Helton’s funeral expenses (more than $7,000) within 30 days, his charge will be reduced to a violation of a basic speed law. If he doesn’t pay restitution within 30 days, he will be sentenced on the misdemeanor charge, which carries a maximum sentence of up to 90 days in jail.
After some of Tuesday’s testimony, 8th Judicial Circuit Court Judge David Hoort expressed concern with the sufficiency of the evidence presented.
“New information came to light at the start of the second day of trial which resulted in this plea bargain,” Krause said. “Unfortunately, sometimes trials don’t go as planned and we must alter our course. While this was not the anticipated outcome, I am hopeful that it provided some closure for the victim’s family.”
Helton was the son of Martin and Marcia Helton of Sand Lake.
At a preliminary examination last August, Tim Johnston, who lives on Stanton Road in Pierson Township, testified that he was in his yard around 9 p.m. April 21 when he heard a loud crash. He walked toward the road and saw a white Ford pickup truck slowly coasting by. Johnston he could see the front right portion of the truck had extensive damage.
Johnston, thinking the truck had probably hit a deer, started walking toward the accident scene, which was littered with debris from the truck. He was accompanied by a neighbor boy. The truck turned around and drove up to where Johnston and the boy were walking. The truck came to a stop and the driver, identified as Williams, rolled down the passenger side window to talk to Johnston.
“He said he turned around to come back to see if he hit a deer or a person,” Johnston testified. “I thought maybe he was intoxicated, just (due to) his speech and mannerisms. I said, ‘Your truck’s pretty banged up.’ He said, ‘Aw, it’ll be alright.’”
As the two men were talking, the boy walked a short distance away and discovered Helton’s body lying in the grass near the road. The boy returned to the truck to tell Johnston what he had found, just as Williams drove away.
Helton was airlifted to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, where he died.
Michigan State Police Trooper Donald Dutcher, a crash technician, testified that a traffic mark on the grass near Helton’s body showed the vehicle had traveled about 60 feet onto the grass before curving onto the road. He said Helton was struck from behind and his body would have been carried at least 100 feet on the hood of the vehicle that struck him.
Michigan State Police Trooper Cimmeron McRae testified about how he went to Williams’ home to interview him the next day. Williams had called 911 after seeing news reports about the hit-and-run. McRae said Williams admitted to drinking two beers earlier that day, then going to the Trufant Bar and having a third beer around 8:45 p.m. Williams was headed home from the bar when the accident occurred.
Michigan State Police Sgt. Norma Maylor testified about how she interviewed Williams another time at the police station.
“He stated that he went home (after the accident), went right to bed, but he couldn’t sleep,” she said.
Maylor said Williams lost a son in a traffic accident almost three years ago in October.
April 22 — the day after Helton’s accident — would have been Williams’ son’s birthday.