Kalamazoo Killer Guilty

Kalamazoo Killer Guilty

Charles Pickett Jr., the driver who killed five riders and injured four more with his pickup truck in Kalamazoo, Mich., has been found guilty of all charges.

In June of 2016 Pickett drove his pickup 58 mph in a 35 mph zone while orbiting on methamphetamine, muscle relaxers and pain medications and then plowed into a group of cyclists out for an evening ride. He killed Debra Ann Bradley, 53, of Augusta; Melissa Ann Fevig Hughes, 42, of Kalamazoo; Fred Anton “Tony” Nelson, 73, of Kalamazoo; Lorenz John “Larry” Paulik, 74, of Kalamazoo and Suzanne Joan Sippel, 56, of Augusta. He also injured Jennifer Johnson of Kalamazoo; Sheila Jeske of Richland; Paul Runnels of Richland; and Paul Gobble of Richland in the June 7, crash. 

Pickett was found guilty of five counts of second-degree murder, five counts of operating under the influence causing death, as well as four counts of operating under the influence causing serious injury.

A jury of seven men and four women reached the verdict after deliberating less than four hours. The trial itself lasted just more than a week. More than 20 people were called to testify, many stating that they had seen Pickett operating the truck erratically in the minutes preceding the crash. An accident reconstructionist testified that Pickett didn’t apply the brakes until after he had hit the first rider.

In the weeks following the crash the local cycling community was forced to defend itself and its behavior from broad victim blaming. This conviction is a victory not just for the families of those killed, the injured and the broader community, but for cycling itself.

At the time I wrote something that bears repeating:

Idiotic behavior by any cyclist doesn’t matter. It’s utterly irrelevant. Nothing any cyclist does justifies running them over with a two-ton hunk of metal. Nothing. There’s nothing that a cyclist can do that absolves a driver of the responsibility to avoid hitting a cyclist. Sure, riders have done things and will continue to do things that have made striking them unavoidable, but no amount of two-wheeled idiocy frees a motorist from the obligation to try to avoid said idiot—you have to try. Not hitting things is a fundamental responsibility of anyone operating a vehicle and goes to the heart of licensing. All license holders are alleged to understand that you don’t hit things.

No hitting. It’s the same deal as kindergarten, right?

So as we work to convince the world that hitting a cyclist is a “crash” and not an “accident” we must also begin the process of educating the world that just as short skirts don’t cause rape, the manner in which a cyclist rides does not cause cars to hit them.

All too often drivers hit cyclists and are let off with punishments that would make a slap on the wrist seem excessive. Often, they get away without the police even investigating the incident. This case is a rare success in a war that will remain in favor of drivers for years to come. It is, however, a positive sign that when law enforcement sees the damage done they may be encouraged to defend us.

Pickett will be sentenced on June 11. He faces up to life in prison for his crimes.


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  1. Michael McNutt

    I’m thinking he’ll get a bunch of time because frankly class,he has no money,has been in jail since murdering these poor folk and a public defender. Drivers often get away with running us down because frankly class, they have money and lawyers. While I’m happy that this asshat is in jail and can’t harm others,many more aren’t and still out there.

  2. Winky

    Glad that some censure has been applied in this case. It doesn’t change the fact that exceptionally egregious behaviors, with preconditions like alcohol, drugs or previous driving bans, or like post-collision fleeing, are required for any sort of meaningful action to be taken by law enforcement and the courts. Basically, you can still run down and kill a cyclist without consequence, unless you have been drinking etc. or flee the scene.

  3. Drb

    This is a sad and tragic case, but one in which it now appears that some level of appropriate justice has prevailed. My thoughts and prayers are with the cyclists and their families who were the victims of this horrific crime. May they rest in peace.

    However, in a general sense and in no way relating to this case, I must call into question your statement that “there’s nothing that a cyclist can do that absolves a driver of the responsibility to avoid hitting a cyclist.” This statement is problematic. Should a driver always attempt to avoid hitting a cyclist (or another vehicle, pedestrian, etc)? Of course. However, are you implying that a cyclist can never be at fault in an accident? I have an extensive background in crash reconstruction ( and yes, we are trained to use the term “crash” rather than “accident” as preferred by insurance carriers), and I can assure you that cyclists and motorcyclists can be at fault in accidents. In no way does this abdicate the responsibility of the driver of a motor vehicle from a causative role in accidents. In fact, it likely could be argued that the operators of motor vehicles are at fault in most cases of auto-bike crashes. But as cyclists, we look foolish and irresponsible when we claim that a cyclist can “never” be at fault in an accident. I’ve seen videos that would suggest otherwise and common sense would argue against such a blanket statement.

    1. Author

      I didn’t remotely suggest that a cyclist can’t be at fault for a crash. Try reading the entirety of the statement, not just that one sentence.

  4. Rich

    Why are you getting nasty with DRB? That person makes a good point. The movement to punish drivers harder for bona fide accidents is not a good one and using this case to further that movement is wrong.

    Let’s say a driver gets into an true accident with a cyclist. The driver wasn’t excessively speeding or negligently broke a traffic law. There was just a collision. It happens all the time. Should the car driver be thrown in jail now? For a simple accident? His or her life ruined for a simple accident? That’s not how our justice system works in any way, shape or form.

    1. Author

      And I clearly state that cyclists will do stupid things and get hit. My point isn’t that a driver isn’t instantly at fault. The point, which both you and he have missed, is that a driver is never absolved of the duty to avoid hitting something. The duty isn’t to prevent all crashes, it is to make an attempt. The problem we face in so many cases is that there is ample evidence a driver made no real effort to avoid the crash and yet they are absolved of 100% of the fault. That’s simply not right. If I’m driving down the road and a little girl on her first bike ride ever runs out of her parents’ driveway and into the road, I have a duty to make the best possible effort to stop the car before hitting her. I might not be successful, but my success or failure has no relationship to whether or not I am obligated, by virtue of the fact that I hold a driver’s license, to attempt not to hit her. I must at least try. That’s not being nasty; that’s simply making the only logical case that holds water.

  5. Drb


    I find it ironic that you suggest that I didn’t read your original piece. A quick read of my reply to you should lead anyone to reach a different conclusion. My question to you is whether or not you actually read what I wrote. In your response to another reader you suggest that we both have missed your point which, in your own words, is:

    “The point, which both you and he have missed, is that a driver is never absolved of the duty to avoid hitting something. The duty isn’t to prevent all crashes, it is to make an attempt.”

    In my original comment to you, I said the following….

    “Should a driver always attempt to avoid hitting a cyclist (or another vehicle, pedestrian, etc)? Of course.”

    Same thing? Seems like it. It also seems like your skin may be a little thin when it comes to perceived criticism.

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