Two of seven witnesses are still set to testify in a preliminary exam for the man charged in the late-August death of Michigan State Trooper Chad Wolf following a lengthy hearing revealing more about the case.
Clarkston District Judge Kelley Kostin listened to a full day of testimony on Wednesday, Jan. 13, in the case against Charles Warren Jr., of Waterford Township, who is charged with reckless driving and failure to stop at the scene of a fatal accident tied to Wolf’s Aug. 28 death. Wolf was on duty when he and Warren collided.
Among the witnesses were a Michigan State Police trooper; an Oakland County Sheriff’s deputy; a nurse anesthetist on her way to work who witnessed Warren driving on the highway with sparks flying from his trailer; a bystander at the rest stop where Wolf’s body was found and a State Police special investigator.
Kostin also mentioned before the hearing began that she attended Wolf’s funeral as a representative of the court, but that she has no bias in the case. Neither Warren’s attorney, Neil Rockind, or Assistant Oakland County Prosecutor David Hutson took issue.
Eshelle Lillard, one of the first people to discover Wolf’s body at a rest stop off of northbound I-75, said she had an “eerie feeling” when she noticed Wolf’s boots, a uniform that “looked like a fireman’s uniform” and a body lying face down in the grass of the rest area.
Lillard, who initially saw Warren’s vehicle pull into the rest area with sparks flying behind it, said she initially saw something under the trailer Warren was hauling that looked like a trash bag.
When she finally realized it was a body, she said she saw Warren not far away near his car, “trying to get something off his trailer. … I felt alarmed, because I saw this body, then this man near the car. It was odd.”
Sometime after 6:30 a.m. Aug. 28, Lillard and her husband ultimately dialed 911, which helped set the investigation into the trooper’s death in motion.
Authorities say Warren was hauling an empty trailer on Dixie Highway near I-75 in Springfield Township when he collided with Wolf, who was on a motorcycle. Wolf was dragged nearly four miles northbound on the highway at speeds of up to 65 mph, according to a state police investigation, and later died in the hospital from his injuries.
Throughout the hearing, one of the major elements in question was whether Warren had known he actually hit a person.
Twana Powell, a former lieutenant for the Michigan State Police Metro Post who testified Wednesday, conducted a subsequent interview of Warren, and said she believed that Warren didn’t initially know he had hit anyone and that he fully cooperated with all police searches and questions.
During the interview, “(Warren) is trying to piece together what he has subsequently learned. When he saw what was happening, he was trying to fill in the blanks,” Powell said. “(I) didn’t think he was trying to hide anything.”
But Hutson also brought up a portion of the interview in which Warren was by himself after talking to his daughter.
“During the interview, did (Warren) talk to himself, indicating ‘If I did, do you think I’m going to tell you,’ and ‘I trust no one and I don’t know why?’” Hutson asked. “So while he may be cooperative, he does indicate he trusts no one?”
Powell agreed that Warren said those statements.
MORE DETAILS OF ACCIDENT AFTERMATH
Specific details about the minutes leading up to when Wolf was found after being hit and dragged on the expressway also came to light during the exam.
While each witness showed emotion and sorrow during testimony, Kathleen O’Shea, the nurse anesthetist for Genisys Regional Medical Center in Grand Blanc, testified that she tried to get Warren’s attention while on the highway and seeing the sparks, which she said were three to four feet high at one point.
“I said, “Oh my God, what is he dragging,’” said O’Shea. “I got up next to him and flashed my lights, and pointed down and said, “Fire, fire.’”
O’Shea said during testimony that she was fearful for Warren’s life due to the sparks, and that she was afraid the car hauling the trailer might explode.
Rockind recounted that O’Shea said she drove next to Warren to try to get his attention, and that if she was concerned Warren’s vehicle would explode, asked whether her actions could suggest that danger isn’t what she was thinking of at the time.
“I was ahead of him and fearful for him. I was trying to help him,” said O’Shea.
Later, O’Shea said that when she learned why sparks were flying from Warren’s trailer she felt “as though I wish I would’ve seen something that would’ve made me pull him over. I felt very sad that I missed it.”
Oakland County Sheriff’s deputy Brent Hummel, who works at the Springfield Township Sheriff’s substation, was one of the first responders who found Wolf’s Michigan State Police BMW motorcycle on its side following the accident. He said he noticed the motorcycle — with no one near it — on the shoulder of Dixie Highway near the entrance ramp after fueling his patrol car at a nearby BP gas station.
Both the prosecution and defense had Hummel explain the chain of events in great detail, in which Hummel said he found Wolf’s radio in the grass near the entrance ramp.
State Police Trooper Phillip Parker, who works at the State Police Groveland Township post, was one of the first responders to find Wolf’s body at the rest stop about four miles north of where Wolf was hit.
Parker said he felt “fear, terror … fear of the unknown” during the situation. He spotted Wolf’s kevlar suit at the rest stop with three silver stripes on it, checked Wolf’s vitals and saw that they were fading. That was when an ambulance arrived and rushed Wolf to the hospital.
Rockind questioned Parker about whether it was safe to pull over on the side of the highway, citing Warren’s defective trailer — possibly due to striking the trooper. He mentioned that six fatal accidents occurred in 2015 where people when people pulled over on the side of an expressway were hit.
But Hutson, during a cross-examination, asked Parker if it’s safer to slow down, or to even stop if someone has defective equipment. Parker said slowing down and stopping was safer.
Wolf was a married father of four who had been with the state police since 2008. He was a member of the Michigan State Police Motor Unit and also a youth pastor at Great Lakes Baptist Church in Holly. His death and its horrific circumstances devastated many, and it brought an outpouring of support, including a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $185,000 and Oakland County employees raising $7,000 to help.
Michigan Secretary of State driving records indicate Warren had 12 brushed with police for his driving between 2007 and 2014. That included a suspended and restricted license from September 2008 until March 2010, with a restriction that Warren could drive to and from work being granted in 2009.
Warren has been free on bond from jail since his arraignment in Clarkston’s 52-2 District Court, but is required to stay at home and wear a GPS tether. Four members of Warren’s family, along with several others, attended the hearing.
The preliminary exam will be continued at 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 24, when two additional witnesses will testify.