On September 27, 2017, Thomas Ray drove his car on Silver Pines Road at 7:30 in the evening. He says that there was a mixture of twilight and wet roads that made it difficult to see. Ray struck and killed cyclist David Owen Williamson. Ray struck Williamson from behind. A second driver hit Williamson after the initial impact.
A jury recently found Ray not guilty for his actions. Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Robert Cooney charged Ray with moving violation causing death. He and assistant prosecutor Kit Tholen said that Ray should have been driving more slowly. The jury disagreed.
Ray was emotional at the favorable verdict. He waited almost a year for the case to go to trial. He said that he still thinks of the victim and their family, but that he doesn’t believe that he is legally liable for what happened.
Cooney stated that he was disappointed with the jury’s verdict. Cooney seemed to think that simply because a crash occurred and someone got hurt, Ray must have committed a moving violation. Cooney said that he spent more than a month investigating the case to determine whether to file charges. However, the jury believed that the accident was just an accident and they declined to hold Ray criminally responsible for the crash.
The charge that Ray faced is a violation of a Michigan state law. The law is committing a moving violation that causes death. The law says that a person who commits a traffic violation that results in the death of someone else is guilty of a misdemeanor. The offender can spend up to one year in jail for their offense. The crime doesn’t require the offender to act intentionally or even with negligence. Just committing a moving violation can be enough to be liable for the offense.
The law is an amendment of an earlier Michigan law called negligent homicide. The law required prosecutors to show that an offender acted negligently in a way that caused the death of another person. The offense was punishable by up to two years incarceration that could include state prison. The law was amended because juries returned verdicts of not guilty in many cases. Although jurors see traffic deaths as tragic, they often see them as just terrible accidents that do not warrant jail and other penalties for the responsible driver. It isn’t clear what motivated jurors to return a verdict of not guilty in Ray’s case.