The vehicle’s lights blinded her, and that’s why she didn’t move over before coming up next to an emergency vehicle stopped on the side of U.S. 31, she told Ottawa County Judge Craig Bunce on Monday.
But the police officer traveling behind her said she had ample time to get over once she saw the flashing emergency lights up ahead. And there were no other vehicles on the road at the time.
Instead, she drifted toward the stopped police car before jerking away, missing the police car by inches, said Spring Lake/Ferrysburg Police Officer Adam Hill.
Inside the police car, Officer Greg Walski was startled and then terrified when his unlatched door was pulled open and slammed shut by the force of the wind from the small SUV that almost sideswiped him.
The near miss was enough for Hill to pull over Tober instead of stopping to assist Walski, as he originally planned.
It is one of several incidents in recent months in Northwest Ottawa County in which motorists fail to move over for stopped emergency vehicles.
Tober was charged with a misdemeanor – failing to abide by Michigan’s Emergency Vehicle Caution Law – which has enhanced penalties of up to 15 years in prison; and/or a $7,500 fine if the violation causes injury or death to a police officer, firefighter or other emergency response personnel.
In Tober's case, there were no injuries and no damage to the vehicles.
Tober offered her apologies to Officer Walski and said she intended to get over, but froze when the car came up behind her. She said she didn’t know if it was safe to get over into the other lane.
During Monday's bench trial, Tober admitted to stopping at a bar after work and having a couple of mixed drinks before going home that night. The judge said he had to take that into account, even though she was not charged with an alcohol offense.
“Mrs. Tober did not use due care and caution,” Bunce said before sentencing her to $350 in fines and costs, or 35 days in jail.
“It’s a serious issue,” the judge said after court adjourned. “She had the ability to move over and she chose not to.”
Assistant Ottawa County Prosecuting Attorney Karen Miedema said this is the third case in the past few weeks she was handling regarding the Emergency Vehicle Caution Law. And they are all going to hearings, instead of people pleading guilty, she said.
Two weeks ago, a Grand Rapids man was ordered to pay $220 restitution to the Michigan State Police after striking a stopped patrol car on U.S. 31 north of Grand Haven. Jarvis Beene, 59, of Grand Rapids faced a failure to yield to emergency vehicle charge, Miedema said.
The state trooper was starting to get out of his car, but had to cower back when he saw the oncoming vehicle. His car door was hit and it took the mirror off Beene’s car, Miedema said.
“He would have been creamed if he had gotten out,” she added.
The Emergency Vehicle Caution Law states that anyone traveling on a highway with two or more lanes must move over one lane when approaching a stationary emergency vehicle. If a motorist is unable to safely move over, he or she must slow down and pass the emergency vehicles with caution.
The law became necessary because too many emergency responders were getting killed or injured when stopped along the roadside during the course of their duties, according to a pamphlet on the law put out by the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.
"It is scary," Miedema said. “You have to get over.”
For more on the law, go to www.michigan.gov/ohsp.