Ex-NBA player jailed

Becky Vargo • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:52 PM

The Caledonia man was advised by his attorney not to talk at his sentencing Monday morning in front of Judge Jon Hulsing in Ottawa County Circuit Court. Defense attorney Dan Bylenga said that was because of possible pending civil litigation.

But Estella Vitins’ family members had no trouble expressing their outrage that Washington did not stop and help at the scene of the crash in September.

Rolled up to the podium in a wheelchair, Janis Vitins questioned the character, honesty and integrity of a man who would leave an injured person on the side of the road.

“If no one stopped, my wife would have been roadkill,” the 71-year-old Vitins said.

His wife’s long-term hospital care expenses totaled more than $50,000, he said.

“She was my caregiver,” Vitins said. “Since then, she has had 24-hour care. She seems to have lost the will to live.”

Estella Vitins, now 71, had left home on the evening of Sept. 18, 2012, to get some ice cream, but never made it home, according to her daughter, Amy Cooper. Cooper speculated the sun was in her mother's eyes and she missed the exit from I-96.

At some point, Vitins stopped to fuel her van, but it still ran out of gas on I-96 between Nunica and Fruitport.

The family's attorney, Mark Goudy, said Vitins was walking west on eastbound I-96, possibly believing she was on the shoulder of the road, when she was struck by a Jaguar driven by Washington, 48.

Although Washington initially stopped and checked his car, he left the scene and returned home.

Washington’s attorney asked the judge to cut the recommended sentence in half, or order community service for his client. He also mentioned letters of support for Washington that were sent to the court.

Judge Hulsing made note of the letters.

“Leaving the scene of an accident is out of his character, as they normally see it,” the judge said.

Still, Hulsing sentenced Washington to two months in jail because he did not have auto insurance.

Washington was given credit for two days served after the crash, put on probation for 18 months, ordered to complete 100 hours of community service, and pay $1,200 in fines and costs.

Washington played short stints for the New Jersey Nets in the late 1980s and Los Angeles Clippers in the early 1990s. He is the older brother of current NBA player Derek Fisher.

Cooper said her mother’s physical injuries have healed, “but she will never heal from the brain injury. My mother will never be the same again,” Cooper said.

Bylenga, in trying to get his client’s sentence downgraded, said a lot of mistakes were made on the night of the incident. It’s a dark area between the interstate's five- and six-mile markers, he said. It was also raining that night.

Bylenga claimed that Estella Vitins was walking down the middle of the road when she was hit by Washington's car. He said his client stopped to look around, but didn’t see anything.

By leaving the crash scene, "he made a mistake at this point,” Bylenga said.

Washington never tried to hide anything from the police and was very cooperative when police arrived at his home, Bylenga said.

Earlier news accounts said Estella Vitins suffered from dementia. She had been reported missing earlier that day.

Goudy said the woman does not have dementia, but she does have "very mild" cognitive impairment.

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