No contest: Dani Michaels answers charge

(Updated 12:30 p.m. Wednesday with information from Michaels' attorney) A Grand Haven High School student has pleaded no contest to a charge related to a crash that seriously injured four of her friends - all 11th-graders at the time - on their way to a basketball game in March.
Becky Vargo
Oct 17, 2012


Dani Michaels, 17, was charged July 31 with committing a moving violation causing a serious impairment of body function.

Michaels quietly answered questions from attorney referee Barbara Forman Monday afternoon before formally making the plea in Ottawa County Juvenile Court.

Pleading no contest to a criminal charge is not an admission of guilt, but is treated as such at sentencing. The major benefit of pleading no contest is that it allows you to deny the crime at a later civil trial.

The no contest plea entered by Michaels was not to escape civil liability, said her attorney, R.J. Winter, on Wednesday. He said it was more of a practical means to keep Michaels from having to relive what happened that day.

“A guilty plea requires that Dani say specifically and graphically what happened,” he said. “She was emotionally unable to do that.”

The charge is a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to 93 days in jail if the defendant is charged as an adult. Michaels will not face jail time because she was charged as a juvenile.

The case is in juvenile court because Michaels was 16 at the time of the crash.

The case was moved from Kent County to Ottawa County because of Michaels lives here.

A dispositional hearing was set for Nov. 15 in front of Judge Mark Feyen. The disposition in juvenile court is like a sentence in adult court.

In the meantime, Michaels’ caseworker will prepare a dispositional recommendation report, said Paul Lindemuth, assistant juvenile services director for Ottawa County. The report will be used to make a recommendation for consequences – which could vary from probation to placement in a foster home or the county’s detention center.

Conditions of probation would likely be a combination of community service, restitution, fees and fines, and drug testing, Lindemuth said.

There is a standard list of conditions that can be pulled from if Michaels is put on probation, Winter said. But he didn’t expect it to be anything as extreme as putting her in a foster home or the juvenile detention facility.

“The goal of juvenile court is more a rehabilitative approach, rather than a punitive approach,” he said. “I anticipate some probation — specifically centered on trauma counseling." 

Community service is possible, as well as a court-ordered letter of apology. Winter said the apology had already been done informally and the families remained close.

Michael’s license will also automatically be suspended for a year or more by the Secretary of State, Winter said. That is separate from the case being handled in the juvenile court.

On top of the $125 reinstatement fee, “there will be a significant amount of money she will owe the Secretary of State” for driver responsibility, he said.

More details on this case were published in Tuesday's print edition and e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.




why would placing her in a foster home be punishment? Im so confused as to why that would even be an option


My guess would be it's more protection from further bad parenting rather than a punishment for the child. I doubt that item would apply in this case. A patty slapping and maybe some community service would be my bet for punishment.


I dont understand how that has to do with bad parenting. her parents didnt make any of her decisions while she was in that car. she was driving & being irresponsible, it has nothing to do with her parents. you could have the worst parents in the world & never do anything wrong, law wise.


But they made the decision to allow her to drive with her friends that morning in dense fog. She and her parents must accept the consequences. If it was your child in that car, you'd probably feel the same way.


You're right, you don't understand. The law allows for punishment of the parents, for the sins of their minor children, in some cases. It doesn't matter if you feel it's right or not. That said I doubt that foster care or punishing parents applies in this case. I will say from what I've read previously that the driver's mother, who I have to assume knew her daughter was driving at the time, called her daughter on her cell phone and that is what started the unfortunate chain of events. Why would a parent call their child on her cell phone when the parent knew she was driving? I dunno, maybe a text message would've been a better idea? or maybe the driver should have been mature and responsible enough to hand her phone over to one of the other girls when they got in the car. Maybe the parent suggested this and the suggestion was ignored, again I dunno. Bottom line here is a young girl, with virtually no driving experience, was allowed to drive to Lansing, with 4 girlfriends in a party environment. Bad parenting? maybe, bad decision by a parent? I'd have to say yup. This was a recipe for disaster when they handed her the keys, it's just very fortunate that no one had to pay the ultimate price in this situation.


Kinda off topic I suppose, but this....."Pleading no contest to a criminal charge is not an admission of guilt, but is treated as such at sentencing. The major benefit of pleading no contest is that it allows you to deny the crime at a later civil trial". Huh??? What kinda idiot law maker dreamed that one up? I used to be guilty, but I'm older now so I ain't guilty no mo........??? Someone please explain to me how this isn't more about taking the easiest way out, rather than owning up to what you did and taking your medicine? I know I'm a cynical old SOB, but this, the way I read it at least, is why I don't have a whole lot of faith in the U.S, justice system and please, don't give me the old "ours is the best in the world" crap either, like it's perfect and there ain't room for improvement.


here is my 2 cents......Dani almost killed her best you NOT think this has changed her life? Dont you think everyday she is reminded of a MISTAKE she made? Think back to the stupid stuff we all did as new teenage drivers...yea, NO ONE is perfect. As far as bad parenting? PLEASE!!! seriously? This girl has wonderful, loving parents...........Take a negative and make it a positive....the BEST thing for her would to be a public speaker to area high schools on her experience. Talk about not trying to answer a phone, driving with fewer friends in the car.....and of course community service. Foster Care is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.....


I understand your compassion on this issue but she needs to pay the penalty, of the law. Why have laws if we are going to cherry pick how they are applied! How would you feel if she had killed someone in this accident? The bottom line here is her bad decisions while driving caused harm not only to herself, but others. Compassion on this issue needs to be extended to the families of the other girls as well. Their trauma was caused not by their actions, but of the irresponsible actions of the driver. Punishment of the law will also serve as a deterrent for others to think about before they repeat the same bad decision. I agree that foster care does not seem to make sense unless there are some other circumstances we do not know about. I'm would think her parents have suffered enough thru this ordeal. Public speaking regarding this would be a responsible thing for her to do and maybe stop another driver from causing harm or death to someone. She can do this on her own if it is not part of her sentence.


and the families and girls are all still friends.......but your right, punish her, ruin her life, cause THAT will solve a parent, I wouldnt let her drive til shes 18, make her do community service, ect....but jail or foster care? for a 16 SCARED girl? NO! and if she had killed someone, thats different, but still...this girl IS NOT a hopeless not ruin her life for a mistake, she has great things ahead of her.........


I'm not for ruining her life, but actions have consequences. It may save another life when they learn they not only have to live with the harm they caused others, but realize there also is a court system, that by the way does not work for free, that processes these cases. I resent you implying I called her a lost cause. Put your emotions aside, I for the most part, am on your side. I believe she can help others avoid the same mistakes but it should not excuse her from the punishments of law.


maybe wonderful, loving parents but as far as making parental decisions obviously is seriously lacking.


Gotta love this Ghmommy. She doesn't just know, she KNOWS how to parent. People: if you're ever lacking in wisdom, this lady is the one to call. No stones being thrown in this glass house!


I suspect if foster care were seriously a option they would have dragged the case out and not pleaded no contest, as the girl will be 18 within the year.


My guess would be bad parenting because they let her drive to this function with 4 other girls. Maybe because she was talking to her mom on the phone just before the accident? It's a tough call, but it was an accident, they happen. Thankfully it wasn't worse.


I have a hard time understanding how people think this girl does not deserve some form of punishment.. People keep saying, "Hasn't she been through enough?" Well we don't say that when someone gets behind the wheel of a car, makes a mistake and kills someone do we?? NO! If someone kills another person, most likely that will haunt them for the rest of their lives, and they have to live with that. Should we say then that they will be tortured enough knowing they killed someone that they also should not have to be punished by the law? NO! Why must people think we need to make an exception in this case just because she is/was 16? I say make an example of it. What is the point of having laws if we aren't going to punish people. I'm sorry that people were hurt, and glad no one was killed, but I am personally sick of hearing this whole thing drag on.


but she didnt kill anyone.......obviously you dont have a 16 year old....or any kids? sick of hearing about it......turn the page.....




First of all, I do have kids, so don't assume you know anything about me. Secondly, she may not have killed someone but she did harm her friends with her actions. I am simply saying this issue should not just be swept under the rug because she has "been through enough." Would you be acting like this if say, a 25 year old did the same thing?


HUH? case moved to ottawa county because she lives there? how convenient...cases i know of are charged in the county that they occur. of course, it was convenient for her parents to let her drive there. why the sudden hardship to drive to the county where the accident took place?


There you go again ghmommy following the Golden Rule! What an example you set in mercy and tolerance. unfortunately, the seed you sow will certainly grow into something with a few thorns!


I think some of you may be misunderstanding the situation with regard to sentencing choices. This isn't a law that was drawn up specifically for this's a law in place to deal with a multitude of similar, or maybe not so similar, situations. The possible outcomes listed in the article are like a buffet of choices for the judge, or whoever makes the final say in these cases, to choose from at sentencing time. Not every possible punishment option in the law is going to be used in each and every case. Again, the judge picks and chooses what best applies from the list to this particular case.


Mercy triumphs over judgment.


The parents of the passengers made those same decisions. If you reread the story, "dense" fog was not an issue for the accident. My hope is that other parents and 16 year old students realize that driving is to be taken seriously. Do you not think, that Dani will live with this for the rest of her life. All of the girls came away from the accident changed; physically and emotionally. Do you not think that there is not a day that she would want to change her decision to shut off her phone, or to be carefree about driving to watch her former basketball teammates with her watch her close friends in pain.... You can sensationalize it anyway you sell was tragic for everyone..Dani has endured alot of pain and suffering...she is trying to be strong for her family, her classmates and her close friends. It is their senior year......... God was Good, God was full of Grace....he held them in His healing Hands....Amen!

Say No To Tourist's

She needs to lose her license for like 5 years and go through a driver responsibility program and possibly pay restitution for all medical bills her passengers incured.


I totally agree!


Michigan law may also be at fault here. The incident was preventable, the injuries unnecessary and the personal trauma for all totally avoidable.

Michigan law allows that "Intermediate license holders may not transport more than 1 non-family passenger under age 21 unless traveling to or from work, school, or a school-sanctioned event."

Excuse me? Why is this exception here? To save the cost of an extra school bus journey?? WTF! What makes a 16yr old more talented and responsible as a driver when carrying a vehicle load of peers to a school sanctioned event??

This was the worst possible scenario - a car load of amped up kids going to a school -sanctioned competitive event. An accident waiting to happen - regardless of driver distraction, weather and traffic conditions.


Some stories just don't go away. Ask the Kennedy family about Ted at Chappaquiddick. His actions killed a girl.


I believe Dani AND her parents need to have consequences because they all made poor choices. And I agree with "micheglen" when he/she said it was "an accident waiting to happen!" I remember how my friends & I drove to sports events in high school and we were very lucky to have never been in an accident. We thought we were invincible and I think most kids do. The Law needs to be changed!

And then there's the whole discussion about cell phones. Yes they are very convenient & helpful but they really are a distraction.


agree, though this case seems to be white gloved. she choose to drive 90 mph, talk on cell.., no different than the drunk choosing to drive, texting while driving, etc. all poor driving choices lead to trouble, this is no exception


Haha, and like all you people talking on here are "parents of the year". Why don't you worry about your own problems first then maybe try to give advice.



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