GH man gets jail time for drunken driving crash

Becky Vargo • Oct 13, 2017 at 8:00 AM

A Grand Haven man was ordered Thursday to serve jail time and probation for a drunken driving crash on U.S. 31 this past August.

Christopher Ryan Howard, 31, was sentenced in Ottawa County District Court to serve 93 days in jail and two years of probation. He was given credit for 22 days already served in jail.

Judge Craig Bunce told Howard that his case would be reviewed Nov. 3. At that time, Howard could be released from jail on the Intensified Supervised Probation program.

Howard must complete a 12-step program and, once he is out of jail, may only drive as authorized.

Bunce told Howard that his knee-jerk reaction was to keep the man in jail as long as legally possible, “but I fear you won’t learn anything.”

“I need to make sure that you are safe for yourself and for those people traveling the roadway,” the judge said.

According to authorities, Howard was the driver of a pickup truck that witnesses said was weaving in and out of traffic on southbound U.S.  31 on Aug. 15. He then ran a red light at Hayes Street in Grand Haven Township before crashing into vehicles stopped for a red light at Ferris Street.

Police said Howard first hit a car driven by Brittany Bunker, then 24, of the Grand Haven area. The impact of the collision pushed Bunker’s car into a roofing company’s truck stopped in front of her car. Howard’s truck bounced off Bunker’s car and into the other lane, where it rear-ended another small car.

An ambulance transported Bunker to North Ottawa Community Hospital following the crash. She was the only person injured. Her car was destroyed.

Bunker, who was at Thursday’s court hearing with her mother, said she is still undergoing physical therapy for a shoulder injury she suffered in the crash. She also suffered facial injuries, but those have mostly healed, she said.

Bunker was on her way home from work and had stopped for the red light on the highway when she looked in her rear-view mirror and saw the pickup truck approaching.

“I didn’t have time to get out of the way, so I just grabbed the wheel and waited,” she said. “He hit me and I came out of my seat and hit the steering wheel.”

Bunker said her car’s air bags did not deploy until she hit the truck in front of her.

She was temporarily trapped inside her vehicle and was assisted by other motorists. She expressed her thanks for their help.

Howard’s attorney, Bob Zitta, said his client’s long jail stint “had influenced him significantly.”

“He indicates to me a strong desire to be sober,” Zitta said.

Zitta also noted that Howard has had a past tragedy in regards to one of his children.

The day of the crash was the three-year anniversary of a candlelight vigil held for Howard’s 8-year-old son, Trevor, who was suffering from leukemia. Trevor died Aug. 24, 2014.

Howard admitted that his drinking had become heavier in the past three years. He also told the judge that, “I’ve never been to jail before, other than a couple nights here and there.”

Referring to the crash, Howard said, “I can’t believe I did that. I feel like garbage for doing that.”

He also expressed regrets for being a non-sober parent.

Howard was slow to admit to prior alcohol and drug incidents, but with some prodding by the judge, he agreed that he had more than one case of minor in possession of alcohol while in high school. He also was convicted for use of marijuana and, in 2006, being a minor consuming alcohol while driving a motor vehicle. In 2007, he was stopped for driving on a suspended license and, in 2014, with interfering with electronic communications.

Bunce noted some probation violations and said all of it was centered around alcohol.

“Do you think you have an alcohol problem?” the judge asked Howard.

“Yes,” Howard replied.

Howard went on to say he did not want to drink or have an alcohol problem anymore.

In addition to jail and probation, Howard was also ordered to pay $1,729 in restitution and $2,650 in fines and costs. Bunce said restitution could be increased if more of the victims filed claims.

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