“You were literally stumbling drunk,” Judge Jon Hulsing said to Steven Adams during sentencing Monday morning in Ottawa County Circuit Court.
Hulsing sent Adams to prison for 6¾ to 10 years for a third-offense drunken driving conviction. This was higher than the 14-43 months suggested by the sentencing guidelines, but Hulsing said the guidelines don’t include all of the man’s history.
And “while the sentence is severe, it is proportionate to you,” the judge told Adams.
Hulsing noted it was actually Adams’ fourth drunken driving incident and there were several other felonies, as well.
In the Aug. 9, 2017, incident, Adams’ grandchildren, ages 4 and 8, were in the car, along with their “intoxicated mother, who was also charged,” Prosecuting Attorney Sarah Matwiejczyk said.
Adams’ list of prior convictions include drunken driving in 1996, 2004 and 2008, and driving without a license in other years. The incident that stands out the most is the 1999 gross negligence case in which two people were killed on I-196 in downtown Grand Rapids in a fiery crash, Hulsing said.
The judge read from a Michigan Court of Appeals case summary: “On March 7, 1999, defendant was involved in events leading to a multi-car accident on westbound I-196 (Ford Freeway) in downtown Grand Rapids, culminating in the fiery deaths of two young persons, whose car had stopped on the freeway in a chain of evasive actions.”
The chain of cars had stopped because Adams, who was trying to exit the highway, had turned around and was driving the wrong way.
“The defendant purportedly lost control of his van on the southbound 131 exit ramp of the Ford and, as a consequence, deliberately drove his van back onto westbound I-196 the wrong way, causing opposing, oncoming freeway traffic to take evasive action, resulting in a backup of stopped cars in the travel lane. Defendant’s van hit a median barrier, crossed the freeway and then crashed into a north guardrail near the Ottawa Street freeway entrance. Defendant and his passenger fled the scene of the accident on foot,” the summary read.
The young people who died in the crash were in the last car stopped on the freeway. They were rear-ended by a drunk driver, who was traveling an estimated 80 mph at the time.
Hulsing said that Adams had served three stints in prison — “none of which have persuaded you from putting the public at risk,” the judge said to the man. “You simply don’t care about anyone other than yourself,” Hulsing said, noting that Adams always says “the right things” and then continues to go on his own way.
“Your selfish conduct continually places the public at risk,” the judge added.
Defense attorney Phil Sielski noted that Adams successfully appealed the ruling in the 1999 case, but by that time had already served three years in prison. He was given a new trial and credit for time served.
Sielski said that Adams has made significant changes in his life. And had the incident in Grand Haven occurred a month later, it would have been past the 10-year mark since his last drunken driving conviction and his penalties would have been less severe.
“I have turned my life around,” Adams said when given his turn to comment.
He noted that he saw a pattern with incidents happening every couple of years.
“I shouldn’t have been driving,” Adams admitted. “I can’t do nothing to make it right.”
Hulsing said it was that pattern and Adams’ selfish attitude that “justifies treating you with the worst class of offender.”