The no-contest plea from Bruce Edward Ross, 65, was made for civil liability reasons, but it will still be treated as a guilty plea, Judge Jon Hulsing reminded the defendant during a hearing Monday morning in Ottawa County Circuit Court. The judge also emphasized the possibility of consecutive sentences in the case before accepting Ross’ plea.
Ross was driving a 1998 Jeep Cherokee south on 40th Avenue shortly before 10 p.m. Aug. 5, 2018. According to police, he pulled in front of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle occupied by Larry Hein, 72, and Joyce Hein, 67.
The motorcycle was traveling east on Cleveland Street with the right of way. It struck the passenger door of Ross’ SUV.
The Heins were taken to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, where they were pronounced dead from their injuries. They were both wearing helmets at the time of the crash.
Hulsing noted that Ross’ blood alcohol content was 0.13 at the time of the crash, and that he had made comments at the scene that he felt “buzzed” and shouldn’t have been driving.
Ross was originally charged with two counts of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated causing death; two counts of driving while license suspended causing death; and one count each of operating while intoxicated third offense, operating without insurance, unlawful use of registration and forging a license document. Bond was set at $50,000 cash.
The plea agreement was that Ross would plead no contest to two counts of drunken driving causing death. In exchange, all of the other charges would be dismissed at the time of sentencing.
“I want you to understand, more likely than not, there is going to be a prison sentence imposed,” Hulsing told Ross at Monday’s hearing. “It’s likely to be a lengthy sentence.”
When Ross said he still wanted to enter his plea, sentencing was set for March 11 and bond was revoked. Ross was taken to the Ottawa County Jail.
“It’s moving in the right direction,” said a tearful Julia Hirzel of Ohio, sister to Joyce Hein and executor of her sister’s estate. “I know that justice is being served, but it is difficult for those who are on the outside.”
Hirzel encouraged people to fill the courtroom for Ross’ sentence hearing.
“We just want to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” she said. “We need the correct containment for someone who can’t contain himself.”
Hirzel added that she has met a lot of wonderful people in Ottawa County while the case has been processed.
“I want to protect them,” she said.