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Car chase defendant bound over to Circuit Court

Becky Vargo • Apr 17, 2019 at 12:00 PM

A Muskegon Heights man, who has been jailed since a March 22 police chase through Grand Haven that ended with a crash into a house, was bound over to stand trial following a preliminary examination Tuesday morning in Ottawa County District Court.

Hank William Jones, 69, is charged with one count of drunken driving, third-offense notice, and third-degree fleeing and eluding police.

Judge Craig Bunce said a driving on a suspended license charge would be handled at the District Court level. It is up to the Circuit Court to establish third or greater number of drunken driving offenses, he said.

Jones faces up to five years in prison if he is convicted of the drunken driving charge. The fleeing and eluding charge also carries the possibility of up to five years in prison. If a habitual offender charge is added, Jones could be incarcerated for double that time. 

Sgt. Mike Ercole of the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety was the only witness called to the stand during the 11 a.m. hearing. Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Greg Babbitt questioned Ercole about the day’s events.

Ercole said he was on patrol, heading north on Third Street toward Harbor Island, when a woman later identified as Brita Pratt flagged him down. The woman said she and friends were taking pictures of each other on the Third Street Bridge when Jones stopped near them and followed them around, moving his car forward and backward, as they moved around on the bridge.

The police sergeant said he pulled up behind Jones’ car as the man started to leave the scene at speeds of 5-8 mph.

Based on several reasons, Ercole said he decided to stop the vehicle for suspected drunken driving. He said those reasons included the complaints of the people on the bridge, the low speeds that Jones was traveling and the fact that he stopped in the middle of the road.

At that point, the Jones vehicle and the police car are now on the north side of the bridge. Ercole said he walked up to the vehicle and smelled marijuana through the open window. 

“His speech was slurred and his eyes bloodshot,” Ercole said. The man was also very deliberate in his speech, another indicator of possible intoxication, the officer said.

When Ercole asked to see the man’s driver’s license, Jones said it was in his trunk and he couldn’t get the trunk open.

Following the crash, police later found the wallet inside the vehicle, Ercole said.

Jones then drove off, but made the mistake of turning left into a dead-end, gravel parking area on Harbor Island, Ercole said. The officer tried to block Jones from exiting, but the suspect got around the police car while Ercole was calling for backup.

According to Ercole, Jones then drove back south across the Third Street Bridge and was able to get around a couple of other police cars approaching the intersection of Third and Jackson streets. Jones went east on Jackson and swerved around another police car at Sixth Street. 

“Fortunately for all of us, the light was green,” Ercole said. “Everyone made it through.”

At that point, three police cars are following Jones and the Muskegon Heights man is going approximately 70 mph as he passes The Home Depot store, the sergeant said. Jones made it through another green light at Ferry Street and negotiated the curve onto Griffin Street.

“We accelerated noticeably once we made the turn onto Griffin,” Ercole said. At that point, he radioed for all officers to terminate the pursuit because they were heading into a heavily populated residential zone.

“We could see him lose control and the car started to roll,” Ercole said.

He responded, when questioned, that the vehicle rolled several times, bounced into the porch of a house at the corner of Griffin and Washington, and then landed upside down. Ercole said “a fairly significant engine fire” started and two of the officers ran back to their cars, retrieved fire extinguishers and were able to put out the fire.

Ercole said they could hear a noise inside the car and believed Jones to be alive. “We couldn’t see him,” Ercole said.

With the damage to the vehicle being so extensive, the sergeant called for an assist from Grand Haven Township Fire Rescue. Using both departments’ Jaws of Life tools, they were able to open up the side of the car and get Jones out.

The injured man was taken by ambulance to Hackley Hospital in Muskegon. Police then got a warrant for a blood test. Ercole said the results showed a 0.133 blood alcohol content. The legal limit for alcohol in Michigan is 0.08.

Public defender Ryan Seale asked a few questions about how slow people drive on Harbor Island. Ercole said people drive slow in the evening looking for deer.

Then Jones spoke up and said he planned to let his assigned public defender go and retain his own attorney.

Bunce told him to make sure he had that in place prior to his arraignment, which was set for May 6 before Ottawa County Circuit Judge Karen Miedema.

Jones was remanded back to jail and his $75,000 bond was continued. 

Extensive criminal history

State prison records show that Jones first went to prison for stealing a car in 1966 and was released in 1970. He has also been imprisoned at different times for felonious assault, larceny from a motor vehicle, unarmed robbery, aggravated domestic violence, breaking and entering with intent to steal, retail fraud, fleeing police, and operating while impaired. Jones was charged for a prison escape on Christmas Day 1985.

While most of his criminal record is from Muskegon County, Jones has also committed offenses in Kent, Ottawa and Jackson counties.

His Ottawa County criminal record includes a 1991 conviction for driving on a suspended license and unlawful use of a license plate, and a 1994 domestic violence case out of Spring Lake Township.

 

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