Witnesses recall hit-and-run

Hearing will continue later this month

The Daily Mining Gazette
Dec. 4, 2003; pp 1,8A

HOUGHTON — Witnesses Wednesday recalled the hours leading up to a hit-and-run accident that killed a Michigan Tech University student in Houghton last September.

Christopher Lee Haddix, 24, of downstate Midland, is charged with four felonies — operating under the influence of liquor causing death, operating under the influence causing serious injury and two counts of failing to stop at an accident scene resulting in serious impairment or death — in connection with the death of 20-year-old Jeremy Larsen in Houghton. Haddix faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He also is charged with a misdemeanor count of operating under the influence of liquor.

Haddix, also an MTU student, was in 97th District Court for a preliminary examination to determine if there is enough evidence to warrant a trial. The hearing was suspended until Dec. 15 when an accident reconstruction expert from the Michigan State Police is expected to testify.

Witnesses recalled events before and after the accident, which occurred on College Avenue shortly after 3 a.m. Police detailed an investigation that led them to Haddix and his truck.

Haddix remained silent throughout the hearing as assistant county prosecutor Fraser Strome questioned witnesses.

A few hours after the accident, MTU Public Safety officer Chris Crouch found Haddix’s 1984 Chevrolet pickup, which matched witness descriptions. Crouch noted damage to the truck’s right headlight area. Crouch and a Houghton city police officer located Haddix in the McNair residence hall. Crouch said Haddix first asked why police were there. An officer then asked Haddix to tell them why they were there.

“He said, ‘Yeah, I think I know why you’re here, I hit something,’” Crouch said.

According to Crouch, Haddix initially told officers he believed he hit a squirrel and later said it may have been someone on a bicycle. Haddix was asked to go to the police station for further questioning.

Donald Downing, of downstate Manistique, witnessed the accident. He said he met Larsen for the first time the night of Sept. 27 at Larsen’s apartment in east Houghton. After spending some time drinking with friends, he and Larsen went to two fraternity houses. At the second fraternity house on the north side of College Avenue, they met fellow student Dominic J. Longhini.

At that point, they decided to go home, Downing said. He said he crossed to the south side of College Avenue ahead of Larsen and Longhini. He started walking west toward Emerald Street, then turned to see his companions in the middle of the intersection. A moment later, he said, he saw the headlights of an eastbound truck and turned to see it hit Larsen and Longhini near the southside curb.

"Jeremy was trailing a bit behind so he got hit really hard," Downing said.

A Houghton city police officer testified that accident separated Larsen from Longhini by about 140 feet. Larsen, of downstate Scottville, had no pulse at the scene and later was declared dead.

Longhini, 23, of Marquette, sustained leg injuries. Testifying with a brace on his left leg, he said doesn't remember the accident, except for an image of the sidewalk.

"I do remember the gray rectangle, the square," he said.

Downing said the truck appeared to be moving at a normal pace and didn't slow before or after the accident.

Witnesses testified that Larsen, Longhini and Haddix all were drinking that night at separate locations. Longhini had a .20 blood alcohol level. Haddix was tested the morning of the accident with a .22 blood alcohol level. Larsen's blood alcohol level wasn't available.

Before the accident, Haddix apparently was coming home after a party near Dollar Bay. Witnesses, including Stephanie Spelich, of Mohawk, observed Haddix drinking and playing the guitar at the party.

"He had a beer in his hand most of the time unless he was playing the guitar," Spelich said, describing Haddix's behavior as a kind of "happy drunk."

Haddix's attorney, Mark Wisti, said the prosecution must prove Haddix's alleged alcohol consumption was a substantial cause of the accident. He maintains the dark, rainy conditions and the blood-alcohol levels of Larsen and Longhini played a larger role in the accident. Wisti said any driver would have been unable to see the victims in the roadway and slow down in time to prevent a collision.

Assistant county prosecutor Fraser Strome declined to comment. However, Prosecutor Douglas Edwards has said previously a sober driver would have seen the victims crossing the street and slowed down.