Lawsuit: Pittsfield Township officers let 'super drunk' driver back on road before deadly crash

Lawsuit accuses officers of letting drunken driver back on road

PITTSFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - A $30 million lawsuit has been filed against two Pittsfield Township police officers who are accused of allowing a "super drunk" driver back on the road in a damaged car before he allegedly caused a crash that killed a 55-year-old Ann Arbor woman.

The family of Lake Jacobson filed a lawsuit Oct. 25 against the officers. Jacobson was fatally injured Dec. 30 in a crash involving an alleged drunken driver who was let back on the road after an earlier crash, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in Washtenaw County Circuit Court and alleges two Pittsfield Township police officers and an Ann Arbor towing company were negligent in allowing the alleged drunken driver back on the road.

Jacobson was a wife and mother of two.

Lake Jacobson (WDIV)

Alleged drunken man drives off road

At 4:19 p.m. Dec. 30, Pittsfield Township Sgt. Matthew Hornbeck was called to a scene on Michigan Avenue east of Warner Road in Pittsfield Township, where a car had driven off the road, according to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Hornbeck encountered Desten Stephen-Bernard Houge, who was allegedly drunk. The lawsuit claims Houge had lost control of his 2000 Chrysler Concorde and driven off the road into a ditch.

The back right wheel of the Concorde was in the air and the back left wheel was in the snowbank of a ditch wall, packing it with snow, according to the lawsuit.

The Concorde had hit a yellow curve sign, which was wedged under the car, the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, the front end hit the ground and the side of the vehicle was on a concrete drainage device.

The conditions were dry and clear at the time of the crash, according to the lawsuit.

"I was just sliding," Houge allegedly told police after the crash, according the lawsuit. "I can't explain -- it just happened. I can't explain this s---."

While walking around the scene of the crash, Houge allegedly stumbled and nearly fell, gesticulated, talked to himself and waved to a passerby, the lawsuit claims.

Houge fell on his back while talking to police and Hornbeck helped Houge stand up, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims Houge gave Hornbeck a hug and that Hornbeck patted Houge on the arm or shoulder and walked away.

Still frames were provided in the lawsuit to demonstrate the alleged activity of Houge and Hornbeck on the side of the road. You can see them below.

Sgt. Matthew Hornbeck is accused of witnessing a drunken driver fall on his back after crashing on the side of the road, according to a lawsuit. (WDIV)

Sgt. Matthew Hornbeck is accused of helping a drunken driver stand up on the side of the road, according to a lawsuit. (WDIV)

Sgt. Matthew Hornbeck is accused of helping up a drunken driver on the side of the road, according to a lawsuit. (WDIV)

The lawsuit alleges Hornbeck didn't conduct a field sobriety test, detain Houge or arrange for him to be driven home. The lawsuit accuses Hornbeck of placing Houge back on the road in the damaged and unsafe Concorde as weather conditions worsened.

"It is not within a police officer's reasonable discretion to allow a drunk driver such as Houge to operate on the public roadways," the lawsuit states. "Doing so unreasonably creates a danger of serious injury or death to those in the vicinity."

Hornbeck and Pittsfield Township Officer Samuel Bradley left the scene and returned to the Pittsfield Township office after Houge was back on the road, according to the lawsuit.

Vehicle damage

The lawsuit claims Bradley was also at the scene of the crash. According to the lawsuit, Houge told Bradley that he had bought the car for $600 and that it was uninsured, but Bradley dismissed that information by waving his hand.

Bradley and Hornbeck reported there was "functional damage" to the Concorde, the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, the Concorde was not safe to be back on the road because its rear anti-sway bars were broken, in addition to the other damage.

"This was disabling damage and a police officer cannot allow the vehicle to be placed on the roadway due to the danger it would present," the lawsuit says.

A driver from Sakstrup's Towing was called to the scene and should have noticed the danger of the broken anti-sway bars, according to the lawsuit. The tow truck driver put the Concorde back on the roadway, which was allowed by the officers, the lawsuit states.

The Sakstrup's Towing driver later admitted he had noticed the broken anti-sway bars, according to the lawsuit.

Hornbeck and Bradley never discussed with the Sakstrup's Towing driver that the Concorde was unsafe to drive, the lawsuit states. They reported that the Concorde was being towed to the Sakstrup's Towing yard, but they knew it was back on the road, according to the lawsuit.

Deadly crash

After the Concorde was placed back on the road, Houge drove east on Michigan Avenue for about a quarter of a mile, according to the lawsuit.

The Concorde started rocking back and forth due to the damaged anti-sway bars and suspension, the lawsuit states. It caused the wheels to leave the ground and the car to fishtail on the road, according to the lawsuit.

Witnesses said parts of the Concorde were flying off as it went down the road, according to the lawsuit.

One witness told police she saw Houge leaving the scene of the first crash and was surprised by how fast he was driving, according to officials.

At some point, the Concorde crossed the centerline, narrowly missed another car and crashed head-on into Jacobson in her family's Ford 500, the lawsuit claims.

A Dec. 10 crash scene when an alleged drunken driver struck Lake Jacobson's vehicle on Michigan Avenue in Pittsfield Township. (WDIV)

The lawsuit claims Jacobson was trapped in the Ford 500 and had to be extricated with hydraulic Jaws of Life by firefighters. She was taken to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, according to the lawsuit.

Medical officials at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital and pathologists at the University of Michigan during the post-mortem examination said the C2 vertebra in Jacobson's neck was fractured, the lawsuit states. That caused a loss of oxygen to her brain and led to her death on Jan. 3, according to the lawsuit.

A Dec. 10 crash scene, where an alleged drunken driver struck a woman's vehicle head-on in Pittsfield Township. (WDIV)

Jacobson also suffered orthopedic injuries and traumatic internal injuries, according to the lawsuit.

Officials said Houge was also killed in the crash. It's unclear if he was pronounced dead at the scene or afterward, and specific details about his injuries were not provided.

The scene of a Dec. 10 alleged drunken driving crash on Michigan Avenue in Pittsfield Township. (WDIV)

Crash evaluation

"Despite the conflict of interest, Sakstrup's was allowed to maintain custody of the Chrysler Concorde and Officer Bradley conducted components of the fatal crash investigation," the lawsuit states.

On Jan. 5, Bradley and a mechanic went to Sakstrup's Towing to transport and inspect the Concorde at Firestone, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit provided the following as the full vehicle evaluation from Bradley:

"Lead technician/mechanic (name) completed the evaluation of the vehicle. I was present during the entire evaluation. He found that both rear struts of the vehicle were worn and weak, both rear sway bar links were broken. The gas tank straps had rusted and the tank was falling off of the vehicle. Both of the rear wheels were packed with snow. He advised this most likely occurred during the first crash/road runoff. Both ride side hubcaps were broken or missing. The right front tire had a broken stud and a loose lug nut. He completed a writeup on the vehicle evaluation. See attached. He advised in his opinion the damage could have been done by a large pothole, referencing the right side tire/rim/hubcap damage. He also stated the overall back end of the vehicle was not in good condition, the underbody was extremely rusted and it appeared as most of the parts on the vehicle were original from the factory."

On Jan. 12, toxicology reports found that Houge's blood alcohol concentration was .242, which is more than three times the legal limit, according to the lawsuit. A person with a BAC of .17 or higher is considered "super drunk" under Michigan law.

Toxicology also found THC findings consistent with marijuana use, the lawsuit states.

Here's a chart of positive findings from the toxicology report that was provided in the lawsuit:

Accusations against officers

The lawsuit claims Hornbeck and Bradley "grossly breached their duty of reasonable care and created a danger to those in the vicinity, which included Lake Jacobson, by placing a 'super drunk' driver on the road in a damaged and unsafe vehicle."

According to the lawsuit, Hornbeck and Bradley acted recklessly and demonstrated a lack of concern for whether an injury resulted from letting Houge back on the road.

The lawsuit accuses Hornbeck and Bradley of being grossly negligent in a way that resulted in Jacobson being seriously injured and dying.

"We want accountability," Jacobson's husband said. "We are not vindictive people, but things should have been handled differently. It was an entirely preventable accident."

Angel Harris, manager of victim services at Mothers Against Drunk Driving Michigan, said the deadly crash never should have happened.

“The tools and procedures in place to prepare officers to detect impaired drivers were not utilized at the scene of the first crash," Harris said. "This tragedy was not an accident. It was the result of impaired driving and negligence. To prevent anything similar from happening again, there must be changes made to ensure that drunk drivers who have encounters with law enforcement are detected and removed from our roadways. MADD Michigan stands behind the family of Lake Jacobson and the entire Michigan community in demanding that our roadways be safer."

Accusations against towing company

The lawsuit states Sakstrup's Towing is liable for the actions of the driver who helped put Houge back on the road after the first crash.

Sakstrup's Towing breached its duty by placing a dangerously damaged vehicle on the public roadway, according to the lawsuit. The company is also accused of obstructing access to evidence and refusing to allow experts to inspect the Concorde while it was stored at its yard.

Jacobson's family is suing for $30 million plus court costs, the lawsuit states. A trial by jury was demanded at the end of the lawsuit.

Copyright 2018 by WDIV ClickOnDetroit - All rights reserved.