OAKLAND COUNTY, Mich. – A 45-year-old Sterling Heights was sentenced Monday for what police called a "planned killing spree" that started Downriver and ended in Oakland County.
Vernest James Griffin was charged with first-degree premeditated murder, carjacking, armed robbery and possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony. A jury found him guilty of all charges earlier this year.
Griffin was sentenced to life without parole on the first-degree murder charge, 32-48 months on the felonious assault charge, two years on the felony firearms violation and 45-75 years on the carjacking and armed robbery charges.
Keith Kitchen, 60, of Garden City, and Eriberto Perez, 58, of Waterford Township, were killed during Griffin's alleged crime spree.
Police said Kitchen and Perez worked with Griffin in the past and were targeted.
Police said Griffin asked for Kitchen at BSD Linehaul Inc. in Taylor and shot him multiple times, according to police. Officials said Griffin was a disgruntled former employee of BSD Linehaul.
Perez was Griffin's former boss, and was shot through a window at Aluminum Blanking Co. in Pontiac.
Griffin is in the hospital after a wild chain of events unfolded across town.
Fatal shooting in Taylor
Police said the crime spree started at the BSD Linehaul Inc. trucking company building, when Griffin walked in and shot Kitchen.
Kitchen is related to the owner of the business and was a manager.
"Prayers for my family as we have lost an amazing man and a big, loving part of our family today," Kitchen's niece posted on social media. "We are heartbroken."
Police said employees locked themselves in an office upstairs and called 911 around 10:30 a.m. Thursday.
"He was a disgruntled employee who had had problems previously at the location," Taylor Police Chief John Blair said. "It appears today he came back for some sort of vengeance."
Suspect steals semi truck
After the shooting, Griffin ran outside and carjacked the driver of a semi truck, threatening him at gunpoint, Blair said.
"For lack of a better term, he carjacked a semi," Blair said. "He pulled another person off at gunpoint."
Taylor police said Griffin pointed an AK-47 at the semi truck driver. The man was also armed with multiple 30-round magazines.
Police said Griffin then drove the stolen semi truck to Oakland County.
Fatal shooting in Pontiac
An hour after the Taylor shooting, 911 calls started to come in from Aluminum Blanking Co. on West Sheffield Avenue in Pontiac.
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said Griffin went to Pontiac searching for Perez, his former boss. He found Perez working at his desk, with his back to the window.
"He went right to an office window and shot the individual at his desk," Bouchard said.
Griffin then went to a third business, Assured Carriers Inc., in Waterford Township, and with his gun in hand, asked for a person who wasn't there. The company went on lockdown and, minutes later, Waterford police showed up.
Shootout with police
When Waterford police found Griffin, they had a gun battle at Williams Lake and Van Zandt roads.
"They were behind him with their lights and sirens on, and he stopped the truck, shot at them and got back in the truck and continued to flee, until the crash," Bouchard said.
He crashed the semi truck at Frembes Road and Dixie Highway, police said. There were two young women in the car he struck. They both suffered minor injuries and are listed in good condition. Officials said they're lucky to be alive.
Denise Lebke, who works at Bingo City nearby, saw the shootout.
"The semi was spinning out of control, and the driver of the semi decides he's going to get out on the passenger side of the vehicle," Lebke said. "He had an AK-47 gun and started shooting at the police officer behind him. The cops returned fire and he was on the ground."
Griffin was arrested and is in police custody at a nearby hospital. He's expected to survive, officials said.