Distracted driver who killed man in Oakland County not being punished for failure to pay widow
Judith Finneren says Brett Kaufman stopped paying restitution without punishment
ORION TOWNSHIP, Mich. – A distracted driver who killed a man in Oakland County eight years ago stopped paying required restitution to the man's widow without punishment, the Local 4 Defenders have learned.
Ralph Finneren, 57, was riding his bicycle July 27, 2011, when he was struck and killed outside the General Motors plant in Orion Township.
His widow, Judith Finneren, said she vividly remembers that day.
"Usually, once a week, he rode his bike to work," she said. "I remember getting up. He said goodbye to me, so I got up a few hours later."
She said she went to work expecting to see her husband when she got home later that night.
"I pulled in the driveway," Finneren said. "Usually, that door is open and my dog would be standing there to greet me. The door was closed, so I knew. Immediately, I'm like, 'OK.' It just started to rain, though, and I'm like, 'Well, maybe he got off work late and he's going to call, wants me to pick him up.' So I still wasn't really alarmed, just a little bit. I came in and (no sooner was I) walking in the door and the phone rang. (They said), 'Your husband has been in an accident. He's bleeding from his head and unresponsive.'"
By the time she got to the hospital, her husband was dead.
Brett Kaufman was convicted of a moving violation causing death. Judith Finneren said she remembers seeing Kaufman in court.
"I was, like, 'You're a killer,'" she said. "I was angry. 'You're a killer.' I saw him -- his mom and dad were with him -- and it kind of made me feel some compassion at the moment."
Kaufman was sentenced to 15 days in jail and two years of probation. He was ordered to pay $200 a month directly to Finneren until he had paid her $90,000, officials said.
Documents stating the matter could be reviewed at any time if Kaufman failed to make timely payments, court officials said.
"He was to pay me $50 a week until it was paid," Finneren said. "What it means to me is the principal of the thing. I feel like when he has to write that check, he's remembering what he did."
According to court records, Kaufman made payments to her while he was on probation, but when he got off probation in 2014, the payments stopped.
Nonpayment of restitution paperwork shows he still owes her more than $85,000.
"Nobody wants to take control of that," Finneren said. "Nobody wants to take charge of it. I've called the Oakland County prosecutor. That's why I'm talking to another lawyer now. They're, like, 'Well, does he have the money?'"
When the Local 4 Defenders contacted the court, we were told it was up to Finneren to try to collect the unpaid restitution.
Defender Karen Drew tried tracking Kaufman from his old addresses in Clio Township and Davison, but he has since moved.
"I would love to see a stricter punishment, the law changed for people who do this," Finneren said.
She still has the bicycle her husband was riding when he was struck.
"I'm not ready to get rid of it yet, but I've been thinking about it," Finneren said. "I pictured us probably like a lot of couples do -- in their rocking chairs as they age, and the grandchildren, so it's hard."
The Defenders reached out to 52th District Court for comment on the fact that paperwork stated the case could be revisited if Kaufman didn't make payments. A spokesperson for the court refused to go on camera.
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