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Driver guilty of murder in deaths of 5 Michigan bicyclists

  • REBEKAH WELCH /KALAMAZOO GAZETTE-MLIVE MEDIA GROUP VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Charles Pickett listened to the prosecutor retrace his steps the day Pickett crashed into a group of bicyclists during closing arguments in his murder trial, today, Kalamazoo, Mich.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. >> A reckless driver who was on drugs when his pickup truck crashed into a pack of bicyclists, killing five, was convicted of second-degree murder today in southwestern Michigan.

Charles Pickett’s trial lasted just a few days in Kalamazoo County. There was no dispute that he had swallowed painkillers and other drugs before driving, although his lawyers argued that murder charges were excessive. He now faces up to life in prison at his sentencing on June 11.

Pickett’s truck plowed into a pack of bicyclists on a rural road in Cooper Township, 140 miles west of Detroit, in June 2016. Nine people were hit, including five who died from their injuries.

Assistant prosecutor Michael Kanaby told jurors that Pickett almost hit a pedestrian before hitting the cyclists.

“He could have stopped there and said, ‘Holy cow, I’m not fit to be on the road,’” Kanaby said. “But he didn’t do that. He smashed into those people, destroying their bodies, their lives.”

Kanaby said a driver on drugs is no different than the “guy at the bar who’s pounding down alcohol.”

A woman who was with Pickett earlier that day said he had attended a cousin’s funeral and swallowed a handful of drugs.

Pamela Barletta said she told Pickett: “‘That’s real smart, Charlie.’ … Before I could say anything else he just drove away.”

But defense attorney Keith Turpel said Pickett didn’t know how the drugs would affect his driving.

“We’re not saying he’s innocent as a newborn babe. He did things he shouldn’t have done that day,” Turpel said in his closing argument to jurors.

The National Transportation Safety Board said better communication between dispatchers might have alerted police to stop the 52-year-old while he was driving erratically through different communities before the crash.

The dead were three women and two men, ages 42 to 74.

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