KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Bodycam video from the arrest of St. Joseph County Sheriff Mark Lillywhite shows him repeatedly denying that he was driving the county-owned vehicle when it crashed into another on the highway in February.
But police say he was driving and both witnesses and officers reported Lillywhite was visibly impaired after the crash.
“It’s pretty clear that you’ve been drinking. You appear very intoxicated right now so were you like passed out or something?” an unidentified Michigan State Police trooper asks Lillywhite in the video.
“I know, I know, that’s why I wasn’t driving. I know for a fact I wasn’t driving,” he answers.
He tells the trooper repeatedly that he was not the driver and has “no clue” who was or what led up to the crash.
“So, what happened tonight sir?” the trooper asks.
“I don’t know. All I know is that I went in the ditch and I don’t … I have no clue,” Lilywhite says.
“What happened before you went into the ditch?” the trooper said.
“No, I wasn’t driving,” Lillywhite says.
“Okay, I didn’t ask that. I asked what happened before you went into the ditch,” the trooper said.
“I don’t know,” Lillywhite responds.
“Were you … so, you were sleeping or …” the trooper said.
“I have no idea,” responds Lillywhite.
When MSP doesn’t find anyone else on scene, they assume Lillywhite was the driver and ask him to do a breath test. He declines, and the trooper arrests him and reads him his Maranda Rights. The dashcam camera in the trooper’s cruiser shows Lillywhite continuing to deny that he was driving, even when confronted with testimony from a firefighter who said he spotted Lillywhite moving from the driver’s seat to the passenger side.
Minutes earlier, around 2:20 a.m. Feb. 26, Lillywhite crashed his county-owned SUV into the back of another vehicle on US-131 south of Schoolcraft, causing the other vehicle to roll. No one was injured.
Lillywhite, who troopers say was slurring his words and smelled of alcohol, had a blood alcohol content level of .25, more than three times the legal limit. He ultimately pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and was sentenced to probation.
In August, St. Joseph County commissioners wrote a letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asking her to remove him from his office.
“As the Board of Commissioners of St. Joseph County, we are responsible for ensuring appropriate use of taxpayer dollars. Therefore, we are writing to notify you of Sheriff Mark Lillywhite’s willful neglect of his statutory duties as an elected official,” the letter (PDF) reads in part. “We voted … to send you this petition requesting your assistance under MCL 168.207 to remove Sheriff Lillywhite from his position as Sheriff.”
The Michigan law cited in the letter, MCL 168.207, allows the governor to remove a sheriff or another county officer if there is sufficient evidence of misconduct or willful neglect of duty.
Lillywhite told the judge during his plea and sentencing hearing in April that he was in a dark place before to the crash and that he has since taken aggressive steps to get sober.