Pickett sobs at sentencing for deadly Kzoo Co. cycling crash

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The man who drove his truck into a group of nine cyclists, killing five, will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

Charles Pickett Jr., 52, sobbed before a judge delivered his sentence Monday morning. For each of the five second-degree murder counts he was convicted of, Pickett was given 35 to 55 years in prison with 734 days credit. All of those sentences are to be served concurrently.

Combining all of his sentences — including those for nine less serious charges — Pickett will serve 40 to 75 years in prison.

On June 7, 2016, Pickett drove his pickup truck into a group of bicyclists on Westnedge Avenue in Cooper Township, north of Kalamazoo. The crash killed Debbie Bradley, Melissa Fevig-Hughes, Tony Nelson, Larry Paulik and Suzanne Sippel. Four others survived: Jennifer Johnson, Paul Gobble, Paul Runnels and Sheila Jeske.

A jury last month found Pickett guilty of five counts of second-degree murder, five counts of operating while intoxicated causing death, and four counts of operating while intoxicated causing serious injury. During his trial, witnesses testified that Pickett took a handful of pills before the crash and experts said that painkillers, muscle relaxers and meth were found in his system.

Before learning his sentence, Pickett apologized.

“I’ll live with this the rest of my life. I would give my life for the people I murdered, killed and maimed and everything else and I just want to say I’m sorry,” he said, wiping away tears.

The judge called Pickett’s apology “woefully inadequate,” saying that until that point, he didn’t appear remorseful for his actions. The judge also pointed out Pickett had many opportunities to stop driving before he hit the cyclists, but didn’t.

After the hearing, crash survivor Paul Gobble said he didn’t believe Pickett’s apology.

“I was underwhelmed by that,” he said. “It was, I guess, nice to hear an attempt, but it started and stopped awfully abruptly.”

>>App users: Watch Pickett’s sentencing here.

Pickett appeared to tear up while hearing from survivor Jennifer Johnson and the families of those who died. 

“I will never forget the look on the faces of my three children when they saw me for the first time at the hospital,” Johnson told the court. “The torment on their faces said it all.”

“When I listen to the way news anchors and journalists talk about that night in June, I feel disconnected,” Madeline Bradley, daughter of Debbie Bradley, said. “I feel nothing, because that doesn’t feel like her story. That feels like (Pickett’s). My mother’s story does not end in tragedy. She lives on inside of me. I can feel it.”

The judge also shared words that characterized each of the lives Pickett ended.

Kalamazoo County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Kanaby, who tried the case, asked the court to impose consecutive sentences on each of the five second-degree murder counts. That would have required Pickett to spend hundreds of years in prison.

“I submit to you that Mr. Pickett should never, ever get the opportunity to get out and get behind the wheel of a car again,” Kanaby told the court. “And the only way to make sure that is to make sure that the numbers that he’s going to go away for and serve in prison don’t allow for even that possibility.”

Pickett’s defense attorney said his client never meant to hurt anyone. He asked the judge to follow sentencing guidelines, which called for concurrent sentences.

—24 Hour News 8’s Brady Gillum contributed to this report.

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