Testimony wraps in deadly Kzoo Co. cycling crash trial

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Testimony ended Thursday afternoon in the trial of the man who’s charged with killing five bicyclists north of Kalamazoo two years ago.

Kalamazoo County prosecutors rested their case against Charles Pickett Jr. after jurors heard witnesses recount what happened before the June 7, 2016, crash. The defense said it had no witnesses to call, meaning Pickett won’t testify.

An acquaintance of Pickett, Pamela Barletta, was among those who took the stand Thursday. She said Pickett had gone to a funeral for his cousin the morning of June 7 and was feeling depressed. Later, he became angry when she wanted to leave.

Barletta testified Pickett took a handfull of pills before leaving about an hour before the crash.

She said he told her, “I’d just as soon be dead.” 

She also said he had been complaining about his vehicle’s brakes not working days before the crash.

Other witnesses testified they saw Pickett driving erratically between 30 and 15 minutes before the crash. Several people called 911 to report his dangerous driving.

“When I looked over at the driver of the truck, he was looking at me and smiling,” witness Craig Butler said.

Some identified Pickett specifically and all identified his truck.

“I see the blue vehicle swerving back and forth, looking to attempt to pass the silver pickup, and the blue truck eventually passes the silver truck in the bike lane,” witness Matthew McMillen said.

Five bicyclists were killed when Pickett drove his pickup truck into a group on Westnedge Avenue in Cooper Township: Debbie Bradley, Melissa Fevig-Hughes, Tony Nelson, Larry Paulik and Suzanne Sippel. A forensic pathologist who performed autopsies on three of the five testified Thursday they sustained multiple injuries, the most serious of which was severed brain stem.

Emergency responders testified Wednesday Pickett was “out of it” after the crash, seeming to have trouble speaking and understanding what was happening. An expert said there were pain pills and muscle relaxers in his blood and a Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office sergeant testified about finding meth in his pickup truck.

On Thursday, a sheriff’s office detective testified he interviewed Pickett after the crash and said Pickett had no recollection of it.

“He seemed to become wide-eyed and his mouth dropped open a little bit and he was quiet for several seconds,” Detective Rich Mattison described Pickett’s reaction upon being told five people had been killed.

Pickett is standing trial on five counts of second-degree murder, five counts of driving while intoxicated causing death and four counts of reckless driving causing impairment.

The defense hasn’t denied that Pickett was driving the truck or that he hit the bicyclists. Its argument is that it wasn’t murder.

Testimony lasted about two and a half days. Closing arguments in the Pickett trial are scheduled for Tuesday.

The court is not allowing the trial to be streamed live online, but 24 Hour News 8 reporters will be in the courtroom and will be tweeting updates. 

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

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