Those impacted by Sturgis police chief crash want equal justice

Southwest Michigan

STURGIS, Mich. (WOOD) — Geoffrey Smith, the chief of the Sturgis Department of Public Safety, is out on bond charged with a suspected drunken driving crash where his vehicle plowed head-first into a line of parked cars. 

The crash happened around 11 p.m. Saturday night, leaving extensive damage to the vehicles, but no one was hurt. 

Kayla Howard is a mother who lives near Lakeview Avenue. She just happened to be on her porch around 11 p.m. when she saw a vehicle driving fast in a southbound lane swerve across the opposite lane and smash head-on into a truck parked in front of her home. 

“It shook the balcony,” Howard said. “That night I couldn’t go to sleep because every time I tried to close my eyes all I could see were the bright lights sound, everything. It was traumatic.” 

According to Howard and other witnesses, the impact of the crash pushed the truck back far enough to smash the car behind and then a third car that belonged to Howard who says all the cars were parked at least 6 feet apart. 

One of the vehicles damaged in a crash involving Sturgis Public Safety Director Geoffrey Smith. (Aug. 17, 2020)

She called out to him to see if he was OK and tried to get a response from the driver whose airbag had deployed. 

“We opened up the door and we noticed there was some smoke starting to roll out,” she said.

Someone passing by helped her pull the driver out of the car and placed him on the grass. 

“I asked him while he was on the ground, ‘Are you sure you haven’t been drinking?’ He said, ‘No.’ And then there was a pause and then he said, ‘Well…’ and then he said, ‘No,’” Howard said. 

News 8 reached out to the police station, city manager and the St. Joseph County sheriff, but so far, only a statement has been released, saying Smith is on leave pending the investigation into the suspected drunken driving crash. 

Smith was named vice president of the Police Chiefs Association in 2018 and in June he was recognized by the Sturgis City Commission for rescuing three people from a burning house on June 13. 

News 8 also stopped by the chief’s home to ask for his side of the story, but he was not available. There were numerous empty beer bottles stacked outside his garage and in the yard.

“He should count his blessings because had he lost control sooner or later, he could’ve hit a car head-on that maybe had a baby in it or a family,” Howard said.

Howard witnessed the crash from her balcony, then called 911 while rushing to the street to pull the driver out of the car.

Police and ambulance arrived on scene quickly. Howard said police asked him if he was OK and then the ambulance took him away. 

According to jail records, Smith was admitted to the county jail around 2:11 a.m. on Sunday and was released by 8 a.m.

Those whose cars are damaged are wanting answers. 

“They would not give us any information on his insurance company. They said that they weren’t allowed to do that,” Howard said. 

She wants him to be treated no differently than any other citizen. 

“I want our vehicles to be fixed or replaced or whatever needs to happen with them and I don’t want him to get away with it,” Howard said.

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