Suspect in fatal bike crash charged with OWI

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The man accused of hitting nine bicyclists, killing five, has been formally charged with five counts of operating while intoxicated causing death.

Charles Pickett Jr., 50, was arraigned Wednesday on the new charges.

During a news conference, Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting said lab results show Pickett was driving under the influence of a controlled substance at the time of the crash.

The operating while intoxicated charges don’t mean Pickett was drunk, but rather he was under the influence of drugs. The prosecutor would not talk about what drugs were found in his system — whether they were legal or illegal drugs, or how much he had in his system.

“Specifically, we have alleged that he operated while under the influence of a controlled substance, that’s something different than alcohol,” Getting said. “I can’t tell you exactly what the substances are.”

The new charges carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

He was previously arraigned on five counts of second-degree murder and four counts of reckless driving causing serious impairment. The reckless driving charges have been amended to four counts of operating while intoxicated causing serious injury. A judge denied bond citing the possibility that he could be a flight risk and a danger to the community.

A judge has ordered Pickett to undergo a competency exam at the request of his attorney. His preliminary hearing has been postponed as as result.

The test does not determine if Pickett was legally responsible at the time of the crash and it does not affect whether he would pursue an insanity defense.

Authorities say the bicyclists were riding in a group near Markin Glen Park on N. Westnedge Avenue in Cooper Township when a pickup truck hit them from behind on June 7. Five people – Debbie Bradley, Melissa Fevig-Hughes, Tony Nelson, Larry Paulik and Suzanne Sippel – were killed. Four others were hurt.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the fatal crash.

The last time a second-degree charge came out of Kalamazoo County was exactly five years ago. On June 23, 2011, Bret Justin Frame crashed into the rear of car carrying 23-year-old Justin Bailey and 25-year-old  Mark Angelocci. The two young men died and Frame was convicted of second-degree murder for driving with a blood alcohol count three times the legal limit. Frame is in Jackson serving out a 30 to 75-year sentence.*Editor’s Note: 24 Hour News 8 erroneously reported that Pickett was charged with drunk driving, but the Kalamazoo County prosecutor said Pickett was under the influence of a controlled substance meaning drugs. The error has been fixed in the article above.

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