ALLEGAN, Mich. (WOOD) — The attorney representing an Allegan County deputy charged in a fatal crash says his client was doing what he was trained to do.
“He was being trained to do it exactly as he did,” defense attorney Mike Hills said Wednesday. “And if there was any doubt as to how my client was being trained by Sheriff Baker, there was a training officer sitting right next to my client training him how to do it. And this was about two months into my client being trained.”
The Allegan County sheriff’s deputy who was driving when a cruiser struck another car, killing a 74-year-old woman, now faces misdemeanor charges.
Target 8 has learned, in the seconds before the fatal collision, an Allegan County deputy was allegedly driving more than 90 mph with no lights or sirens.
Deputy Thomas Goggins, 42, was arraigned Thursday on a moving violation causing death and moving violation causing serious impairment, court records show. In a Thursday statement, the prosecutor said the elements of the moving violations include excessive speed that caused the death and injury.
Goggins had just started with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department and was behind the wheel when the crash happened on the evening of June 12 at M-89 and 54th Street in Manlius Township, near Fennville. Authorities say the westbound cruiser hit a southbound GMC Acadia.
The passenger in the Acadia, 74-year-old Ofelia Nunez of Fennville, was killed. The driver, her husband Jose Nunez, was hospitalized.
The Nunezes had been married 53 years.
Ofelia Nunez owned a Grand Rapids boutique called El Norteno, that sold Mexican cowboy items including clothes and music. Cindy Brito worked with her at the shop near 36th and Division Avenue SE.
“She would always be at her shop, that was her whole life, as well as her kids and husband,” Brito said. “She was just so funny. She always cared for others more than herself.”
Brito said she had just seen Ofelia Nunez not long before learning of her death.
“I just stared at the text message, reading it and reading it all over again. I was like, no way, I had just seen her,” Brito recalled.
When she found out Jose Nunez was in the hospital, she dropped everything.
“I ran. I ran straight to him,” said Brito.
Once out of the hospital, Brito tries to go to the boutique with him, but the store doesn’t light up the same as when the couple was there together.
“We are trying to get it going. Her husband does go Saturday and Sunday, but it’s not the same anymore. Her husband is really crushed,” said Brito.
She said she keeps thinking Ofelia Nunez is just on one of her frequent trips to Mexico and will be back soon.
“I’m just like you know, just waiting for her … just waiting for her. But I know she’s not going to come back … and it’s hard,” Brito said with tears in her eyes.
She remembered how Ofelia Nunez loved Brito’s children as her own.
“She was always there. She saw me grow up. Get married,” said Brito. “Having her not here anymore, it’s like, who do I send this to? Who do I share memories with?”
She believes if Goggins hasn’t been speeding that day, things would have been different.
“Speeding. No Sirens. No emergency to go to. Why? You know. Why?” said Brito.
The Nunez’s were not far from their home when the crash happened.
“Five minutes away. Five minutes away and she would have been home. They had just left the shop,” said Brito.
Both deputies in the cruiser were also taken to the hospital and then released.
Goggins’ attorney told News 8 his client was doing exactly what he was trained to do by the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office: chasing a speeding driver without lights and sirens.
“On a traffic stop, you have a speeder. You light him up with the radar. You turn. You catch up with the speeder. Obviously you have to speed to catch up to a speeder,” said Hills. “And then, when you get up to him, pull behind them, get their plate, then you turn on the lights and sirens and pull them over. And that is exactly what my client did.”
He also said the driver of the Acadia made a ”rolling stop.”
“It was a tragedy and then to compound that by charging my client … trying to cage him for doing something that he was trained to do is unbelievable to me … that we’re even going through this,” said Hills.
Goggins, who is from the Middleville area, joined the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office in May as a patrol officer, the agency’s Facebook page shows.
The violation causing death is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine and the violation causing injury is punishable by up to 93 days and a $500 fine.