KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — An elderly Kentwood man who hit a woman with his car, killing her, and then called 911 to report he had hit a deer will not face criminal charges.
Page Stokes, 32, was run over on 32nd Street west of Breton Road in Kentwood around 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 23, 2020. The certified nurse aide and mother of two had just left her nearby apartment on foot and was headed to a store across the street. When she failed to return, her family started looking for her.
But Stokes’ body lay undiscovered amid the darkness in a front yard on 32nd Street until a passerby noticed her around 7:30 a.m. the next day.
Stokes’ mom Pam Strickland reached out to Target 8 because she’s not happy with where the case stands.
“I can’t have her back, but I deserve to know what happened to my daughter,” Strickland told Target 8. “She was someone. She was my daughter. She was loved. She is loved. She is missed. She was a beautiful spirit. A fun-loving spirit. She had the biggest heart.”
POLICE FIND DRIVER, CAR, DEAD DEER
According to the report filed by Kentwood police, as officers detoured traffic around the crash scene on the morning of Sept. 24, one of them noticed a vehicle driving by with damage to its front passenger side. Police wrote down the plate number and tracked the vehicle to an 82-year-old man who lives less than 5 miles from where Stokes died.
Target 8 is not identifying the man because he has not been criminally charged.
When police knocked on the man’s door, his wife told them her husband had hit a deer the night before and was at a car repair shop.
That’s where police found the man, his damaged car and a dead deer in the trunk.
Police then discovered the elderly man had called 911 at 9:36 p.m. the night prior to report the collision.
“I hit a deer. (It) jumped in front of my car,” the man told the dispatcher in a 911 call obtained by Target 8 through the Freedom of Information Act.
“I’m by 32nd Street… between Breton and Kalamazoo,” he reported, adding that he had driven to a friend’s house to use his phone.
When the dispatcher told him police don’t respond to car-deer collisions, the man, who had an Eastern European accent, shared what he planned to do next.
“I’ll go back there and then move him out of the road… because I left him there, you know,” he said, noting there was still “meat” from the deer on his vehicle.
Police noted in their report the driver enlisted the help of a friend to pick up the deer because he “did not want it to go to waste.”
“He stated that they called several shelters to see if any of them would take the deer, but no one wanted it,” wrote an officer in the report. “He said… since no one wanted the deer, he was just going to put it back, (but) as he was approaching he saw all the emergency vehicles and thought there was a crash (so) he just went to the (repair shop), dropped off the car and told them about the deer in the trunk.”
The officer went on to note the deer did not look big enough to cause the damage the vehicle suffered, which included a crumpled front passenger side bumper and a partially shattered windshield.
“The deer was very small, 46 lbs and just had some blood coming from its nose and ears. It was already bloated and smelled badly so (it had) been dead for a few days,” the report reads. “No way that little deer did that much damage to the car and there were chunks of flesh in the car and the deer was not cut open at all. (The driver) did not have an answer for that, just figured since there was a deer, that was what he hit.”
Additionally, police noted there was no fur stuck to the man’s car, which is commonly found after car-deer crashes.
Police said in their report the driver had just left a card game at a friend’s house where he’d had one alcoholic beverage. The man and his friends told police he was not intoxicated at the time of the crash.
He has no prior driving record, though the state has since suspended his license indefinitely.
DRIVER SAID HE NEVER SAW STOKES
While no one reported witnessing the collision with Stokes, Kentwood police said in its report that “Ms. Stokes was crossing 32nd from Pheasant Ridge … and was struck by a 2012 Lincoln MKZ 4dr driven by (the 82-year-old) and killed. Ms. Stokes was crossing mid-block wearing dark clothing at the time of the crash.”
The officer reported the driver said he did not see a person at the time of the crash, though DNA testing proved the body matter on the man’s vehicle was that of Stokes.
The man told police he had found the dead deer near where he believed he had hit it, which he reported as 32nd Street between Breton and Kalamazoo avenues.
Stokes’ body was discovered just west of Breton.
“Driver of car adamant that he struck a deer and did not see a person on the ground,” wrote the officer.
“DNA proved that (driver’s car) did in fact hit Ms. Stokes. Forwarding report to prosecutor’s office for review and possible charges,” the officer wrote in conclusion.
PROSECUTOR: DRIVER NOT ‘CRIMINAL MASTERMIND’
However, after reviewing the report and discussing it at length, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said he concluded he could not file criminal charges.
“We have to show he left the scene knowing, or at least having a pretty good idea, that he hit a person, not a deer,” Becker said in an interview with Target 8. “Unfortunately, all the evidence shows is that he really truly believed he’d hit a deer. When you look at what he did, the people he spoke to afterward, he called 911… and then going so far as to pick a deer up and putting him in your trunk. It’s kind of too weird to be true almost, but apparently it is true.”
Becker noted public works employees told police there had been two deer carcasses reported in the vicinity and general time frame.
“There were actually two deer that were struck in that area. (Public works) found one, but they didn’t find the other. It’s a plausible explanation when you look at all the facts…” Becker said. “Unless he’s some sort of criminal mastermind, and he came up with this. But he’s an elderly gentleman, over 80 years old so, there’s nothing in his record to make us think he’s some sort of criminal mastermind to think that quickly and react as he did.”
Becker acknowledged it’s possible the driver knew what he had done.
“I’ve been in this job long enough (to know) anything’s possible. But we can’t just (charge) on possible. We have to prove things…and it’s hard to show he committed a crime when you have all this evidence that he’s thinking he hit a deer,” he said.
When Target 8 went to the driver’s home seeking comment, his wife declined on his behalf. A message left at the driver’s attorney’s office was not returned.
STOKES’ FAMILY: ‘HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?’
Stokes’ family is not convinced by the elderly driver’s story.
“I need (Page’s) story to be heard. It didn’t need to be swept under the rug, what happened to her,” said Stokes’ mom Pam Strickland. “And that’s how I felt, (like) it was being swept under the rug. Why did this happen? How did this happen?”
Strickland believes she has yet to hear the true story.
“Page was a loving daughter,” she said. “She loved life. She loved her children. She loved her nieces and nephews. There was nothing she wouldn’t do. She would help any and everybody she could.”
The Stokes have retained an attorney and are considering a wrongful death suit.
“My auntie was nice,” Tia Young said as she listened to a video clip of Stokes singing to one of her two young sons. “She wouldn’t do nobody like that… We just really miss her. We haven’t heard her voice in a minute. It kind of hurts to hear her sing.”
Strickland noted her daughter would be happy to know her mom is fighting for justice on her behalf:
“Like I said, (Page) would fight for us. She would fight for me. She would not rest until she got to the bottom of this.”