UPDATE: State police response to judge’s remarks: “Sentencing is the responsibility of the judge, and we respect his opinion in this matter,” Lt. David Cope said in a statement.
IONIA COUNTY, MI – A judge on Wednesday said state police should have tested the blood-alcohol level of a motorist whose vehicle slammed into the back of a stopped car on I-96, killing three professional Ultimate Frisbee players.
David Priskorn, 34, earlier pleaded guilty to three counts of moving violation causing death, a one-year misdemeanor, in a Feb. 29 crash that killed of Drew Piet, 28, Kevin Coulter, 29, both of Grand Rapids, and Michael Cannon, 24, of Harbor Springs.
Some of the victims’ survivors have criticized state police for not testing Priskorn for alcohol. After the crash, he told police that he had two beers at an engagement party. Days later, after police seized his cellphone, police found evidence he had been at a bar for two hours before the party, police reports show.
Ionia County District Judge Raymond Voet said he reviewed police reports, letters from the victims’ families, Priskorn’s apology and other documents. He understood anger by some of the victims’ families.
“It’s clear to me, beyond the tragedy, that everyone agrees is at the core of the case, is that there’s a strong undercurrent of anger and frustration not only at Mr. Priskorn, but also at the police,” Voet said.
“And from what I can tell, I agree. I think the case was under-investigated.”
He said police should have sought a chemical test to determine if Priskorn was intoxicated and seized his phone.
“All those missed opportunities to get the truth out, whatever that truth was, just don’t sit well.”
If police had tested Priskorn’s blood for alcohol, “we could’ve found out if he’s telling the truth about how much he had to drink that day,” Voet said.
State police have said that Priskorn did not show signs of intoxication at the scene.
The judge also said that Priskorn, rather than facing a misdemeanor moving-violation charge, could have been charged with manslaughter, a 15-year felony. Based on evidence he has seen, he said he would have bound the case over for trial in Ionia County Circuit Court if prosecutors charged him with manslaughter.
Voet, who called the case one of the most difficult in a 34-year law career, said no one was going to be happy with sentence. He sentenced Priskorn to 180 days in jail, 500 hours of community service and two years of probation.
He ordered Priskorn jailed immediately.
The three men who died played for the Detroit Mechanix and were on the way to practice in Livonia.
Priskorn’s attorney, Joseph Brugnoli, said the crash was an accident with horrific results.
Priskorn wept as he talked to the judge, then turned to families of the victims seated behind him. He said he wished he could remember what happened prior to the crash. He hoped they would one day forgive him.
He said he hasn’t been able to forgive himself. He knows that the victims “were loved and treasured.”
Family members said he took the joy away from their lives.
Michael Cannon, who lost his son, said state police failed to fully investigate the crash.
“That is all good luck to (Priskorn).”
Samantha Phillips, who dated Cannon’s son for four years after meeting at Central Michigan University, demanded that Priskorn come clean on what happened the day of the crash.
“Tell the families what happened,” she said. “If you’re not going to tell the whole truth then, in my opinion, you’re not sorry.”
Steve Coulter, Kevin’s father, said it “wasn’t really an accident” when a driver going 80 mph plows into the back of a stopped vehicle
“How do you miss a sea of brake lights?” he said. “All I really want to know is what really happened.”
Marie Bongiovanni, whose son, Drew Piet, was killed, said she has forgiven Priskorn.
He told her he appreciated that in an MLive article she said she had forgiven him.
She said: “I don’t need to know what happened. … Nothing is going to change the outcome.”
She wanted Priskorn to have the best life he could to honor her son. She said Priskorn was given “a gift” by walking away from the crash.
Priskorn’s girlfriend, Virginia Lee, who was seriously injured, said he is truly remorseful. She called him a “kind-hearted, genuine” man.
Families heal as driver pleads guilty in crash that killed 3 Ultimate Frisbee teammates
Families of men who died after horrific crash criticize state police investigation
Ultimate Frisbee community devastated by fatal car crash