2017-08-09 / Front Page

Prosecutor: no charges in area man’s traffic death

Sheriff’s report cited passenger, passers-by
BY ERIC LEVINE
810-452-2689 • elevine@mihompaper.com


James Young Sanilac County Prosecutor James Young Sanilac County Prosecutor Criminal charges will not be pursued against the passenger and three passers-by in the traffic accident death of Andrew Kautz.

Sanilac County Prosecutor James Young made the decision last week upon review of the sheriff department’s request for charges in the New Year’s Day accident against the four.

Young said he met with Kautz’s parents to inform them of the decision on Aug. 2, the same day he sent a letter to Sheriff’s Detective/Sgt. Nathan Smith, who led the accident investigation, explaining the reasons charges would not be issued.

Young provided the News with a copy of the letter on Aug. 3. The News will not identify the passers-by or passenger.

Kautz died in an Ann Arbor hospital on Jan. 7, six days after the early morning accident on Freiberger Road north of Shabbona Road in Argyle Township.

Deputies initially identified Kautz as the driver, but then backed off pending further investigation.


Andrew Kautz Andrew Kautz The investigation, which included assistance of a state police accident reconstructionist, confirmed Kautz, 25, of Deckerville was driving the southbound 1990 Chevy pickup early New Year’s morning that went into a ditch and rolled over, ejecting both occupants.

Sheriff Garry Biniecki said the investigation was hindered by the fact that the accident was never reported to authorities, and deputies arrived at the scene after Kautz and his passenger, a 22-year-old Sandusky man, had been transported to a Sandusky hospital by passers-by who discovered the crash but failed to notify authorities.

The passenger was airlifted to a Saginaw hospital for further treatment. Kautz was airlifted to Ann Arbor where he died about a week later.

“There is no question that this was a terrible tragedy,” Young said in the letter. “It is clear that several individuals made very poor choices that night. However, as criminal prosecutors, we are constrained by statute as to what we can do.”

Young said, “The evidence is now clear that Andrew Kautz was the driver of his own vehicle. This has been established by the DNA results, witness statements, and opinion of Spl. Sgt. Todd Stone, Michigan State Police Accident Reconstructionist. Further, that evidence also places (name deleted) as the passenger. There is no indication that (the passenger) caused the accident. And, as it was not his vehicle, he cannot be charged with allowing Andrew to operate it.”

Young continued, “You have also asked us to review the actions of the three individuals in the second vehicle, which came upon the scene after the crash had occurred… For the following reasons, we have to reach the same conclusion regarding criminal charges. The Michigan Motor Vehicle Code imposes responsibilities upon drivers who are involved in an accident… Those responsibilities include a duty to render aid and to report such accidents. Here, there is no evidence that the second vehicle was involved in the accident itself. Consequently, those statutes were not triggered here.

“In fact, as passerby, they had no duty to stop at all. Admittedly, once they did attempt to render aid, they may have incurred civil tort liability. But in this case, there is nothing in the autopsy report to indicate that the manner in which (name deleted) and (name deleted) transported Andrew, which was no doubt appalling, caused his death.

“Finally, there is no proof that any of these individuals lied to officers during the criminal investigation. And while they did transport the injured to the hospital, there was no proof that they tried to destroy the physical evidence at the scene. Therefore, any possible obstruction charges do not apply.”

Young went on, “Undoubtedly, this case presents horrific facts. Clearly, alcohol contributed to the accident. Also, it appears that the three individuals in the second vehicle had been drinking themselves. They came upon the crash. It was dark. They did not have good lighting and the occupants had been ejected into the field. They found (the passenger) by calling his cellular phone and transported him away. Two of them came back later, located Andrew, and crudely transported him, too.”

Young said, “To be clear, the normal procedure for someone when coming upon an accident is to immediately call 9-1-1, who will alert police, fire, and ambulance agencies as needed. Second, one should not move an injured person unless absolutely necessary to do so.”

Young concluded, “In hindsight, one can play out a number of scenarios in which these three should have acted differently. Unfortunately, under the criminal law standards that we are bound to follow, their actions did not violate a criminal statute.”

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