News Three Rivers Commercial-News, Penny Saver, & Sturgis Sentinel

MSP report: Lillywhite allegedly went 96mph, denied being driver in February crash

By Robert Tomlinson
News Director

SCHOOLCRAFT TWP., Mich. — St. Joseph County Sheriff Mark Lillywhite was reportedly going 96 miles per hour and denied to first responders that he was the driver in his alleged drunk driving crash back in February, according to a Michigan State Police report on the incident last week.

The crash occurred Sunday, Feb. 26 on southbound U.S. 131 between XY Avenue and West YZ Avenue in Schoolcraft Township. According to police, a Chevy Traverse reportedly driven by Lillywhite rear-ended a Nissan Rogue going in the same direction on 131, which caused both vehicles to lose control and run off the roadway, with the Rogue reportedly rolling an unknown number of times before stopping.

Lillywhite was arrested and lodged in the Kalamazoo County Jail on charges of operating while intoxicated (OWI) and possession of a firearm while intoxicated, and was released at 4:30 p.m. the same day, per department protocol.

Kalamazoo County deputies originally arrived on the scene to investigate, but transferred over to MSP soon after, due to a potential conflict of interest with Lillywhite’s presence, according to the MSP report.

According to the report, which was published by MLive and reviewed by the Commercial-News, a firefighter for South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority was the first emergency personnel on the scene. In an interview with police, the firefighter said he observed Lillywhite crawl from the driver’s seat of his vehicle to the passenger side.

“[The firefighter] stated he drove up to Lillywhite’s vehicle first and observed Lillywhite in the driver’s seat. [The firefighter] then watched Lillywhite crawl across the center console to the front passenger seat and remain there,” the report from one of the troopers stated. “[The firefighter] confirmed he did not see anyone else near Lillywhite’s car, and did not see anyone flee the scene.”

In an interview later with police, a trooper said Lillywhite “refused to give any information pertaining to the crash,” and that Lillywhite “refused to provide a name of anyone who may have been in the vehicle with him.” When asked about what happened, Lillywhite reportedly told officers that “I’m just gonna tell ya, I’m not sure what happened and, it is what it is,” and when pressed, responded “I don’t know, all I know is I went in the ditch and I don’t got no clue.” He later responded, “No I wasn’t driving,” even though he was not asked the question during the interview.

“I then asked Lillywhite who was driving the vehicle he was in and he said, ‘I have no idea.’ He then explained the vehicle was owned by the county. I again asked who was driving the vehicle and Lillywhite stated, ‘To be honest with you, bad, bad, bad, but no, I don’t,’” the report stated.

Three witnesses identified Lillywhite as the sole occupant of the Traverse.

Lillywhite told troopers he had three firearms inside the vehicle, and once consent was given by Lillywhite, a trooper conducted a search of the main cabin of his vehicle. Troopers reportedly found a loaded pistol in the center console, and two other firearms in the trunk of the vehicle, which MSP noted was Lillywhite’s assigned duty vehicle.

The report stated Lillywhite was found to be “extremely intoxicated” at the scene, with troopers reporting he had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, staggered while walking, and repeatedly asked the same questions. One trooper who interacted with Lillywhite said they “detected the odor of intoxicants emanating from his person.”

Lillywhite reportedly refused to participate in any standard field sobriety tests, since he claimed he wasn’t the driver, and also refused to consent to a breathalyzer test. He was then subsequently arrested and read his Miranda rights at 3:22 a.m. He was taken to Bronson Methodist Hospital for a consent blood draw, then to the Kalamazoo County Jail for lodging.

Crash data from the MSP report showed the Traverse was going between 96 and 99 miles per hour in the five seconds prior to the crash, and that brakes were not being used. The report also stated the speedometer was stuck at 100 miles per hour when the vehicle was inspected later.

Seatbelts were reportedly not used at the time of the crash, according to the report, and the passenger side of the Traverse was not occupied before the crash. The driver’s side airbag was the lone airbag deployed. However, the investigation did not determine whether or not the headlights on the Traverse were working,

As for the Rogue that was crashed into, it was reportedly going 55 miles per hour in the five seconds prior to the crash. The speed limit on the stretch of road the crash occurred on is 55mph.

In interviews with police, the victims of the crash said they did not see any headlights behind them and then “suddenly felt a vehicle crash into them from the rear.” They said they did not know how many times they rolled over. Another witness, whom the victims knew and was one car ahead of them on the road, said he never saw headlights behind the victims’ car either.

“[The witness] stated he then saw an SUV nearly hit him on the right side of his vehicle and run off the roadway to the right into the ditch. [The witness] again confirmed the headlights were inactive on the SUV and he pulled over immediately to check on the occupants,” the report stated. “[The witness] advised he did not lose sight of the SUV at any point after it passed him, and observed Lillywhite in the back seat of the vehicle. [The witness] stated it appeared that Lillywhite was not wearing his seatbelt, and was thrown into the rear of the vehicle. [The witness] did not observe anyone else inside the vehicle, and did not see anyone run from the vehicle. As [the witness] was checking on Lillywhite’s condition, he advised Lillywhite appeared drunk and began climbing back into the front seat of the vehicle. [The witness] stated Lillywhite continually repeated, ‘I know I’m in trouble.’”

A fourth witness, who was traveling northbound on 131, said they didn’t see Lillywhite’s vehicle initially, and advised they thought it was because the headlights were inactive.

A decision on formal charges against Lillywhite by the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor’s Office has yet to be announced as of press time.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

8 Replies to “MSP report: Lillywhite allegedly went 96mph, denied being driver in February crash

  1. So the question remains why is this guy still the sheriff? But maybe that’s because you have a county commission that doesn’t want to get their hands dirty.

  2. Isn’t it a felony if your under the influence of alcohol with a loaded fire arm???The rest of us would be charged a felony.Also if we refused to take any field sobriety test,we would automatically loose are liscense.??

  3. What a disgrace to the office and county. This is not his first offense, either! He was under the influence in a County vehicle, had loaded firearms, reckless driving, rear-ended another vehicle, denied responsibility, and fabricated the events. He not only needs to resign, but needs to spend some time in jail at the very least.

  4. He can not be removed because he is an elected official. He needs to leave on his own accord or be voted out. If he were smart he’d just leave now but the fact that he was stupid drunk and flying down a highway at night with no lights on shows that he’s not the brightest crayon in the box.

Leave a Reply