By Robert Tomlinson
SCHOOLCRAFT TWP., Mich. — Bodycam footage released by the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office has given a bit more insight into the apparent drunk driving crash involving St. Joseph County Sheriff Mark Lillywhite in late February.
In the footage, obtained by the Commercial-News via Freedom of Information Act request, witnesses told Kalamazoo County deputies that Lillywhite appeared to be intoxicated at the time of the incident.
“They said the other guy … they said he couldn’t stand up and talk,” one of the witnesses, who was traveling northbound at the time, told police. “Obviously, it appears he was intoxicated.”
The 47-year-old Lillywhite was arrested on Sunday, Feb. 26 after rear-ending another vehicle on southbound U.S. 131 south of Schoolcraft at 2:18 a.m. According to Michigan State Police and the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office, the collision caused both vehicles to lose control and run off the roadway. The occupants of both vehicles suffered only minor injuries.
Secretary of State records showed that the vehicle driven by Lillywhite at the time, a Chevy Traverse, was registered to the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Department.
During police investigation, MSP troopers reportedly detected signs of intoxication when talking with Lillywhite. Following standard field sobriety tests, Lillywhite was arrested and lodged in the Kalamazoo County Jail on suspicion of OWI at 6:24 a.m. He was released at 4:30 p.m. Sunday per department protocol.
In an interview with deputies, one of the people in the vehicle that was rear-ended said they could not see headlights on Lillywhite’s vehicle when the incident occurred.
“I don’t remember seeing lights. There were no headlights or anything,” the person said.
“I don’t feel bad, I’m lucky,” the other person that was in the vehicle said.
Another deputy arrived on scene 20 minutes later and was filled in on the situation.
“Apparently, [the occupants of the vehicle that was hit] say he’s drunker than anything,” one deputy told the other deputy when they arrived on the scene. “He snuck up from behind, they never knew he was there. They were coming southbound, he was coming up from behind, and he just hit them, then went rolling through a ditch.”
While Lillywhite is barely seen in the dashcam video released by Kalamazoo County, during a search of Lillywhite’s vehicle by one of the deputies, police found a gun in the center console.
Michigan State Police troopers were called in to investigate the scene. A Freedom of Information Act request has been submitted for their bodycam footage from the incident, but the footage has not been released as of Wednesday.
Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting said in an email Monday a decision has not yet been made on formally charging Lillywhite, as the Prosecutor’s Office is awaiting results on evidence from the Michigan State Police lab. Once those reports have been received, Getting said, the case will be reviewed and a decision regarding charges will be made. The process of submitting and testing evidence and getting reports, he said, typically takes a couple of weeks.
Lillywhite was elected sheriff in 2020 and took his post in 2021. He had previously been the undersheriff of St. Joseph County for more than a decade prior.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or email@example.com.