Motorist enters pleas in Aug. 2016 hit-and-run crash that killed bicyclist

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - A motorist police say fled after striking a bicyclist in Cannon Township pleaded guilty today to felony charges for the August, 2016 accident that killed a cancer survivor training for an Ironman triathlon.

Benjamin Vanderploeg, 50, entered the pleas Monday, June 12 as his trial was to get underway in Kent County Circuit Court.

Vanderploeg did not have a valid driver’s license when he struck 66-year-old Charles Driggers, who was riding a bike on Cannonsburg Road near Chauncy Avenue NE. Driggers died nine days after the Aug. 17 accident.

Vanderploeg pleaded guilty to  operating on a suspended or revoked license causing death and failure to stop at the scene of an at-fault accident resulting in death. Both are 15-year felonies. He also pleaded guilty to being a habitual felony offender, which could increase his time behind bars. He has three prior convictions for possession of cocaine.

Vanderploeg will return to court for sentencing July 18. He remains in the Kent County Jail.

Driggers was riding his bike west on the shoulder of Cannonsburg Road when he was struck from behind about 8:20 p.m. Driggers, a survivor of prostate cancer, was training for an Ironman triathlon at the time. The vehicle, identified as a 2000 white Saturn, kept going.

Vanderploeg was arrested two days after the accident when the owner of The Lawn Ranger, a property maintenance company in Belmont, called Kent County sheriff’s deputies to report unexplained damage to a company car, court records show.

Investigators matched damage to the Saturn to parts found at the scene of the hit-and-run crash. Police say they believe Vanderploeg was driving the company vehicle at the time.

“The accident scene is within minutes of the business,’’ investigators wrote in a probable cause affidavit. “Just after the suspect vehicle arrives at the business, a male suspect is seen leaving on a bicycle.’’

Vanderploeg was initially charged with operating with a suspended or revoked license causing serious injury and failure to stop at the scene of an accident causing serious impairment, both five-year felonies. Charges were upgraded after Driggers died.

Vanderploeg’s driver’s license has been suspended or revoked numerous times for more than a decade.

A week before the accident that killed Driggers, Vanderploeg was pulled over on West River Drive at Jupiter Avenue NE. He was eventually charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated and driving on a suspended or revoked license for the Aug. 10 traffic stop. He was released from jail after posting a $500 bond. That case is pending in 63rd District Court.

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