GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - A Wyoming plow truck driver accused of striking a pedestrian and fleeing the scene pleaded no contest today to a felony charge stemming from the deadly Jan. 10 accident.
Austin Joseph Hill, 21, entered a plea to failure to stop at the scene of an accident when at fault, resulting in death. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dismissed a habitual offender charge that could have increased his time behind bars.
A no contest plea is not an admission of guilt, but is treated as such for purposes of sentencing. The no contest plea was entered due to “potential civil litigation,’’ defense attorney Craig Haehnel said.
Hill said little during the Tuesday, April 18 hearing before Kent County Circuit Court Judge Dennis B. Leiber. He faces up to 15 years in prison when he returns for sentencing next month. Hill is being held on a $1 million bond.
The accident occurred about 8:45 a.m. on Jan. 10. Wyoming Police caught up with Hill two days later; he was arrested at a Wyoming apartment complex about 1-½ miles from the crash site based on tips phoned in by the public.
Investigators say blood found on the plow was traced back to the victim, 26-year-old Chelsea Crawford.
Police say Hill was heading west on 52nd Street SW in a red, 2002 Dodge Ram pickup equipped with a V-plow when he struck Crawford, who was walking along the shoulder. The truck is registered to a Byron Center landscape company. Crawford died at the scene.
Hill “knew or had reason to know he was involved in an accident, did fail to immediately stop and remain at the scene of the crash resulting in a pedestrian dying,’’ investigators wrote in a probable cause affidavit.
A homeowner near 52nd Street and Byron Center Avenue SW provided investigators with surveillance video showing a red pick-up similar to the vehicle described by police. That led investigators to Ramblewood Apartments, about 1-½ miles from the crash site.
Hill has a criminal record dating back to his teen years. He’s been arrested for growing marijuana, possessing cocaine, driving with expired plates and maintaining a drug house.
He was discharged from probation last June on a marijuana conviction.
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