Driver sentenced to prison for Aug. 2016 hit-and-run crash that killed bicyclist

Victims' family forgives driver who killed bicyclist

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - A motorist who fled after striking a bicyclist in Cannon Township was sentenced to at least 11 years in prison for the August, 2016 crash that killed a cancer survivor training for an Ironman triathlon.

Benjamin Vanderploeg, 50, made a tearful apology to members of the victim’s family. 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.

“The defendant’s driving was noticeably erratic and caused spectators at the scene to conclude he was a drunk driver,’’ Kent County Circuit Court Judge Donald A. Johnston said. “You struck the victim from behind while he was riding his bicycle.  You fled the scene and Mr. Driggers died of his injuries.’’

Johnston sentenced Vanderploeg to serve between 11 and 55 years in prison. Although he pleaded guilty to two, 15-year felonies, his sentence was enhanced because of prior convictions.

“He understands how horrific this incident is, the damage he caused, the pain he’s caused this family,’’ defense attorney Frank Stanley said.

Vanderploeg in June 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. Vanderploeg's record includes three prior convictions for possession of cocaine.

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 his personal 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 car 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.

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