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‘Unbearable, wicked’ crash that killed five bicyclists brings driver decades in prison

A Kalamazoo County judge on Monday sentenced Charles Pickett Jr. to a maximum of 75 years in prison for a crash two years ago that killed five bicyclists.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. - A judge on Monday sentenced Charles Pickett Jr. to at least 40 years in prison for a crash two years ago that killed five bicyclists north of Kalamazoo, calling the deadly chain of events “horrifying and gruesome.’’

“Your decision-making caused so much pain and despair,’’ Kalamazoo County Circuit Court Judge Paul J. Bridenstine said. “The loss is massive and immeasurable.’’

Five bicyclists were killed and four others were critically injured in the June 7, 2016 crash. Pickett took a handful of pills about an hour before he struck the nine riders in succession. They were part of a social cycling group called the Chain Gang.

Bridenstine said the 40 to 75-year sentence handed down Monday, June 11 was appropriate, given Pickett’s “extraordinary and stunning’’ conduct.

Pickett was intoxicated on numerous drugs when his 1996 Chevrolet pickup struck the group near Markin Glen Park in Kalamazoo County’s Cooper Township. Witnesses said water bottles, shoes and bike parts littered the road.

A Kalamazoo County jury on May 1 convicted Pickett on five counts of second-degree murder, which is punishable by up to life in prison; five counts of intoxicated driving causing death, a 15-year felony and four counts of operating while intoxicated causing serious injury, a five-year offense.

Pickett, 52, looked down as victim impact statements were read in court.

He apologized to the packed courtroom for his actions two years ago. “I’m very sorry; I wish this tragedy never happened,’’ Pickett said through tears.

Several people addressed the court prior to sentencing, including Jennifer Johnson, who was critically injured in the 6:29 p.m. collision on North Westnedge Avenue.

Johnson recalled the pain she saw on the faces of family members who came to visit her in the hospital.

“The torment on their faces said it all,’’ Johnson said. “This was a horrific tragedy; nothing will be the same. There has been extreme pain, both physical and emotional.’’

Family and friends of those killed and injured have been put in a “prison’’ by Pickett’s actions, Kalamazoo County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Kanaby told the court in asking for a lengthy sentence.

“There is no way to calculate the damage Mr. Pickett has done,’’ Kanaby said, adding that the victims “had such a capacity to serve this community.’’

Sentencing guidelines called for a minimum term of about 19 to 31 years. Kanaby said the guidelines do not reflect the severity of what happened.

“Mr. Pickett should never, ever have the opportunity to get out and get behind the wheel of a car again,’’ Kanaby told the court in asking for a lengthy sentence.

The crash killed Debra Ann Bradley, 53, of Augusta; Melissa Ann Fevig Hughes, 42, of Kalamazoo; Fred Anton ‘Tony’ Nelson, 73, of Kalamazoo; Lorenz John ‘Larry’ Paulik, 74, of Kalamazoo and Suzanne Joan Sippel, 56, of Augusta.

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