Distracted Driver Pleads Guilty to Causing Fire Chief’s Death
24-year-old Brandon Clevenger of Battle Creek, Michigan, pleaded guilty on December 14th to one count of reckless driving causing death in a June car accident that took the life of 55-year-old Comstock Township Fire Chief Ed Switalski. Replying in one-word answers asked of him as he stood before the judge, the distracted driver admitted responsibility.
Police say Clevenger was driving 90 miles per hour on I-94 when he as distracted by his cell phone. A witness told officers that he lost control of the vehicle just after 10 P.M. and collided with a cement median wall. The force of the impact shot the car across lanes and it struck Switalski who was on the freeway near a fire truck responding to an emergency. Switalski was pronounced dead at the scene.
Three months after the crash, a warrant was issued against Clevenger and he turned himself in to law enforcement. After his arraignment, he was released on a personal recognizance bond.
The data recorder in Clevenger’s vehicle confirmed he was driving at a high rate of speed just seconds before the crash. It showed he had indeed been traveling at 90 miles per hour, and had slowed briefly to 87 miles per should just prior to the crash. This indicated Clevenger was aware of his need to avoid a collision and attempted to hit the brake pedal. Data from his cell phone also showed he was talking to his fiancé just prior to striking the median and had disconnected seconds before the incident.
Switalski’s wife, Holly, and other family members were present in the courtroom during Clevenger’s sentencing and pleading. They had tears in their eyes during the proceedings.
“Mr. Clevenger didn’t do the right thing six months ago,” Holly said after Clevenger pleaded guilty to the charges against him. She was happy to hear he would enter a guilty plea rather than drag them through a trial. Holly added, “And I am thankful that today he did the right thing. He admitted his guilt, and for that I feel relief that we didn’t have to go to trial.”
Holly did say that she feels for Clevenger’s family as the young man’s freedom is now in jeopardy. “As a mom, I mean my heart, my daughter is about his age, and just very sad for both families,” she said. “It’s been terrible for us and I feel like it’s been terrible for them, just tragic. Senseless. You know when you see those emergency vehicles, slow down.”
The number one cause of vehicle collisions in the United States continues to be distracted driving. Many states have enforced anti-texting and other cell phone restrictions to eliminate distractions caused by the use of electronics. This tragedy demonstrates what can happen should drivers choose to operate their phones without headsets on the roads, and how dangerous simply having a phone can be, even if the driver is not looking down at the screen to text.
Clevenger faces up to 15 years in jail. He is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 29. Clevenger has no prior felony convictions.