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Lawsuits & Litigation

Pittsfield Police Officers on the Hook for $50M in Wrongful Death Lawsuit

— March 13, 2020

A $50 million wrongful death lawsuit was recently filed against two police officers in Pittsfield Township over the 2018 death of Lake Jacobson.

Two police officers in Pittsfield Township and an Ann Arbor towing company were recently hit with a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit over their “alleged connection to a drunk driving crash that left two people dead.” The suit is expected to go to trial soon after Washtenaw Circuit Court Judge Timothy Connor denied a motion for summary disposition submitted by the police officers.

Example of a t-bone accident; image by en:user:Dori, via, public domain.
Example of a t-bone accident; image by en:user:Dori, via, public domain.

The officers in question include officer Samuel Bradley and Sgt. Matthew Hornbeck. The suit was filed back in October 2018 by the husband of one of the victims of the fatal crash, Lake Jacobson. Lake was a resident of Pittsfield Township and worked for Ann Arbor Public Schools. According to the suit, she worked to help special needs students and was also “involved with animal rescue efforts in the Washtenaw County community.”

What happened, though? Well, according to the suit, Lake and another driver, Desten Houge, were traveling on Michigan Avenue in Pittsfield Township when they were involved in a head-on collision. According to the suit, Houge, who was intoxicated at the time, “crossed the center line and struck Jacobson’s vehicle.” He was pronounced dead at the scene. Jacobson suffered a broken neck and died several days later.

The collision with Jacobson wasn’t Houge’s first collision of the night, though. According to the suit, an hour before the fatal crash, he was “involved in a first crash in which he lost control of his vehicle and drove into a ditch, taking a traffic sign down with him.” Hornbeck and Bradley were dispatched to Houge’s first collision and simply “gave him a ticket for failing to provide valid insurance after concluding that he and his vehicle were fit to return to the road.” However, an autopsy later revealed that Houge had been very intoxicated at the time of the crash, so much so that his blood alcohol content was .242, three times the legal limit. Additionally, there were traces of THC in his system.

The lawsuit also points to dashcam footage from the scene of Houge’s first accident and argues the officers should have had some idea that Houge was intoxicated. In the footage, Bradley can be seen asking Houge, “What happened, dude?” Houge responds, “I just got off work at 3:30. I was just sliding, I can’t explain, it just happened. I can’t explain this.” Houge is then seen falling to the ground on his back and Hornbeck helps him up, patting him on the arm and shoulder.

Jacobson’s attorney, Stephen Goethel, argues in the suit that the two officers created a ‘zone of danger’ when they allowed Houge back on the road, “and therefore owed a duty to the citizens in the immediate vicinity, including Lake Jacobson.”


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