BLOOMINGDALE, Mich. (WOOD) — The intern who was riding along with a deputy in a high-speed crash that critically injured a teenager defended the deputy and said he shouldn’t face discipline.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking to see him go through this,” 17-year-old Tyler Graham told 24 Hour News 8 on Thursday. “But it was just at the wrong place at the wrong time, and it’s just a tragic accident.”
Van Buren County Sheriff’s Deputy Todd Oliver, who has a long history of crashes and reprimands for bad driving, is facing possible discipline for the March 28 crash that injured Ethan Jelsomeno, of Bloomingdale.
Sheriff Dale Gribler said a disciplinary hearing will resume on Monday.
Oliver was speeding through Bloomingdale to join a pursuit, with Graham as a ride-along, when he crashed from behind into a car that was turning left. Jelsomeno was a back-seat passenger in the car driven by his mother.
Graham, who hopes someday to work for the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department, said he remembers little about the crash, but even three months later, he can’t help himself: He keeps returning to the dash-cam video.
“I watch it over and over,” he said. “I really don’t know why I watch it over and over. I just watch it and then I just thank God that I’m still alive, that everybody’s still alive.”
Target 8 had reached out to Graham repeatedly in recent weeks while researching Deputy Oliver’s driving history — nine crashes in police cars, a half-dozen warnings and reprimands for bad driving.
Graham said he called back on his own after reading some of the comments posted on Target 8’s report. He said he hasn’t spoken with Oliver in several months and hasn’t talked to Van Buren sheriff’s officials since the night of the crash.
“I want to speak out from my point of view about what happened at the accident, just so he feels a little bit better, so people realize he’s a great police officer and he’s not a bad cop,” Graham said.
Graham said he and Oliver were headed to lunch in Gobles when they heard a dispatch about a pursuit.
The sheriff has said Oliver joined the chase without permission — violating policy — just as he had done in a pursuit that led the deputy to roll a patrol car in 2013.
Graham said his adrenaline was pumping as they sped away, hitting 122 mph.
“I didn’t know we were going that fast,” he said. “I thought we were going maybe 90 to 100.”
They were going 87 over a hill and into the sunset as they passed through Bloomingdale.
When asked whether he would have been driving that fast in those conditions, he said: “Not really, but I didn’t know how fast we were going, so I thought we were going the appropriate speed.”
He partially blames Ethan Jelsomeno’s mom for turning left into the family’s driveway as they came from behind.
“I felt like she could have used her mirror at least to turn and that would have made it safe, but it’s no one’s fault to me,” he said.
He also said Ethan likely would have suffered only bumps and bruises had he worn a seat belt in the back seat.
Graham denied telling state police investigators that Oliver said, “Screw it, I’ll just go around,” as he approached the car. He also denied telling them he saw the woman’s left blinker just before the crash. He suffered a concussion and said he was on pain medication when they interviewed him that night in the hospital.
“Over the hill, it was really bright, like I put down my visor a little bit just so I could see. But her car was like red, it was a brightish-redish orange color and her blinker was also orange, but supposedly when I did my interview I told the state police that I saw the blinker, but I never seen nothing. I didn’t see her brake lights it was so bright.”
He said he doesn’t remember the impact. “I don’t remember anything until I woke back up to a white cloud of smoke that kind of freaked me out,” he said. It was smoke from the air bags.
“Every time I watch the video, I’ll get a smell of the air bags, and that kind of freaks me out a little bit.”