Records: Employer bailed out suspected hit-and-run driver

Charles Driggers
A courtesy photo of Charles Driggers.

CANNON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The bicyclist who was struck by a car that allegedly swerved into the bike lane along a norther Kent County road has died nine days later.

Charles Driggers, 66, had survived prostate cancer and went on to run in the Boston Marathon. He was training for the Iron Man Triathlon when he was struck by a vehicle that kept going even after the victim slammed into the windshield.

Charles Driggers
A courtesy photo of Charles Driggers.

Driggers was left with critical injuries that doctors believed would rob him of the use of his legs, but family members believed he would survive.

“He’s a fighter. He survived prostate cancer,” said son Shawn Driggers the day after the crash.

However, around 1 p.m. Friday, Driggers died after he was never able to breathe on his own, according to family.

Charles Driggers, bicyclist killed, Cannon Township
A ghost bike at the intersection of Cannonsburg Road and Chauncey Drive northeast of Grand Rapids to remember Charles Driggers. (Aug. 28, 2016)

Friday, Shawn Drigger said he and his whole family are devastated. But the son said he believes his father is in a better place and feeling no pain.

“Heaven has an iron man,” Driggers said.

Benjamin VanderPloeg, 49, remains in the Kent County Jail charged with driving on a suspended license failing to stop at the scene serious injury — the charges carry a maximum of five years in prison.

The maximum penalty could increase to 15 years if an autopsy definitively connects Driggers’ death to the crash.

The Kent County Sheriff’s Department is also awaiting toxicology reports from Fields who investigators say was spotted at a nearby bar shortly before the crash.

Benjamin Vanderploeg
Benjamin VanderPloeg’s mug shot from the Kent County Correctional Facility. (August 2016)

VanderPloeg has a massive list of driving violations that has kept him from having a valid license for the better part of two decades. He also has multiple convictions for possession of drugs that led to time in prison as late as May 2014.

The car VanderPloeg was allegedly driving belonged to his employer, Lawn Ranger, a landscaping company owned by Brent Fields in Belmont.

Fields told 24 Hour News 8 over the phone a week ago that he was unaware of the crash when he noticed damage to his vehicle on Thursday morning and called police to report it.

Fields did not want to discuss his former employee’s driving record or why he was allowed to drive a company vehicle, but he said he feels terrible about what happened.

On Sept. 28, Fields contacted 24 Hour News 8 to say that he was out of town the night of the crash. He said he did not give VanderPloeg permission to drive his vehicle that night. He said the vehicle he took was his personal vehicle and not a company vehicle.

Since the initial night of the crash, 24 Hour News 8 has been contacted by people who say they worked for Fields and said he was aware that VanderPloeg did not have a valid license but allowed him to use company vehicles anyway.

In messages, the employees claimed that this happened numerous times.

The employees would not talk on camera saying they were contacted and told not to. 24 Hour News 8 was told that they could face personal and profession repercussions if they talked on camera.

Their story was bolstered by the fact that a week before the crash, jail records show that Fields paid the $500 bail to get VanderPloeg out on a charge of driving while license suspended.

24 Hour News 8 has tried numerous times to contact Fields.

When we showed up at the home that also serves as the company headquarters, no one answered the door, but the destroyed remains of the 2000 Saturn allegedly used in the crash were visible in a garage.

There is a criminal charge for knowingly allowing someone with a suspended license to use a motor vehicle. In the case of a serious injury, it is punishable by a maximum of two years in prison. In the case of death, the maximum is five years.

No charges have been brought against the owner of the business as the case proceeds against VanderPloeg.

**Editor’s Note: The video previously attached to this article showed an image of a crashed car that was not involved in this wreck. The image has been removed. We regret the error.

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