$1M bond stands for plow truck driver in hit-and-run

Austin Hill charged with 30-year felony for crash that killed Chelsea Crawford

Austin Hill
Austin Hill leaves a court hearing in Wyoming on Jan. 25, 2017.


WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — The man accused of driving the commercial snowplow truck that hit and killed a Wyoming woman remains in jail after a Wednesday court appearance.

Austin Hill, 21, sought to have his bond reduced, but a judge was having none of it.

Hill faces decades in prison for a charge of failing to stop at the scene of a crash when at fault causing death. Police say he was driving the snowplow that struck and killed 26-year-old Chelsea Crawford on Jan. 10 as she walked along 52nd Street in Wyoming.

Weeping and stumbling on Wednesday, Hill found out he will remain in the Kent County jail on a $1 million bond – an unusually high bond for the charge.

Police say Hill fled the scene of the crash. He was arrested the next day after Wyoming police asked for the public for help identifying the driver. He was taken into custody after officers broke down his door, an action Haehnel said was unnecessary because Hill was getting ready to turn himself in.

But a judge fears Hill will flee again if he gets out of jail, citing text messages that Hill allegedly sent indicating he intended to take off to Florida.

“So far, everything that’s been handed to us, there’s absolutely nothing that indicates he was going to flee,” attorney Craig Haehnel told Wyoming District Court Judge Pablo Cortes during Wednesday’s hearing. “Because of that, we’d ask the court to reduce the bond to $10,000/10 percent at this time.”

That request meant that Hill could have gotten out of jail by putting up $1,000.

“Any issue the court has about him fleeing, I think a GPS tether could solve that problem. I think his parents have a residence in White Cloud where they could employ him there,” Haehnel said.

The prosecution pointed to Hill’s behavior after the crash and his criminal history, which includes multiple license suspensions, drug charges and a conviction for maintaining a drug house.

“Given what we believe thus far, I’m not comfortable reducing it,” Judge Cortes said. “Additionally, If ultimately he’s convicted, this is all credit he’s going to get, so this is not wasted time unless it goes in a different direction.”

Hill wept as he left the courtroom. He will be back in court in two weeks, at which point the prosecution may lay out its evidence so far in the case.

If convicted, he could spend up to 30 years in prison.

FINDING CRAWFORD’S BOOKBAG

For now, the police investigation continues. One aspect of that investigation revolves around the bookbag that Chelsea Crawford was carrying at the time of the crash.

Chelsea Crawford
A courtesy image of Chelsea Crawford on her wedding day.

Books played a big role Crawford’s life, her husband said during her funeral.

“Chelsea always said she loved books with beautiful prose and she lived a life with beautiful prose,” Ben Crawford said during the Jan. 14 service at Wyoming’s Resurrection Life Church.

She carried the bookbag with her wherever she went, but it wasn’t recovered after the crash or when police searched Hill’s apartment.

So Ben Crawford took to Facebook to ask for help finding the bag. It was four days after his Jan. 12 Facebook post — nearly a week after the crash — before the book bag would come into the custody of the Wyoming police.

Chelsea Crawford, Ben Crawford, fatal hit-and-run crash, bookbag
A screenshot of a Jan. 12 Facebook post from Ben Crawford seeking information about his wife’s bookbag.

The woman who said she alerted to police to who had the bag told 24 Hour News 8 on Wednesday that it was caught on the plow and retrieved later.

She said she learned of the bag’s whereabouts through an acquaintance of Hill who feared the bag could be used against him in court. The woman said she told the person who had the bag to turn it in.

Chelsea Crawford, Ben Crawford, fatal hit-and-run crash, bookbag
A screenshot of a Jan. 16 Facebook post from Ben Crawford saying the bookbag had been recovered.

Police confirmed that the bag had been turned in and that it is part of their investigation, though they wouldn’t say exactly what role it is playing. The person who had it has not been charged, but police are still investigating.

Wyoming police are asking anyone who has information about what happened to the bag between the time of the crash on Jan. 10 and the time it was turned over to the department on Jan. 16 to call them at 616.530.7300 or Silent Observer at 616.774.2345.