More charges for man accused of deadly hit-and-run

Benjamin VanderPloeg
Benjamin VanderPloeg in court in Grand Rapids on March 1, 2017.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Benjamin VanderPloeg’s lengthy record of driving violations meant he had no legal right to be on the road, but authorities say he was driving at least twice within the span of a week late last summer. The second time, he allegedly caused a fatal crash.

On Aug. 17, 2016, 66-year-old triathlete Charles Driggers was struck by a vehicle as he rode his bike along Cannonsburg Road near Chauncey Avenue, northeast of Grand Rapids. Driggers died nine days later. Authorities say the driver responsible, VanderPloeg, didn’t stop. He was later arrested and charged with felonies that, because of his horrendous driving record, mean he could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.

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 recently as May 2014.

But a week before the deadly crash, a Kent County sheriff’s deputy pulled VanderPloeg over on West River Drive NE near Jupiter Avenue north of Grand Rapids, court records show. The deputy soon realized he was driving without a valid license and arrested him. He was taken to jail, and his blood was drawn and sent to the Michigan State Police crime lab for testing.

About 9 p.m. that night, court records show, VenderPloeg’s boss, Brent Fields, paid $500 to bond him out.

When the blood tests came back weeks later, they showed that VanderPloeg had drugs in his system, prosecutors said — though they have not specified what type or how much. Authorities issued new charges, including one of operating while impaired. Vanderploeg was in court Wednesday on those charges.

Authorities say that at the time of the crash that killed Driggers, VanderPloeg was driving a car that belongs to Fields’ Belmont-based landscaping company.

Charles Driggers
A courtesy photo of Charles Driggers.

Wednesday, 24 Hour News 8 attempted to contact Fields, seeking comment, but no one answered the door at his home.

In previous conversations, Fields denied allowing VanderPloeg to use the car that he was allegedly driving in the deadly crash. Fields said he was out of town when the crash occurred.

Vanderploeg remains in jail and is scheduled to be back in court on March 15, but that could be delayed. A state psychiatrist found him competent to stand trial but his defense attorney has asked for an independent evaluation, which could delay things for several more weeks.