Prison for snowplow driver in deadly hit-and-run

Austin Hill
Austin Hill in court for sentencing on May 18, 2017.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The man who drove a snowplow that struck and killed a 26-year-old woman in Wyoming will spend the next five to 15 years behind bars.

But before he was taken away to begin his sentence he had to face his victim’s mother.

Austin Hill said all he wanted to do was get home Jan. 10 after more than 24 hours without sleep and plowing 120 driveways. But a moment of carelessness ended the life of Chelsea Crawford and shattered so many lives.

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

“For 26 years, I watched her grow into a truly amazing, creative young woman and the instant her life was over she was not ready and neither was I,” said Christina Fender, mother of Chlelsea Crawford, in Kent County Circuit Court Thursday afternoon.

The mother faced the 21-year-old repeat offender who pleaded no contest to the hit-and-run crash that killed her daughter.

“One of the things I loved about Chelsea was her caring heart. She would want Austin Hill to know, that he is forgiven,” Fender said. “I, too, forgive Austin Hill. He was careless, but not with malice in his heart.”

Hill offered his own explanation.

“I want it to be known under my honest words, that I was never under the influence at the time and in no way was it the point of blame in this cause,” Hill said to Judge Dennis Leiber. “I was so tired, I was just trying to get home.”

Moments later, he would admit to the judge that he had been smoking marijuana the day before the crash.

He said he assumed she was on the sidewalk and looked away before striking her. His attorney said his repeat offender client had not had good experiences with police and made the terrible decision to flee the scene.

Hill has a criminal record that includes a bomb threat and a drug offense. His attorney, Craig Haehnel, said his client had turned his life around and didn’t deserve the attention this case has gotten and he blamed police.

“They went and got a search warrant and called the media so they could make a circus out of this case,” Haehnel said, referring to his client’s Jan. 11 arrest at Ramblewood Apartments captured on camera.

Austin Joseph Hill arrest
Police take away Austin Joseph Hill after arresting him at his home in Wyoming. (Jan. 11, 2017)

That’s not what happened. 24 Hour News 8 just happened to be on the scene when the arrest was made, police did not alert media.

“If it were up to me, I would have swapped places with her and rather it be me than her,” Hill told the court and Chelsea’s parents and friends.

Before delivering his sentence Judge Dennis Leiber let it be known what he thinks of people blaming Chelsea Crawford, who had no driver’s license, for being in any way to blame.

“It’s a disgusting assessment based on a personal belief which has no bearing in my opinion,” Leiber said.

Before he was taken away, Hill made this unusual offer to the family.

“I’m willing to give myself as a slave to you to prove and pay for any wrong,” he said.

***CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Austin Hill’s attorney’s name as Freeman Haehnel. We regret this error, which has since been corrected.***