Prosecutor: No charges in deadly road rage shooting near Sparta

Don Dudley fatally shot in May after incident along M-37 near Sparta

Robert Chipman, Jr. (undated photo)


SPARTA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A driver who shot two brothers in a road rage incident near Sparta will not face criminal charges, the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office had ruled.

Prosecutor Chris Becker said “it is impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt” that Robert Chipman Jr. was not acting in self-defense when he shot Benjamin Dudley and Donald Dudley during a fight near M-37 on May 22.

When deputies arrived around 3:30 a.m., Benjamin was conscious and talking with his brother lying over his legs. Donald died at the scene.

Don Dudley and Benjamin Dudley (undated photos)

Prosecutors said the survivors’ accounts all differ. However, facts and evidence clearly showed Chipman was not the aggressor in the fight, he was outnumbered, and he had been hit in the face at least one time.

>>PDF: Prosecutor’s decision in road rage shooting

“He was in the situation where there was no person on the road, an extremely slight possibility anyone else would come down the road at that hour to assist, so the options Robert had were limited,” Becker said in his opinion.

THE OTHER DRIVER

Dispatchers received 911 calls at nearly the same time from Chipman and the woman who was driving the other vehicle, Aja Cruz.

“He got out of the car, and my friends got out of the car. I think he just shot ’em, and I don’t know what the f*** to do right now,” Cruz told dispatchers.

Cruz said she was driving Donald Dudley to work at the Shell gas station on 44th Street in Wyoming since he was too tired to drive. He was in the back seat lying down and his younger brother, Benjamin, was in the front passenger seat as they traveled down M-37 towards Wyoming.

Cruz said after stopping at a Speedway gas station in Kent City, she turned back onto M-37. At that time a pickup truck came up behind her.

Cruz said she was driving about 60 miles an hour at that time and the pickup truck’s headlights in her rear-view mirror were blinding. Benjamin motioned for the pickup truck to pass and Cruz slowed down. At that time, Cruz said the pickup truck driver honked his horn, flashed his bright headlights and eventually passed.

Cruz said when the pickup truck got in front of her, it braked, dropping down to almost 30 mph on M-37. She said she tried to pass the pickup truck, but he then sped up.

Cruz said the Dudley brothers became angry and told her to speed up and catch the truck, so she sped up to at least 80 mph. The brothers were calling the other driver names as the approached his pickup truck at a flashing yellow light. Cruz said Benjamin wanted to throw a plastic water bottle at the truck, but she wasn’t sure if he did.

Cruz said the truck slowed and she passed him going about 65 mph. She said the pickup truck then passed her again, pulled to the shoulder of the road and stopped.

The Dudley brothers told her to pull in behind the truck. She said she didn’t even have the car in park when the brothers were getting out to approach the driver.

Cruz said she stayed in her car as the men went to the truck.

Cruz said Chipman got out of his pickup truck and approached the brothers, who called Chipman a b**** for how he was driving.

She said she saw Chipman swing at Donald, then Donald pushed Chipman into the side of his truck. She said Benjamin also pushed Chipman before she heard a single gunshot and saw Benjamin drop onto the ground. She said she heard two more shots before Donald fell.

Cruz said she heard the pickup truck driver yell, “What now, b****?” as she drove off and called 911.

THE SURVIVING BROTHER

Benjamin’s account was similar to Cruz’s up until they pulled over. He said he threw a bottle as the truck passed them at one occasion.

Benjamin gave two different accounts of the fight on different days. In the first account from his hospital bed, Benjamin said Donald punched Chipman first, then the pair exchanged punches before he came in and either pushed or held Chipman during the fight. He said Chipman broke free, reached into his truck and got a gun. He said he was shot first and woke up to seeing his brother wounded on the ground as well.

In a second statement days later, Benjamin said he followed his brother to truck, but did not get involved at all. He said his brother and the pickup truck driver exchanged punches, his brother pushed the pickup truck driver into his vehicle then, then Chipman shot. This time, he said Donald was shot first, fell down and began to cry, asking the driver for help as Cruz drove away.

CHIPMAN’S STORY

The prosecutor’s office said Chipman also agreed with most of Cruz’ account, but said she was swerving when she got onto the road and he couldn’t pass her, despite Benjamin Dudley’s indication to do so, because it was a no passing zone.

Chipman said he flicked on his brights to acknowledge they were letting him pass and honked his horn “to let them know” he was passing them.

Chipman said he sped up to about 100 mph to distance himself from the car, then the car sped up and was “right on his tail.” He said he slowed down, they passed them while yelling and someone threw something at his truck before the car slammed on the brakes.

Chipman said he sped up, passed the car again, then decided to pull over, get his cellphone out of his lunch box and call 911 and try to get the car’s license plate.

Chipman said after he stopped, he saw the car had pulled up, three people got out and he was almost immediately grabbed after stepping out of his pickup truck.

Chipman told authorities two people were yelling at him, one was holding him and the other was hitting him in the face when he saw a third person approaching who he believed had something in their hand. Chipman told deputies he thought he was going to be hit by the object, and he felt there was “no way out” and “there was nothing he could do” but pull out his gun from behind his back and shoot.

Chipman told deputies he only fired twice. He believed he hit the person on the right first while the person on his left was still hitting him. He told deputies one person yelled “I’m only 18” during the incident.

During the shooting, Chipman said the third person took off in the car. That’s when he called 911.

“They were driving erratically and I stopped to get the plate number and they came up behind me. Three of them got out and started attacking me and throwing s*** at me,” Chipman said in the call recording.

“They attacked me and I had to shoot them,” Chipman added in the call.

Conversely, Benjamin and Cruz both said Cruz never got out of the car.

THE WITNESS

The only other witness was a driver who said he stopped to see Chipman standing in the door jam of the truck, with Benjamin and Donald lying on the ground.

The witness said Chipman told him to “stay back” and that he had just been “jumped” so he shot two people. Chipman was already on the phone with 911. The witness said Chipman then unloaded his gun and placed it on the hood of his truck as they waited for police to arrive.

Police said Chipman had a valid Michigan concealed pistol license.

“It is impossible to determine who is telling the truth here, or if someone is simply mistaken, since there are only three people who can tell what occurred,” Becker said.

THE EVIDENCE

Investigators said they found three spent casings at the scene, and evidence shows the fight and shooting took place directly outside the door to Chipman’s truck.

Benjamin suffered gunshot wounds to his left forearm, left hip and left side of his chest. Donald was shot in the face, with the bullet traveling to his brain.

Investigators said Chipman had a swollen, bloody lower lip, indicating he had been hit at least once.

DEADLY DECISION

The prosecutor said the brothers made the decision to stop behind Chipman – no one forced them to. But Becker said Chipman was also to blame for pulling over. He said neither driver should have stopped in the first place.

“No good can come from pulling over to the side of the road and confronting another driver about what they did/did not/or should have done with their driving,” Becker said.

What led up to the shooting also added to Chipman’s fears.

“Clearly they (the Dudleys) were going in there with hostile intent when they approached Roberts vehicle, they had thrown an item at the vehicle before, they had hit the vehicle at least one time, as they were approaching, it was at least two on one because both brothers are there,” Becker said.

Becker said Chipman also couldn’t retreat.

“They’re right on top of him as he’s getting out of the car. There’s two-on-on, Robert says it could be three-on-one. There’s a dispute there. Aja says nope, she never got out of the car; we’ll never know but he clearly thinks there is. He clearly thinks there’s a third person with another object, and that’s when he decides to use his firearm in self- defense,” added Becker.

Becker said in light of the recent road rage beating that killed 64-year-old William McFarlan, “Robert’s fear was not a far-fetched thought.”

For those reasons, Becker ruled that Chipman was justified in shooting the brothers out of concern for his own safety.

Becker said this case and the McFarlan case show why drivers should never pull over and get out of the car following a case of road rage.

“Don’t do this. I don’t know why anybody would engage anybody on the side of a road at any point in time,” Becker said.

For others facing a similarly dangerous road rage situation, Becker shared the following tips:

  • Find a public place to pull over.
  • Go inside a business or anywhere there are other people who may witnesses or may be able to help and call police.
  • Let police handle the situation.

STATEMENT FROM CHIPMAN’S ATTORNEY

Chipman declined to talk on camera, but his attorney, Paul A. Ledford, released a statement echoing the ruling by Becker, also saying in part:

“Robert really wants to put all of this behind him. He and his family have been traumatized enough, having been the victim of a road rage incident, then the emotional toll of the event, the stress, now lifted, of potential criminal charges, and everything that has transpired since the incident.” For these reasons, Robert has declined any interviews. I am authorized to speak on his behalf, and have made a statement on my firm’s Facebook page, wherein I state:

STATEMENT FROM DUDLEY FAMILY

Bernadette Utter, speaking for the Dudley-Tonning family, released the following statement on Friday:

“On behalf of the entire Dudley-Tonning Family we are devastated and heartbroken at the decision today, and Praying for our Faith to see us through. It hurts deeply for the prosecutor not to consider the time and everything leading up to the shooting is wrong. This man was not innocent in his actions. He was fully engaged in this incident for 8 to 9 miles, instigating as well. At any time he could have been the adult stopped engaging called 911 or showed his gun and scared them away. HE KNEW all along HE HAD A GUN and I feel he was BAITING THEM. Getting them all worked up, then pulling over. He knew the law too and maybe he had every intention of shooting them before he ever stopped. They were kids. He was twice their size. They had NO WEAPONS, NO GUNS. All he would have had to do is show the gun and they would have ran. HE DIDN’T HAVE TO SHOOT TO KILL. Now a Precious Life is gone. A Son, a Brother, a Nephew, a Cousin and a Friend and another Precious Life is changed forever. SELF DEFENSE, I don’t think so.”