Michigan Firefighter Charged With Homicide, Fire Truck Crash

TRAVERSE CITY - The last five months have been a blur of emotions for Josie Martin, who grieves for her daughter and infant grandson, both of whom died when struck by a Grand Traverse Metro fire truck.

"I have my good days, and I have days that I just cry," she said. "But I am going on. Some days it seems like it was just yesterday, and some days it seems like she has been gone forever."

Antrim County Prosecutor Charles Koop authorized negligent homicide charges against firefighter Cory Carlton, 26, the fire truck driver who allegedly sped through a stoplight March 8 and struck a sports utility vehicle driven by Matthew Garrisi.

Garrisi's wife, Rebecca, 28, and their 11-month-old son Jesse died as a result of injuries from the crash at the intersection of Zimmerman and Silver Lake roads in Garfield Township.

The state attorney general's office appointed Koop special prosecutor after Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Alan Schneider asked for a conflict-of-interest review.

"There was clearly enough evidence, in my opinion, to seek a criminal warrant based on the information that we have," said Koop.

A statement of probable cause against Carlton alleges he drove "without due regard" for the safety of others and operated the fire engine at an "immoderate" rate of speed in a "reckless manner."

Grand Traverse County sheriff's investigators said it appeared Carlton went through a red light at the intersection.

Sheriff's investigators said Carlton did not appear to slow at the intersection to check for oncoming traffic, as required by the Michigan vehicle code of 1949. The code states emergency vehicles may proceed past a red light "only after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation."

Carlton was arraigned and released on a $1,000 personal recognizance bond after surrendering at the Grand Traverse County Jail on Thursday. He could face up to two years in prison for the misdemeanor offenses.

Martin said the charges remind her of that terrible day.

"It is hard, but we are trying to go on the best we can," she said. "I am trying to be there for my other daughter, who lost her best friend (Rebecca)."

Carlton's attorney, Roger Wotila, of Cadillac, argued that criminal charges aren't warranted.

"Cory is devastated by the accident that took place and his heart goes out to the family that suffered the loss," he said. "It was an accident, and every accident is not a crime. It was a tragedy, but not a criminal action."

Fire Chief Wayne Hanna said Carlton returned to work in a limited capacity shortly after the accident. He was allowed to go on calls but banned from driving emergency equipment.

"If he is charged, he will be suspended until the outcome of the court (case)," Hanna said Monday. "At that point in time, he will either be removed or put back in service depending on the outcome."

Matthew Garrisi filed a civil suit against the fire department in June on behalf of his wife and son, contending Carlton "knew or should have known" the intersection would be busy at the time of the accident.

Carlton was his battalion's safety officer when the crash occurred, according to court files.

"We feel the proper forum is the civil lawsuit and do not believe a criminal charge is in any way warranted," said Wotila.

But Traverse City attorney George Thompson, who represents Garrisi in the civil suit, said Carlton should have known that sirens alone would not adequately warn motorists.

"It is clear that the risks associated with the way he was driving were unreasonable," said Thompson. "We admire these people for their service, but if they are not going to follow the rules and use reasonable judgment, something has to be done."

Thompson filed interrogatories that asked the county whether Carlton had been informed that his engine was not needed at the fire call before he reached South Airport Road, a contention the county denied as "not true," according to court records.

Martin thinks the case could be a lesson for drivers of emergency services vehicles.

"I really want it to be brought to the public's and lawmakers' attention that more schooling should be done for firemen," said Martin. "Getting to a fire a minute sooner and risking the possibility of killing someone isn't worth it."