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Former prosecutor cleared of felony charge in 2016 crash that injured man

John Hogan/WZZM-TV • Oct 31, 2018 at 10:00 AM

GRAND RAPIDS — A Kent County jury on Tuesday found former Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Josh Kuiper not guilty of a felony driving offense for a wrong-way crash that injured a man retrieving a coat from his parked car.

The not-guilty verdict closed out a highly publicized trial that got underway Monday in Kent County Circuit Court. Kuiper faced up to five years in prison had he been convicted of reckless driving causing serious impairment of a body function.

Jurors instead found Kuiper guilty of reckless driving, a misdemeanor punishable by 93 days in jail. Kuiper will return to court for sentencing in December.

"We are happy with the verdict; he should never have been charged with causing serious personal injury,'' defense attorney Craig Haehnel said. "This man has paid a deep, deep price.''

Kuiper admitted he had been drinking prior to the Nov. 19, 2016, crash in Grand Rapids. He was ticketed for driving the wrong way on a one-way street.

A more serious charge was filed following an outside investigation. Three Grand Rapids police officers were disciplined, including one who was fired, for their handling of the crash. One of the officers gave Kuiper a ride home.

In opening statements on Monday, Haehnel said the injuries suffered by Daniel Empson do not constitute serious impairment of a body function.

Kuiper, 44, a single father of two, is a well-respected attorney who has “admitted to his driving,’’ Haehnel said. “We’re not disputing that. The only issue here is, what was the result of that driving.’’

Empson suffered what Haehnel described as a minor fracture of a shoulder bone called the greater tuberosity.

“A simple sling was all that was required for treatment in this matter,’’ Haehnel told jurors. “This was a minor injury.’’

In a follow-up appointment in early December, Empson was told he could take his arm out of the sling. “He could do normal functions,’’ Haehnel said. “He could cook, he could dress, he could do buttons, he could type.’’

Kalamazoo County Assistant Prosecutor Aubrey Koches, who was appointed special prosecutor, told jurors in opening statements that Empson suffered a serious impairment of a body function due to Kuiper’s reckless driving.

“Mr. Empson suffered a fracture to his upper arm-shoulder area,’’ Koches told jurors. “He was restricted to a sling for practically six weeks. And during that time, he wasn’t able to do his everyday tasks, such as normal work duties for him, or things such as his own laundry or preparing his own meals.

“It took months to regain normal use of that limb again,’’ Koches said. “He did, in fact, suffer a serious impairment of a body function as a result of that crash.’’

Kuiper had been at a retirement party at a Grand Rapids restaurant for former Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth, who decided not to seek re-election.

About 12:30 a.m. on Nov. 19, 2016, police say Kuiper drove the wrong way on a one-way stretch of Union Avenue SE near Kellogg Street and struck a parked car, injuring Empson.

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