Man sent to prison for deadly drunk driving crash

Becky Vargo • Mar 11, 2019 at 11:40 AM

Bruce Edward Ross told the courtroom that he isn’t a bad man, and that he just made a bad choice on the night he consumed alcohol, struck a motorcycle and killed a Marne couple.

Ottawa County Circuit Judge Jon Hulsing disagreed during Monday’s sentencing hearing. He said that the 64-year-old Coopersville man had not learned from his mistakes that started 40 years ago with his first drunken driving offense.

Larry Hein, 72, and Joyce Hein, 67, died in Ross’ most recent drunken driving incident in August 2018.

On Monday, Hulsing ordered Ross to consecutively serve 7-15 years in prison for each of two counts of drunken driving causing death. 

“That means you won’t be eligible for parole until you are 78,” the judge told him.

Ross was also ordered to serve 3-5 years in prison for a charge of operating while impaired, alcohol or controlled substance, third offense. This sentence will be served at the same time as the first charge.

Ross was given credit for serving 31 days in jail since pleading no contest to the charges Feb. 11.

In exchange for his plea, the following charges were dropped: two counts of driving while license suspended causing death, operating a vehicle without insurance, unlawful use of a license plate, and alteration/forging documents.

“They were the best kind of people — loving, gentle, generous,” Joyce Hein’s sister, Julia Hirzel, said during Monday’s hearing. 

Hirzel asked the judge to impose the strongest sentence possible to protect the people of Ottawa County “from a selfish, lawless man.”

The Heins were traveling on Cleveland Street in Wright Township, just east of Coopersville, at about 10 p.m. Aug. 5, 2018. They were on their way home after having dinner with friends, said Patti Laug, who was one of those friends. 

Ross was driving a 1998 Jeep Cherokee south on 40th Avenue, stopped at the stop sign and then pulled in front of the motorcycle.

“This defendant was playing chicken with the headlight coming down the road,” said Prosecuting Attorney Jay Tubergen. “He played chicken with their lives. He lost.”

Defense attorney Jennifer Kuiper-Weise said that her client was devastated about the crash. She said Ross had a supportive and loving family, and that he served his country and worked. She noted that his last drunken driving offense was in 1999.

“I stand before you with a heavy heart,” Ross said before being sentenced.

He told the court that a hit-and-run drunk driver killed his brother.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Ross told the Heins’ family and friends in the courtroom.

Patti Laug said that she met Joy Hein through their love of photography and they had been friends for 16 years. 

“We had dinner with them an hour before they got killed,” Laug said. “It’s just such a loss, but at least he won’t hurt anyone else.”

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