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Prosecutor rules on M-37 road rage shooting

By Judy Reed

According to a statement released by Kent County Christopher Becker last week, charges will not be brought against the man who shot two people during a road rage incident on M-37 in May, killing one and injuring the other.

“The prosecution has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Robert (Chipman) did not act in self-defense,” explained Becker. “Based on all of the facts and evidence we have at this time, we cannot meet this burden.”

The shooting occurred on May 22, on southbound M-37 across from the Sparta Chevrolet Dealership in Sparta Township. According to the Kent County Sheriff’s Office, two 911 callers reported at about 3:20 a.m. that two people had been shot and were laying on the ground near a stopped vehicle along the road. At least one of the callers reported that the shooting was the result of some type of road rage incident.

When the Kent County Sheriff Department arrived, they found two men with gunshot wounds near the stopped vehicle. Donald Dudley, 20, of Bailey, Michigan, was pronounced dead at the scene. The other man, Benjamin Dudley, 18, also from Bailey, Michigan, was transported to Spectrum Butterworth Hospital and in critical condition.

Police also found a third male subject who stated that he had shot both of the men. Robert Chipman Jr., 43, from Newaygo, Michigan, has a valid Michigan Concealed Pistol License (CPL).

One of the 911 callers was Aja Cruz, 22, of Wyoming. She reported to police that she had been with the brothers at their home on Bailey Road that day, and she was driving Donald to his place of work at the Shell gas station on 44th Street in Wyoming when the road rage incident occurred. According to her account, the pickup truck, driven by Chipman, who was also on his way to work, came up close behind her, and she had trouble seeing because his lights were blinding her. She said that Benjamin Dudley, who was sitting in the front, waved at Chipman to go around. She then slowed to allow him to pass. She said the man in the pickup then honked his horn, flashed his brights, and eventually passed her.

She said that after the truck passed, it braked in front of her and slowed to about 30 mph, so she tried to pass, but it then sped up again, and wouldn’t allow her to pass. She said it then sped up again. Cruz said this made the Dudley brothers angry, and they told her to speed up and catch the truck. She said she increased her speed to about 80 mph, but the truck continued to pull away, and finally slowed for a yellow light, which allowed her to catch up. The brothers were mad, and Benjamin wanted to throw a water bottle at the truck, but she wasn’t sure if he did. She passed the truck at abut 65 mph; the truck then passed her again, and then suddenly pulled off the side of the road and stopped. Donald and Benjamin told her to pull in behind him, which she did.

Cruz said before she even had her car in park, the Dudleys both jumped out and went to the truck. She stayed in the car.

Benjamin Dudley’s statement mirrored what Cruz told deputies.

Prosecutor Becker said that Chipman’s statement surprisingly didn’t vary much from what the other two said, other than who was to blame for the driving. Chipman told officers that Cruz pulled out in front of him on M-37. He said there was enough room, but that the car was swerving all over the road as it got up to 55 mph. He said he couldn’t pass since it was a no-passing area on M-37. He could tell they were agitated, because someone tried to wave him around. He decided not to pass because it wasn’t safe. When they slowed down to 30 mph, it appeared they expected him to go around, so he said he flicked his bright lights to acknowledge they were trying to get him to pass, and when he got in the passing lane, he sped up and passed. He honked as he was passing to let them know he was passing, he said.

Chipman said he then got up to about 100 mph trying to get away from the car, but it ended up on his tail. As it passed, someone threw something out the window at his truck. The car then slammed on its brakes. Chipman passed the car again, then decided to stop on the side of the road and call 911 and get the license plate of the vehicle because of what had happened. He had to stop because his phone was in his lunchbox. The car then pulled up behind him. He said he only had enough time to get his feet on the ground before he was grabbed and pushed back into his truck. He described being held by one and hit by the other one. He thought a third person was approaching with something in his hand, and it was then that he decided to use his weapon, a Smith and Wesson 40 caliber semi-automatic pistol that was tucked in the small of his back.

Cruz reported yelling between the three, with the Dudleys calling the driver a b— for his driving, and seeing the driver swing at Donald. Donald then pushed Chipman against the truck and Benjamin joined him. She then reported hearing a gunshot and saw Benjamin go flying into the road and drop on the ground on his back. She then heard two more shots and saw Donald falling to his left side, holding his face.  She said she heard the driver yelling, “What now b–?” as she quickly drove a safe distance down the road to call police.

Benjamin reported that his brother told him to beat up the driver, and that he (Donald) was going to beat him up, too. However, Benjamin said he wasn’t looking to fight.

Benjamin suffered three wounds. One shot went through the left forearm and passed through into his left hip; the other shot went into the left side of his chest and continued on into the right side of his back. Donald was shot in the face. The bullet went into his left cheek and traveled through his brain and lodged in the right occipital region.

According to Becker, the appropriate use of deadly force in self-defense is a factual question and each case is different. He said the main question in this case is whether Chipman had an honest and reasonable belief that he was going to be hurt on the side of M-37 that morning. A jury would be advised to look at the circumstances as they appeared to Chipman that morning.

The car was not forced to stop behind him; there was a strange car behind him on a deserted dark road in the middle of the night; there had been reckless driving between the two vehicles; something had been thrown at his truck; and the Dudley brothers approached him with hostile intent—something that both Cruz and Benjamin Dudley affirmed. They assaulted Chipman, and he had nowhere to go; and he felt there was a third person approaching to join the assault. That was when he decided to use his weapon.

“The law does not require him to be beaten to the point of death or unconsciousness before he can resort to deadly force,” Becker added. “It only requires that the person honest and reasonably believe it is needed at the time he acted, given all of the circumstances. Given the facts presented here, it is impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the actions of Robert were not lawful self-defense. Therefore, no charges will be filed.”

Becker noted that this is the second road rage incident in the last year where someone has died. The other occurred in September 2016 at Kalamazoo and 52nd St. “Both cases show the risks inherent with confronting other individuals over their driving. Two people died over such arguments, another may be paralyzed. To what ends?” remarked Becker.

“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. Find a public place to pull over; go inside a gas station, store, anywhere there are other people who may assist or be witnesses and call the police. Let police handle the situation, do not deal with individuals in another vehicle alone on the side of the road. Nothing beneficial will occur by confronting another driver.”

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