In the Kent County Circuit Court, Michelle Carmelita Lerma appeared recently before Judge Mark Trusock where she pled no contest to a single count of operating while intoxicated causing death. In return, the prosecution agreed to drop a single charge of reckless driving causing death.
The accident that put her in court that day for a DUI causing death was devastating, putting her in a wheelchair while she recovered, and taking an unsuspecting man’s life.
Just a few hours before everyone else was due to get up and head to work on a beautiful fall morning last September, 41-year-old Lerma was headed home from a night of heavy drinking. Traveling at 75 miles per hour, she roared down the highway in the wrong direction, straight into oncoming traffic. And crashed headfirst into Gregory Gene Johnson’s Hyundai.
The impact was enormous. Both vehicles burst into flames. A witness, who arrived moments after the accident was able to pull Lerma from the burning wreckage of her car. But Johnson was not so lucky. The heat of the fire was too intense. The good Samaritan who helped Lerma out of her car couldn’t even get close enough to Johnson’s vehicle because of the flames. There was nothing he could do.
According to a Grand Rapids Police Department crash reconstructionist, there was no indication that Lerma had applied the brakes before impact. She likely had no idea that a DUI causing death was about to happen. Police records show her blood alcohol content at more than two and a half times the state limit.
Lerma is currently free on a $25,000 bond. Her sentencing is scheduled for June 8th, which gives her just over a month of freedom before she is due to serve time behind bars. Under Michigan law, operating while intoxicated causing death is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in jail, a fine of up to $10,000, possible vehicle forfeiture, mandatory vehicle immobilization and possible financial restitution.