Fifth suspect charged in beating of Detroit driver

Story highlights

  • A fifth suspect is charged in the April 2 beating of Steven Utash, 54
  • Utash, who is white, was attacked after he accidentally hit a black boy with his car
  • One suspect -- a 16-year-old charged as a juvenile -- is accused of ethnic intimidation
  • Utash has been in a medically induced coma since the attack
Five people have now been charged in connection with the vicious mob beating of a Detroit man that some are calling a hate crime.
Latrez Cummings, 19, has been arrested and faces the same charges as the other suspects: assault with intent to murder and assault with intent to do great bodily harm, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced Thursday.
Bruce Edward Wimbush Jr., 17, Wonzey Saffold, 30, and James Deontae Davis, 24, were arraigned on Tuesday. The fifth suspect -- an unnamed 16-year-old who is being charged as a juvenile -- was also charged Thursday with ethnic intimidation, according to Worthy.
About a dozen people attacked Steven Utash, a 54-year-old white man, after he accidentally struck a 10-year-old African-American boy who had stepped into a road, Detroit Police Sgt. Michael Woody said. Utash immediately stopped his vehicle to help the boy and was "severely beaten" with "fists and feet," Worthy said in a news release at the time. He's been in a medically induced coma since.
All of the alleged assailants are African-American, according to Jennifer Moreno, a police spokeswoman. She said none of the charged suspects is believed to be related to or otherwise linked the boy or his family. She said the beating was "a spontaneous response."
The state of Michigan's penal code says a person is guilty of ethnic intimidation "if that person maliciously, and with specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person's race, color, religion, gender, or national origin, causes physical contact with another person [or] damages, destroys, or defaces any real or personal property of another person." It can carry a prison sentence of up to two years.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig wouldn't go so far as to call the attack a "hate crime," but, he said, "the issue of race is being looked at" as a possible motive.
He gave credit to a woman who stepped in as Utash was being attacked, CNN affiliate WDIV reported.
"Just her presence, offering aid to this gentleman, may have saved his life," Craig said.
That woman, Deborah Hughes, met Utash's son to talk about what happened.
"I went to your dad, and he was unconscious. He wasn't doing anything," she said, WDIV reported. "I go over there and I say, 'Don't nobody else hit him. Don't put your hands on him. Leave him alone!' And everybody backed up and let me go to work on your dad," said Hughes, a retired nurse.
She told WDIV that Utash regained consciousness at one point and asked, "Is the boy dead?"
His son, Joe Utash, thanked Hughes for everything she did.
"I know that you saved him and that means so much to us," he said, WDIV reported.
The prosecutor's office said the boy who was struck by Utash's truck was taken to a local hospital and treated for a leg injury. Woody said that he was unsure of the extent of the boy's injuries but that he is at home recovering from the accident.
Some are wondering whether the beating April 2 reflects a state of racial tension in the Motor City.
Local defense attorney Cliff Woodards II says the lack of outrage in the African-American community exposes hypocrisy among its leaders.
"Imagine, though, if this happened to a black tree trimmer who was passing through Roseville?" wrote Woodards, who is African-American, in a Facebook post he titled "Shame On Us." Roseville is the suburb Utash hails from.
"Al Sharpton would have been on a plane before the man got out of surgery. Local community leaders and pastors would have taken to the airwaves and the pulpits in search of justice for this fallen hero."
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and City Council President Brenda Jones issued a statement Friday in response to outrage over the incident, asking for calm and patience from all Detroiters but made no mention of race.
"This senseless vigilante-style attack is not the essence of who we are as Detroiters and will not be tolerated," the statement said.
Utash's daughter, Felicia Utash, told CNN affiliate WXYZ that she doesn't want to believe the assault on her father was a hate crime, but she is pleased that suspects have been apprehended.
She, along with her brother and sister, have set up a page for their father, who they say does not have health insurance. Donations have exceeded $150,000 in one week.
Police are still searching for the remaining suspects. "By no means are we through with this investigation," Woody said.