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Plea-Bargain Mixup Helps Motorist Charged In Fatal Crash

July 14, 1987

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) _ A motorist accused of being drunk when he struck and killed an elderly pedestrian was merely fined $400 because city attorneys agreed to a plea bargain before realizing a death had occurred.

″What a shock,″ said Robert Atkins, an assistant city attorney.

Kent County Circuit Judge George Boucher dismissed a negligent homicide charge against Richard Schwander, 32, because Schwander already had been allowed to plead no contest to a drunken driving charge six months earlier.

The negligent homicide charge was sought by Kent County prosecutors but the plea bargain was negotiated by the Grand Rapids city attorney’s office.

Schwander, of Kentwood, was the driver of a car that struck and killed Walter Lechtanski, 69, as he crossed a street. Schwander had a blood-alcohol content of .17 percent, above the .10 percent that is considered legal intoxication in Michigan.

Boucher ruled Friday that trying Schwander on the negligent homicide charge after he already had been convicted of drunken driving would amount to double jeopardy. Negligent homicide carries a maximum prison term of two years.

Although a plea of no contest is not an admission of guilt, a judge makes a finding of guilty for the purpose of passing sentence.

Christine Yared, the assistant city attorney who negotiated the plea bargain, didn’t realize that somebody had died in the accident until Monday, Atkins said. He said the information that a death was involved was included in a police report but never forwarded to the city attorney.

Grand Rapids Police Lt. Victor Gillis said police believe they did forward the information.

″It’s apparent there was some kind of lack of communication between the different departments involved and it’s something that’s going to be corrected,″ Gillis said.

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