A $30 million wrongful death suit filed against two officers

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The estate of a 55-year-old Ann Arbor woman has filed a $30 million wrongful death lawsuit against the two Pittsfield Township police officers who allegedly let a “super drunk” driver leave the scene of an accident in his damaged and uninsured car, only to crash head-on with her vehicle less than one-quarter mile after being placed back on the road.

Lake Jacobson, a wife and mother of two, was catastrophically injured on December 30, 2017, when a 2000 Chrysler Concorde driven by Desten Houge, 32, crossed the centerline on U.S. 12 east of Saline and slammed into her Ford 500. Houge was pronounced dead at the scene. Jacobson was alive when first responders arrived. She was extricated from her vehicle with the Jaws of Life. Among other traumatic injuries, Lake sustained a broken neck. She died four days later at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital.

Ann Arbor attorneys Steve Goethel and Chad Engelhardt, of Goethel Engelhardt PLCC, are representing the Jacobson family in the civil lawsuit.

According to Goethel and Engelhardt, police dash-cam video shows Houge talking to the two Pittsfield Township officers just before his deadly collision with Jacobson. The officers arrived on the scene of Houge’s first accident, in which he lost control of his vehicle and went off the road into a snow-filled ditch. Houge reportedly told the officers he recently purchased the vehicle for $600 and it was uninsured.
Investigation showed the car’s suspension was in a dangerous condition, the attorneys claim. The dash-cam video shows Houge stumbling and falling while talking to the officers. One officer helped Houge up from the ground as the tow truck arrived to pull Houge’s vehicle from the ditch. Despite Houge’s “suspicious behavior,” the officers did not conduct any field sobriety testing and put Houge back on the road, according to Goethel and Engelhardt.  A short distance down the same roadway, Houge reportedly crossed the centerline and struck Jacobson’s vehicle head-on.

Tests performed on Houge after the crash showed that he had a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.24 percent – three times Michigan’s legal limit, the attorneys claim in the lawsuit. A person with a BAC of 0.17 or higher is considered “super drunk” under state law. Tests also showed that Houge had THC, a chemical associated with marijuana, in his system.

“We want accountability,” said Mark Jacobson, the victim’s husband. “We are not vindicative people, but things should have been handled differently. It was an entirely preventable accident.”

The wrongful death lawsuit was filed October 25 in Washtenaw County Circuit Court. The complaint alleges that the defendants, two Pittsfield Township police officers, were grossly negligent in permitting Houge to operate an unsafe vehicle on the roadway and are liable for damages under Michigan’s Wrongful Death Act. The suit also names Sakstrup Towing, Inc. as a defendant for allegedly allowing an unsafe vehicle to return to the roadway.

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