"The Angels Among Us" was theme of 21st Annual Crime Victim's Rights vigil

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(Left) Amy Anderson, Crime Victim Service Unit Supervisor, and the staff of the Victim Services Unit of the Muskegon County Prosecutor's office; (top right) Andrew Bickham was one of the guest speakers and the father of Chad Bickham, who was driving drunk and caused the death of his step-brother and two friends by pulling in front of a gasoline tanker; (bottom right) Senior Assistant Prosecutor Randy Kostrzewa brought a message to the victims and their families and introduced the guests speakers.

 

By Diana L. Coleman
Legal News

The annual crime victim’s rights vigil was held in front of the Michael E. Kobza Hall of Justice on April 21. The attendees were seated in close proximity to the Police Memorial on the courthouse lawn. The crowd included victims, families, judges, attorneys, law enforcement offices, and representatives of various service agencies involved in assisting victims of crime.

Amy Anderson, Supervisor of the Muskegon County Prosecutor’s Crime Victim Services Unit, introduced the Philadelphia Baptist Church Youth Choir who — under the direction of Gail Anderson — opened the vigil by singing “The Angels Among Us.” The soft voices of the youth choir open the vigil each year with this song.

Anderson brought remarks and stressed that there are angels among us every day helping us through our darkest times. She brought attention to the police officers, fire fighters, service agencies, and first responders who are always there to help in serious situations. “These are our physical angels,” Anderson explained. “We also have our spiritual angels and guardians that watch over us each day.”

This year’s vigil was also dedicated to Chief Clifford Johnson of the Muskegon Heights Police Department who passed away suddenly last winter.

Senior Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Randy Kostrzewa explained how the law enforcement officers and the Muskegon County Prosecutor’s office have been working diligently to reduce crime in the county and its municipalities. Local law enforcement officials held a press conference in January protesting recent and proposed changes in the Michigan Department of Corrections parole policies in an effort to prevent the wholesale early release of convicted felons who are often released into the community only to re-offend.

Kostrzewa said Muskegon County had a tragic personal experience with early parole of a violent offender. John Shine, who was not recommended for parole by his counselors and others because they felt he was still a threat to society, gained his freedom despite the negative recommendation. The Michigan Department of Corrections overruled the no-release recommendations and Shine was released. A short time thereafter his, he returned to Muskegon and killed his girlfriend. Muskegon County law enforcement officials promise to continue the battle by doing all they can to stop or change the early parole policies.

Kostrzewa then introduced the guest speakers, Andrew and Jayne Bickham. The family has faced great struggles since a tragic December 2007 automobile accident on Holton Road. The four boys in the car were all underage, consuming alcohol, and one, Andrew’s son Chad, was driving drunk. He turned in front of a tanker truck. In an instant Jayne’s son (Andrew’s stepson) and two other young men were dead, and lives were changed forever. Three young lives were lost in death and the driver is now in prison, having been convicted of three counts of drunk driving causing death.

Andrew Bickham gave an emotional speech about the car accident and stressed that he does not think that he and his wife, Jayne, could have made it through this difficult time without the support of the Crime Victim’s Services Unit and Prosecutor Kostrzewa. The Bickhams are still dealing with all of the consequences of the tragic accident and are trying to find a way to reach others to prevent youth drinking and driving. The Bickhams are working with officials to present a bill that will strengthen the penalties against party store employees and owners who sell alcohol to minors. Three boys dead, one in prison, and the party store owners and employee only received minor fines and penalties. They seek to have legislation passed to replace light penalties and fines with more serious penalties against party stores that have sold to minors resulting in serious injury or death.

Pastor James Goin of the New Emmanuel Baptist Church, a full-time Muskegon Heights police officer, brought a blessing on the victims, the families, and all who are involved in protecting the rights of the victims of crime.

Each year at the time of the vigil, Amy Anderson challenges the Philadelphia Baptist Church Youth Choir to create a new song for the ceremony. Gail Anderson helped them write a new song to close the service entitled, “We Can Make A Difference.”