MARQUETTE - At a pretrial hearing Thursday, Marquette County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Solka denied a motion to allow an accident reconstruction expert to testify later this month at the jury trial of a Gwinn man charged with leaving a fatal July 4 crash that killed a Marquette woman.
Luke Eugene Huotari, 30, is scheduled for trial Jan. 22. He is charged with two counts of failure to stop at the scene of an accident that caused serious impairment of a bodily function or death. The charge is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Bryan LaChapell, 39, and his wife Karin, 42, were struck near the intersection of South Front Street and Genesee Street as they walked to watch Marquette's Fourth of July fireworks display. Police said Karin LaChapell was pronounced dead at Marquette General Hospital. Bryan LaChapell, who had been seriously hurt in the crash and was later listed in stable condition, was discharged July 6.
Huotari is the alleged driver of a white 2000 Honda CRV involved in the crash.
Solka appointed Marquette attorney Karl Numinen Thursday to represent Huotari.
Numinen said a Michigan State Police accident reconstructionist analysis determined Huotari was not at fault in the crash. Numinen said "grossly contradictory" witness reports and autopsy results suggest another vehicle struck Karin LaChapell.
"He (Huotari) didn't do anything wrong in creating or causing this death," Numinen said. "But he isn't charged with that, he's charged with leaving the scene."
Numinen said Solka denied his motion because he said the question of whether Huotari's vehicle struck Karin LaChapell is a question to be answered by the jury. Numinen said the judge said cause is not at issue so an accident reconstruction expert is not necessary.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.