'Race is being looked at' as a possible motive in attack on driver in Detroit

CNN
Tuesday, April 8, 2014 - 8:57pm

Three suspects were charged Tuesday for their alleged roles in a vicious mob beating of a Detroit tree trimmer after a car accident last week.

Bruce Edward Wimbush Jr., 17, Wonzey Saffold, 30, and James Deontae Davis, 24, are three of the dozen or so people who attacked Steven Utash after he inadvertently struck a 10-year-old boy who had stepped into a road, Detroit Police Sgt. Michael Woody said.

Utash, a 54-year-old grandfather, immediately stopped his vehicle to help the boy and was allegedly "severely beaten" with "fists and feet," Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a news release.

He's been in a medically induced coma since.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig wouldn't go so far as to 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 gained 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.

All three have been charged as adults with assault with intent to murder and assault with intent to do great bodily harm. A fourth suspect, a 16-year-old boy, was also arrested, but prosecutors are still deciding if he will be charged as an adult.

None of the charged suspects are believed to be related or linked to the boy or his family, said Jennifer Moreno, a police public information officer. She says the beating was "a spontaneous response."

But some are asking whether the beating last Wednesday reflects a state of racial tension in the Motor City: Utash is white. The child he hit with his truck is African-American, as are all of this alleged assailants, Moreno said.

Local defense attorney Cliff Woodards II says the lack of outrage in the African-American community reveals 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 GoFundMe.com page for their father, who they say does not have health insurance. Donations have exceeded $135,000 in four days.

Police are still searching for the remaining suspects. "By no means are we through with this investigation," Woody said.

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