Felony dropped against side-by-side driver

Sep. 21—KALKASKA — A downstate man, who was visiting the area with his family over Mother's Day weekend, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of operating a vehicle while intoxicated as part of a plea agreement in which the prosecutor's office dropped a felony fleeing-and-eluding charge.

Michael Mancini of Pinckney was driving a side-by-side May 8 accompanied by his brother, Thomas Mancini, of Livonia, who also was driving a side-by-side. They were pulled over by police as they left a downtown gas station.

The Mancinis said they'd been trail-riding over Mother's Day weekend, stopped at Kal-Ho Lounge for dinner and drinks, and were leaving the gas station intending to check into their motel room when they were stopped.

On Monday, during a status hearing in 46th Circuit Court, Michael Mancini told Judge Colin G. Hunter he believed he'd had four drinks and his blood alcohol was 0.12. Michigan law states driving a motor vehicle, including a side-by-side, with a blood alcohol above 0.08 is a violation.

The men were lodged in the county jail for the weekend after officers with the Kalkaska County Sheriff's Office and the Kalkaska Village Department of Public Safety said they failed a sobriety test, were illegally driving on a state highway and did not stop on command.

Thomas Mancini, whose wife, Kathryn Mancini, had been riding in the passenger seat of his vehicle, was released without charge. But the family has since raised concerns about how Kathryn, a quadriplegic who uses a custom wheelchair, was treated by officers.

The Mancini brothers can be heard on police body cam footage of the traffic stop, expressing concern about Kathryn's welfare and telling officers she was unable to care for herself.

A few minutes later, however, the footage shows that an officer had secured a room for Kathryn at a local motel, borrowed a wheelchair for her from a local hospital, accompanied her to the motel and left her there alone in a room.

Kathryn Mancini said the borrowed wheelchair was much too large for her, she fell out of it, but was able to summon help from a family member by activating her cell phone with her voice.

A village police officer also can be heard berating Michael Mancini for not stopping his side-by-side immediately, although Michael Mancini tells the officer he stopped as soon as he realized he was being pulled over.

Michael Mancini was following his brother, both drivers appear to have stopped at the same time and the men previously expressed confusion about why the second driver faced a fleeing and eluding charge.

Kalkaska County Prosecutor Ryan Ziegler said a law enforcement report states an officer saw one of the ORVs drift out of the parking lot, which offered probable cause for the stop.

"I decided only to charge the vehicle that had committed the initial traffic infraction," Ziegler said, following a hearing Monday in 46th Circuit Court. "In this case, the fleeing and eluding, which I do believe happened and that's why I charged it, was not the most egregious fleeing and eluding I've ever seen."

Michael Mancini pleaded guilty during a status conference hearing and Hunter ordered a pre-sentence report. A sentencing hearing is expected to be scheduled in about month, court records show.

The maximum penalty in Michigan for a first-offense OWI conviction is 93 days in jail, a $500 fine, or both, although it is common for defendants to receive probation.

"What that report will do is give me a little bit more insight and information on what happened and your background so I can impose a fair sentence in this case," the judge said.

The Mancinis said Mother's Day has been fraught with bad memories for Kathryn, and their trip to Kalkaska was an effort to participate in a fun activity, such as trail riding, in the hope that it would provide her with better memories of the holiday.