Jane Bezotte with her children, Quinton Austin, right, and Paige Austin, who were injured in a Sept. 13 crash in Grawn. (Photo by Patrick Sullivan)
The two crashes, one after the other, must have appeared senseless to witnesses. First a guy in a 1993 GMC pickup truck made a turn too fast coming from US 31 onto Sawyer Road and he clipped a vehicle stopped there waiting to make a turn.
The pickup sped off, perhaps trying to get away from the crash he’d just caused. No one was injured.
Then came the really awful one, at the intersection of Sawyer and Vance Road. The driver apparently wanted to get through the intersection without waiting for the other cars and without slowing down.
He ran one car off the road and attempted to overtake another car that was turning right by cutting the corner of the intersection. He drove into a ditch and across a field to avoid the stop sign.
He plowed into the side of the SUV he was apparently trying to pass, however, and he seriously injured two children who were passengers.
What makes the crash baffling is what it wasn’t – the guy wasn’t some irresponsible teenager out for a joyride with some friends and he wasn’t someone so drunk or high he didn’t know what he was doing.
The guy was 49 years old. And he was completely sober.
FELONY DRIVING CHARGES
Now the courts will have to decide whether Larry Lee Robbins, of Grawn, is guilty of reckless driving causing serious injury, or if there is some other explanation for what happened.
Robbins, apparently, plans a defense that he suffered a medical condition that preceded the crash, though there was no indication in the aftermath of the crash that illness affected his ability to drive.
Messages left by the Express for his attorney, Clarence Gomery, were not returned. A woman who answered the phone at Robbin’s house said he had no comment on the advice of his attorney.
Robbins faces up to five years in prison if he is found guilty. The crashes occurred in Blair Township Sept. 13 at around 5 p.m.
Robbins has a clean driving record for the past seven years, which is how long most records are kept, according to the Michigan Secretary of State.
Robbins was originally to face a civil infraction for disobeying a stop sign, said Jane Bezotte, the driver of the Saturn Vue that Robbins plowed into. Police who investigated the crash had requested reckless driving charges.
Bezotte said when she got notice that Robbins would only face a civil infraction, she called the prosecutor’s office and described the severity of the injuries her children suffered. When Bezotte explained, the case was bumped up to Robert Cooney’s desk, an assistant prosecutor who specializes in serious driving cases.
Robbins was charged with the felony counts on Nov. 1 and he faces a preliminary hearing later this month.
Cooney said he didn’t want to comment about an ongoing case.
LIKE SHE HAD BEEN ATTACKED
Bezotte said the crash changed the lives of her children, Quinton Austin, age 11, and Paige Austin, who has turned 16 since the crash.
Paige, who got the worst of it because she was seated in the front passenger seat where the car was impacted, was forced out of two high school classes and is taking speech therapy through Munson Medical Center due to a closed head injury. Paige was able to return to classes after Thanksgiving.
Larry Lee Robbins’ mug shot at the Grand Traverse County Jail.
Quinton, who was in the back seat but was shot with a spray of broken glass, suffered a serious cut to his face that required 40 stitches and will likely require plastic surgery.
“He was going probably about 45 miles per hour when he slammed right into us,” said Bezotte, who didn’t notice Robbins’ truck until impact. “I can remember just, I mostly remember the kids screaming. Honestly, you turn a corner and it was almost like an out-ofbody experience.”
The first thing Bezotte remembers about after the crash is being angry, really angry. She said it was like she had been attacked.
“My first reaction when I got out of the car, I almost was going to run over and attack him,” she said.
Instead she screamed for help. She screamed, “Help my babies! Call 911!” Several people had already called 911.
She couldn’t get her daughter out of the car because the body of the car was now crushed into her, encasing her in place.
Bezotte got out and went to her son in the passenger seat behind her and found him covered in blood. She took him out of the car and placed him on his back on the ground.
It didn’t take long for police and the ambulance to arrive.
Paige had to be extracted from the wreck.
‘I’M CONSTANTLY HAVING NIGHTMARES’
What Bezotte knows about the crash she mostly knows from what she pieced together from what people told her at the scene.
One man told her he got out of the way when he saw Robbins barreling toward him from behind.
“This guy came up to me, he said, ‘I seen him coming and I knew he wasn’t going to stop, so I just got out of the way,’” Bezotte said.
She said she didn’t talk to Robbins, but the police told her he showed no indication he felt bad about what happened.
Bezotte thought the cops were baffled by the scene.
“I really just don’t even understand it to be honest with you,” she said. “It was just like he didn’t have any remorse for what he did. They just were very confused.”
Paige doesn’t remember the crash. In fact, she doesn’t remember from about a week before until several days after. It’s just a blank spot in her memory, Paige said, except for the moment when rescuers came to reassure her as she was being cut out of the vehicle.
Paige is in the 11th grade and she had to drop two classes as a result of the injury, including a career tech course in culinary arts that was very important to her. She had to miss getting her driver’s license at age 16. And her social life is on hold -- by doctor’s orders, she was told to take it easy after school.
Quinton is having to deal with a disfiguring scar.
“He’s trying to be tough and a little boy, but he has his ups and downs,” Bezotte said. “...I’m constantly having nightmares. I’m at the anger stage.”
Bezotte is grateful they all survived and that she was not seriously injured so that she can take care of her children.
“I’m blessed that we’re all alive, you hear about too many people losing family members to auto accidents,” she said.
NO SIGN OF ILLNESS
Robbins refused medical attention at the scene.
And the lead officer at the scene, Grand Traverse Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Bares, didn’t think he was drunk or ill.
“I asked Robbins if he had any medical conditions which may have contributed to the crash,” Bares wrote in his police reportt. “Robbins only mumbled something incoherently, all the while shaking his head. At no time during my contact with him did he appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”
Robbins took a breathalyzer and scored .00, Bares wrote.
According to the charges: “When asked why he fled the scene of the first crash, defendant shrugged his shoulders. When asked why he went off the roadway to avoid the stop sign at Sawyer and Vance roads, defendant stated that the ‘shifter is a little sticky’ and then stated ‘I really screwed up.’” Another deputy wrote in a followup report that he assumed Robbins was drunk at the scene, but he didn’t explain whether that was due to the circumstances of the crash or because of Robbins’ behavior.
Whether or not Robbins appeared drunk could be a critical factor in his case if he argues that diabetic shock caused his erratic driving and the crash.
People who are intoxicated and people who are in diabetic shock exhibit similar behavior, said Capt. Randy Fewless, who was not at the scene but reviewed the report.
Fewless said in a followup statement made to investigators, Robbins said he had a problematic insulin level and that a medical condition might have caused the crash.
Medical information was redacted from police reports obtained by the Express.