Prosecutors say couple endangered an infant and a four-year-old in a bid to get away from the cops They were a couple of desperadoes, at least as described in court files: Running from police at a hundred miles per hour, along rural highways and through quiet villages, he unwilling to go back to prison, and she willing to do whatever it took to help him.
What makes the case not so romantic is that Paul William Nix and Nichole Katherine Nix were not alone inside that green 1998 Chevy Blazer that led police through three counties and ended in a crash near the top of a Crystal Mountain ski hill last June.
Bouncing along with them were their children – an infant on Nichole Nix’s lap in the front passenger seat and a four-year-old sitting on a pile of clothes in the back seat, both of them unrestrained.
Now the children are in foster care. Paul Nix, 38, is headed to prison, and passenger Nichole Nix, 25, after a contentious 10 months during which she was mostly unwilling to cooperate with prosecutors, faces felony charges herself.
SIX TO FORTY YEARS IN PRISON
At the March 22 sentencing hearing for Paul Nix, assistant Grand Traverse prosecutor Robert Cooney said this was no ordinary case of fleeing and eluding police – it spanned around 24 miles, endangered children, and involved a passenger allegedly shining a spotlight at police in an effort to throw them off of the chase.
Paul Nix, who grew up in Benzie County, was convicted by a jury of fleeing and eluding, child abuse, and being an habitual offender. He was sentenced to serve six to 40 years in prison by 13th Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power.
“It was an example of something that was really, really small that has become really, really big,” Power said at the hearing. “I don’t think he’s a bad person. I think he’s got to learn to control himself.”
Power told Nix he should learn to behave and control his anger or he might wind up spending the bulk of his 40-year sentence in prison.
Nix’s third court-appointed attorney in the case, Phillip Settles, said there wasn’t much he could say about the case that Nix couldn’t say for himself. When it was Nix’s turn to face the judge, he said he was a victim of injustice, but he didn’t go into specifics.
“May the court and police of Grand Traverse County hang their heads in shame,” Nix said.
EXPIRED PLATES LEAD TO CHASE
The case began June 1, just after midnight, and it began because an SUV was spotted in a Garfield Township park just off of E. Silver Lake and the tag on the car’s plate had just expired, about an hour earlier, when May turned to June.
The Nixes were together in their car, a family of four with clothes piled up in the back seat, because, at the time, that’s where they lived.
Grand Traverse County Sheriff Deputy Michael Hornacek would testify that he checked on the vehicle because its lights were on and he wondered what it was doing in a park after closing time.
As he drove up, however, the car pulled away.
He ran the plate and learned it was expired. It had technically expired days earlier, on Nix’s birthday.
Hornacek put on his lights and siren. The Blazer at first started to pull over. Then it sped away. The chase was on.
Police said the Chevy Blazer would reach speeds of 100 miles per hour before it crashed, nearly at the top of a ski hill at Crystal Mountain in Benzie County.
DROVE AROUND STOP STICKS
The chase almost ended miles earlier, when a deputy placed stop sticks across the road, near the intersection of US 31 South and E. Silver Lake Road.
Nix, however, drove around those, into someone’s yard.
Hornacek testified at a preliminary hearing that he also went off the road into the yard in an effort to block the vehicle, but his rear tires got stuck and he had to throw his patrol car into reverse.
As he did he was about two feet away from the Blazer and he could see who was inside – a black man who was driving and a white woman who was in the passenger seat. He later testified that he didn’t know there were children in the car and he didn’t get a good enough look to ID Nix as the driver.
The chase continued on US 31 to Sawyer Road, Blair Townhall Road, County Road 633 and Youker Road to Karlin, then south toward Thompsonville.
The Nixes apparently thought the police would not follow them into Benzie County, according to a court document. When police continued to follow past the county line, Paul Nix drove even faster, police said.
AN INFANT CRYING IN THE DISTANCE
That none of the Nixes, none of the police and none of the bystanders were harmed is remarkable.
According to police, Nix ignored stop signs and maintained speeds between 80 and 100 miles per hour throughout most of the ordeal.
In Copemish, police said Nix drove 90 miles per hour through a 30-mph zone. Through Thompsonville he drove at 90 or 100 miles per hour, ignoring each stop sign along the way.
The chase ended as desperately as it began.
As if he thought he could drive up the ski hill and keep on going, when Paul Nix reached Crystal Mountain he pointed his SUV uphill and gunned it, driving off the road and onto what in the winter months would be a ski hill.
He made it almost to the top of the hill, where he might have been able to evade police on a back road if he’d reached the other side, but instead he crashed into an alpine slide.
Deputy Hornecek soon reached the Chevy Blazer where he found no sign of the suspects.
As he and other officers waited for a K-9 unit to arrive, he said he heard an infant crying in the distance.
“We thought, ‘Man, that sounds like a kid crying.’ And then it turned out later that it was,” he testified at a hearing.
With the dog, the police followed tracks leading away from the crash scene down the hill.
The trail took them to a large tree at the side of M-115 where Nichole Nix and her children were hiding.
‘NOT GOING BACK TO PRISON’
In the following weeks and months, the investigation would reveal why Paul Nix wanted to get away from police so badly.
Nix apparently thought there would be warrants out for his arrest.
Nichole Nix told deputies her husband did not want to go back to prison.
“She stated that her husband is paranoid about going back to prison and stated that he was not going down without a fight and was not going back to prison at any cost,” according to a court filing.
In fact, according to testimony, there were no child seats in the car that night because Paul Nix had worried they had been bugged by police.
After Nichole Nix’s arrest, however, the trail leading to Paul Nix went cold.
He eluded police for days, making it out of Benzie County and out of Michigan. He made it all the way to Arkansas before he was pulled over in a traffic stop.
Police traced the vehicle he was stopped in back to Northern Michigan and tracked down its owner, who said she was threatened by Nix to give up the vehicle and stay silent.
Nix “told (the woman) that he doesn’t have to be around here to make something happen to her, which (she) took as a threat,” Cooney wrote in a motion.
‘DO WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO’
The criminal case against Paul Nix was complicated by his wife’s refusal to testify against him.
That night in June when she was arrested, she talked to police, according to testimony, and she identified her husband as the driver.
She admitted that she shined a spotlight at police cars that followed and she told police that her husband had told her he wouldn’t go back to prison, she said, “Do what you have to do,” according to the charges against her.
But without her testimony, those statements would be hearsay and would not be admissible in Paul Nix’s trial.
Prosecutor Cooney needed to get Nichole Nix to testify. None of the officers, after all, could ID Paul Nix from the chase. There was little else tying him to the crime.
Cooney had a strategy – he would have an order of immunity entered for her so that she could no longer claim a 5th Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
She had earlier also claimed a spousal privilege, saying she wouldn’t testify against her husband, but Cooney had already figured a way around that.
He charged Paul Nix with child abuse, and under Michigan law, a spouse cannot claim the spousal privilege when their children are victims of the crime.
Still, even as a February trial date approached, Nichole Nix refused to cooperate with prosecutors and risked jail herself to protect her husband. An attorney appointed to represent her earlier in the case, Randy Smith, maintained in court filings that prosecutors were attempting to harass Nix into giving testimony against her husband.
CASES FALL APART
Meanwhile, other cases against Paul Nix were falling apart.
There were charges in Lake County stemming from an incident a couple of days before the chase when Paul Nix was accused of assaulting a brother-in-law by threatening him with a rifle.
The Nixes had gone to Baldwin looking for a place to stay, and the brother-inlaw said he would let them stay only if there were no weapons and no violence, conditions that allegedly angered Paul Nix, according to a police report.
Paul Nix faced assault with a dangerous weapon and felon in possession of a firearm charges as a result of that incident.
Those were the charges Paul Nix apparently thought he was trying to get away from when he led police on the June 1 chase, though it later came to light that the Lake County warrant was only issued on June 2, so Nix would not have been arrested on those charges that night.
Nix also faced charges in Benzie County stemming from the chase and property damage at Crystal Mountain.
But in a court filing, Cooney sought to have the bond upped in Grand Traverse County late last year because prosecutors were having difficulties in the other cases.
In Lake County, a witness against Nix failed to appear for a hearing, having moved to Washington state, Cooney said in a motion. Charges in Benzie County were also falling apart, Cooney wrote, over “witness difficulties.” (Paul Nix was later convicted in Lake County of the firearm possession charge and charges in Benzie County are pending, Cooney said.)
NICHOLE NIX CHARGED, DESPITE DEAL
Cooney described Nix as a dangerous man who has an extensive record, a record that includes a previous felonious assault conviction and two jail-breaking convictions. He has spent 16 years in prison.
In fact, Cooney included a memo from a Grand Traverse County jail guard who said Nix threatened him.
According to the Sept. 14 memo, Nix was in the maximum security area when the guard entered with the jail chaplain and Nix wanted to tell the guard stories about his time in prison. When the guard told him he didn’t want to hear them, Nix got angry.
Nix said he would be out soon and “he had weapons that would penetrate my vest and that when he got out he would kill my family in front of me by peeling off their skin and then (he would) kill me,” the memo read.
Ultimately, Cooney’s goal was to send
Paul Nix back to prison.
Despite so many difficulties, Nichole Nix testified at her husband’s trial and Paul Nix was convicted of all charges.
Cooney, though, was not satisfied with Nichole Nix’s testimony. He said after the trial that he did not believe she testified truthfully.
He charged her with fleeing and eluding and felony child abuse on March 16.
The immunity agreement, Cooney said, only applied to truthful testimony given at trial, and he said he did not consider her testimony to be truthful.
Nichole Nix’s attorney, Janey Mistele, said she had no comment.