Defendant in vehicle death case pleads guilty in 2012 city crash

MARQUETTE – A Gwinn man charged with leaving the scene of a fatal July 4 crash has pleaded guilty to two five-year-felonies.

Luke Eugene Huotari, 30, is scheduled for sentencing Feb. 15. He pleaded guilty to 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 by Huotari 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 was the driver of a white 2000 Honda CRV involved in the crash.

Huotari’s attorney, Karl Numinen of Marquette, said this morning that the Michigan State Police accident reconstructionist determined that Huotari was not at fault in the accident, adding that Huotari did not take a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to both counts as originally presented.

“The police investigation determined that Mr. Huotari was not responsible for the cause of this accident,” Numinen said. “Had he simply stayed after the accident he would never have been charged with a crime. His crime was leaving the scene of an accident. He was not drunk and was not negligent in his driving.”

Numinen said Huotari has felt “wrecked by this and has been extremely remorseful since the day it happened. … It’s a horrible, tragic accident. But that’s what it was – it was an accident.”

Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese was unavailable for comment this morning.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.