Archived Story

Ask Trooper Rob: Hitchhiking legal in Michigan, but not recommended

Published 10:49pm Thursday, September 6, 2012

Q: I saw someone walking on South 11th Street in Niles, a very busy road, and it appeared this person was hitchhiking. Is this legal?
— Cindy from Niles

A: Cindy, after researching this, I could find nothing in the Michigan Compiled Laws concerning hitchhiking. If it’s not listed as illegal, it is legal. However, you do bring up an interesting issue, safety and other legal issues.

Obviously, it is never recommended to hitchhike. The person just doesn’t know whom they are getting in the car with. Same issue with picking up hitchhikers; you don’t know who you are picking up. Both could be very dangerous situations. A person who hitchhikes is usually walking in a roadway and with the flow of traffic, although Michigan law states that a person walking or running shall walk or run on the left side of the road, facing traffic. I did find a law in the Motor vehicle Code (MVC), 257.679a, Limited access highway; restrictions … which states “… nor shall a pedestrian, bicycle, except as provided in this section, or other non-motorized traffic be permitted on a limited access highway in this state …” (2) A person who violates this section is responsible for a civil infraction.

On a Sunday afternoon, Sept. 9, 1984, Tpr. Robert J. Mihalik, 37, was assigned to the St. Joseph Post. About 5:15, the Post received a phone call of a brown Cadillac leaving a gas station without paying for $35 worth of gas. Milhalik, only six miles from the station, responded.

Within minutes, Mihalik saw a vehicle matching the description, approach from behind. After exiting from I-94 onto Red Arrow highway, he was able to maneuver behind the suspect vehicle. Although the vehicle was not listed in the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN) as stolen, it was discovered later to have been stolen from Don Massey Cadillac in Plymouth, Mich., on Sept. 4. By 5:20, Mihalik was able to stop the vehicle on Red Arrow Highway and Shoreham Avenue, just east of the village of Shoreham. Mihalik identified and questioned the driver, Frederick Burrell of Detroit, about the stolen gas. It appeared to be a routine investigation until Burrell started fighting with the trooper. During the struggle, Burrell was able to grab the trooper’s revolver and shoot him twice in the chest. It is believed that due to the heat and humidity that day, Mihalik did not have his vest on.

Before he fell, Mihalik was able to pull out his .38 snub-nosed backup revolver and return fire, striking Burrell in the hand.

Burrell then fled the scene, only to be stopped and arrested by a Berrien County sheriff’s deputy and a St. Joseph police officer. The trooper’s revolver was found.

Responding officers administered first aid and Mihalik was transported to Memorial Hospital in St. Joseph, where he was pronounced dead about an hour after the shooting.
Burrell was charged and convicted with murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Mihalik served two years in the Army and attended Lake Michigan College, Western Michigan University and Michigan State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He enlisted in the MSP on Jan. 14, 1973. Awarded a posthumous Valor Medal, Mihalik is buried in Stevensville and was the 38th trooper to die in the line of duty.

On a side note, during the Berrien County Fair, I was very honored to speak to a person who was running that day and had passed that location about 15 to 20 minutes before the shooting. I also spoke with a young lady who married Mihalik’s son. Present with her were her two children — Mihalik’s grandchildren.

It was humbling to be in the presence of a part of Michigan State Police history.

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