Jeremy Shank receives probation for fatal crash

Published 7:14 am Tuesday, August 29, 2006

By By NORMA LERNER / Dowagiac Daily News
CASSOPOLIS – Friends who had known each other since pre-school went joy riding in a Corvette before their junior-senior prom at Dowagiac Union High School April 29.
But a speed of up to 130 mph ended in a tragedy when the car left the road and hit a tree, causing the death of Hunter Topping, 16, of Dowagiac.
Driver Jeremy Shank, 18, of 57424 Wilbur Hill Road, Dowagiac, broke down Friday morning in Cass County Circuit Court when he said how sorry he was for the accident before receiving 50 hours of community service and three years of probation.
A 90-day jail term will be suspended for one year depending on how he complies with probation.
Several family members and friends of both sides of the families were sobbing during an emotional sentencing hearing before Judge Michael Dodge, who ordered Shank not to drive a motor vehicle for the first year during his probation period.
Hunter Topping's mother, Michelle Topping, addressed the court and told how the loss of her son was one of the most difficult things for a parent to go through.
She pleaded for this type of tragedy to stop but knowingly said it "happens every day."
She cried as she told Dodge, jail is not what Hunter would want. "Jeremy has a life." She added, "Jeremy is a good kid. I ask you to be lenient on him."
Prosecutor Victor Fitz noted it was a "true tragedy. One is dead. One is alive. Hunter is dead because of the act of Jeremy. Their son is gone forever. Both parents in this matter are loving. They are Christian individuals. Both Scott Topping and Michelle Topping understand forgiveness and healing," he said.
Fitz said some jail time would be appropriate, even though Shank faced two years in prison for negligent homicide.
"There is a message that it was a life and other kids need to be aware of the consequences. There was no malice or intent. Teens must understand vehicles are not toys. It is serious," he said.
Dodge recounted it was April 29 before the prom. David Briegel, a family friend and retired president of Southwestern Michigan College, told Shank he would loan his 2002 Corvette to Shank to take to the prom if he improved his grades. Shank took Topping for a ride to go on an errand before the prom. He opened up the car to 130 mph and lost control before hitting a tree on Yaw Street.
Hunter died in a helicopter on the way to Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo. "For a brief time you exercised poor judgment," Dodge stated.
Dodge noted it was a difficult sentence for the court. "Carelessness results in death. I have seen where a husband killed his wife, brothers killed sisters, a twin brother kill his twin brother."
Dodge emphasized that Shank was an outstanding young man with no record.
There was no use of alcohol, drugs or drag racing.
"It was a careless act. Nothing can rectify the tragedy," he said.
Dodge concluded that he would follow the probation department recommendation for community service, especially to speak to high school students around prom time.
Representing Shank was Matthew Vicari who said it was devastating to both families and the community.
He said Shank was terribly sorry for what happened and will live with this for the rest of his life.
"If he could change things, he would, but he knows he can't." He said the family is thankful for the support of the Topping family. "Both are good people," he said in asking the court to follow the pre-sentence recommendations.
Shank was imposed costs of $1,440 in probation fees, $570 in court costs and restitution of $18,393.20.