CORUNNA — The man accused of causing the death of an 84-year-old Marine veteran in a traffic crash during a May 2018 police chase told prosecutors he “zoned out” before fleeing a traffic stop on M-13.
Doran Duncan, 28, of Lansing, is on trial this week in 35th Circuit Court on charges of first-degree murder, carrying a concealed weapon, firearm possession by a felon, operating while intoxicated causing death and reckless driving causing death — all of which stem from an incident that ended in a collision with George Ramos’ vehicle in Venice Township at M-13 and I-69. Duncan faces the possiblity of life in prison if convicted of the murder charge.
Duncan was the only defense witness called after the prosecution rested Thursday morning. The prosecution rested its case after testimony from police officers and DNA forensic technicians.
Ramos’ May 2018 death brought to a conclusion an incident that began on M-13 in Saginaw County. Duncan’s then-girlfriend, Kayla Hitz, fired a weapon during a dispute along the side of the highway, which resulted in police being called.
Thursday, Duncan testified he was in a relationship with Hitz and had been living with her in Saginaw for about three months.
“I was watching her kids while she was at work,” he told the jury, adding he told Hitz he wanted to end their relationship and go home to Lansing. She agreed to drive him to Lansing, Duncan said, and during the ride, the two argued. He said she became angry when he questioned her “parenting skills,” and stopped the car along M-13 in Saginaw County. She then got out of the Cadillac, started walking, pulled out a 9mm pistol and began firing near Duncan’s feet.
Hitz’s use of the firearm attracted attention and police were called. After the two resumed their drive, a Shiawassee County sheriff’s deputy soon spotted the couple’s white Cadillac on M-13 in Shiawassee County and stopped the car. Hitz exited the vehicle and Duncan then jumped into the driver’s seat and fled south with then-Lennon Police Chief Rich Folaron in pursuit.
Minutes later, Duncan crashed into Ramos’ vehicle, killing the elderly man.
Hitz was not charged in the crash, but later pleaded guilty to a pair of minor charges, serving seven days in jail and paying a fine.
Duncan testified that he feared the police — as well as Hitz — and that is why he fled the scene.
Prosecutor Deana Finnegan asked Duncan during cross-examination why, if he feared for his life, he didn’t follow police orders during the traffic stop and instead fled the scene.
“I zoned out,” Duncan said. “I wasn’t thinking.”
He said he tried to avoid Ramos.
“I tried to brake at the last minute, but I couldn’t stop,” he said.
Duncan told the court the two weapons recovered at the scene were not his. He said he didn’t know Hitz had the .40 caliber pistol.
Prosecutors suggested the .40-caliber pistol was Duncan’s, rather than Hitz’s. Finnegan noted the .40-caliber pistol fit into a foam holster found at the crash scene on the passenger side of the car — where Duncan had been sitting. But defense attorney Doug Corwin pointed out that Hitz’s 9mm pistol also fit perfectly into the holster.
Thursday morning, Michigan State Police Trooper Denis McGuckin testified he arrived at the crash scene with his K-9 “Jax.” He said there were 15 to 20 people on scene when he arrived, including police personnel and civilians. He was concerned about clearing the scene for safety reasons.
McGuckin testified that after the Cadillac Duncan was driving had been pulled away by a wrecker from a guard rail it crashed into, he found a 9mm pistol police later determined belonged to Hitz. He said he found the pistol “pointing up on the (passenger side) floorboard.”
Shiawassee County Sheriff’s Office special deputy Sam Safi testified Wednesday that he had retrieved a .40-caliber pistol from the same location in the vehicle before McGuckin arrived. Safi did not mention in his testimony seeing the 9mm pistol found by McGuckin, which was also located on the passenger-side floorboard of the car.
Forensic expert testimony followed McGuckin’s, including Michigan State Police forensic lab analyst Samantha Hopcraft. She said DNA from Duncan and Hitz were found on both weapons at the crash scene.
Michigan State Police forensic biologist Joanie Johnson testified “mixtures of DNA samples” were found on both weapons, including that of “unknown” individuals, along with those of Duncan and Hitz.
Also testifying Thursday morning was Dr. Patrick Hansma, who examined Ramos’ body following his death. He stated the cause of death was the result of “blunt force injuries.”
Closing arguments in the case were scheduled for this morning, before the case goes to the jury.