KALAMAZOO, MI — Jason Brian Dalton will stand trial for the Kalamazoo shooting spree that left six dead and two seriously injured.
Dalton, 45, of Cooper Township, appeared in court for a preliminary examination today, where Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting presented testimony and evidence against him.
Dalton is charged with six counts of murder, two counts of assault with intent to commit murder and eight counts of felony firearm use in connection with the shooting rampage Feb. 20 at three locations in Kalamazoo County. He was found competent to stand trial at an April 22 hearing.
Today, after hearing from several witnesses, Kalamazoo County District Court Christopher Heinecke found sufficient probable cause that Dalton committed the crimes to bind him over to circuit court for trial.
Dalton, who worked as a driver for Uber, has told detectives he was possessed by the Uber app on his cellphone at the time of the shootings and that the app took over control of his vehicle, according to police reports obtained by the Kalamazoo Gazette under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.
Key witnesses in the preliminary examination included Tiana Carruthers, who survived the shooting and Alexis Cornish, who witnessed the shooting deaths of her boyfriend, Tyler Smith, and his father, Tyler Smith.
Around noon, Carruthers again took the witness stand to testify, following a morning of testimony which was cut short after Dalton had an outburst in the courtroom, causing Carruthers to break down sobbing. The afternoon started with Dalton appearing via video from the Kalamazoo County Jail.
Carruthers said she was shot four times the afternoon of Feb. 20 at the Meadows townhomes. She described that the first bullet hit her in the left arm, then one hit her in her right leg. She tried to continue to describe her injuries but had to stop and compose herself.
“I just remember him shooting, shooting,” Carruthers said. “I tried to move but I couldn’t move. I tried to get under the car. … I just pretended like I was dead already.”
Carruthers said a bullet remains lodged in her liver and her arm is being completely reconstructed. She said she looks like the bionic woman, with metal in different parts of her body.
“I hurt every single day. Every single day I hurt,” Carruthers said, crying.
Cornish, the girlfriend of Tyler Smith, testified that she witnessed the shooting of her boyfriend and his father, Rich Smith as they were looking at a truck in the parking lot of Seelye Automotive on Stadium Drive, around 10:08 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20.
Cornish said Tyler Smith drove to the Seelye Auto dealership on Stadium Drive. His father, Richard Smith, was in the passenger seat and she was in the back seat. After the Smiths got out to look at a pickup truck, Cornish, who was still sitting in the back seat of the Range Rover, saw another car enter the parking lot.
She said she saw a man walk by the Range Rover whom she described as “not too tall, not too short, a little bigger — heavy, with grey hair and glasses.” The man was wearing all black from what she saw, Cornish said.
“He walked up to Tyler and his dad and asked them what they were looking at,” Cornish said. “They turned around and went to tell him they were looking at the blue truck but they didn’t get the chance.”
“He pulled out the gun and started shooting,” Cornish said. “They said: ‘What are you doing?’ That’s when I ducked behind the seat.”
Cornish said she lifted her head up and saw the shooter try to get into a black vehicle on the sale lot by the pickup truck, but the door was locked. He then turned around and walked back from where he came.
Cornish said she had a “side view” of the shooter as he was firing. Following the shooting, Cornish said, she got out of the car and retrieved Tyler Smith’s phone from his pocket and called 911.
Other witnesses included:
Michigan State Trooper Cody Donnay, who said victim Barbara Hawthorne, who was shot in a car in the parking lot of Cracker Barrel in Texas Township, was alive and still talking to dispatch when he arrived on the scene. Donnay said she had multiple gunshot wounds and he held pressure on her chest wound until medics got to the scene.
Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Officer Scott Brooks, who tended to 14-year-old Abigail Kopf at the scene. Brooks said he and another officer removed Abigail from the car and performed life-saving measures on her.
“She was slouched in the floorboard of the passenger seat as though she was hiding,” Brooks said.
Abigail had a single bullet wound in her head and there was a lot of blood and brain matter, Brooks said. She was in and out of the shooting. He performed first aid and helped wrap her head.
Sgt. James Harrison, who conducted the traffic stop on Dalton’s vehicle, said he was concerned for his safety during the stop. He found a loaded pistol in Dalton’s right pocket.
Harrison said he asked dispatch to run plates, based on vehicle description and suspect description and shootings.
“It was a close proximity to a match so my gut instinct told me to be safe, to get several other units before we stopped the car in case it was involved,” Harrison said.
Kalamazoo Department of Public safety officer Tod Neldon said he found 16 shell casings at the Seelye Auto scene that were 9 millimeter shell casings. He said 9investigators found 19 firearms at Dalton’s house, including a 9 millimeter Glock handgun and ammunition. When asked how much ammunition, Neldon said, “more than I can count.”