DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Several hundred people gathered at a Detroit church Thursday to pray for racial peace and for the health of a white Macomb County man who was brutally beaten by a black mob after he stopped to help a child he accidentally struck with his pickup truck.
Relatives of Steven Utash, the man who was beaten, joined Mayor Mike Duggan and other city leaders, clergy of various faiths, and complete strangers at Historic Little Rock Baptist Church for what was billed as a night of healing.
Utash, a tree trimmer from Clinton Township, remains hospitalized. He was listed earlier this week in critical condition and in a medically induced coma. The boy he struck was treated for several injuries, including to one of his legs.
Four men, ranging in age from 17 to 30, accused of taking part in the April 2 attack face charges of intent to murder and assault, and a 16-year-old boy has been charged as a juvenile with assault and ethnic intimidation.
The attack, in which police say at least six people jumped Utash when he exited his truck on the city’s east side, has become a scar on the face of the city, which is going through bankruptcy and struggling with high crime rates.
Police said the mob might have killed Utash if not for the actions of Deborah Hughes, a black nurse who saw the accident from her window and rushed to help the boy before turning her attention to shielding Utash from his attackers.
“I pray that your father gets up tomorrow,” Hughes told the Utash family at Thursday’s event.
More than a dozen of Utash’s family members were in attendance, including his brother Ken, who encouraged those gathered to support police in the ongoing search for suspects.
“I feel good that people are coming together. We’re real thankful for all their prayers and thoughts,” he said.
Both Hughes and the family received standing ovations.
“We have to thank God that in the midst of evil we still have good Samaritans,” Greater Grace Temple Bishop Charles Ellis III told the crowd. “We are here to celebrate good neighbors. They come in all age groups … all ethnicities … all colors.”
Beverly Pittman, 65, said the attack was “just terrible.”
“We have to show the world we are concerned about any individual and color doesn’t matter,” she said.
Chuck Gaidica, a former Detroit television personality and now pastor at a church in Troy, reminded whites and blacks at the service of their relationship to one another.
“We are all part of the fabric that makes up this great city and our proximity to one another makes us all brothers and sisters,” said Gaidica.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig said their investigation into the beating is widening and more arrests could be forthcoming.
“We’re optimistic,” Craig told WWJ’s Charlie Langton. “Detroiters are coming forward and we’re getting it done. You know, it’s been challenging because we don’t have good video but it’s coming together. We’re at five now.”
Because Utash is white and the mob was described as all black, many — including Utash’s son — have questioned whether the attack was racially motivated. But authorities say that’s not necessarily the case.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said her office “can prove beyond a reasonable doubt the crimes of assault with intent to do great bodily harm and ethnic intimidation” against the 16-year-old. He has a court hearing Saturday.
“In the case of the four adult defendants that have been charged, the facts and the evidence do not support a charge of ethnic intimidation,” Worthy said.
Latrez Cummings, 19, was charged Thursday with assault with intent to murder and assault with intent to do great bodily harm. He’s expected to be arraigned Friday.
Seventeen-year-old Bruce Wimbush Jr., 30-year-old Wonzey Saffold and 24-year-old James Davis were arraigned earlier this week on the same charges and are being held in the county jail on $500,000 bonds pending preliminary examinations on April 21.
“I’ve got to really applaud the great work by the men and women of the Detroit Police Department because a sense of urgency certainly has been the order of the day on this and so we are trying to bring some sense of closure,” Craig said.
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