DETROIT (WWJ) – As a 54-year-old Roseville man clings to life in the hospital following a brutal mob beating on Detroit’s east side, many are starting to wonder if the whole thing was racially motivated.
As first reported by WWJ Newsradio 950, an 11-year-old boy suffered a broken leg on Wednesday when he was hit by a pickup truck after walking into the street near Morang and Balfour. The driver, Steven Utash, immediately got out of his truck after hitting the boy and was viciously attacked by 10 to 12 men. The beating was so brutal, Utash was rendered unconscious.
Utash’s son Joseph told WWJ’s Gary Lundy Thursday night that his father remains in a medically induced coma, nearly unrecognizable due to his injuries.
“If it went on any longer, my dad wouldn’t be in the hospital right now, he would be in the morgue. The way he looked, I am surprised that he is alive,” he said. “He has bruising over his face, his eyes are swollen, I believe it’s his left eye that is completely swollen shut. He also has a big, huge knot on his forehead like he got hit with an object, not a fist.”
Joseph Utash said he was working with his father in Detroit just hours before the attack. Both of the men are tree-trimmers, working in the city for years now.
“I came home from work and it was on the news, my dad’s pickup truck, and I was just like ‘Oh my god.’ Then I heard that he hit a kid and I was like freaking out that my dad hit a kid. And then I heard that bystanders just beat him up and I just, I called my mom immediately,” he said. “From what I’m hearing is he tried to fight back, but trying to fight back against 11 people fighting you, that’s 22 fists coming at you at once, you can’t really do much.”
Detroit Police Sgt. Michael Woody said Steven Utash was not at fault for the accident.
“Our preliminary investigation shows the child stepped in front of his vehicle,” Woody said. “He did exactly the right thing. He stopped his vehicle, he got out and he tried to render aid to a small child. He did exactly what he was supposed to do… It was a small child and it was an accident is what it was.”
State Rep. Alberta Tinsley Talabi (D-Detroit), told WWJ Legal Analyst Charlie Langton the incident appears to have racial overtones, adding, “it’s wrong.”
Joseph Utash said although it was tough to stomach, he watched video of the incident.
“It shows the kid, he was standing on the curb with his dad and as my dad’s truck was coming down the street, the kid stepped right in front of my dad’s truck. My dad had absolutely not one chance in the world to try to swerve out-of-the-way or stop,” he said. “He got out of the car to check on the kid and before he even got up to the kid, he got assaulted by 11, 12 people. They jumped all over him and beat him up. While they were jumping him, somebody else jumped in the truck and stole his belongings. They took his wallet, his cellphone, everything out of his truck.”
Sgt. Woody said the gas station at the corner where the accident happened is a popular neighborhood gathering place, so it was no surprise that there were 20 or 30 people at the scene of the attack.
“It didn’t take very long for people to converge on the area when they saw the accident take place,” Woody said. “When the child was struck, he was in a lot of pain, there was screaming and crying. He was terrified, I’m sure, and I think that’s what drew the attention of the people in the immediate area.”
One woman stepped in to help Steven Utash. Nurse Debra Hughes intervened and stopped the attack: “He was already down, bleeding from the mouth and the nose – so there wasn’t nothing else they could do to him but kill him,” she said.
“Then EMS came and I kept him calm, I kept his hands down and everything so he could be comfortable,” said Hughes. “He had the biggest gash on his head I ever seen – he was bleeding from the mouth and he was unconscious when I first got there … being a registered nurse, I thought I could go out and help him.”
Joseph Utash said he believes his father was intentionally targeted or even worse, that skin color might have played a role. Based on witness accounts, the attackers were African American.
“I’ve talked to one Detroit police officer and I think that, personally in my own heart, I think it was all a setup from the gate,” he said, “meaning that my dad’s been driving up and down Morang for 15, 16 years working for the same company and they know he has a job, they know he has money and they robbed him. You know, he had a bag with all his stuff in it. He showed me that he had all this money in his wallet that morning, telling me he just took the money out of the bank so he could pay his dentist.
“As far as a hate crime, it might be,” he said. “You know, it’s like you go in Detroit and you’re white, you don’t belong. Seriously. I’ve been pulled over by police before and they’re like ‘Get back across 8 Mile,’ like I’m not supposed to be over there, like I’m not allowed to go in Detroit.”
Police declined to say if investigators thought the attack was racially charged.
The boy, David Harris, is expected to recover from his injuries, according to his uncle, Desmond Key. No arrests have been made in the beating, but the boy’s father was taken into custody, on an unrelated warrant.
“At this point, based on [the pickup driver’s] condition, there’s some pretty serious charges that we’re looking at,” Sgt. Woody said.
Police are hoping the public can help investigators find those responsible for the beating.
Anyone who witnessed the attack, can identify the assailants, or who has any information about this case is urged to call Detroit police at 313-596-1616. Tips can be made anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-SPEAK-UP.