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May 6, 2013

Woman charged in toddler's death

SUTTONS BAY — A Kasson Township woman is charged in the death of a toddler as he pedaled his tricycle on a Leelanau County road last year.

Gertrude Ann Shorter, 63, has been arraigned on a felony charge of failure to stop at the scene of an accident resulting in serious injury or death. She faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

Court documents state Shorter was driving her minivan on South Lakeshore Drive in Centerville Township on July 22 when she hit and killed Gavin Punter, 4, of Allendale.

The child was riding his tricycle on the paved shoulder of the road as his grandmother walked beside him. He immediately died from his injuries.

Leelanau County Sheriff's Department Lt. Clint Kerr said evidence showed Shorter was driving on the road's shoulder. He said she initially came back to the scene of the collision.

"She got out of her vehicle, found out someone had been hit and left," he said. "She told officers she didn't believe she hit anyone."

Doug Donaldson, chief assistant prosecutor for Leelanau County, said the fact Shorter returned to and then left the scene led to the charge.

"I felt that was her most culpable conduct," he said.

Donaldson attributed the long charging delay to Shorter's health problems and a long turnaround in blood test results. He said doctors informed authorities that medication levels found in her bloodstream did not indicate she was under the influence at the time of the accident.

April Sawhill is a partner at Farnum Attorneys at Law in Grand Rapids and represents the estate of Gavin Punter. She said the Punter family knows medication levels in Shorter's blood could have played a factor in the accident.

"They have an understanding that it was (a) high amount, but they don't know if it contributed," she said of the medication levels.

Sawhill said the family is pleased Shorter voluntarily released her driver's license. They've already reached a financial settlement in the case, she said.

Shorter was arrested May 3 and released on a $25,000 personal recognizance bond. She has been bound over to 13th Circuit Court for a pretrial hearing May 28 at 8 a.m.

She could not be reached for comment.


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