Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 31, 2013

Lawsuit accused Estes of intoxication in 1994 crash


— TRAVERSE CITY — A 1995 civil lawsuit accused Michael Estes of driving while intoxicated and causing a crash that injured a woman in Antrim County.

Estes, who is seeking a second term as Traverse City mayor, made a public apology Wednesday for his Oct. 23 drunken driving arrest. Estes said he won’t answer any further questions about the incident outside of the legal process. He also declined to discuss a 1994 crash that prompted the civil litigation.

“I shattered my life one time and I’m not going to answer that question,” he said before hanging up on a Record-Eagle reporter.

A personal injury complaint filed by an attorney for Patricia Yates in 13th Circuit Court stated that in 1994 Estes was driving south on County Road 593 when his vehicle crossed the center line and caused a head-on crash with Yates’ vehicle. Estes, the lawsuit said, failed to “refrain from operating a motor vehicle on the highways of the state of Michigan while intoxicated.”

Yates sought damages for facial fractures and a knee injury suffered in the crash.

She could not be reached for comment.

The civil case was filed against Estes after he entered a guilty plea around the same time in 86th District Court to a charge of reckless driving. An operating while impaired charge was dropped in the criminal case.

Estes’ attorney for the case, James Hunt, didn’t return calls for comment.

Traverse City attorney Mark Bickel, who represented Estes in the civil case, said it happened so long ago he didn’t remember any particulars of the complaint or its resolution.

“When he got elected mayor, I remembered his name and his face looked familiar,” he said. “I knew there was a case.”

Estes denied his vehicle crossed the center line and caused a head-on crash in an answer to the allegations filed in the civil case. The document states Estes “neither admits nor denies” a list of allegations that included failing to refrain from driving intoxicated or yielding the right of way.

Records show 13th Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power excused himself from the case, citing a personal relationship with Estes. The case then switched to Judge Phillip Rodgers, but a settlement was reached in mediation before it reached his courtroom. All records relating to the settlement are non-public.

The 86th District Court destroyed files relating to the reckless driving case. Its records also show that Estes has several traffic-related convictions, including six speeding violations, between 1991 and 2004.

The convictions were removed from his driving record after their resolutions.

Estes is scheduled to be arraigned in 86th District Court on Nov. 4.

— Record-Eagle staff writer Brian McGillivary contributed to this story.