TRAVERSE CITY — Thomas Harold Ray raised his arms in a mix of celebration, relief and exhaustion. That all soon gave way to tears after a jury unanimously acquitted him Friday on one count of a moving violation resulting in the 2017 death of David Owen Williamson.
"My heart goes out to the family. I'm constantly grieving for them," Ray said outside of the Grand Traverse County 86th Circuit Court building.
Authorities said Ray, 57, drove a pickup on Silver Pines Road and struck David Owen Williamson, 54, as he was riding a bicycle Sept. 5, 2017. Williamson later died at Munson Medical Center from the injuries he suffered in the crash.
Matt Vermetten, Ray’s attorney, said a bright sunset combined with wet roads created an “intolerable glare” that made driving difficult for Ray. He likened the conditions to black ice — “he couldn’t avoid it,” he said.
Ray drove approximately 40 mph, wore sunglasses, used a sun visor and “hugged” the centerline to mitigate the effects of his diminished sight. Grand Traverse County Assistant Prosecutor Kit Tholen contended Ray should have and could have done more.
“It was bright. He needed to slow down and be attentive,” Tholen said. “If he would’ve done so, Mr. Williamson would still be alive.”
Prosecutors took more than a month to review the case and combed through crash reconstruction reports to determine whether to file criminal charges. Police reports show Ray initially struck Williamson before a crossover SUV following closely hit Williamson after he fell to the ground. Authorities did not arrest either driver at the scene, and the second driver has not been charged.
Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney said he respected the jury's decision but that he was disappointed in the outcome.
"When you get into what constitutes careless conduct, the instructions have quite a bit of subjectivity," he said. "This was not an easy decision for the jury. It was obviously a very emotional decision."
Jurors deliberated for 6.5 hours through the end of the day Thursday, resuming Friday morning. They reached a verdict at approximately 12:45 p.m.
"The jury clearly made the right decision, but it was after a great deal of deliberation. This jury was perhaps the most attentive jury I have ever seen," Vermetten said. "When you have a case like this, there's tragedy all around."
Ray clasped his hands, pointed and mouthed 'Thank you' to the jurors as they left the courtroom, some with their head down and tears in their eyes, others stone-faced.
"I'm blessed to have a jury that saw through the smoke and mirrors," Ray said. "Praise the Lord."