Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Tuesday

November 5, 2013

Mayor Estes pleads guilty to reduced charge

TRAVERSE CITY — Mayor Michael Estes stands before Traverse City voters today and asks forgiveness for his recent drunken driving arrest.

On Monday, he stood before 86th District Court Judge Michael Stepka and pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of driving while impaired. Stepka accepted the plea, but said he wanted Estes to answer more questions about his drinking and a past incident before he’s sentenced.

“I don’t want to rush this through,” Stepka said.

Estes, 63, was arrested Oct. 23 on suspicion of drunken driving after a Traverse City police officer spotted his pickup truck weaving through bike and turn lanes on Eighth Street. He was heading home from a candidate forum and a breath test found a blood-alcohol content of .12, above the state’s .08 legal limit.

Stepka ordered Estes to complete a thorough substance abuse assessment that details how much, when and where he drank on Oct. 23. He also had questions about a 1994 reckless driving conviction in Antrim County and a subsequent civil suit that alleged Estes’ intoxication led to a head-on crash that injured a woman.

“The goal of this sentence is not only to protect the public, but to provide you with appropriate rehabilitation and the things you need so this doesn’t happen again,” Stepka said.

Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney said his office offers an impaired driving plea to first-offense drunken driving cases that do not involve accident, injury and a blood-alcohol content below .13.

“It’s not only common, but it’s been policy of (the prosecutor’s) office as long as I’ve been here, and that’s been 20 years,” Cooney said. “It’s important for me to note: Mayor Estes was treated just like anyone else; no better, no worse.”

Cooney acknowledged his office didn’t know before the plea offer of Estes’ 1994 guilty plea that dropped an operating while impaired charge; almost all records from the case seem to have been destroyed or expunged years ago. Cooney said it was “frustrating” that court records are incomplete and a state police background check found no criminal history.

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