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Second full day of testimony underway in bicycle crash murder trial

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Charles Pickett Jr. murder trial

KALAMAZOO, MI -- Kalamazoo County jurors are hearing a second full day of testimony Thursday, April 26, in the murder trial of Charles Pickett Jr., the driver accused of running over nine bicyclists, killing five, in June 2016.

Police allege Charles Pickett Jr., now 52, of Battle Creek, had methamphetamine, muscle relaxers and pain medication in his system at the time of the June 7, 2016, crash on North Westnedge Avenue in Cooper Township.

Pickett faces five counts of second-degree murder and five counts of operating while under the influence causing death for the deaths of Debra Ann Bradley, 53, of Augusta; Melissa Ann Fevig Hughes, 42, of Kalamazoo; Fred Anton "Tony" Nelson, 73, of Kalamazoo; Lorenz John "Larry" Paulik, 74, of Kalamazoo and Suzanne Joan Sippel, 56, of Augusta. 

He also faces four counts of operating while intoxicated causing serious injury for the injuries caused to bicyclists Jennifer Johnson of Kalamazoo; Sheila Jeske of Richland; Paul Runnels of Richland; and Paul Gobble of Richland.

The nine riders were out for an evening ride as part of a social cycling group called the Chain Gang. 

Bicycle crash survivors testify about injuries, memories from June 2016

On Wednesday, the four survivors testified that they had no memories of the crash but that they still deal with daily pain from it.

Jennifer Johnson, who led the ride that day, said she remembers seeing the sign for Markin Glen Park. Her next memory was waking up, seeing her right arm tangled in a fence and seeing burrs in her clothing. She said she started to scan her body.

"I struggled when I couldn't find my right leg," Johnson testified. "I found it very acutely over my right shoulder."

Johnson described several injuries she sustained in the crash, including a broken right femur, a broken tailbone, a concussion, torn neck ligaments, broken teeth and poison ivy. 

Kalamazoo County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Kanaby told jurors in his opening statement they will hear that Pickett attended a family member's funeral the day of the crash and that he had been depressed. Kanaby said jurors will hear from a friend of Pickett's who wanted to leave and Pickett didn't want her to. Pickett downed the pills, including Tramadol, a pain killer, and Flexeril, a muscle relaxer, Kanaby said.

"When she said 'I'll see you later, his parting words to her were "I'll be better off dead,'" Kanaby told jurors.

Pickett was driving 58 mph in the 35 mph zone and didn't apply his brakes until hitting the first bicyclist, Kanaby said.

Defense attorney Keith Turpel said while the crash was a tragedy, the evidence is insufficient to convict Pickett of all the charges brought against him.

In all, more than 40 witnesses are expected to testify over the span of the two-week trial.

If convicted, Pickett faces up to life in prison.

Follow live coverage of Thursday's testimony in the comments with this story.

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