Detroit police say mob attack on motorist may be hate crime

Steven Utash poses with his children in a family photo. Utash family photo/CBS Detroit

DETROIT - Two more suspects were arrested in a mob attack on a motorist who had struck a child and Detroit's police chief said Monday investigators were working to determine whether the brutal beating was a hate crime.

So far four suspects have been taken into custody in the beating of Steven Utash, 54, of Clinton Township, who remains in critical condition and in a medically inducted coma.

Police say Utash was driving his pickup truck on the east side of Detroit on April 2 when he struck a 10-year-old boy who had darted out into the street. When Utash got out of his vehicle to help the child, he was set upon by as many as a dozen men.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig said investigators were examining whether the attack should be treated as a hate crime. Utash is white and all the attackers were believed to be black.

"We're widening the scope of our investigation," Craig told The Detroit News. "Both our strategy and the prosecutor's strategy is widening, and those factors are being looked into very closely. I can't reveal some things about our investigation, but that (a hate crime classification) is definitely something we're considering."

In Michigan, ethnic intimidation is a felony that carries a possible two-year prison sentence. There are also federal hate crime laws.

Craig dismissed suggestions that the beating was a case of vigilantism. He said Utash was not at fault. Police have previously said that the driver was not to blame for the accident, and that he did the right thing in remaining on the scene and trying to help the victim.

"What happened to that man was tragic, and should not have happened," the police chief said.

Utash's son said Monday he believes the attack was a hate crime.

"It has to be a racial thing," Joe Utash told CBS Detroit's Newsradio 950.

The son said he had watched videos of the attack.

"There's people that literally just pulled up at that gas station to get out of their car and walk around their car to go up to my dad and kick him, and just kick him over and over and over again," Joe Utash said.

Police said two men, ages 24 and 30, were arrested Monday in connection with the attack. Their names were not immediately released.

Two teenagers were taken into custody over the weekend. Bruce Edward Wimbush Jr., 17, was charged with assault with intent to murder and assault with intent to do great bodily harm, prosecutors said Monday. The younger boy, who is 16, was not immediately charged but was being held at a juvenile detention facility

The 10-year-old who was struck by Utash's pickup suffered a broken leg. Joe Utash told WWJ that the boy's family had asked to meet with Utash's family members, but he said he wouldn't want a meeting until the investigation was over.

Deborah Hughes, a nurse, was apparently the only bystander to come to Utash's aid. She said she told the attackers to back off the already seriously injured man.

"He was bleeding, he had a big gash on the side of his head and he couldn't take any more licks and I wasn't willing to stand there and let them keep beating him," Hughes told WWJ's Newsradio 950.

She said Utash lost consciousness but when he came to, he repeatedly asked if the boy was OK.

"He was so traumatized, this man was like, 'Is he all right? Is he all right? Oh Lord, tell me he's OK. I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she said. "He didn't drive off. He got out the truck and he walked back, and they just beat him like he was nothing."

Craig, the police chief, blamed a "culture of violence" for the attack.

"I' ve not seen this kind of violent culture in other cities," he told the Detroit News. "It certainly exists, but not to this extent. ... This happens in other places, too, but it's all too common here. And Detroiters are getting fed up. They're tired of being victims."

Utash, a self-employed tree trimmer, does not have health insurance, according to relatives. A campaign set up online had raised more than $126,000 as of Monday evening to help cover his medical expenses. Family members say the cost of his treatments runs from $17,000 to $20,000 per day.

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