Drunken driver who killed veterans advocate Gary Lillie: 'I'll never forgive myself'
Minutes before he was led away to start serving his prison sentence, the man who killed Gary Lillie in a drunken driving crash sat in a suit next to his attorney, listening to Lillie’s family members tell him exactly what he took when he struck the veterans advocate.
When it was his turn to speak, Kevin Warren spoke softly. He apologized. He did not ask for forgiveness.
“I’d like to tell Mr. Lillie’s family, friends and the community how sorry I am for doing what I did the night of the accident,” he said. “I can’t ask for your forgiveness because I’ll never forgive myself. But, I hope in time you can find peace in your heart.”
Warren pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death in a plea deal late last year. Washtenaw County Trial Court Judge David Swartz sentenced him to between 19 months and 15 years in prison on that charge.
AnnArbor.com received videos of Warren’s sentencing hearing last week as a part of a records request.
Gary Lillie was killed at the age of 70 on Aug. 4, 2011 while taking a late-night walk on Marshall Road east of Baker Road. Warren was driving his Chevrolet Avalanche east on Marshall Road when he dropped his cellphone, reached down to grab it and struck Gary Lillie. Lillie died instantly and the impact threw him into a roadside ditch.
At the Jan. 11 sentencing hearing, three members of the Lillie family spoke about how Gary Lillie’s death affected them.
Gerard Lillie, Gary’s youngest brother, spoke about the long nights spent playing hockey in Ontario after Gary returned from serving in Vietnam.
“It was the best thing in my life at that time,” Gerard said. “I simply couldn’t wait to play hockey with my big brother.”
Each member of the Lillie family who spoke thanked Washtenaw County Assistant Prosecutor Brenda Taylor, Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Robert Losey and victim’s advocate Leann Kaiser for their assistance throughout the process.
Merritt Lillie, Gary Lillie’s only niece, gave an emotional statement to Swartz about her uncle, calling him “a mentor to many and an advocate for thousands.”
She still reads the email exchanges she had with her uncle, watches videos of interviews he gave and listens to past radio programs he hosted to hear his voice.
“I listen and watch so I can hear his laugh and to see him alive and smiling, doing God’s work on this Earth,” she said. “I loathe the fact that Kevin Warren took away my ability to email him and get a reply.”
Bernard Lillie echoed previous statements he’s made to AnnArbor.com, remembering Gary's memorial service and meeting the veterans he mentored.
He said the family never realized the impact Gary had on the veterans he worked for and all the family members learned more about him following his death.
Gary Lillie’s military service was one of the defining points of his life and Bernard said a trip back to Vietnam several years before his death brought his brother peace. Bernard said Gary went to a hill where he was stationed in Vietnam and met an old man who was a former Vietcong soldier who fought on the same hill.
“Gary had a small pine tree and a bag of soil from his 10 acres that he took with him, and some incense. Gary and his former enemy planted the pine tree together, burned the incense and each, in their own way, prayed for the brave dead soldiers from both sides,” he said.
Bernard continued, saying, “He came back from that trip, he told me, a changed man, rid all of all those demons who had haunted him all those many years.”
Following his attorney John Shea's statements to Swartz, Warren spoke about how he’ll remember the night of the crash, calling his decisions “selfish and irresponsible.”
Despite the fact that he could be spending the next 15 years in prison because of those decisions, Warren said he doesn’t feel they define him. He apologized to his family for what he did and thanked them for the support they’d given him.
He said there’s only one thing he won’t regret from that night.
“I made a lot of bad decisions on the night of the accident,” he said. “The only good decision I made was calling 911 and, regardless of the outcome today, it’s the only thing I won’t regret doing that night.”
- See Gerard Lillie's statement
- See Merritt Lillie's statement
- See Bernard Lillie's statement
- See John Shea's statement
- See Kevin Warren's statement