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Posted on Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 12:02 p.m.

Jury acquits Chelsea man of felony charges in motorcycle crash that killed two teenagers

By Art Aisner

A jury on Wednesday acquitted Chelsea resident Eric Smallwood on multiple felony and misdemeanor charges stemming from his role in a motorcycle crash that killed two teenagers in Sharon Township in 2008.

Smallwood, 21, was convicted of a misdemeanor count of allowing alcohol consumption by minors at his home before the Nov. 7, 2008 crash off Sylvan Road. However, jurors determined he was not guilty of allowing intoxicated persons to operate a motor vehicle and causing the deaths of Ian Hughes, 18, and Anna Herter, 16. He had faced up to five years in prison.


Eric Smallwood

“We based this case on the idea of lack of knowledge, and I just think there was a lack of evidence that Eric Smallwood knew Ian Hughes was intoxicated when he allowed him to ride his motorcycle,” said Daniel Geherin, Smallwood’s attorney. “This was a tragedy but not a crime.”

Smallwood could be sentenced to a maximum of 30 days in jail on Oct. 12. Geherin said he has already served longer than that since his initial arrest in the spring of 2009 and a subsequent bond violation.

Court officials said the jury deliberated for roughly four hours after hearing two days of testimony from investigators and friends of both Smallwood and the teenagers who died.

Authorities said Smallwood and the other teens partied at his home before they began racing on Smallwood’s four-wheeler and dirt racing bike on Sylvan, Heim and Grass Lake roads. A hunter found Hughes and Herter the following morning in a deep, wooded slope off the roadway, not far from a sharp turn. They died of severe head injuries and weren't wearing helmets, reports said.

Last year, Circuit Judge Donald Shelton dismissed the felony charges following a preliminary hearing where Smallwood’s attorneys argued there were too many unknowns about the crash investigation to parcel out blame.

The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed Shelton’s ruling, and prosecutors ordered a thorough analysis of the crash in April.

“We thought we were right on that law and appealed and it’s up to the jury to determine the facts. We respect their decision,” said Joe Burke, the county’s chief assistant prosecutor.

Geherin said Hughes showed no signs of being intoxicated and never conveyed to Smallwood or the others that he was under the influence, which prosecutors had to prove to substantiate the charge.

Smallwood didn't testify and is still coping with the tragedy, Geherin said.

“(Hughes) was one of his best friends that died, and it’s never been easy for him in terms of that, and in terms of having these serious charges weighing over his head,” he said.

Art Aisner is a freelance writer for Reach the news desk at or 723-623-2530.


Steve Pepple

Thu, Sep 23, 2010 : 7:16 a.m.

A comment was removed because it contained unverifiable statements.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 11:23 p.m.

aherter-- By the way the Hughes family did have something to do with the accident. Their son Ian Brought it TO the smallwood residence,no one but mr. hughes brought the alcohol just as proved in court by both girls who said Ian brought the liquor. And by the way no one allowed them to drink at the house, no parents were home.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 11:06 p.m.

aherter--- And lastly, The Hughes family do have something to do with the accident. IAN BROUGHT THE ALCOHOL TO THE SMALLWOOD RESIDENCE, as was proven in court. So actually the hughes family does have something to do with the accident THERE SON IAN BROUGHT THE ALCOHOL!!!!


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 11 p.m.

aherter----First of Eric did learn from this. He sold his 4 wheeler and hasnt been on one since. So do not act like you know. Second there was a reason he was found NOT GUILTY, because 12 random people from society thought this case was a joke, and that no one but the Hughes family should be held responsible. I am truely sorry for your loss aherter but you cannot blame Eric. He was not the one who rode the bike off the cliff. The girl that was on the back with him is alive and well. And are you kidding me, what kind of parents are gonna sit back and let the crooked state of michigan railroad a young kid? Of course his family is going to hire The Best lawyers in washtenaw county to beat this weak case. Its funny how the stupid prosecutor tried to say Mr. Smallwood encourages drinking and driving.... who is going to believe that. NO BODY I AM NOT SUPRISED AT ALL WITH A NOT GUILTY VERDICT. NOT GUILTY


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 9:57 p.m.

ChelseaKid1989 - First of all, I am NOT Anna's mother. Secondly, you were not there that evening and do not know the facts of what happened. Our family has NEVER received an apology from Eric or his family. The Smallwoods did not lose a family member and they (or you) have NO idea what we have been thru and are still going thru. Ian's family feels terrible about what happened that evening. Ian's family had nothing to do with the accident and they also had nothing to do with the underage drinking that took place at the Smallwood's residence. The Prosecutor's office will not pursue charges unless the law was broken and there is a reasonable chance for a guilty verdict. After reviewing all of the facts of the case the Prosecutor's office filed the charges against Eric, not the Herter family. If Eric was my son I would want him to own up to his lack of judgement, pay his dues, learn from it, apologize for allowing an intoxicated minor to drive his motorcycle and kill an innocent 16 yr old girl, and get his life on track to be a law abiding and contributing member of society. I certainly not hire the most expensive and slick criminal lawyers to "get him off". All that did was teach him he can continue doing what he wants when he wants with no repercussions for his actions. Enough said, I will not read or respond to any further comments on this article since my first post here was not respected.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 9:22 p.m.

also it was not only mr smallwoods decisions that altered this night but it was also the decisions of each and everyone of these kids involved, including anna. Anyone of these kids could have made a decision to go about something a different way but none of them did. If they would have known this was going to happen no one involved would have made the decions they made that night, including Mr. Smallwood. Anna made the decision to get on the bike just as ian and the other girl did, not knowing what was going to happen. How was Eric supposed to know if he didnt go along with things that he could have stopped something from happening.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 8:59 p.m.

Well first of all Mr. Smallwood is a smart kid and good worker. Second of all I do not know why Mrs. Herter wants to keep blaming him for what Mr. Hughes did. Mr. Smallwood feels very bad about this whole situation and doesnt know why Mrs. Herter keeps bad mouthing his good name. If she has too blame someone, do not blame my friend for your daughters death. The girl that was on the back of his 4 wheeler that night is alive and well. The only people that can be blamed and should be blamed is the Hughes family. For one Ian Hughes begged Eric to go out riding that, something he did not want to do because of the cold weather. But with the weight of peer pressure finally gave in and went out riding. And Mrs. Herter should not be mad that my friend Eric was found not guilty, anyone in the right mind would look at this case and be like why was Eric Smallwood charged in this. Anyone but Mrs. Herter and Mrs. Hughes. Two people who have no one else to blame but Mr. Hughes. Thats all I have too say. Sorry Mrs. Herter my friend was found not guilty, its time to move the blame onto someone else (I.E. the Hughes family) and move on with life.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 4:12 p.m.

We are extremely disappointed that the jury did not find Eric Smallwood guilty of the felony charges. Anna's death could have been prevented had: 1) Eric not provided his motorcycle to Ian to drive while intoxicated (Ian's blood alcohol content at time of death was.12), and 2) the Smallwood's NOT allowed underage drinking in their home. Anna did not even know Eric and Ian, she was there because her girlfriend wanted to hang out with them. The Prosecutor was not over zealous with the charges as they were all justified given the events of that night Anna lost her life due to others' extremely poor judgement. Anna was only 16 yrs old when she lost her life. She had the most beautiful smile and sweet disposition. Anna did not get to graduate with her class this past spring, she will never get to experience getting married, having a family of her own, and all of the other little and big things in life that most of us take for granted. Anna's death was tragic and senseless. If you post a comment here please remember that her family members may read them. AND this was the worst TRAGEDY our family has ever experienced. Definition of tragedy according to Webster's dictionary = a disastrous event.


Sat, Sep 18, 2010 : 9:47 a.m.

The tragedy in all this is that a son will never know is Dad... The tragedy is that the dead did not have a voice.... The tragedy is that a mom had to sit through months of trial,to represent her son even in death.... Why a best friend,was never invited for dinner, or sleep over, were they really best friends? Why did Eric spent so much time in jail you may want to research that!!! I do realized that all families involved suffered a great deal, more than some can imagine, but "to swear to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth "remains to be heard and seen.And yes the day could have ended differently.....

Bob dabalina

Fri, Sep 17, 2010 : noon

I think it is very important to note that the jurors were prudent in their decision making process. When you have a case with high emotions it is easy to get distracted from the facts. Judge Shelton dismissed one of the felony counts but the prosecutor's office challenged the judge's reasoning. The jurors need to be commended for maintaining a civil and balanced approach. Thank god our judicial system allows us to be judged by a pool of our peers and it is our civic duty to serve our community when called upon by the court system.

Milton Shift

Fri, Sep 17, 2010 : 11:39 a.m.

One other thing - so is the prosecution going to reimburse this guy for the false imprisonment he was subjected to? He served more time, *without a conviction*, than he can even be sentenced to. Maybe he could start by sponsoring his tuition at a university of his choice? There needs to be some personal accountability for things like this.

Milton Shift

Fri, Sep 17, 2010 : 11:36 a.m.

I am happy for Eric - shame on the prosecution for trying to take two ruined lives and turn it into three. Why must we always hunt for someone to punish whenever anything bad happens?

Bob dabalina

Fri, Sep 17, 2010 : 7:43 a.m.

Mr Smallwood wisely choose to hire 2 of the very best criminal defense attorneys in Washtenaw county that being Joe Simon and Dan Geherin. I have personally seen these 2 attorneys work in the courts and they are simply brillant. When you have an overzealous prosceutor leveling serious charges such as these, you better have the best attorneys you can afford or the outcome could have been very different for Mr. Smallwood. My Prayers go out to all families involved.


Fri, Sep 17, 2010 : 7:25 a.m.

That Eric lost some close friends is awful. That he will have to live with that as part of himself for the rest of his life is punishment enough. That the prosecutors chose to not only charge him, but to then appeal the decision - that IS a tragedy in all meanings of the word and does not make me proud of our officials. Have they nothing else to do than compound the awfulness of this situation? My heart goes out to both families and their friends.


Fri, Sep 17, 2010 : 5:23 a.m.

"Authorities said Smallwood and the other teens partied at his home before they began racing on Smallwoods four-wheeler and dirt racing bike" Since the four-wheeler and dirt racing bike were his he does hold some responsibility. He knew they had been drinking and handed over the keys to vehicles that can be dangerous, and helmets were not worn. He facilitated this scenario; he did not have to provide alcohol to underage people or allow them access to his vehicles. While I do not know the type of punishment this would call for he should be held responsible for his role in deaths.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 5:52 p.m.

I congratulate both attorney Dan Geherin and Judge Shelton as two top legal professionals whose respective performances ensured the correct result was obtained. The Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office, sadly attempted to compound this tragedy by overcharging the defendant and he was needlessly forced to languish in jail why this case was pending. This sad set of circumstances, however, should serve as a reminder to all of the potentially fatal dangers associated with the consumption of alcohol and the importance of wearing safety helmets when operating these types of vehicles. My sympathies go out to the families of all involved.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 3:46 p.m.

Unless you were at the trial and heard all of the evidence, How can anyone make an informed decision or opinion. I believe Mr.Geherin defended Mr. Smallwood rights to the fullest extent under the law and that is his constitutional right.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 3:36 p.m.

Why are some people so wrapped up on a word? Seems very detached from the actual story...a guy gets convicted of allowing minors to drink on his property, then some minors take off on a dirt bike and end up dead...should not the focus be on something other than people rambling on about one single word? least this young man is being held accountable for his actions...while I do wonder though, if perhaps he had not allowed the minors to consume alchohol [illegal] would the day have ended differently?


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 2:56 p.m.

Convicted of allowing minrs to consume alcohol on his property...yeah, that never leads to something bad happening.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 2:38 p.m.

"A tragedy, is when the person knows of the fate that awaits, yet still continues onwards regardless of that knowledge, and ultimate doom." No, that is NOT the defination of a tragedy. That might be the defination of stupidity. The loss of those two young lives, THAT is a tragedy.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 2:17 p.m.

My heart goes out to Eric, his family, and to the families of Ian and Anna. I can't imagine how any of them must feel.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 1:23 p.m.

Eric Smallwood should never have been held accountable for the actions of his best friend. While he exercised poor judgment and could've done more to prevent his friend from riding off to his death, he certainly did NOT commit a crime. This is a just verdict.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 11:55 a.m.

@Scott Perhaps because that is one of the definitions for the word? From the OED, definition 3: An unhappy or fatal event or series of events in real life; a dreadful calamity or disaster.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 11:49 a.m.

Probably the best outcome that can come from all this. How awful. And yes, it is a tragedy, based on how the dictionary defines the word. Not that that is even worth mentioning here.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 11:23 a.m.

I imagine this has and always will weigh heavily upon this young man's heart and mind. Perhaps if anything good can come from this tragedy - it will be that he makes the choice to live his life in a way that honors the memories of the friends that died.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 11:19 a.m.

It's not a TRAGEDY. Why must people, and especially lawyers, misuse this word to convey something that happened was bad. A tragedy, is when the person knows of the fate that awaits, yet still continues onwards regardless of that knowledge, and ultimate doom. It's tantamount to people who say "I work at Ford's"....arrrgh! This situation was awful, but not a TRAGEDY.....