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Posted on Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

West Willow homicide: Investigators working on leads, but no suspects identified

By Kyle Feldscher


The Washtenaw County Sheriff Department investigates a fatal shooting in Ypsilanti Township early Wednesday morning, Jan. 30. Brandon Charles, scheduled to testify in a Detroit freeway shooting case, was shot to death Tuesday night.

Courtney Sacco |

Calder Avenue was quiet Tuesday night before gunshots rang out, ending a man’s life. A day later, investigators still were working to determine who might have pulled the trigger.

A woman who lives on Calder, in Ypsilanti Township’s West Willow neighborhood, reported hearing three or four shots outside her home. It wasn’t until she heard car doors opening and shutting repeatedly a few hours later that she looked outside to check what was going on.


Brandon Charles

Courtesy photo

“I never did hear anything else until I heard the car doors opening and closing,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous due to fears about her safety. “I looked out there and saw the cars and the street was closed off.”

In the immediate confusion of the night, she said she thought the home was on fire. After recognizing a police investigation was going on, she said she thought, “Maybe someone got shot.”

It took until morning for the woman to realize what she heard were the shots that killed 28-year-old Brandon Charles.

Charles was found dead in the driver’s seat of a Ford sedan at 10 p.m. Tuesday in front of a residence in the 600 block of Calder Avenue. He died from gunshot wounds in his torso.

According to deputies, Charles was visiting a friend at the home. As of Wednesday evening, police did not know the circumstances that led to Charles being shot or who pulled the trigger. Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office deputies are actively investigating the case.

Charles’ death came hours before he was set to testify in a preliminary exam in Wayne County.

According to state police, Charles and a woman — believed to be his girlfriend — were leaving MGM Grand Casino in Detroit early on Jan. 1. The car they were driving was involved in an accident with a Ford Expedition. Two men in the Expedition then followed Charles and the woman, driving in a Land Rover, down M-10 and onto Interstate 94.

At I-94 near Junction, the Expedition pulled up next to the Land Rover and shots were fired. Charles was hit once and the woman was hit nine times. Willie Lee Wimberly, a 30-year-old from Trenton, and Steven DeShawn Smith-Rush, 33 of Inkster, have been charged in the shooting. Both are free after posting bond.

Coverage of Brandon Charles’ death’s coverage of the shooting in West Willow that killed Brandon Charles.

At this point, police are not sure whether the two shootings are related. Both Charles and the woman were set to testify on Wednesday in the 36th District Court. That hearing was adjourned after news of Charles’ death reached Wayne County.

Neighbors have reported hearing multiple gunshots in West Willow Tuesday night. According to police, the first 911 calls reporting the shooting came about 9:45 p.m.

Sheriff’s office Sgt. Geoffrey Fox said investigators were doing interviews and following leads in the case Wednesday. More information regarding the timeline before Charles’ death could come Thursday.

“We have leads and people we want to talk to, but no one I would say is a suspect,” Fox said.

Fox did not know if the woman in the road rage shooting case had been placed into protective custody or if investigators were concerned for her safety following Charles' death. He said the state police are handling that case.

Charles did have previous run-ins with the law. Fox confirmed the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office had previous contacts with Charles regarding drugs, weapons and assault-related offenses. However, Fox said Charles was not known to be affiliated with any gangs in West Willow.

Tuesday's fatal shooting is another worrisome moment for the neighborhood woman, who has lived in West Willow for years and years but said she feels continually less safe. She refused to give her name to because, she said, “I don’t want someone to come here and shoot me.”

Many of the people she originally knew in West Willow have either died or moved. With violent crimes in the neighborhood, it’s hard to feel comfortable, she said.

“It’s scary. We bought this house years ago,” she said, “I don’t really like living in this area now.”

Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.


Kyle Feldscher

Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 5:21 p.m.

We've received a different photo of Brandon Charles and I've loaded that into the story. It might take a few seconds to load, please bear with us.

Bill Fear

Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 2:51 p.m.

Is the underlying issue gun control ? Isn't it ironic that armed criminals know the MGM Grand and all casinos in Michigan are "Gun Free Zones." A current law bans law abiding Michigan citizens, who possess "right to carry permits" to carry concealed firearms in the parking facilities that service the casinos. Unsubstantiated reports, I have received; say there have been an enormous amount of armed robberies in the casinos parking lots. This incident sounds like a robbery gone wrong. The alleged criminals probably attempted a bump and rob scenario when their Ford Expedition bumped the Land Rover driven by Mr. Brandon Charles, and when this tactic was unsuccessful the Suspects opened fire of the fleeing casino guests. Well this is what happens when Guns are Outlawed - Only the Outlaws will have guns. If this bothers you, Please contact your legislatures in Lansing and encourage them to vote for increased flexibility for Michigan residence, with licensed concealed carry permits-and training, to carry concealed firearms – in current restricted sites - in order to deter crime. Secondly, the courts set the bond for Willie Lee Wimberly, of Trenton, at $250,000.00 cash. Sounds to me he is a "Bad Dude." Probable Felon committing a felony with a unregistered firearm. So my question is : why doesn't the courts enforce the existing firearms on the books ?


Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 11:26 a.m.

I feel sorry for the senior citizens who are so afraid to live in WW any more.


Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 11:16 a.m.,I'm pretty much a unfeeling, cold hearted jerk.But is it really necessary to use the mug shot of a murder victim ? the guy was a witness not a perp in this case


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 1:11 a.m.

When I questioned the mug shot in the original story John Counts tried to claim it wasn't a mug shot. Mr. Counts stated: "It's not necessarily a mugshot. It's a photo provided by the WCSO of the victim."


Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 11:58 p.m. option would have been to just not post a photo...but i guess nobody ever thought of that...glad they finally changed it

Kyle Feldscher

Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 4:13 p.m.

tdw- I agree, I spent a lot of time looking around the Internet yesterday trying to find something other than this photo. Unfortunately, this was all we had. We'll continue to look for something else as we report on this case.

Area Man

Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 3:42 p.m.

Especially when the title says "no suspects identified"...

Area Man

Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 3:41 p.m.

I agree. When I initially skimmed the article, I thought the mugshot was that of a suspect in the murder. Not the victim. I was confused for a second.


Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 1:01 p.m.

Paula....That's all good and fine.But it is obvious that it's a mug shot.For some reason the first thing that popped into my mind was how it would make his mother feel. Please don't think I was insinuating that you were being disrespectful.My Drivers license photo is much more scary than his photo. P.S. You really need to add a edit option.I should have said " victim" not " witness"

Paula Gardner

Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 12:46 p.m.

We did talk about that. We worked very hard to get another photo and will continue to do that today. I felt like this photo wasn't much different from the average driver's license photo and didn't portray him in a way that was disrespectful (like many mug shots can be).


Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 11:36 a.m.

Just to add to my comment, I guess I'm thinking more about the guys family.I'm pretty sure they are going through enough right now and don't need that.That mug shot could be for most anything.