FLINT, Mich. — Four teens who had been throwing rocks off a highway overpass, and who were with a fifth friend whose rock struck a man’s windshield and ultimately killed his passenger, will be sentenced as adults, a judge ruled on Tuesday. He cited that the boys had repeatedly joked and laughed about the matter and the possible ramifications in SnapChat messages in explaining his rejection of a plea deal that would have sentenced them as juveniles.
According to reports, the incident happened in 2017 as the four Michigan teens — Mark Sekelsky, Alexander Miller, Trevor Gray and McKayden Payne — and one 18-year old, Kyle Anger, began engaging in a “game” to throw various items off overpasses into traffic.
“What was the purpose? Wait till the road cleared and [then] drop to see it break? No. The goal was to make contact in a game called ‘Overpassing,’ to be able to say aloud, ‘Dinger,’ when a car was hit,” explained Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Farah last month, according to NBC25 News and other outlets.
Farah believes that the teens knew their actions could hurt someone based on the size of the objects, which included “tire irons, a muffler, a shopping cart and a couch.”
In October 2017, the teens engaged in rock-dropping off an overpass on I-75 near Flint, Michigan, and a six-pound rock, tossed by Anger, hit the windshield of a van, striking passenger Kenneth White, 32, first in the face and then his chest. He later died from his injuries, which included a fractured skull and injury to his brain. Nearly two dozen other rocks that had been allegedly thrown by the teens were found on the highway.
White had a five-year-old son and was engaged to be married. His father told reporters that he had buried both of his parents and his oldest brother all within a four-year span, and now he was also having to bury his son.
“There’s no words to describe it,” Kenneth White Sr., told local television station WNEM. “[T]his is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
All five suspects were charged with second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit second-degree murder, and malicious destruction of property. Anger, who was 18 at the time of the crime and thus charged as an adult, pleaded guilty to the murder charge. The other four — one 17-year-old and three 15-year-olds — agreed to a plea deal to plead guilty to manslaughter in order to be sentenced as juveniles.
However, on Tuesday, Judge Farah rejected the plea deal, pointing to SnapChat messages between the teens in which they used terms such as “LOL” or “haha” 51 times, even after learning White had died, which showed a lack of remorse. He read some of the messages to those in the courtroom.
“We could possibly go to prison for life from this,” one of the messages read, according to ABC News. “You guys knew what could’ve happened. And, if we do get caught — which we won’t — it’s our own fault. LOL. We gotta take our punishment. Lay low for a while and everything will be fine.”
Farah also stated that the teens talked about getting teardrop tattoos in light of White’s grieving family.
“Well, maybe we should [get] tattoos with ‘Crip Gang’ next to the tattoo,” one suggested.
The teens’ attorneys expressed disappointment with Farah’s ruling, stating that it was unfair for the youth to be charged as adults.
“I think laws of treating juveniles like adults is political,” Michael Manley told NBC25 News.
However, White’s mother, Theresa Simpson, said the decision was exactly what she had been praying for.
“I’m so glad that Kenneth is getting the justice he deserves. … My prayers were answered,” she told WXYZ-TV. “I’m ecstatic over the decision that was made today. … It’s what we all wanted for him.”
Appearing on “Dr. Phil” last year, the parents of one of the teens apologized for their son’s actions.
“I’d like to ask if [the family] could please accept our apologies, and we hope that someday they can be able to forgive the incident,” said Michael Payne, father of McKayden Payne.
In Matthew 24:12, Jesus said that in the last days “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”