DETROIT (AP) — A teenager and two men were charged Tuesday in the brutal beating of a suburban Detroit man after he accidentally hit a child who stepped off the curb into the path of his truck.

Police, meanwhile, credited a nurse with saving the life of driver Steve Utash by stepping between him and the half-dozen or more men who punched and kicked him after the April 2 accident on the northeast side of Detroit.

The incident left the 54-year-old Utash, a tree-trimmer from Macomb County’s Clinton Township, with severe head injuries. He is in a medically induced coma.

Bruce Wimbush Jr., 17, Wonzey Saffold, 30, and James Davis, 24, were arraigned Tuesday on charges of assault with intent to murder and assault with intent to commit great bodily harm. Wimbush and a 16-year-old boy were arrested Saturday.

Utash could have been killed if not for Deborah Hughes, a 56-year-old nurse who put herself between the mob and the downed man, according to Detroit police Sgt. Michael Woody.

“She is nothing less than a hero,” Woody told The Associated Press. “She basically kneeled and laid down with this guy to get them to stop hitting him. She essentially saved this guy’s life. They wouldn’t have stopped.”

Police Chief James Craig visited Hughes on Tuesday to thank her, Woody said. The AP left a voicemail Tuesday at Hughes’ home.

Hughes told The Detroit News for a story Tuesday that she was watching from a window in her home when David Harris, 10, was hit by Utash’s truck. She ran outside to tend to the boy and that’s when the mob descended.

“(Utash) was screaming, and they were beating him, and kicking him,” Hughes told the newspaper. “I said, ‘Please don’t hit him anymore,’ and they backed up.

Everybody cleared the way and gave me room to work on him.”

David Harris was treated for leg and other injuries.

Not-guilty pleas were entered Tuesday for Wimbush, Saffold and Davis during video arraignments in 36th District Court. Magistrate Millicent Sherman set bond at $500,000 for each of them.

The 16-year-old was being held in the county’s juvenile detention center but has not been charged, according to the Wayne County prosecutor’s office. He faces a hearing Saturday.

Requesting a low bond for Wimbush, defense attorney Randall Upshaw told the court the teen had a minor role in the attack and pointed out that he has never given his parents any problems.

A couple who identified themselves as Wimbush’s parents declined to comment.
Investigators were trying to determine if the attack was racially motivated. Utash is white. Members of the mob are black.

Detroit is more than 80 percent black. The city and its mostly white suburbs have had a long history of racial strife.

“I have full confidence that the Detroit Police Department and Wayne County prosecutor’s office will conduct a comprehensive investigation to resolve this deeply troubling case and determine whether state or federal hate crime laws are implicated by the incident,” longtime U.S. Rep. John Conyers said Monday in a statement.

A fundraising campaign on the webpage to pay for Utash’s medical expenses had raised nearly $135,000 by Tuesday. A goal of $50,000 had been set.

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Corey Williams

Associated Press