KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — St. Joseph County Sheriff Mark Lillywhite will serve one year of probation after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor charges related a drunken driving crash from earlier this year.

The sheriff made his plea Monday morning during his arraignment at the Kalamazoo County courthouse. Addressing the court, Lillywhite apologized.

“I’d like to say that I’m sorry to those involved in the incident on that night, everyone that had to respond or anyone who was involved that night,” he said. “I’d also want to say sorry to the citizens that I represent, the people that work at the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Department. I let them down.”


Lillywhite pleaded to a count of operating while intoxicated and a count of carrying a weapon while under the influence of alcohol, both misdemeanors. He will not lose his certification to be a police officer under state standards but the probation means he may not carry a gun.

“I just want to let everyone know that I was in a dark place prior to that incident and I have taken aggressive steps to ensure that this type of behavior will not repeat itself,” Lillywhite told the court.

His lawyer Michael Hills told Judge Richard Santoni that Lillywhite has got counseling following the crash and that prosecutors did not recommend jail time.

“My client is 47 years old and has an excellent work history. He has been working as an officer for almost 30 years with zero criminal history,” Hills told the judge. “It’s been difficult especially the last five, six years. He has been working two jobs actually, including sheriff of St. Joseph County, to help alleviate some of the pressure inside his family dynamic. We all stumble, we all fall. I think it’s a question of what happens after we get back up, if we get back up. In this particular case, Mr. Lillywhite, within a week of this incident, started taking things extremely seriously.”

The crash happened around 2:20 a.m. Feb. 26 on US-131 near West YZ Avenue south of Schoolcraft. Authorities say Lillywhite, of Three Rivers, rear-ended another car, causing it to roll. No one was seriously hurt.

This still image taken from Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Office body camera video shows the scene after St. Joseph County Sheriff Mark Lillywhite was involved in a crash on Feb. 26, 2023.
This still image taken from Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office body camera video shows the scene after St. Joseph County Sheriff Mark Lillywhite was involved in a crash on Feb. 26, 2023.

Data pulled from Lillywhite’s SUV showed he was going nearly 100 mph in the five seconds before the crash and that he never hit the brakes. The people in the car that was hit and witnesses said the SUV’s headlights were not on.

The SUV was the sheriff’s duty vehicle and had three guns in it. Police reports show that Lillywhite told troopers he wasn’t driving, though he was the only person in the SUV.


Troopers said Lillywhite was visibly drunk, his eyes bloodshot, staggering and slurring his speech. A blood draw a few hours after the crash showed his blood alcohol content level was .25, more than three times the legal limit of .08.

That BAC means Lillywhite could have faced Michigan’s so-called “super drunk” charge for first-time offenders with a BAC over .17. Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting said the fact that there were no serious injuries in the crash and Lillywhite’s decision to plead guilty and seek counseling factored into his decision to not file the super drunk charge.

“The outcome wouldn’t have been and different at all. Mr. Lillywhite was sentenced to probation. He was convicted of two offenses. In Kalamazoo County, that is the typical sentence for this type of crime.” Getting told News 8.

But Getting acknowledged how the negotiated plea and sentence might play in the court of public opinion.

“I get what the general public’s feelings about this are,” Getting said. “But the truth is that this outcome in the same for Mr. Lillywhite as it would be for John Doe or Jane Doe.”

One question not addressed in court was Lillywhite’s future as sheriff. He was appointed to the office in 2020 and then elected in 2021 to a term that runs through 2025. As of Monday, the undersheriff was still running day-to-day operations at the sheriff’s department. The undersheriff said Lillywhite would decide when to return. Approached for comment after the hearing, Lillywhite would not tell News 8 whether he would remain in office. His attorney said he thought the sheriff should remain on the job.

“He stumbled, he fell, he’s getting back up right now. And I’m going to encourage him to stay in office,” Hills said. “He’s getting better. He accepted responsibility right out of the gate.”