Teen charged with driving under influence of marijuana in fatal crash avoids prison with deal

A Chesaning Township 18-year-old charged with driving under the influence of marijuana when he killed a Saginaw man in a violent 2011 crash has avoided prison with a plea agreement. Harley J. Mellentine appeared before Saginaw County Circuit Judge Fred L. Borchard on Monday, March 11, and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of committing a motor vehicle moving violation causing death.In exchange for the plea, prosecutors will drop a felony charge of operating a motor vehicle under the influence causing death. The misdemeanor charge to which Mellentine pleaded carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail, while the felony carries a 15-year maximum prison sentence.There was no sentencing agreement.Mellentine, who last lived at 8211 Chesaning, was charged in the Nov. 22 crash on Sheridan near Willard in southern Albee Township in which Mark Burkhart, 37, died as he was driving to work. Police have said that Burkhart was driving just before 7 a.m. when Mellentine, driving north to an auto-making instruction class in Bridgeport Township, attempted to pass a truck in front of him.Mellentine's attorney, James Piazza, said Monday that there was a “severe problem” of whether there was any THC in Mellentine's system at the time of crash.A Michigan State Police report showed that there was 0.2 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood present, Piazza said; the charge Mellentine faced did not require a specific level of THC because marijuana is a “zero tolerance” drug in motor vehicle cases. Testimony from Mellentine's preliminary hearing showed that based on those THC levels, Mellentine likely smoked marijuana six hours prior to the crash.Piazza said that an independent examination of Mellentine's blood sample showed no levels of THC. In addition, Piazza said, the state police have changed its minimum THC requirements from 0.2 to 0.3. Piazza said Mellentine passed the truck without proper clearance.Garabelli said then that Mellentine likely was moving at a “high rate of speed” in order to pass the truck. Sheriff's Lt. Randy Pfau has said that detectives were unable to estimate the speed because there was no pre-impact braking, and neither vehicle had a “black box” recording system.The driver's side of Burkhart's Ford Mustang largely was collapsed and torn away from the steel frame, with parts laying across the field where the vehicle landed. Garabelli said the Mustang went airborne before landing against a pine tree.Mellentine's Buick sustained heavy front-end damage. The hood was ripped almost completely from the vehicle. A shattered spot in the windshield corner marked where the teen's face smashed upon impact, Garabelli said.Mellentine was hospitalized after the crash.