KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Charles Pickett Jr.’s behavior turned uncharacteristically strange and threatening in the days before he allegedly plowed into nine bicyclists, killing five, according to his friends.
The friends, Pamela and Beth, who didn’t want their last names used, said they spent the weekend before the crash with Pickett.
“From Sunday on, he just slowly progressed into a totally different person,” Beth told 24 Hour News 8 on Wednesday.
They say he threatened to hurt Beth and her boyfriend, who were staying with them that weekend at the Red Roof Inn in Oshtemo Township.
They also said he trashed one of the rooms and slept in front of a motel room door to keep his Pamela from leaving.
“He did some things that weekend that were just not Charlie, like held her captive and made threats to try to keep her there,” Beth said. “I think it was maybe that he was afraid if he let her go she wouldn’t come back.”
Pamela said Pickett, who has no criminal convictions, was on medication for back pain and was mourning the loss of a close cousin who had just died.
Despite some of the R-rated posts on his Facebook page, Pamela said he was a gentleman who opened doors for her. She said they had known each other for several years but started dating several months ago.
She said he was an auto mechanic who couldn’t work because of back pain and had moved back to Michigan from Tennessee to take care of his elderly parents.
“I think he’s having a mental breakdown, because there’s a lot of things that weekend that was not him, not him at all,” his girlfriend said.
They say he got drunk the weekend before the crash.
“He would take off and you wouldn’t see him for a little bit, then come back real agitated and irritated,” Beth said.
The women said they believe they were the last to talk to Pickett before the crash — saw him an hour and a half before it happened.
Late Tuesday morning, the day of the crash, Picket and Pamela went to his cousin’s funeral, according to her and his relatives.
Pamela said they then drove to his home near Battle Creek to pick up some things, before returning to the Red Roof Inn in Oshtemo Township to pick up her Jeep.
That was 4:30 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.
“He just acted very mad, angry, irritated angry,” Beth said. “He didn’t see anything about hurting anybody.”
They said he was angry because Pamela wouldn’t let him go home with her, but said they didn’t see him drink that day.
Pickett didn’t say goodbye as he left in his father’s blue Chevy pickup from the Red Roof Inn, they said.
“He sped off pretty fast,” Beth said.
Ninety minutes later, 911 callers started reporting a blue pickup driving erratically. A half hour after that, a blue pickup plowed into nine bicyclists, killing five.
Despite his bizarre behavior, they don’t believe he tried to kill the bicyclists.
Pamela said she had never seen him get angry behind the wheel.
“He didn’t say, ‘I’m going to go run over people today,’” she said. “No, that’s not Charlie.”
She said she is hurting for the bicyclists and their families. Both said they regret not calling police on Pickett the weekend before.
“I pray for them every day, all of them,” Pamela said. “I wish I could change it.”