Police investigate Tsatsos case despite lack of evidence
Next week would have marked the end of Ryan Tsatsos' freshman year at Central Michigan University.
The Macomb freshman was 17 when he was struck by a car and killed Nov. 1 while walking back to his residence hall with a group of nine friends.
His killer has not been found.
The Michigan State Police Department has closed 66 tips that were called in by the public, but none have led to the person who fled after hitting Tsatsos. Lt. Gary Green said the department is counting on continued participation from the public, because no evidence was found at the scene. A $5,000 reward is being offered for information.
Numbers to know
Michigan State Police: (989) 773-5951
Crime Stoppers: (800) 422-5245
Two tips were called in last week. One resulted in a dead end. Police are still in the process of testing the paint found on another car.
Green is the leader of a team that's been on the case from the beginning. The day after Tsatsos' death, he and the two troopers who responded the night of his death went over the statements of friends with Tsatsos that night.
"We started canvassing the neighborhood, going over security footage that we could find anywhere," he said. "There were a bunch of times people (in the footage) got out and looked at their cars, and we followed up on every one of them."
Before they were able to pull paint samples off Tsatsos' clothing, police followed every tip, no matter the car. The general consensus between witnesses was that it was a dark-colored sedan. Later, police found the car is a metallic dark blue, an aftermarket paint that doesn't match with any specific company — making it difficult for police to match with a make or model.
Because of media coverage and tips from the public, troopers investigated cars as nearby as Merrill Hall and as far away as St. Ignace.
"I got search warrants and we scraped paint off cars," Green said. "We sent in five different paint samples from vehicles to our lab to compare with the particles found on Ryan's clothing. We were finding cars that looked like an exact match."
Green said soon after the crash, a woman was telling people she hit Tsatsos. She owned a blue SUV with damage on it. Green said troopers obtained her phone records and found she was not near Crawford Road, where Tsatsos was hit, on Nov. 1.
"We pull at every straw we can," he said. "I might go a week without (a tip) and then get a few. They were coming in fast and furious at first, but as time goes on they've kind of dwindled off."
Green doesn't tell the Tsatsos family every time a tip comes in. He doesn't want to get their hopes up, something Tsatsos' father Paul said he appreciates.
The night of Tsatsos' death, three state troopers knocked on the door of their Macomb house. Paul and Tsatsos' mother Julie, were still grieving the loss of their older son, Darryl. Paul said he was in disbelief.
"I thought, 'OK, he got arrested, he got an MIP.' It didn't hit me that they wouldn't come to my house for an MIP," Paul said. "I saw the third officer was the Michigan State Police chaplain. They told us Ryan had been hit and killed."
Members of the Tsatsos family say they need closure. Julie said knowing who did it wouldn't solve her grieving, but it would help to know the person who killed her son is being held accountable.
"I think their sentence will be worse because they're not even helping us figure this out," she said. "I think it will eat them up inside. They have to sleep with that every night."
Factors in the crash
There were a lot of variables troopers found when investigating the crash.
Tsatsos and his friends had been at Deerfield Village — police saw them exit the complex in security footage. It was Halloween night.
"There's a lot of parties, and that strip of road doesn't have sidewalks. The ditches are in the way," he said. "It's raining like crazy. You've got this group of kids and they're just trying to get back."
Given that Halloween is one of Mount Pleasant's busier weekends, Green said people driving could have been from anywhere.
The group was walking north on Crawford. From what police have been able to gather, they were near Concourse Street. Because of the small shoulder on Crawford, Green said some of the students were walking in the roadway.
One said they heard the car stop at the stop sign at Deerfield Road and Crawford. Other witnesses said they don't know where the car came from.
As they headed north, the driver "clipped" Tsatsos, Green said.
Emergency workers came to the scene and mapped out the roadway, documenting things of interest. Green said rain probably washed away some kind of evidence.
"There weren't any (car) parts or skidmarks," he said. "There was no breaking. It tells me either the person intended to run the kids over or didn't see them. There was nothing to indicate they tried to avoid these kids. I find it hard to believe someone intended to do it. Given the circumstances, this was probably an accident."
Police believe most of the witnesses were drinking that night.
Despite the lack of evidence, Green said it is likely the driver will be found. He believes it will come from the public pointing police in the right direction.
"Time isn't on our side, but this is hard for someone to live with," he said. "From what I know about human nature, you sitting on this, at some point you're going to tell somebody. I am very optimistic that at some point someone is going to come clean."
Tips can be anonymously reported to police and Crime Stoppers.
Paul has called some tips in himself, trying desperately to find the person who hit his son.
"What were you thinking? You knew you hit somebody," he said. "Even that day if you had been drinking, if you were scared, when you woke up the next day and saw all the media coverage, why didn't you come forward?"