http://www.themorningsun.com/articles/2010/08/10/news/doc4c61da43a7c73276382804.txt Jealousy, rage and race: Behind the Cabin tragedy
Published: Tuesday, August 10, 2010
By RICK MILLS
Justin Luckhardt, left, was in a jealous, race-fueled rage when he shot Kim Luchie, right, at the Cabin bar with a 10-shot Glock semiautomatic handgun he was licensed to carry, then shot himself with the same weapon after crashing his car two miles away.
Pure happenstance put Justin Luckhardt and Kim Luchie at The Cabin bar on July 13, sending Luckhardt into a rage that ended in a murder-suicide.
Anger had been brewing for months for Luckhardt, who was separated from his wife, convinced she had an African-American boyfriend and was prone to mean and jealous rages when he drank.
Luckhardt’s anger boiled over when he saw Luchie, a black man, drinking with his sister-in-law.
Luckhardt, 32, had split a 12-pack of beer and four shots while golfing with a friend at nearby Riverwood golf course before the pair stopped at The Cabin for more beer that day.
“I think he thought he was shooting his sister-in-law’s boyfriend,” said Mt. Pleasant Detective Dave Tuma.
Between his three stops at The Cabin that night, Luckhardt showed a friend an assault rifle in his trunk, expressed anger enough to kill and left a suicide note of sorts, according to police reports.
Luchie died of multiple gunshot wounds to the neck, chest and abdomen, all fired by a .357 Glock semiautomatic pistol with a 10-round clip.
Luckhardt had a Michigan concealed weapons permit and had been licensed to carry a gun since 2008.
The suicide note left at the home of Luckhardt’s parents, where he’d lived after separating from his wife, instructed that his belongings go to his young son; nothing to his wife or her family.
“They… have pushed me to this point,” he scribbled in a nearly-illegible note. “This has not been premeditated.”
Police speculate that Luckhardt wrote the note after his second stop at The Cabin that night, when he shot a photo of his sister-in-law and Luchie, and before he returned a third time and began shooting with the pistol he almost always carried.
“Justin had some emotional problems and was getting some help,” Tuma said. “He was seeing a counselor and trying to get on antidepressants – but not fast enough, in hindsight.”
Details of the night’s tragic events are layed out in an inch-thick police report, containing interviews with at least 20 witnesses, friends and family members, obtained under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.
Isabella Prosecutor Larry Burdick said the case is closed, the only suspect dead, and no criminal charges will be issued.
Tubing, then trouble
Luchie and co-workers from JC Penney, including Luckhardt’s sister-in-law, had enjoyed an afternoon tubing on the Chippewa River and reconvened at the bar after changing clothes.
Luchie, 25, had a longtime girlfriend in Grand Rapids and was not romantically involved with any co-workers, those interviewed said.
Luchie and his friends had noticed Luckhardt casting “dirty looks” and “looking upset” at his sister-in-law even before he approached and shot photos of her and Luchie.
Knowing of Luckhardt’s suspicions about his wife, at one point the group discussed that Justin might think Luchie was his wife’s boyfriend.
Police have since discounted that theory.
Witnesses detail how Luckhardt’s rage grew between the first and second stops at The Cabin that night.
His golfing partner provided details.
“Justin was mad and was talking that right now he could kill them,” the friend said. “And to prove that, he opened up his trunk and pulled a rifle bag out.”
After a brief argument, the pair left The Cabin for O’Kelly’s bar, where Luckhardt dumped him – claiming he had to use the restroom.
The friend ordered a beer and some nachos and, eventually realizing he’d been stranded, called for a ride.
Later, hearing that Justin had shot someone and killed himself, the friend called police, knowing he was probably the last one to see him before the shootings.
Police initially speculated, because of the rifle and a bulletproof vest in Luckhardt’s trunk, that he intended to shoot more than Luchie.
Interviews and evidence gathered since then, however, pointed only to the likely intent of a single murder and suicide.
Tuma admits the rifle and vest, obtained from a friend in the military, might point to some far-flung idea, but police now believe the rifle was kept in the trunk because of an anti-gun sentiment among Luckhardt’s family.
Jealousy and rage
Both originally from the mid-Michigan area, Justin and Lori Luckhardt had returned in May after a stint in South Carolina, where Justin studied to become a golf-pro.
Lori told police that jealousy issues began in South Carolina, where she worked at a Wal-Mart and would sometimes go out with friends from work, some white and some African-American.
“She stated it got so bad in South Carolina that when she would walk past an African-American male, Justin would ask her if that was her boyfriend,” the report said.
Things worsened when they returned to Michigan.
“Justin was a very jealous person and when he mixed alcohol with that jealousy, he could be very mean,” Lori told them.
Eventually, the couple separated – Lori moving in with her mother; Justin with his parents, all in rural Shepherd.
Lori’s sister-in-law told police that Lori would get text messages from Justin in the middle of the night, indicating he’d driven by her parents’ house. There also was an incident where she suspected he had drained the oil from her car.
Lori Luckhardt sought a personal protection order against Justin in Midland County, but a judge said there was not enough evidence of a threat and refused to issue.
Neither Luckhardt had yet filed for divorce, but Lori told investigators it was imminent.
Shots, chase, shot
Just before 10:45 p.m. on the night of July 13, Luckhardt returned to the bar a third time and walked past four off-duty Mt. Pleasant police officers who were there celebrating a promotion.
Luckhardt removed a pistol from his pants, and began shooting at Luchie.
Off-duty police officers can carry weapons, but not at bars or when drinking.
None were armed.
All four officers immediately took cover, noted details of the suspect and the weapon, and watched as Luckhardt calmly walked to the exit, turning several times to look at them and Luchie, who was slumped over in a booth.
“I reached for my cell phone to call Central Dispatch while keeping an eye on the suspect,” one officer said. “The suspect slowly turned around and walked past our table.”
While some officers assisted Luchie, others took cover at the doorway and watched Luckhardt, still holding his gun, walk to his Nissan. They tried to get a look at his license plate.
t left the parking lot and turned south on Crawford Street with one off-duty officer following him.
While talking to Central Dispatch on cell phones, the officers saw a marked patrol car turn south on Crawford Road.
Off-duty officers confirmed for dispatchers that the on-duty car was behind the suspect, and the chase was on.
Continuing south, Luckhardt sped up at Deerfield Road and ran the stop sign as the patrol unit pursued with lights and siren.
At the curve near Millbrook, the patrol car – which had temporarily lost site of the Nissan – came across Luckhardt’s wrecked car.
Luckhardt was outside the vehicle, on the ground, black handgun in his hand, dying of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.
Besides bequeathing his belongings to his son, his suicide note contained this line:
“Please tell Ashton James Luckhardt the truth. I loved him.”