Family: Could trooper have warned crash victim?

Michigan State Police dashcam video of a wrong-way driver on US-131 near Plainwell. (April 15, 2014)

PLAINWELL, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan State Police dashcam video raises questions fora  grieving family about why a trooper responding to reports of a wrong-way driver on the highway didn’t take action that might have prevented a fatal wreck.

The wreck happened late April 15 on US-131 near Plainwell. Authorities say 29-year-old Jeremy Smeltzer of Portage was driving his pickup truck north in the southbound lanes in the area of M-89 when his truck collided head-on a vehicle driver by Jaryd Ford of Plainwell.

Ford, 21, died at the scene. Smeltzer was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Ford’s passenger sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

Dashcam video obtained by 24 Hour News 8 shows one trooper drive past Ford’s vehicle without warning him of the danger ahead.

==Above, Leon Hendrix reports on Ford’s family to the dashcam video. Warning: The video shows the crash, which some may find disturbing.==

“We saw for the first time yesterday morning,” said Ford’s stepfather Brett Cobble.

In the video, a trooper responding to the call pulls onto the on-ramp with lights and sirens activated. A vehicle ahead of the trooper on the on-ramp pulls over and waited for him to pass.

Ford’s family said that vehicle was Ford’s.

After the trooper passed, Ford continues along the on-ramp toward the highway. When the trooper sees the wrong-way driver coming, he pulled over onto the shoulder. To avoid him, Ford merged into the far left lane.

That’s when the crash happened. The video shows debris and sparks flying. When the trooper turns around to face the crash, Ford’s car can be seen engulfed in flame. The front end of Smeltzer’s truck is smashed.

“This is a head-on crash,” one trooper radios in. “Unresponsive victims. Vehicles are both on fire.

Troopers can be heard talking to Ford’s passenger. They then turn their attention to Smeltzer’s truck.

“He’s gasping for air,” a trooper says.

“Can you get him out? Can we get him out of here or no?” another asks.

“No, probably not safely,” a trooper replies.

Ford’s family wonders why the trooper didn’t block the on-ramp. The wrong-way vehicle is clear on the dashcam video as the trooper pulled over, which means the trooper must have been able to see it coming.

“We would like the question answered, why our son was allowed to get on the highway,” Brett Cobble, Ford’s stepfather said.

Another trooper conducting a traffic stop had previously taken action to keep that driver from pulling back onto the highway.

“Stay right here for a second,” the trooper can be heard saying in dashcam video. “There’s a car coming the wrong way on the highway, so just say right here.”

But no one warned Ford to avoid the highway.

“Our son wasn’t given that opportunity,” said Cobble.

His family recalled Ford as kind and affectionate.

“Every day he said he loved you. He told anybody he loved them every day,” Christine Ford, the victim’s mother, said. “He was wonderful, amazing. Kind, kind to everyone.”

No one from Michigan State Police was available to speak with 24 Hour News 8 about Ford’s family’s concerns Tuesday evening, but a representative is expected to be available Wednesday.

But earlier Tuesday, MSP told 24 Hour News 8 that if the troopers had not been present when the crash happened, Ford’s passenger would likely have also died.

Authorities have not yet said why Smeltzer was going on the wrong way on the highway. MSP said it put a rush on toxicology tests for Smeltzer Tuesday. It hopes to have results back by the end of the week.

Ford’s family has hired a lawyer. They want someone to be held accountable for the crash.

Below, watch a longer clip of the dashcam video, including the aftermath of the crash, via YouTube:

24 Hour News 8’s Heather Walker contributed to this report.

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