1 killed in car fire after 6-vehicle crash

SCHOOLCRAFT, Mich. (WOOD) — One person was killed in a Tuesday morning six-vehicle wreck in Schoolcraft after his car hit a utility pole and caught fire.

A deadly crash on US 131 in Schoolcraft near Lyons Street (April 29, 2014).
A deadly crash on US 131 in Schoolcraft near Lyons Street (April 29, 2014).

The crash happened just before 7 a.m. near Lyons Street on US-131, which is a surface street in that area. Authorities said six vehicles, all heading south on US-131, were involved in the crash.

Kalamazoo County Undersheriff Pali Matyas said the crash happened after a PT Cruiser hit an SUV and then “just start[ed] ricocheting off a bunch of vehicles.”

Drivers Sean MacDonald and Monique VandenBrink told 24 Hour News 8 they were hit from behind as they waited in the left turn lane.

“It hit me so hard it knocked the tire off my back and broke my axle,” MacDonald said.

“My window blew out and my windshield was broken,” VandenBrink added.

The PT Cruiser then “hits another car in the course of ricocheting and catches that car on fire and launches that car into a telephone pole,” Matyas said.

Live electrical lines fell on that vehicle, which then caught fire.

“Before I know what happened, a fireball just exploded,” MacDonald said. “It was chaos.”

“A car exploded right next to my vehicle and went through the intersection,” VandenBrink said.

The driver, 58-year-old Richard Simmons of Kalamazoo, and was pronounced dead at the scene, the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office said.

VandenBrink was hospitalized after the crash, but said Tuesday afternoon she only had some back pain.

“It was pretty terrifying,” he said.

Alcohol is not believed to be a factor, sheriff’s officials said. However, investigators believe excessive speed did play into the wreck.

“We are at this point trying to figure out exactly what happened,” Matyas said. “It’s still very difficult to piece this thing together.”

The PT Cruiser is believed to have been going at a high rate of speed, but the sheriff’s department is still investigating the cause of the crash.

“One of the things we are looking at is to see if the driver of the cruiser the PT Cruiser did have some sort of medical episode prior to the accident,” Maytas said.

Northbound and southbound US-131 between U Avenue and Eliza Avenue were shut down several hours, but reopened shortly after 11 a.m., according to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

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