Is Kent Co. intersection where teens died too dangerous?

16-year-old died in October crash, 17-year-old killed in Sunday wreck

6 mile road, fruit ridge avenue, alpine township, crash
The scene of a crash on 6 Mile Road and Fruit Ridge Avenue in Alpine Township. (Nov. 13, 2016)


ALPINE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — For the second time in five weeks, a crash at one rural Kent County intersection has claimed the life of a teenaged girl.

Now, some survivors of earlier crashes at Fruit Ridge Avenue and 6 Mile Road NW north of Walker are calling the intersection dangerous and say they want it fixed.

“I think it would be important so other families don’t have to go through this as well,” said Will Kerkstra, whose wife, Lauren, was seriously injured in a fatal crash on Oct. 8.

She sustained a severe brain injury and is now being treated at a neurological rehabilitation center.

“She’s one of the most lively people I’ve ever met in my life. She keeps me going, and pushes me to be a better man, and that’s not her right now,” Kerskstra said.

Lauren Kerkstra was driving a Jeep on Fruit Ridge when a GMC Yukon carrying five teenagers plowed through the stop sign on 6 Mile.

“It just happened so quickly,” Will Kerkstra, who was a passenger in the Jeep, said.

Fruit Ridge Avenue, 6 Mile Road, Alpine Township, fatal crash
The scene of a crash at the intersection of 6 Mile Road and Fruit Ridge Avenue in Alpine Township that left a 16-year-old dead. (Oct. 9, 2016)

Aubrey Marie Staple, a 16-year-old junior at Kenowa Hills High School, was thrown from the Yukon and died.

Kerkstra read about Sunday’s crash at the same intersection — the scene of 16 crashes from 2010 through 2015. At least six of those involved running a stop sign, records show.

“You’re angry,” Kerkstra said. “You’re angry, of course.”

The Sunday crash killed 17-year-old Megan Cook of Morley. She was riding with her parents on Fruit Ridge when a Ford Taurus blew through the stop sign on 6 Mile. Her parents were being treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

The driver of the Taurus — Ted Vandenbrink, 39, of Grand Rapids — was charged Monday with drunk driving causing death.

Ted Vandenbrink
Ted Vandenbrink appears in court via satellite video for arraignment on Nov. 14, 2016.

Records show he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.167 — more than double the legal limit.

Kerkstra said he believes a flashing light or rumble strips would help — though even that might not have stopped a drunk driver.

“Some of the long country roads, people who aren’t familiar with them, they don’t see the stop signs,” Kerkstra said.

Neighbors said the Oct. 8 and Sunday wrecks were the fifth and sixth fatal crashes in more than 30 years there, but they don’t blame the intersection.

“How can you miss that stop sign?” William Minch wondered. “You tell me that somebody doesn’t see them?”

Not to mention, he said, the “stop ahead” signs.

His wife, Jeanette Minch, said it’s not unusual for cars to blow the stop signs.

“People do not stop at the stop sign, and you see them driving through there all the time,” she said. “And you know, it’s Russian roulette.”

A woman who was injured in a crash at the intersection this summer said her family complained in writing to the Kent County Road Commission. The road commission wrote back, saying the intersection isn’t busy enough and hasn’t had enough crashes to need changes.

However, road commission officials on Monday said they will study it again in response to Sunday’s crash.