GRPD releases photo of ‘possible’ driver in deadly crash

Victim identified as 28-year-old Juan Carlos Buenida-Villalpando

Julio Medellin
Person of interest who police believe is the driver involved in a fatal crash. (Courtesy Grand Rapids Police Department)

WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — Police are searching for a man who they believe was behind the wheel when an SUV crashed in Grand Rapids Wednesday night, killing his passenger.

The person of interest, who is believed to be around 20 to 30 years old, is described as a Hispanic man with a medium build, black hair, brown eyes and may have a beard. He has a tattoo with the word “Medellin” on his right forearm. He was last seen wearing a red/pink shirt and khaki shorts.

Though the Grand Rapids Police Department released a photo of the man and his tattoo, investigators have not released his name.

Sgt. Terry Dixon said he goes by several aliases. Detectives think they’ll have better luck finding him through people recognizing him by photo instead of by name.

If you know the man or his whereabouts, police are asking you to call 911 or Silent Observer at 616.774.2345. Police are advising people not to approach him.

The crash happened around 11:05 p.m. Wednesday on Division Avenue at Alger Street, at the border of Grand Rapids and Wyoming. GRPD says it appears the driver was traveling north when his SUV hit the median and went airborne, hitting a utility pole on the west side of the road.

The force of the crash snapped the utility pole, crushing the passenger’s side of the SUV.

The 28-year-old passenger, Juan Carlos Buenida-Villalpando of Grand Rapids, died at the scene.

“We were behind the bar and we heard a loud crash. The power went out and someone ran inside and said, ‘Go out back,'” Julia Snyder, a bartender at the Log Cabin bar, said.

The SUV landed just feet from the bar’s entrance.

The driver ran, police said.

Thursday, a friend of the victim put up a small memorial at the utility pole that had to be replaced. Jason Barrela-Perez said he only knew Buenida-Villalpando a few months. The two worked together installing drywall and became fast friends.

“I got a phone call in the morning. I thought they were playing around with me. It was true. He was a great man,” Barrela-Perez said.

Barrela Perez said he doesn’t know who the driver is or why Buenida-Villalpando was in the SUV.

“He has kids,” Barrela-Perez said. “For the next day for him to be gone, it’s not right. It’s not right.”

According to the Consumers Energy outage map, 28 homes and businesses lost power as a result of the crash.