Storm hammers Grand Haven; man killed ID’ed

A camping trailer at Camper's Paradise in Grand Haven that was damaged in the July 7, 2017 storm.

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — A man was killed when severe storms swept through Grand Haven overnight.

Police identified the victim as 71-year-old Lawrence Thon of Grand Haven. He died when a large tree fell on his home on Poplar Ridge in the Highland Park neighborhood.

An undated photo of Larry Thon, courtesy of his family.

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Grand Haven Public Safety Director Jeff Hawke said Thon was in his bed when the tree fell. It took out an addition to the house and crashed onto Thon, who died at the scene.

“(It’s) just unreal. We’ve never had anything like this happen within Highland Park,” neighborhood president Robert Minnema told 24 Hour News 8. “The residents have been pulling close together to support the resident that was lost, and his wife and family.”

Hawke said a private tree company and a technical rescue team worked to remove the tree using a crane before stabilizing the home. Thon’s body was recovered from the home around noon, Hawke said.

>>Inside Power outages in West Michigan Storm damage photos

“I think the most challenging part was just the size of the tree. It was a very large tree (that fell) onto the house, making for very unstable conditions,” explained Hawke.

Thon went by Larry for short. His family shared pictures with 24 Hour News 8 in hopes that he be remembered for how he lived, not how he died.

Thon grew up in Grand Rapids and graduated from Ottawa Hills High School. He was a U.S. Marine who served in the Vietnam War. He eventually moved to Texas, but spent summers in Grand Haven with his wife. He was very active, even late in life. Thon’s family said he biked across the country a few years ago.

“It’s just gonna be a huge void in the Highland Park Association. He’s been here for a long time and he’ll be missed,” Minnema said.

Thon’s wife was also home at the time, but Hawke said she was awoken by the storm, had gotten out of bed and was at the front door when the tree crashed into their home. She was not hurt.

There were no other reported injuries in Grand Haven in the wake of the storm.

Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Kempker said Grand Haven appeared to be the hardest hit area. Hawke said the severe thunderstorms packed with high winds rolled through the area around 2:35 a.m., leading to 51 storm related calls. Most of the calls were for downed trees and power lines and crashes.

“I just think sometimes it’s a roll of the dice as to where it’s going to be the worst as far as the tree-falls,” Hawke said during a news conference Friday afternoon.

The strongest recorded wind from the storms was reported in Grand Haven, at 91 mph. There was also an unofficial gust of 103 mph reported, according to Storm Team 8.

“It was just nonstop lightning. I’ve never seen that before, and it just came very, very fast,” Jamie Pangborn, who was staying at a cottage in Highland Park, told 24 Hour News 8. “We went downstairs and kind of hunkered down in a safe area because there was stuff flying around.”

Grand Haven
A toppled tree rests over a series of headstones at Lake Forest Cemetery in Grand Haven.

Storm damage could also be found throughout Grand Haven’s Lake Forest Cemetery, where the winds uprooted large trees.

Hawke said about 95 percent of roadways affected by the storm were cleaned up and reopened by 2 p.m. Friday.