Hundreds expected at buggy crash victims benefit

One crash victim released from Mary Free Bed, another remains in rehab

An Oct. 29, 2017 courtesy photo from the scene of the deadly buggy crash. (The Daily News)


EVERGREEN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A little more than a month after a deadly buggy crash in Montcalm County, one of the injured victims was finally released from a Grand Rapids rehabilitation hospital.

Paul Martin ‘graduated’ from Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Center Friday. His wife Judith Martin is expected to remain there for three or four weeks to continue her rehab.

The Martins and their seven children, an Old Order Mennonite family, were riding in their horse-drawn buggy on Condensary Road near Sheridan the morning of Oct. 29 when a pickup truck rear-ended them.

The crash claimed the lives of three of their children: 11-year-old Cameron, 9-year-old Kayla and 7-year-old Kendra Martin. The Martin’s four other children were injured but released from the hospital in the days following.

“It was really hard,” Shelly Esch said of learning of the deadly crash. “It’s still hard.”

Esch knows some of the Martin’s cousins. As some community members helped the Martins by working on their dairy farm in the days after the accident, Esch started organizing a benefit for the family.

“I just said, ‘We’re doing it,'” Esch told 24 Hour News 8 Friday. “(It) just kind of exploded.”

The fundraiser, which starts at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Central Michigan Sportsmans Club west of Stanton, is expected to draw between 800 and a thousand people, Esch said. There will be a pig roast, a silent auction, a live auction and a raffle. The food, the auction items and even some of the chairs and tents were donated. Every dollar raised will go to the Martin family.

“We care. We care about our fellow community members,” Esch said. “(The crash) happened. We don’t know why. Now the thing is to gather around Paul and Judith and their family and help support them.”

New signs warning of buggies now line the roads near the Martins’ home near Sheridan. As the community continues to grapple with the tragedy, Esch said the Martins need more than just money.

“The most important part is the healing of prayer,” Esch said. “That’s what Paul and Judith need the most.”

Judith Martin released a statement to 24 Hour News 8 Friday that read, “We want to thank everyone for their prayers and support and we are grateful for the progress in healing we have had so far.”

Dinner at the fundraiser is $10 for adults, $6 for kids between the ages of 5 and 12 and free for young children.

The driver of the pickup truck who caused the crash, a 29-year-old Sheridan man, was not hurt.

Michigan State Police have finished their investigation into the crash. They do not believe alcohol or drugs played a role. The police report has been sent to the Montcalm County Prosecutor’s Office, which is now reviewing the case to determine whether or not criminal charges will be filed against the driver of the pickup.