It happens once in awhile that Tom gets a service call in northern Michigan. Michiganders call it UP North. It’s almost like being in another world compared to the Metro Detroit area and only about 3.5 hours away. In this case, it was Traverse City, which is an overcrowded tourist town on Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan. It’s beautiful and a perfect climate for growing fruit like cherries and grapes. They are famous for their cherries. I love cherries.
Tom announced on a Thursday he was going to Traverse City and I was going too, with about a 24 hour notice. We would leave on Friday, pay for two nights at the Hampton Inn on M-31 and the company would pay for the third. He would do the service call and we would head back home Monday afternoon. So we packed and headed out. It’s much better than sitting home by myself
The Grand Traverse Bay is gorgeous with blue water, the countryside is lush with hills and vistas that are bright and clean. It’s just beautiful land…but the traffic on M-31 sucks. M-31 runs along the Lake Michigan shoreline, goes from 2-5 lanes, depending on which town it’s passing through, and is always busy.
I have an extremely difficult time with motion sickness due to narcolepsy. On a 5 hour trip to Chicago a few years back, I spent 2 of our 4 days in the hotel room near the bathroom. Although I don’t get nauseous, I do get very dizzy with some serious GI upset. All of this was before meds to help with a heart condition and narcolepsy.
So we set out on Saturday June 4th. I did everything I could to get through the drive without getting sick, with the exception of driving because I am not insured to drive Tom’s company car. Sometimes actually driving helps me arrive at my destination feeling better, but after a point it doesn’t matter. I still get sick. I could explain why that is, but who cares really? I don’t travel well.
On the way into the area we passed a road sign with Loomis Rd on it. It reminded me of a mother and daughter we knew from living in Fenton MI which is south of Flint. Morgan Loomis was in my daughter Ivy’s Girl Scout troop and also in her graduating class at Fenton High School. I had known her since she was about 7 and now would be about 20. On my phone I went to Face Book and looked her up. It looked like she was doing well. Tom and I talked about her and her mother Colleen for a few minutes. You get to know people a bit when you have slept under a giant wholly mammoth at a lock-in inside a zoo with dozens of other Girl Scouts. I always hope the best for people. No matter what. She was smiling. She was good.
We arrived and checked in at the hotel and I rested and then we went out to eat. Tom, who eats in restaurants quite a bit because of work, had some places in mind. The weather was good and the hotel is right in front of the bay with M-31 between us, a narrow park and then the big water. There is a peninsula that runs out into the bay about 25 miles. We were on the north side of that, if I have my compass straight.
It was at times difficult to get out of the hotel and onto M-31 due to traffic. There is a light at 3 Mile Rd which is a T intersection about 1/8 mile south of the hotel. You would think the light would give you some breaks in traffic so you could pull out, but between right hand turns from 3 MIle Rd onto M-31, and traffic heading past the hotel south toward the light, it never gives you a break.
Then there’s the speed limit. No one cares about the speed limit. The people who live there year-round are aggravated with the vacationing invaders. They are driving too fast and ducking and changing lanes to get around them. The vacationers are driving erratically because they don’t know where they are going and they are, after all, on vacation.
Tom and I went out to eat or site seeing. There was some type of galactic event in the sky that first night we wanted to see but it clouded up and rained off and on most of the time. Even just seeing the stars would have been great since we live in a city so close to Detroit you can barely see the moon on a clear night!
We went to the former insane asylum now turned shopping mall. Nice! I wondered which shop my grandfather slept in. We took a nice relaxing drive up and down the peninsula and took some photos. I felt okay during all of this but not great.
The fun is about over…
On Monday morning Tom left the hotel room as I was waking up. He would grab breakfast in the hotel and head out to do his service call. I got up and dressed and went to get my breakfast too. Tom was gone by then, I figure about 10 minutes earlier. I went to the buffet and filled my plate and turned to go sit with other hotel patrons in a lobby/dining room. I noticed some people looking out the front window toward M-31. When I finished a whole cup of coffee I began to get curious as to what they were all looking at.
As I stood up I could see fireman and emergency vehicles. I took a few steps forward and heard someone say ‘it’s an accident’. I decided to walk outside and look seeing how my husband had just left the hotel. There were more than a dozen people standing on the lawn. I walked up between two apparently unrelated persons and said, “What am I seeing?” I really couldn’t tell what was happening in front of me. Someone said, “There are two vehicles. A work van and an SUV.” That was a relief. Tom drives an ugly gold Ford Escape and I wasn’t seeing gold paint anywhere. It was really hard to make out what I was looking at.
I could see an upright white van enmeshed in the completely smashed top of another dark vehicle apparently on it’s side. It was laying on the drivers side. I walked to my right to get a better look. The looks on people faces were memorable. It was very sunny and they were kind of squinting with their lips pressed together and looked almost pained and were all quiet. There were landscapers working on what I found out later was a repair project around a bricked in planter from another accident that happened several weeks earlier and almost ended up in the hotel lobby. Oh great! They too had taken a break to gawk at the confusion.
I found myself standing near a young woman, who I will call Jane, who was also squinting at the wreck. We began a conversation there that lasted about an hour and a half. I can’t give you direct quotes as to what she said during that time but she did say that she heard and saw the accident as she looked in her rear-view mirror. She was on the phone arguing with her ex-husband and was just ahead of the whole mess. She said she parked her pick-up truck at a business on the hotel side of M-31 near 3 Mile Rd and ran back to see if everyone was alright.
Jane said she ran around the tangled vehicles and saw that the man in the truck was pinned in the van by the steering wheel but he was very much alive. She tried to look into the Lacrosse SUV but could not see anyone. I don’t remember if she called 911 or not.
While her and I stood there some reporters came on the scene and entered into the conversation at different times. A fireman came and told the reporter who had a camera that there was a dead woman in the car. Although we were only about 20 feet from the wreckage and we could not see a body. He reminded the reporter that she needed to respect that. She had no problem with that. Another woman out for her morning jog said a flat bed semi truck had gone whipping past about the same time she heard the crash.
Jane and I talked about many things while we stood there. Relationships, our kids, our homes, our jobs, and I remember early on looking up at the sky and praying. A soul had just passed over us and it was time for reverence for the dead. I didn’t know anything about the deceased but I was pretty sure she had relationships, kids, a home, and a job. I was deeply saddened that the end of a life can happen like this. It was a reality that came upon this woman so suddenly she had no time to consider it. It was over in seconds.
When the fireman walked away I told Jane I was a missing persons advocate and one of the first things we do is to try to protect the family members of a missing person from unfounded speculation and accusations, and of course, unnecessary pain. She appeared a little pained when I said that. I only meant that she should be careful what she tells the press. You never know what they will publish.
All the while the fire rescue and police were trying to stabilize the man in the truck and figure out how to free him and the van from the SUV. The front wheel of the van was in the drivers seat of the SUV. The top of the SUV was flattened and damaged from bumper to bumper. They had to stabilize the SUV so it didn’t flip over while they cut the man out of the van. They had tried pulling the vehicles apart with tow trucks with no luck.
Jane said she had just dropped her child off at a daycare and how she worked for her father at his business. You can learn a lot about a person in 90+ minutes. We talked about many things. We were all a little shaken due to the circumstances but Jane was fairly calm. All the while I was very puzzled as to why and how that SUV ended up on it’s side with a dead woman in it. People standing around had their ideas which they didn’t mind sharing, but little made sense.
They came and put a blanket over the passenger compartment of the SUV and we could see they were trying to figure out how to remove the woman’s body. I didn’t want to see that and apparently they didn’t want us to see it either. At last they got the guy out of the van and into an ambulance. That took about 90 minutes. The County Sheriffs were walking around most of this time trying to document the accident. After the ambulance left they went looking for witnesses and since Jane was one of them she was asked to move to a more private area and I decided I had seen enough. I went inside the hotel.
They eventually parked the sizable firetrucks so as to block the view from the sidelines while they removed the woman and about 45 minutes later it was all gone from the road in front of the hotel. Employees in the hotel were squawking back and forth about this accident, the one a few weeks earlier, and the reckless ‘man’ driving the SUV.
I called Tom and told him what happened. I didn’t feel well and we ended up staying another night. I remember passing the Loomis sign on the way home. Some things just come to mean more than coincidence and it happens so much that I have to wonder if the dumbest thing that pops up will come to mean more later. I have no way to interpret any of it. It’s like fragments of data floating in a sea. It tells me that reality is timeless and what we witness is not truly in time or reality.
The day we returned home to Southgate I searched the internet for a news story about the accident. There was one describing the scene but no identity of the van guy or the victim. A day later it was there. The woman’s name was Laurel J Loomis age 65, married and owner of a consignment store. Also well known in the community for her charitable giving and her love of her family, especially her grandchildren. I also owned a consignment store at one time. She was about 8 years older than I. Now I understood the Loomis thing. I was meant to pay attention to this and in the days and weeks that followed I may have figured out why.
A few more internet updates on the already published news stories gave me clues. I was still very puzzled as to how that accident could have happened on such a sunny day at approximately 9am. The van driver who was working was headed north on M-31 and was struck by the SUV head-on from the other direction. The sun was not in their eyes. I read in one story that there was damage to a third vehicle, a pick-up truck. What pick-up truck? My mind was reviewing the events of that whole morning. No way!
I called the newspaper and got the reporter who wrote the update on the phone. She said yes there was a third vehicle involved that didn’t come forward until later. I described my morning with Jane and how she had parked her truck some distance from the accident scene. The police had made sure to mention that the airbag had only gone off in the SUV but not the van.
I asked the reporter for more details but she said the sheriff in charge of the case had to sign off on the report before it became public and he had the whole following week off for vacation. She said she would contact me when she knew more. I agreed with myself to wait. That family had a terrible tragedy to deal with. I was more upset about it by now than the day it happened. What really happened that morning? Who caused the accident?
I am not an accident re-constructionist. What I am is observant. I see details. When there is something out of place it nags at me until I figure it out. This what I think happened although I still feel there is a missing fact. It doesn’t mean the police don’t know what it is. It means I don’t have access to all the facts. So here it is as I think it happened;
Monday morning traffic was heavy on M-31 which isn’t unusual for M-31. Jane dropped off her child at a daycare and for some reason was heading south on M-31 while she had a conversation on her cell phone with the childs father, so she says. She was in the inside lane.
At this point in the road there are 2 lanes north and 2 lanes south. Laurel Loomis was out to start her work week (I imagine) and was also heading south in the curbside lane. Everyone was moving along at a pretty good clip when Laurel came up behind the flatbed truck and decided to change lanes. She may not have been able to see who was in the lane alongside the truck.
As Laurel changed lanes to move from behind the the truck I believe she saw the pick-up that was moving too slowly and tried to brake. She rear-ended the pick-up truck with Jane in it just hard enough to set off the airbag. Laurel could not see because of the airbag and must have been totally shocked by the airbag deployment. I’d imagine it also hurt her physically and forced her hands away from the wheel.
Now she is driving blind and either the airbag caused the wheel to turn so sharply that it flipped the car on it’s side and skidded into oncoming traffic, or she grabbed the wheel and turned it herself trying desperately to get control of the car. The SUV had to have gone over on it’s top and back onto it’s side for the top to be flattened.I later saw photo’s of the bottom of the SUV and it looked like the stabilizer bars were broken connecting the wheels to the steering.
As she came back onto her side she slid into the oncoming lane and headed at the work van which impacted with the SUV near the front fender and into the drivers compartment of the Lacrosse SUV where the drivers side front wheel of the van ended up in the front seat of the SUV. They skidded some distance together and came to a stop in front of the hotel. I believe she was dead before the SUV flipped back onto it’s side.
As for Jane, I have asked myself countless times how she could have stood there so coolly all that time and neglected to mention that she was involved in the accident. Why did she park the damaged pick-up so far from the accident scene? Did she have something to hide? Is that detail I am missing? Was she told not to discuss it? From what I could tell she hadn’t told anyone official that she was a witness. The reporter asked if anyone had seen the accident and I may have told him she saw it. I can’t say for sure. All I can say is I would not have guessed that she had been hit by the SUV or had any involvement in the accident by her behavior that morning. Like I said, I am very observant. She really fooled me.
I checked and it’s no secret that GM has recalled many models including the Lacrosse for problems with airbag deployment but it was for non-deployment, not for going off in traffic.
I called the reporter back the other day. She happens to live down here by me. She said she has heard nothing else about the case so it must be over. I doubt that it’s over. I may still call the sheriff in charge and ask him the outcome of his investigation. I don’t know if he will tell me or not.
Laurie, as her friends called her, was born in Flint which is about a 15 minute drive from where Ivy’s friend Morgan Loomis lived. Maybe they are related. I was very upset by all of this. I was so upset it took me more than 3 months to write about this. I hope that her family knows as much about what happened as they want to. My guess is some or several companies will pay dearly for what happened eventually. I am glad the van driver was spared and I hope he remembers clearly what he saw that morning and is thanking God he still can.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have any answers…but I will remember you Laurel J Loomis. I felt your spirit as it floated on. The reality of how quickly everything can change is still clinging to me. I wish I hadn’t seen any of it but I think I was there for a reason. I don’t go around inserting myself into bad situations. It is what it is. I posted these words on my Face Book page the other day but I don’t think anyone noticed, to quote myself “It never goes to plan…because…the plan isn’t ours”
Peace and healing to your family Laurel…RIP