Fiery crash: ‘No one should die like that’

Mark Hicks, and Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Oceola Township — Candice Dunn had just experienced one of the greatest evenings of her life, being honored as the state’s Parole/Probation Agent of the Year at a banquet in East Lansing.

But as she and family members headed home Tuesday night, celebration turned to tragedy in an instant: Dunn, 35, of Sterling Heights and four other people were killed and three others were critically injured in a fiery collision at a Livingston County intersection.

Dunn

“She was a remarkable woman who changed a lot of lives,” said Oakland Circuit Judge Phyllis McMillen, who said Dunn participated in the judge’s supervised Sobriety Court for paroled offenders.

Dunn was a passenger in an eastbound car that was struck by a southbound vehicle that drove through a stop sign about 10:30 p.m. at the intersection of Argentine Road and M-59, authorities said.

Wetzel

Two other passengers in the eastbound car were killed, Dunn’s mother, Linda K. Hurley, 69, and her boyfriend Jerome Joseph Tortomasi, 73, both of Macomb County, Michigan State Police said. The driver, Dunn’s boyfriend, Albert R. Boswell, 39, of Oakland County, was hospitalized in critical condition.

Two passengers in the southbound car were killed: Justin Andrew-Humberto Henderson, 20, and Preston Taylor Wetzel, 24, both of Fenton, state police said. The driver, Matthew Jordan Carrier, 21, of Fenton, and passenger Kyle Eugene Lixie, 23, were hospitalized in critical condition.

Lixie

According to records from the Michigan Secretary of State's Office, neither driver had a valid license.

Fred Woodhams, a department spokesman, said Carrier’s license was “suspended due to unpaid traffic tickets and because the department believes he has an unsatisfactory driving record.”

State driving records show Carrier’s citations include careless driving, speeding, operating while impaired by liquor and driving on a suspended license.

“Carrier’s license was suspended at the time of the crash,” Woodhams said. “He should not have been driving.”

Carrier's mother, Stephanie Lee Allen, said she was not fully aware of his driving record and hoped to learn more about the events leading up to the crash. "I feel horrible for the families of the people who died," she said between tears early Thursday. "All of this is so overwhelming."

Matthew Jordan Carrier

Her son has long struggled with mental health issues and had only recently been properly diagnosed, she said. "My son was a good kid with a good heart -- he just was really mentally ill, so he wasn’t making good choices," she said.

The other driver, Boswell, did not have a valid license, according to state records. His license had been revoked due to two prior drunken driving convictions in 1998 and 2001, Woodhams said Wednesday night.

Dunn was a 12-year employee of the Michigan Department of Corrections and joined the probation office in Pontiac in December 2015.

McMillen, who attended the awards ceremony, said Dunn “completely deserved” the honor for all the work she did in reducing the recidivism rate of criminals and permitting them to return to society.

“She was assigned to some of the most difficult and challenging cases — her role being to help others change the way they led their lives,” the judge said. “I hope we can all live up to the role she set for all of us.”

According to an article in an MDOC newsletter that announced Dunn’s award, she began working for the department at its Eastern District Probation Office, worked as a drug court agent in Wayne County and transferred to the Troy Probation Office in 2012.

Dunn also helped train her co-workers in working together to manage cases and taught criminal justice classes at South University in Novi.

The article quoted Dunn’s reaction to her award: “I’m really honored and I feel very humbled by this,” she said. “I think I have a great team here and I’m really appreciative of the recognition.”

State officials reacted to Dunn’s death with tributes.

“Her ambition and her drive to make Michigan a better and safer place will leave a lasting impact on our department,” Heidi Washington, director of the Michigan Department of Corrections, said in a statement.

Attorney General Bill Schuette called Dunn a “dedicated” MDOC employee.

“As evidenced by her recently being named the 2017 Parole Agent of the Year, Agent Dunn was committed to seeing those under her supervision succeed and helping guide them to a life free of crime,” he said in a statement. “She will be remembered for that immense dedication to improving the lives of others.”

A friend of both Dunn and Boswell wrote on Facebook: “I am extremely sad to lose such a wonderful person way too early. I’ve met a lot of people along the way, and I can say the world has lost one of the truly good souls! Prayers to her family. Wishing a speedy recovery to my brother Albert Boswell. I love you both!”

Carrier and Lixie had both worked at Warner Concrete Walls in Fenton since last year, owner Lyle Warner said Wednesday evening.

“Both of them worked out really well for me — just real hardworking guys,” he said. “I was calling them and trying to figure out what happened to them because they’re always on time and reliable. I just didn’t hear anything from them. It wasn’t really like them not to show up or not to call.”

According to his Facebook page, Wetzel was from St. Louis, worked at a restaurant and studied at the University of Phoenix.

He loved sports while attending Fenton High School and “was on the right track,” said friend and former classmate Brandon Mooney, who also knew Lixie. “This is a lot to take in.”

Henderson loved skateboarding and “was always full of jokes — willing to make someone smile,” said Erik Packard, a longtime friend who also knew Wetzel and Lixie.

The accident had far-reaching impact, he added. “It’s just devastating to a lot of people.”

News of the crash also sparked emotional reactions online.

“still cannot wrap my head around this,” one user wrote on Facebook. “Preston was such a great kid. He had a heart of gold and would’ve given anyone the shirt off his back. This is an extremely devastating and tragic loss for many many people.”

Another user wrote: “My heart mourns for everyone affected in this tragic accident. Life is of course never guaranteed but it’s so devastating when it’s such young people with a full life ahead of them.”

Michigan State Police Lt. Mario Gonzales said the cause of the crash near Howell is under investigation.

Gonzales described the crash as a “T-bone” collision where the eastbound vehicle on M-59 was struck on the side. Both vehicles ended up off the road at the southeast corner of the intersection, one rolling over and the other in flames.

The three survivors were taken to University Hospital in Ann Arbor.

While not ruling out equipment failure, Gonzales noted the accident off a “paved country road” underscores the concern of law enforcement that motorists be alert and a reminder to everyone to drive responsibly at all times, obeying all laws and avoiding distractions.

“This shouldn’t have happened,” said Gonzales, a 27-year veteran who spent several hours at the accident scene.

“We see these (accidents) too often, and when we become police officers they don’t take away our feelings,” Gonzales said. “My heart goes out to all the family members.”

Passersby occasionally stopped at the crash site. One of them, Mark Steele of Howell, said the intersection is busy.

He pointed at an overhead streetlight. “Not real bright but maybe there’s a need for a yellow and red blinking light. There’s that much traffic.”

Steele didn’t know the victims but felt compelled to stop “and say a prayer for them.”

“No one should die like that,” he said.

Detroit News Staffer Candice Williams contributed.