‘It’s tragic’: Vacationing Grosse Pointe family dies
Thomas Toth was a huge Grateful Dead fan and a live-music connoisseur. His wife, Christina, was a successful lawyer with stints as a Wayne County prosecutor and attorney for Ford Motor Co.
Christina Toth, 48, just recently had partnered with a longtime friend to start their own firm. Thomas Toth, also 48, was a packaging engineer for Chrysler.
The Grosse Pointe couple and their two children perished Saturday in an accident in Colorado on a snowy night with low visibility and black ice. Authorities and one witness say the family van hit a semi and went underneath, shearing off the roof. The family was on vacation, traveling just after midnight on Interstate 76 near Sterling, Colorado.
Friends heartbroken over the loss of the family of four broke down crying when asked to recall their lives, including those of their adopted children, 11-year-old Sophia and 8-year-old Elianna, known as Ella, friends say.
“She was like a sister, not only to me, but to like everyone,” said Jim Surowiec, who worked with Christina Toth at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and during her time as a corporation counsel for the county. “She was kind. She was smart, unassuming. And such a talented lawyer. She was so gracious and so effective without having to be condescending. Everybody loved her.”
Surowiec also spoke glowingly of Thomas Toth, saying, “Tom was just hilarious. He was like a giant Muppet. He was a Grateful Dead guy and he loved music.”
Michael “Miko” Steinberg, a longtime friend of Thomas, described his live-music partner as “a fixture” at live concerts at venues such as El Club, Magic Bag and St. Andrew’s, and “she supported his love of music.”
Steinberg, who offered a stirring tribute of the family on his Facebook page, said Thomas Toth’s own profile picture is a Grateful Dead/Michigan State caricature on a sweatshirt he owns, two things they had in common. Toth, he said, was big into Spartan sports and attended games often.
“It’s numbing. These were beautiful people. This was a beautiful family,” Steinberg said. “You think of four people gone. They wanted to be parents so bad, they just relished their roles.”
“Thoughtful, kind and generous,” is how Lisa Kirsch Satawa, Christina Toth’s law partner and friend, described Christina and her husband in a statement, adding, “It’s tragic, horrible and incredibly unbelievable when something you have always heard about on the news takes lifelong friends and family away.”
“Tom loved family, friends and music. Tom’s practical approach to life made us laugh, always feel his caring mentorship and tight hold on the lessons of the past being our model for the future,” she wrote.
“ ... Friends since birth, study buddy and BFF in law school, and current law partner. She is the most unselfish light anyone could have shine in her/ his life,” Satawa continued. “Her presence and energy were admired by all. Mel had a drive to make the world a better place through relationships. She valued people. She was down to earth. We had so many plans. I loved her like a sister, starting each day with a phone call on the way to work and ending with a phone call on the way home.”
Although Nate Eller, 31, of Oxford never met the Toth family, on Sunday, he said he wished he had. Eller and his family on a drive back from Utah to see his family nearly hit the same semitrailer the Toths did.
“The roads were real slick,” Eller said. “It was dark and maybe a little foggy with some snow. I wasn’t getting any traction. I slammed on my brakes and we were going to hit the semi. It was a near-death experience.”
Eller, whose wife reached out to one of Thomas Toth’s friends on Facebook to express her condolences, ended up in the road’s median. At first thinking the Toth’s vehicle was a “stopped car,” he realized it was much more serious. He yelled, “Hello,” but received no answers back.
“As soon as I ran up to the car, I knew no one had made it,” Eller said. “It was very bad. ... It was a helpless feeling,” he said. “It made me realize it could have been us.”
Meanwhile, Surowiec said the deaths of his friends have hit him, like many others, hard. “I lost my dad in 2011 and this eclipses the loss of my father,” he said. “It’s not just about Christina, it’s the lost of a family. Like four people … this beautiful family just wiped off the face the planet in a split second.”