Traverse City Record-Eagle

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December 13, 2013

Crash victim ID'd two days after family informed

ACME — It took nearly two days for authorities to release the name of a Traverse City man who died in a devastating two-vehicle crash on U.S. 31, but not nearly so long for them to inform family members or his identity to spread across social media.

Joseph Abram Canavan, 36, was ejected from his pickup truck Tuesday evening after it crossed the center line and struck a pumper truck driven by Dylan Thomas Sommer, 22, of Kewadin. Canavan was pronounced dead at the scene; Sommer was not injured.

Grand Traverse County sheriff’s Capt. Chris Clark said an investigation is ongoing to see if factors other than poor road conditions contributed to the crash. He said two witnesses observed Canavan’s truck losing control before the crash near Five Mile Road.

“His headlights were going back and forth and at some point he crossed the center line,” Clark said.

Secretary of State records state Canavan’s license was suspended at the time of the crash because of a registration violation. His license was restricted or suspended off-and-on since 2005, when he had two driving violations that involved alcohol.

Traffic slowed and backed up for hours as investigators combed through the rollover wreckage, giving motorists a clear view of a crash from which one person would never walk away. Many shared their experiences on social media, where Canavan’s name soon circulated.

Official public identification of the crash victim took much longer. Sheriff’s department officials said they held off releasing the victim’s name until his next-of-kin was notified, but Clark later told the Record-Eagle that notification occurred within hours of the crash.

“The victim’s family was notified that evening,” Clark said. “They were notified by midnight (Tuesday), I know that.”

Undersheriff Nate Alger said a Canavan family member wanted two days to inform relatives in Florida about the death and asked the name not be released until then. He said nothing in the law prevented the release of the name earlier, but it’s common practice to show consideration for the family.

“The practice of contacting next-of-kin is so ingrained in law enforcement it doesn’t need to be policy,” Alger said.

Alger said social media may help in investigations, but doesn’t affect how law enforcement handles the release of information.

“The police department has got to be right,” he said.

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