Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 26, 2012

Newsmakers: Impact of fatal crash still being felt in area


TRAVERSE CITY — Editor's Note: Part of a series of stories about people, places and events that made news in the Grand Traverse region in 2012.

It's not hard to find people who knew Wendy Sak.

Sak, who died in a May car crash near Grand Rapids, was involved in several local organizations. Her vibrant personality and helpful spirit touched scores of people throughout the community.

"There's not a lot of words to express how sorry people are to have lost a person who did so much for so many," said Ryan Matuzak, who knew Sak through the Grand Traverse Area Sport Fishing Association.

Sak, 35, of Lake Ann, and Julie Davis, 50, of Traverse City, died in a May 19 traffic crash along I-96 in Grand Rapids. They were passengers in a vehicle driven by Carol Saxton, of Copemish. Saxton was injured, but survived.

The three were on their way to an International Association of Administrative Professionals conference and luncheon when Saxton rolled her vehicle on an exit ramp.

Saxton, who works at Munson Medical Center, did not respond to a request for comment.

Davis worked for 10 years as a secretary at Traverse City-based Strata Design.

She was a single mother to a son, Patrick, who attends Traverse City Central High School.

Davis was very close with her son and mother, and the family has had a tough time with their sudden loss.

"It's not like she was sick; it was boom, she's gone," said her sister, Amy Davis. "It was really difficult to make that adjustment. My mom still struggles with it a lot now."

Tyler Cerny, president of Strata, said Davis was a huge contributor at the company. Her loss was painful in both a personal and business sense.

"She had very big shoes to fill," he said. "Julie was very, very good at what she did."

Amy Davis said she doesn't direct any ill will toward Saxton.

"We certainly don't blame her. They were all close friends. And it was an accident, which could happen to anyone," she said. "I can't imagine how hard it is on her being the sole survivor."

Wendy Gauthier is immediate past president of the IAAP's northern Michigan chapter. The loss of Davis and Sak still reverberates through the group, she said.

"Every little event we've had since then, we say, 'Wendy would have really liked this,' or, 'We really miss Julie's laugh,'" she said.

Saxton remains a member of the organization.

"I think we've all helped her heal, and she's helped us heal," Gauthier said.

Saxton wasn't charged with a crime for the crash.

Michigan State Police who investigated previously said the ramp on which she lost control is at a particularly sharp angle, so those not familiar with it are prone to crashes.

James Benison, an assistant Kent County prosecutor who handles most of his office's fatal traffic crashes, didn't recall reviewing the State Police report.

He said it's possible someone else in his office reviewed it and declined to issue charges, but it also may never have reached his office at all.

"It's possible that it slipped through the cracks and was never sent over here," he said.

Benison was in the process of tracking down all of the report Friday and said it would be reviewed for charges if it hasn't been already.