KEWADIN — State transportation officials changed a stretch of federal highway in Antrim County into a no-passing zone after a history of fatal crashes and other bad wrecks.
Two people died in a four-vehicle crash on Dec. 2 along U.S. Highway 31 near the intersection with Erickson Road in Antrim County’s Milton Township. A passing car clipped a truck in front of it and then crashed into oncoming traffic.
Another fatal wreck two years ago also involved passing, records show.
Authorities with the Michigan Department of Transportation said the area’s conditions should be OK for a passing zone, but the track record of the stretch of highway prompted the change.
About one week after the Dec. 2 wreck that killed Sonya Marie Fortin, 57, of Elk Rapids, and Andrew Kaddish, 41, of Charlevoix, state highway workers changed that part of the highway to have a double line — a designated no passing zone.
“Though that location met our engineering standards for a passing zone, we chose to close that one because of the potential crash pattern, and because the window to repaint the pavement markings and install new signs was closing quickly,” said James Lake, MDOT spokesperson.
Crash statistics show there have been eight crashes in the past decade in the stretch of highway between Erickson and Sutter roads. Two of those crashes were fatal and both involved passing, Lake said.
Antrim County Sheriff’s officials on Dec. 4 reported the names of those involved in the most recent fatal crash, but wrongly identified the at-fault motorist.
The Record-Eagle obtained incident and traffic reconstruction reports, as well as autopsy records, associated with the Dec. 2 wreck.
Those records show Kaddish attempted to pass a Ford pickup truck while going north, but clipped its corner after taking “late evasive action.” His car then struck an oncoming car driven by Fortin.
Finally, Kaddish’s car was struck by a fourth vehicle, a GMC pickup, that was following behind Fortin going south, records show.
An autopsy report shows Kaddish’s blood-alcohol content was .34 — more than four times the legal limit — when he died and officers found a partially consumed bottle of vodka in his passenger seat. His cause of death was listed as both multiple blunt force injuries and acute ethanol toxicity.
The two motorists and one passenger who survived the Dec. 2 crash were all treated and released, either at the scene by emergency medical responders or by medical officials at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City.
Witness statements released under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act show one of the surviving motorists gave sheriff’s investigators what turned out to be an inaccurate statement about the sequence of events during the four-vehicle crash. Antrim County Sheriff Dan Bean later confirmed the witness was wrong.
“There was a lot of confusion in this and it all happened so fast,” Bean said.
Records show a traffic reconstruction investigation by a Michigan State Police expert determined what happened in what order, assigning fault to the drunken driver.
Bean said the official report of the incident was updated to reflect Kaddish was at fault, not the other deceased driver.