The Friend family of Pellston survived a double accident on I-75 Sunday, Jan. 17, when their 2000 Pontiac mini van (pictured here) struck an elk head on and was hit in the rear by a truck and snowmobile trailer that lost control after hitting the dead elk in the roadway just moments later. Photo: COURTESY PHOTO
Posted: Tuesday, January 19, 2010, 10:20 am
By Christina Rohn News-Review Staff Writer
A Pellston family says it’s a miracle they were not killed in a double accident involving an elk on Sunday.
Around 7:20 a.m. on Jan. 17, Bill Friend said he was driving his 2000 Pontiac Montana mini van south on I-75 to a volleyball tournament in Midland with his wife, Suzie, son, Will, daughter, Tayler and his daughter’s friend, Abby Bodzick, when the unthinkable happened.
As the family neared the Wolverine exit ramp, Bill said it was still dark out and his headlights illuminated a herd of seven elk crossing the interstate.
“There were three of them in my lane, three in the fast lane and one on the side of the road,” he said. “At that point, I really couldn’t do anything — I just hit my brakes and braced myself.”
Bill said he hit one elk broadside, which shattered the van’s windshield as it was thrown over the roof.
“The impact of hitting the elk was just tremendous — it was like hitting a wall,” he said. “Luckily we were all wearing seatbelts.”
At this point, Bill said he pulled the van to the side of I-75 and proceeded to call 9-1-1.
Suzie said she, Bill and Will exited the vehicle shortly thereafter.
“We couldn’t believe we survived,” she said. “We were outside the van thanking God.”
The family wasn’t prepared for what would happen next.
Justin Hampton of Warren was traveling south on I-75 in his Ford Ranger, pulling an aluminum double-place snowmobile trailer with an Arctic Cat secured on it, when, without warning, he hit the dead elk that the Friend family had hit just moments before.
According to the Cheboygan County Sheriff Department, which responded to the accident scene, Hampton’s impact with the dead animal sent his vehicle airborne.
Suzie said she knew the truck was about to hit the van.
Terrified, she said she reached her arm into the van, attempting to pull her daughter Tayler and Tayler’s friend Abby out of the back seat, but this was to no avail.
“I was trying to get the kids out, saying, ‘hurry, hurry, get out!’” Suzie said. “It just went so fast, but in slow motion.”
The truck struck the rear of the mini van while still airborne, landed on its side, slid a short distance, and flipped again before catching the rumble strips on its roof.
In addition to this impact, Hampton’s snowmobile trailer and snowmobile detached from his vehicle and hit the rear of the Friend’s van.
“All I saw was headlights flying up and heading toward us ... it was like one of those Final Destination movies,” Bill said. “The truck actually hit the van and shoved it down the road 30-40 feet.
“It happened so quick; so suddenly — we thought (the girls) were dead.”
Bill said he and his wife sprinted toward the wreckage.
“We immediately just ran down there — it was horrifying,” he said. “My daughter got out and just collapsed ... I picked her up and we went down into the ravine.”
The family called 9-1-1 for a second time, and around this time, Bill said the driver of the truck (Hampton) was able to climb out of his overturned vehicle.
“He was walking around disoriented,” Bill said. “(Suzie) was yelling at him to get out of the road.”
Rescue workers arrived on the scene shortly thereafter and the Friend family, as well as Abby were taken to Northern Michigan Regional Hospital, where everyone but Tayler was treated and released.
According to Bill, his daughter remains at the hospital for internal bruising.
Hampton received minor injuries in the accident, but sought his own treatment.
Bill said things could have been a lot worse.
“We’re people of faith, and this just reinforces that,” he said.
“God is great and he was with us that day,” Suzie said. “There’s no explanation why anyone walked away from this.”
Suzie said she believes something needs to be done about the elk population in the Wolverine area.
“This is the year 2010, and they can’t figure out how to keep them off the highway,” she said. “How about motion lights or an electric fence?”
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