The 29-year-old Grand Haven Township man was first reported missing late Monday night when he failed to return home Christmas Eve after checking hunting traps.
On Tuesday afternoon, a man canoeing the Grand River with his sons spotted Stearns’ car submerged in the river at Bur Oak Landing, near the intersection of 90th Avenue and Lake Forest Drive in Polkton Township.
Officials said they believe the Buick entered the river from the boat launch before a strong current pushed it about 300 feet downstream before settling in sediment.
Lt. Mark Bennett of Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department said the cause of Stearns' death is still pending. Bennett said nothing suspicious was noted in the initial autopsy, but they hope a toxicology test might provide additional information.
While friends and family mourn the loss of the married father of three, Stearns’ sister, Amber Pease, remembered her brother as "a good guy" who everyone thought of highly.
“(He was) the kind of man every man should hope to be,” she said.
Stearns, who worked at Burnips Equipment in Coopersville, grew up in Ravenna with his siblings — Amber Pease, Clint Stearns, Sabrina Stearns and Beth Ann Carpenter.
As Lawrence grew up, Gary Stearns said people often called his son "his clone" — as they both enjoy hunting, fishing and the outdoors. Gary recalled being there when Lawrence shot his first pheasant and his first deer.
Lawrence was the type of person who would drop everything to help someone, his father added.
Pease said her brother helped around their parents’ house by putting up the dock and a fence, and dug for a pond.
“He was a jack of all trades,” Pease said.
Nikki Stearns, Lawrence’s wife of four years, remembered her husband as the "most wonderful and caring person she knew."
In the weeks leading up to his death, Lawrence was battling two strains of the flu, Nikki said. After passing out at home last week, he was taken to the hospital.
Nikki said her husband had dealt with a variety of ailments in the past year — including shingles in the summer, followed by pneumonia in the fall.
Although Lawrence was ill, his family said they weren’t surprised he checked his traps or went to work.
Gary Stearns said his son was on the move ever since he was born.
“You couldn’t keep him down,” he said.
Nikki Stearns remembered the good times they had before Lawrence became ill. She recalled a family trip they took to Florida.
Lawrence enjoyed traveling and taking fishing trips to places such as the Bahamas and Canada, and a bear-hunting trip to the Upper Peninsula.
Pease said her brother lived a full life and loved being with his family. She remembered a time when Lawrence helped some of his nieces and nephews fish off the dock.
“I think he loved his family more than anything,” Nikki said of her late husband.
As family and friends mourn Lawrence, Gary Stearns reflected on the amount of people who turned out to help find his son.
“I’m sure he never knew how many people he truly touched,” Gary said.