Deadly corner draws criticism

The deaths of a man and wife Saturday night at the intersection of Mercury Drive and Robbins Road have commenters crying foul about what they say is a dangerous intersection and a lack of winter road maintenance.
Becky Vargo
Jan 28, 2014

Luke and Gayle Burns died shortly after 8 that night when their car spun out in the icy intersection and was broadsided by a pickup truck. The Grand Haven couple were headed to their home in The Village Green community from a gathering in Robinson Township, according to their son, Lewis Burns III.

Shea Lianne Carson posted online Monday that “Mercury and Robbins Road is an awful intersection. Last night’s accident could have been avoided if there was some sort of traction.”

Jenny Keeler said she’s seen a lot of crashes at the Grand Haven Township intersection in the eight years she’s lived in a nearby duplex.

“We were watching a movie (Saturday night) when, all of a sudden, we heard this really big crunch,” she said. “I grabbed my stuff and I went running out there.”

Keeler said she almost fell because the road was "glare ice." She said things were "pretty grim" when she got to the scene.

“I always go out to help," Keeler said. "But, after seeing them, I don’t know if I can do it anymore.”

Keeler said the township recently widened the road, but she thinks a traffic light is needed at the intersection.

“I’ve been out there a couple of times where people went right through the stop sign and crashed,” she said.

Although some extra salt and sand at the intersection might have stopped Saturday's fatal crash, Keeler said the majority of the collisions in the area are from motorists not paying attention.

Keeler's neighbor, 16-year-old Carlee Clover, said she’s seen enough crashes at the intersection and along Mercury Drive that it’s scared her.

“When it’s like this, I don’t go out,” Clover gestured at the blowing snow obliterating the intersection outside her window. “If I have to go to school, I drive really slow so I can see.”

Clover said she’s "still in shock" after running to the scene Saturday night to try to help the crash victims.

“Even though I don’t know them, it still upsets me,” she said.

After every crash at the intersection, Clover and her mother, Darcey Southwell, talk about what could be done to make the intersection safer.

“A traffic light, a four-way stop, something,” Southwell said. “It’s like the worse intersection ever. People roll through that Robbins Road stop sign into the path of people who are going 45-50 mph on Mercury Drive.”

Southwell said she and a neighbor helped save a man in a crash there eight years ago.

“Even our pizza delivery man got hit,” she said.

Keeping it clear

Ottawa County Road Commission Operations Superintendent Ryan Kemppainen said the seemingly constant winter onslaught is more than his crews can keep up with, considering their staffing and funding levels.

Up to 64 trucks are on county roads during the day.

“We’ve been going from 5 a.m. until 5 at night on the weekend,” Kemppainen said. “The rest of it is taken care of by our afternoon and night shift. That’s eight guys for the whole county.”

Kemppainen said the drivers have routes and may cover an intersection such as Robbins and Mercury three times during the day.

“Once you hit 5:30, most of your concentration is on state highways and primary roads – if we can get to them,” he said.

Kemppainen said he did a lot of driving on Saturday, and the snow combined with the wind covered up a lot of areas Road Commission trucks hit with sand.

Mercury Drive and Robbins Road are considered primary roads in the township. Mercury is one of the commission's top priorities, after state highways, because it is a multi-lane road, Kemppainen said. Robbins would be a "priority three" on the list, followed by local paved roads, subdivision streets, local gravel roads, and dead-end streets and cul-de-sacs.

Kemppainen said they are also having problems keeping roads clear because of people abandoning their stuck vehicles at the end of driveways and in the roadway.

The February edition of the Road Commission newsletter explains road maintenance priorities and costs. CLICK HERE to see the newsletter.

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.



Pretty simple. Drive for the conditions. There's nothing unsafe about that intersection or any other intersection on that road. It's a long road with no stop signs or traffic signals, so some people choose to treat it like a highway. I-94 has accidents and deaths on it every people want to see that made safer? And if so, how would they like it? Common sense people..common sense. The accidents that happen on Mercury drive are either operator error or weather related. It's not the road's fault that people choose to not use it properly. Sick of people whining every time there's an accident somewhere and it gets blamed on the road. Really?! C' responsible for your own actions.


Let's not forget that accidents do happen from time to time. Someone might be doing their best to drive to conditions, and then conditions change, for example a sudden gust of sidewind, or a surprise whiteout, or a banked corner that is so icy that a person driving slowly slides off. Sometimes, the only truly safe option is to just stay home, but we humans judge risk and choose to drive even when there is some.

I agree with your point, but give people a little credit.


I should have been a little more clear on who I was referring to in that last sentence....I'm speaking to the people who want to blame the roads for every accident that happens. We all have a responsibility to drive safe when we are behind the wheel of a deadly weapon. Accidents DO and WILL happen. Icy roads played a huge role in this unfortunate accident, but many other "accidents" on Mercury Drive (and other roads, as well) are due to operator error (drunk, speeding, texting, simply not paying attention, etc.). We have to stop blaming "unsafe roads" for everything that happens on them.

Say no to new taxes

Sorry, the argument "it's to cold for salt to work" is nonsense. You must put it down before you get three inches of ice forming on the roadway. Sand does nothing more then plug the sewers, it's as useless as cinders. I've also noticed that turn lanes are seldom cleaned, I got rear ended in one by Meijers, I couldn't blame the guy that hit me as it was a solid sheet of ice. People in Indiana and Illinois would never stand for the road conditions people in Michigan face every winter. They'd vote out every politician currently in office.

Back to the Wall

I seem to recall that many of the recently reported Mercury Drive accidents occur on weekend nights?

Maybe we need to reschedule weekends!




It's largely a matter of a strained road commission budget that was cut before winter even arrived.

"From overtime to salt costs, this latest winter storm has put a big dent into their winter budgets. Ryan Kemppainen, the Director of Operations at the Ottawa County Road Commission, says they've already spent more than half of their winter budget, and they've used more overtime hours in December than they have since 1998.

In December alone, the Ottawa County Road Commission used 4,600 hours of overtime; last year, they used just 415 hours.

"It's not the worst winter, but it's definitely one of the higher Decembers we've had," Kemppainen said. When it comes to salt, he adds they've already used 90 percent of their supply, and will have to buy more".


Actually, "Say NO" is correct on the the nonsense of salt not working in colder temps. Though, it either works FOR or AGAINST the vehicles traveling. Salt severely loses effective working capacity at 15-20F. Though, it will continue to melt ice at a much slower rate... or, at the rate of which windy conditions will refreeze the melted media to give the surface the smooth ice we all dread.
I agree with some of the points "Unbelievable" made. We need to drive to conditions. And yes, accidents happen. But let's not look for someone to blame as instinct!

Vast Right Wing...

While the intersection of Robbins and Mercury is not the easiest intersection to cross due to the angle of approach, most of the accidents on this stretch of road can be attributed to speed, either over the speed limit or conditions.
The center lane is used by quite a few as a passing lane, while I was driving the speed limit or just getting up to the speed limit from the city limits (25 to 45). I’ve also seen the center lane used as a parking spot for someone to get out and get their mail.
The night of the latest accident, I drove from my home to the city shortly after the accident. I was driving 25 because it was as safe as I felt for conditions and guess what; a SUV was so close behind that I could not see their headlights in my rearview mirror. Whoever this driver was, they were willing to kill me or any other person on the road because of their superior driving abilities. Probably on their way to the store to get something more important than their or other’s lives. This on a night when the responding fire and police equipment were driving below the posted speed limit due to the adverse weather conditions.
What is needed is for heavy enforcement of the speed limit and other unsafe driving by the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department and Michigan State Police.


I for one have had my fill of the plow-boy wannabes tailgating like their first responder needing to be somewhere before anyone else. The worst (so far) was a guy with a plastic plow from Sam’s was so close it was like he wanted to push me, I was going 5 mph below the posted speed limit trying to get him off my bumper but that was not good enough he passes me anyway and the resultant snow wake took away any hope of me knowing if I was headed for the ditch or oncoming traffic for about 10 unnerving seconds so he could pull into Wesco on Mercury ½ mile later, I thought about PITT-ing the jerk but my son was with me. I have no doubt the truck involved was going faster than he should, if he had been more cautious with his right foot he would have had time to maneuver away from the cabin area of the car. Rule 1, preserve Human Life! if you’re going to collide and you cannot avoid it rule one is to avoid human injury the best you can by hitting the vehicle anywhere but occupied area’s such as the rear axle or front axle areas, take the ditch, hit the dog anything but a cabin impact, if a child runs in front of you don’t hesitate to hit another vehicle, better someone in the relative safety of the car than car against a child’s body. Far too many people think they know how to drive because they understand how to get it in gear, step on the gas and stop…and talk on the phone at the same time.


Just a thought here. What is the spray sealant made of that they seal the cracks with? Has anyone noticed that it is sticky, yet the snow and ice won't build up on it. Stupid question maybe but why can't roads or at least intersections be coated with whatever is in it that repels snow and Ice? Somthing that maybe should be considered anyway. 174th is like a washboard because of it.


I'd like to thank the woman in the white Dodge minivan that was passing a southbound car turning into Hope Reformed Church in the center turn lane in 5" of snow! She nearly slid across into the northbound lane right at me. She scared the Bajesus out of me! FOR WHAT REASON?? To get somewhere 3 seconds sooner. Use your heads and SLOW DOWN on the slippery snow covered roads!!!! This happened around 2 PM today and you know who you are....


Watching you; that spray sealant you refer to is a tar like substance. Harley riders call them slippery snakes. They are like snow and ice year round. They mainly look like they are snow free because they are black and soak up the suns radiation quicker, melting the snow. If we coated the intersection with that we could feel like driving in winter year round. People do need to slow down and relax a little. How ever, if you can't run within 5 mph of the limit maybe you should stay home. The super slowpokes cause as much or more trouble than the speedsters IMO. Me I am 56 never seen the ditch or a traffic ticket. Most would concider me fast, I live in the left lane. I drive good 4x4 truck with newer tires, can feel the road through the seat. I respect those that feel they need to drive slowww. However if you can only go say 20 and ride around with your flashers on, please stay home.


I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the Trib's thinly veiled attempt at pouring gas on the fire with their Thread title. "Deadly corner....".

I'm sorry, but that corner is an inanimate object and can neither attack or recoil on it's own. The problem with that corner is the same as with every other corner in the's the loose nut behind the wheel who causes the problem.

I have been thru that area thousands of times and on two occasions have had to dodge people who don't understand the concept of STOP. I've seen people pull up to the stop sign via Robbins and roll right on thru onto Mercury heading east with barely a look to the West. I had to drive around one idiot who did that, putting myself in the west bound lane, damn near in the ditch to avoid his rolling, I don't need to look" poor excuse for a STOP AND LOOK.

I understand that grief makes people have to blame something other than the most likely cause, but what happened here was not a factor of the road itself. Road conditions yes....but that's a whole 'nother issue.

People need to be better trained to drive obviously. The public training available is either ineffective or simply doesn't "stick" once the person becomes a licensed driver. I see people all the time doing stuff that I would knock my kids upside the head for doing, if they did.....but they were taught how to drive defensively. You need to be looking ahead all the time and asking yourself questions as you, what would I do if that car coming at me right now lost it? Could I avoid him by ditching it? Would that be better than a collision? Is there a route of escape? Are there tree's I might hit that would be worse than a collision? I know that sounds like a lot to think about but the brain, when used, is a pretty amazing thing and it can process a LOT of data quickly if your butt needs saving.....but if you're not paying attention to what's going on around you then you're at the mercy of Karma.......I guess that applies to more than just driving, but I digress........

I would simply suggest that if you're not comfortable driving on snowy and/or Icy roads then either up your skill level or stay the h*** home. There is NOTHING out there that can't wait a day if it means saving your life, unless maybe you're headed for the emergency room at NOCH. You keep driving without the necessary skills that this weather requires than there's a good chance you'll end up there anyhow.

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