Damien Leist, who was working for the Charlevoix County News, maintains no one told him that he and a colleague could not approach the site of the crash, which happened Jan. 6 in Boyne City.
"We didn't ask permission, and no one told us not to go either," Leist told The Detroit News.
Officials said that is not the case. Leist, they said, told two reserve sheriff's deputies that he had been given permission to access the scene.
"(Leist) told them I personally gave them permission to go back to the crash site," Undersheriff Chuck Vondra said. "I never spoke with him."
By the time Leist arrived at the site, the victims' bodies had been removed, but trace remains still were in the wreckage, Vondra said.
The sheriff's department did not know footage had been shot until they received an angry phone call from a family member of one of the crash victims who had seen the video online.
State troopers arrested Leist at his Boyne City home on Jan. 29. The Petoskey News-Review said he is charged under a 1997 law enacted after a film crew captured images from the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, the ore-hauling ship that mysteriously sank in Lake Superior in 1975.
Leist, 38, faces up to two years in prison and as much as a $5,000 fine. He is to be arraigned on Tuesday.