5 GHHS girls critically injured in I-96 crash

Tribune Staff • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:26 AM

Three to four of those students suffered life-threatening injuries, emergency officials said.

"All I can do is really pray that everybody's all right," said Grand Haven senior Colin LaMore, urging others to pray for the girls. "We're all Buccaneers and they're all part of our family.”

The girls — Emily Bogner, 16; Madison Case, 17; Hannah DeVecht, 17; Danielle Michaels, 16; and Brittney Olds, 16 — traveled in a Honda sport utility vehicle on Friday morning, heading toward the girls state semifinal basketball game at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

The crash happened at about 11:30 a.m. just east of the Lowell exit. Witnesses said it appeared that the vehicle drove off the side of the road, careened into cable and metal fencing, and rolled over into the westbound shoulder of I-96.

Michigan State Police Sgt. Trever Slater said the three girls in the backseat of the SUV had not buckled in, and were thrown from the SUV during the crash. The two girls in the front did wear seat belts, Slater said.

Police said the driver was able to crawl from the wreckage, while the front passenger was pinned in the overturned vehicle. Two girls lay in the grass median, and a third lay motionless on the pavement of the westbound lanes.

Scott Cole, the father of GHHS basketball player Abby Cole, was driving to the game and arrived at the crash scene seconds after it happened.

"They were driving too fast in traffic,” he said. “They were ahead of us. They passed us in the passing lane, just flying. About 5-7 minutes later, I almost ran into the back of a truck because it was so foggy.”

When he came upon the scene, Cole said he saw several of the girls “thrown all over the road.”

“One was in the westbound lane, another was a hundred yards back, one was trapped in the car and one girl was right by the shoulder,” he said. “We put blankets on them. The driver, Danni (Michaels), was worried about her friends. She was crying and we tried to calm her down.

“I was sitting with the one girl on the shoulder, just holding her head and shoulders stable for what seemed like a half-hour,” he continued. “I don't know how long it was. There was actually a doctor at the scene who was telling people what to do.”

Cole said paramedics were on the scene within 15-20 minutes after the crash.

“There were quite a few Grand Haven people there helping — and other people, strangers and innocent bystanders,” he said. “… I missed half of the game, not that it mattered. My heart goes out to their families. I just hope they all make it through. It puts a dim light on everything. It could have been my girls. It could have been your girls. It's just heartbreaking."

Grand Haven High School Principal Tracy Wilson said in an e-mail to the school’s parents late Friday that the girls were all in stable condition.

"We want to dispel any rumors about the loss of any of our girls," Wilson wrote. "All five girls are stable!"

However, as of 10:45 p.m. Friday, a spokeswoman for Spectrum Health DeVos Hospital in Grand Rapids gave the condition for Emily Bogner as critical. The spokeswoman said medical staff were "still evaluating" Danielle Michaels; and would provide no information on the other three girls.

The Tribune will update the girls' conditions this weekend, when it becomes available, and in Monday's print and e-edition.

Wilson said in her e-mail shortly before 10 p.m. that she had just left the Grand Rapids hospital after meeting with all five families. She said the families appreciate the community's support and are asking for their continued prayers.

Grand Haven senior Matt Kroll was among those who stopped at the crash.

"We questioned whether or not we should stop ... but we saw the yellow shirts and figured they were kids going to the game, so we stopped," he said. "It was real scary. One person there was a doctor and he set it up so when the paramedics got there, they knew whom to see first. One girl had a head injury, so they took care of her first, got her to the hospital right away, then took care of the rest of the people."

Kroll said they and others tried to help as best they could.

"You never really think about anything like this happening, but I guess any time you have this many high school kids on the highway ... we're just in shock," he said.

GHHS students riding the bus to the game said they saw three girls lying on the road and in the median. The girls wore Grand Haven blue and gold.

The students described the SUV as "a mangled mess."

Bowne Township Fire Chief Phil Dougherty said when he initially approached one of the victims, he thought she was dead, but then realized she was still breathing. She became conscious and eventually talked to him.

All five girls were taken to Spectrum Health DeVos Hospital in Grand Rapids via ambulances.

Grand Haven Area Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Melinda Brink said the school district alerted its crisis team, which met at the high school. The team includes counselors and social workers that determine how best to serve students and help them during this difficult situation. Students hosted a vigil at the school later in the day.

Abby Cole, a junior classmate of the girls, said the basketball team was not told of the crash until after the game, which Grand Haven won to advance to the state title game today.

“Girls were celebrating and when they told us, we broke down crying,” she said. “We went from yelling and cheering to sobbing.

“We're playing for them tomorrow,” Abby said Friday. “We want to win for them. We said a team prayer for them.”

A Facebook page has been created to offer prayers for the girls: facebook.com/PrayersFor5GrandHavenHighSchoolStudents.

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