Man found dead in Grand River

Krystle Wagner • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:59 AM

Friends, family, co-workers and police had been searching for Lawrence Stearns, 29, since Monday night.

Family members first reported Stearns missing late Monday night when he didn’t return home after he had plans to check his hunting traps. At about 4 p.m. Tuesday, a canoeist called 911 to report a car in the Grand River at Bur Oak Landing, near the intersection of 90th Avenue and Lake Forest Drive in Polkton Township.

Sgt. Brian Buter of the Ottawa County Sherriff’s Department said Stearns’ car most likely entered the river from the boat launch. A strong current caused the car to drift about 300 yards downstream from the launch and settle into sediment in the river.

Buter said the incident remains under investigation.

After work at around 4 p.m. Monday, Stearns told his co-workers at Burnips Equipment Co. in Coopersville that he planned to check on some hunting traps before returning home to spend Christmas Eve with his wife and three children. His father, Gary Stearns, said his son last sent a text message to his wife at 4:06 p.m. Monday to inform her of his plans.

“He never made it home,” the elder Stearns said. “Nobody ever heard from him again.”

Family members began searching for him at 8 p.m. Monday. They contacted the Ottawa County Sherriff’s Department at about 11:30 p.m. about the missing man, Buter said.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Coopersville resident Todd Foreman and his two sons spotted the man’s car in the river. The three originally planned to get fresh air during a Christmas Day canoe trip from Eastmanville to Grand Haven when they came across friends looking for Lawrence Stearns.

Foreman agreed to help with the search, but said a prayer with the group before leaving.

“Almost anytime I do it, (God) answers,” Foreman said about praying.

Two miles later, one of Foreman’s sons pointed out a car concealed by weeds and difficult to see. Foreman said they could see the car’s antenna.

Carl VanderKolk, the owner of Burnips Equipment, said he and some employees joined the search efforts on Tuesday.

“Larry was a nice guy,” VanderKolk said. “I couldn’t think of a worse thing to happen. I feel bad for his family.”

Gary Stearns said his son enjoyed trapping otters and beavers.

“He loved to hunt, fish and trap,” the father said.

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