Christmas tragedy strikes GH Twp. family

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

Family members first reported Lawrence Stearns, 29, missing late Monday night when he didn’t return home for Christmas Eve family festivities.

After work that day, Stearns told his wife and co-workers at Burnips Equipment that he planned to check his hunting traps before returning home to his wife and three children.

Gary Stearns, Lawrence’s father, said his son last texted his wife at 4:06 p.m. Monday to inform her of his plans.

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

When Lawrence didn’t return, family began searching at 8 p.m. Monday, and contacted the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department at about 11:30 p.m. to report him missing.

At about 4 p.m. Tuesday, a man called emergency responders from his canoe when he found the submerged car in the Grand River at Bur Oak Landing, near the 90th Avenue and Lake Forest intersection in Polkton Township.

Ottawa County Sheriff Sgt. Brian Buter said the car most likely entered the river from the boat launch before a strong current carried the Buick about 300 feet downstream, where it settled in sediment.

Coopersville resident Todd Foreman and his two sons spotted the car.

The trio originally planned to get fresh air during a trip from Eastmanville to Grand Haven when they came across friends looking for Lawrence Stearns.

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

“Almost any time I do it, He answers,” Foreman said about praying.

Two miles later, Foreman’s son pointed toward the weeds. Foreman said they could barely see the car’s antenna.

Buter said the incident remains under investigation and more information would be available in coming weeks.

Meanwhile, family and friends gathered at the river on Christmas evening, mourning the loss of a young father and outdoorsman.

Gary Stearns spoke for his grieving family when he said his son enjoyed trapping otters and beavers.

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

Carl VanderKolk, owner Burnips Equipment, said he and other co-workers joined search efforts on Tuesday.

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

Did you know Lawrence Stearns? If so, and you'd like to share memories about him for a tribute story, please contact reporter Krystle Wagner at kwagner@grandhaventribune.com or by phone at 616-842-6400 ext. 226.

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