CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - A 75-year-old Ionia man is dead after his car plunged off a portion of I-96 and into the Thornapple River.
It happened just before 9 a.m. Wednesday on westbound I-96 just east of the ramp to M-6.
Family members confirm to 24 Hour News 8 that the victim is 75-year-old Bill Steere. He is the father of Grandville Police Chief Dan Steere. The family was notified of the death this afternoon.
One witness told 24 Hour News 8 he witnessed the first signs of trouble over a mile before the crash.
"This guy was driving on the shoulder like really slow, around 20, 30 miles an hour, and all of the sudden, he turned his signal on and turned right in front of everybody," said Elias Elchaar.
Elchaar, a truck driver who was also headed west of I-96, said Steere cut across the traffic lanes and into the median.
"So I picked up my speed, got next to him, and blow my air horn for him to get him to wake up, to respond, because he was leaning one way,” Elchaar said. "I knew he was in trouble somehow."
Elchaar called 911 and continued driving, passing the burgundy 2011 Grand Marquis.
The Grand Marquis continued westbound, traveling between the guard rails until it reached the open spot between the bridges that carry traffic over the Thornapple, and plunged over the side, landing on its roof in the water.
Fire crews from Cascade Township and Caledonia Township rushed to the scene. But the rescue soon turned into a recovery operation.
The eastbound lanes of I-96 were shut down for several hours while a crane was brought in to hoist the car out of the river.
While no official word was given, speculation suggested a medical condition caused Steere to leave the road.
A family member who wishes to remain anonymous said Steere had a history of medical issues, and had on at least one occasion blacked out while behind the wheel and ran into a portion of his garage. He was unable to drive himself for several months after that. The family member didn't know the exact status of his driver's license at that time.
He was on medication for the blackout spells, according to the anonymous family member.
"He was out of it,” witness Elchaar said. “I could tell you, from what I saw looking in his car, that he wasn't responding to anything."
Michigan State Police said it's too early to tell if a medical emergency caused the driver to leave the roadway.
"We don't know that at this time. Just based on what the witnesses say, it looks as though the driver was not in a state of mind to be driving a vehicle," MSP Trooper Jacob Cox said.
An autopsy will be conducted to get those answers.
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