GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Authorities say an unrestrained dog may have distracted a driver and caused a Tuesday crash near Cedar Springs that killed a 2-year-old boy.
Police said the crash happened when John Heeringa ran a stop sign at 17 Mile Road and Myers Lake Road in Nelson Township. His Ford F-150 struck a Ford Explorer Sport Trac. Oscar Zuniga, 2, was thrown from the Explorer Sport Trac and killed instantly. Investigators said the car seat carrying Oscar may have failed.
They also said Heeringa was distracted by his dog that had jumped into the front seat. Heeringa's son said the 65-year-old grandfather remains hospitalized and feels terrible about what happened.
A loose dog in a vehicle is a danger that veterinarian Dr. Chris Buckley at the Kent County Humane Society says he has dealt with in the past. Though unusual, he said, he treats an injured unrestrained dog at least once a year.
"Most of us don't think about it. You just kind of load the dogs up in the car, but they absolutely should be restrained," Buckley said.
"If you've got an 80-pound dog loose in the car and suddenly you're in a collision, that dog's momentum, it's a lot more weight, more force than 80 pounds," Buckley said.
A few states have laws that mandate some form of restraint for vehicles carrying pets: Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine and New Jersey.
In Michigan, law enforcement says the closest regulation comes from careless driving laws, but those don't touch on specifics about dogs.
"It's not the dog's fault. It's just one more way drivers can be distracted," Buckley said.
Police are still looking into Tuesday's Kent County case. When they wrap up their investigation, it will go to the prosecutor's office to see if criminal charges will be filed.
The most seriously injured surviving child was brought to Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in downtown Grand Rapids by Aero Med. He is in fair condition.
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