GUN PLAIN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Allegan County authorities are looking into whether drowsy driving may have caused the fiery crash that claimed the life of a mail carrier.
The crash that killed 55-year-old Sheila Rackley of the Martin area happened early Monday afternoon on 10th Street near Carrie Avenue, north of Plainwell.
Rackley had stopped to drop mail into a mailbox when her vehicle was rear-ended by a pickup truck and shoved into the ditch, where it caught fire. Rackley died at the scene.
“It’s very likely, due to the severity of the impact, that she was at least unconscious after the impact. That’s something the medical examiner report will cover more,” Allegan County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Chris Kuhn told News 8.
On Tuesday, passersby could see a large burn mark in the ditch alongside the mostly unrecognizable parts of the postal vehicle.
One thing investigators look for as the work out what caused a crash is skid marks before the point of impact. There are none at the scene.
“Either there was a moment of distraction or the subject that was driving the pickup truck fell asleep,” Kuhn said.
The driver of the pickup, who wasn’t hurt, works third shift.
Kuhn said it’s more common than you might think for drivers to be drowsy or fall asleep at the wheel.
“Very likely, people don’t even recognize when they do it, but they just don’t have a crash while they’re doing it,” he said.
He said it’s one of several mistakes drivers often make, saying too many don’t realize the complexity of driving.
“You come to a stop sign and you see a car approaching. If you can’t tell me the color of that car and maybe even the type of car it is — SUV, pickup truck — then you didn’t see the vehicle,” Kuhn said. “You might have looked, but you didn’t actually see it. Your brain didn’t recognize how fast it was going, the threat that it has as far as encroaching as you go through the intersection.”
Kuhn said Monday’s crash should serve as a reminder of the importance of safe driving habits.
“I think if we teach these to young drivers and remind our experienced drivers to see and not just look for things, I think maybe that will help people avoid tragedies like this,” Kuhn said.
Results of the investigation will be handed over to the Allegan County prosecutor, who will make a final decision on whether the driver of the pickup will be charged.
Rackley worked out of the Plainwell post office. The U.S. Postal Service is offering assistance to her family and coworkers.
“Our thoughts and our deepest sympathy go out to her family and friends, including the people she worked with at the postal service.” Postal Service spokesperson Sabrina Todd said in a statement.