WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — A wrong-way crash on US-131 over the weekend is shining a spotlight on issues along the roadway. 

The crash happened early Sunday morning. Police say they were dispatched to the scene on US-131 between 28th Street and Burton Street around 3:15 a.m. 

Police say a 22-year-old wrong-way driver, traveling southbound in the northbound lanes, hit 21-year-old Willow Yon of Fowlerville head-on. Yon was taken to the hospital, where she died.

An undated photo of Willow Yon. (Courtesy Ava Yon)
An undated photo of Willow Yon. (Courtesy Ava Yon)

Yon was a student of industrial design at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, family said. Friends said she was on her way home from work when the crash happened.

Friends recalled Yon as an “incredible friend,” saying she was encouraging and supportive. They said she loved her family, friends and pets deeply.

“She was incredibly strong, confident, and outspoken. She had such a positive outlook on life. There was no goal too high for her to reach and no obstacle too big for her to overcome,” friend Daria Hayward told News 8 in an email. “She impacted the lives of so many, and her talent, intelligence, and passion will never be forgotten.

The 22-year-old wrong-way driver is in critical condition, police say. They’re still working to learn if drugs or alcohol were a factor in the crash. 

Sunday’s fatal collision is one of many wrong-way crashes that have happened in the last few years along US-131 and around the state. According to data from the Michigan State Police, 10 people were killed statewide in a total of 371 wrong-way crashes in 2020.

Data for 2021 wrong-way crashes is not yet available. 

“It’s something that I warn my students about all the time,” said drivers training instructor Sidney Bragg of wrong-way crashes.

Bragg is the owner of RiteWay Driving School. He said he has been teaching students defensive driving tactics for the last five years. Bragg said when confronted by a wrong-way driver, there are some instances when there is nothing a driver can do to avoid the collision or being hit. 

“It can be difficult, especially on the highway because you’re driving at such a high rate of speed. You’re going 70, 80 (mph) in one direction, and you have somebody coming at you in another direction,” said Bragg. “A way to avoid it, if there’s any way at all to avoid it, is you have to make sure that you keep your eyes moving on the road.”

Bragg also said drivers can try to slow down, possibly giving them more time to react to wrong-way drivers, but said US-131 needs overall improvements.

“It’s just not an easy road to navigate, period,” said Bragg. 

The Michigan Department of Transportation said they have worked to improve interstate safety statewide throughout the years. A spokesperson for MDOT says they’ve made the following changes to mitigate potential wrong-way movements:

  • Painted the separator islands yellow
  • Installed yellow ‘turning blips’ where possible to guide motorists to the far side of the ramp to help align them with the entrance ramp  
  • Installed multiple delineators (red/yellow/white as appropriate) to help delineate the correct ramp path at night
  • Added stop bars on the exit ramp to help define that portion of the ramp as an exit ramp  
  • At a few specific parclo ramps, we extended the concrete separator island towards the main road

MDOT said in the Grand Rapids area it has also lowered the wrong-way and do not enter signs to a bottom height of 4 feet in an attempt to make them more visible to impaired wrong-way drivers and added reflective strips to the posts of wrong-way signs.

MDOT said it has added wrong-way arrows to the pavement parking of all exit ramps and installed wrong-way detection systems at some urban interchanges. In Grand Rapids, the detection systems can be found on trusses near Hall and Wealthy streets, however the detection systems are currently down due to an ongoing project. 

Even with the changes, many of the wrong-way crashes are a result of impaired driving, MDOT said.

MDOT is currently taking an online survey on the segment of US- 131 between 28th Street and Wealthy Street in Grand Rapids regarding the best ways to improve it. The survey can be found here and is available through April 7.