Driver charged in death of firefighter’s son

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A driver is charged with a misdemeanor crime after a 6-year-old boy was hit and killed last month while riding his bike with his dad, a Cascade Township firefighter.

The funeral for Ryan Marsman took place June 18, the same day he would have turned 7 years old. In his obituary, Ryan was described as “full of life always looking for the next adventure preferably while wearing camouflage! He was tenderhearted and loved his family, friends and fire trucks (just like his Daddy).”

Ryan Marsman
A courtesy photo of Ryan Marsman from his obituary.

On June 13, Ryan and his dad Andy Marsman were riding their bikes at the intersection of Laraway Lake Drive and Cascade Road in Cascade Township when Ryan was hit by a pickup truck.

Nearly a month later, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker charged Matthew Klaasen, 22, of Tallmadge Township, with a moving violation causing death.

“We take a look at all the facts and circumstances and we get all the witness reports. We rely very heavily on the Kent County Sheriff’s Department to provide a good investigation. That’s why there is that delay. This happened back in June and we charged in July,” Becker told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday.

Investigators said Klaasen didn’t see the boy as he made a turn from Laraway onto Cascade.

“A moving violation can be a variety of different things. Generally you see these in maybe a rear-ending. Somebody’s not paying attention and rear-ends somebody. That’s a moving violation,” Becker explained.

The charge of moving violation causing death didn’t exist before Oct. 31, 2010. It was enacted to give prosecutors a way to charge someone in a deadly crash and eliminated the old charge of vehicular homicide. Even those charged with enforcing the law see it as a way to criminalize accidents.

“So something that may be minor in terms of what the person did but it caused very serious harm to some other individual,” Becker said.

“At the end of the day, yes, we’ve criminalized the outcome of really a noncriminal, civil act violation, but there’s still a dead person,” criminal defense attorney Andrew Rodenhouse said.

Becker said there was a careful investigation of the circumstances before the charge was issued.

“There are some cases that are purely accidents and we may decline to charge,” Becker said.

But in this case, there was a charge that carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail. Additionally, the Secretary of State will suspend a driver’s license for a year if they are found guilty of a moving violation causing death.

In these cases, sentences can depend on the impact and the wishes of the victim’s family.

“I can’t think of a case where we haven’t had a representative of the victim — or the victim if it was an injury — speak and give their input,” Becker said, adding that judges pay attention to those statements when making their decisions. “A lot of times, people on the victim’s side are rather forgiving, so very seldom does it result in jail time.”

Such was the case of Monty Parker Jr., who was sentenced to 150 hours on a work crew for his role in the Jan. 7, 2018, crash on US-131 in Grand Rapids that killed Valery Arreola and her 3-year-old son, Guillermo.

In another similar case, Rhonda VanderMyde received 18 months of probation in the fatal Fourth of July 2018 rear-end crash at the intersection of Port Sheldon and US-31 in Ottawa County that killed 60-year-old Ruth Bull.

“It can be there but for the grace of God,” Rodenhouse said.

Klaasen, who does not have a criminal history in Michigan, is slated to be arraigned in Kent County District Court Thursday.

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