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Posted on Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 2:45 p.m.

Driver killed in I-94 crash remembered as good family man; 2 others remained hospitalized

By Kyle Feldscher

This story has been updated with comments from a spokeswoman for the Desmarais family and family friends.

The 43-year-old Ann Arbor man who was killed on Interstate 94 Saturday while on his way to work was described as a family man whose death left his coworkers in shock.

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One man died and two others remain hospitalized following this traffic crash on I-94 Saturday.

Sean Desmarais was killed Saturday morning when his 2003 Dodge Ram slammed into the back of a 2001 Hyundai Santa Fe on eastbound I-94 west of the South State Street exit. Desmarais was on his way to work at Drivers Driveline Auto Repair Service in Ypsilanti Township.

Mark Driver, the owner of Drivers Driveline Auto Repair Service, said Monday Desmarais was a “good father to his children and a good husband.” He said Desmarais never missed a day of work in six years of working at the business and was never late.

As a manager at the business, Desmarais was one of the first people customers saw when they came into the shop, and his death has come as shock to many, Driver said.

“We liked him here. He dealt with the customers and they liked him,” he said. “A lot of them are coming in here today and are almost breaking down in tears when I tell them what happened.”

Desmarais was pronounced dead at 8 a.m. Saturday at the scene of the crash at eastbound I-94 west of the South State Street exit. Police said the airbags in the truck did not deploy and he was not wearing a seatbelt.

He leaves behind his wife, Dawn, and two children, Bobby, 20, and Sean Jr., who turned 20 on Saturday. Tonya Driver, speaking on behalf of the Desmarais family, said Desmarais was extremely devoted to his family.

“He was a wonderful, humble person, the kindest gentleman who would give the shirt off his back and was so loyal,” she said.

Melissa Lowell, owner of Lowell’s Towing in Ypsilanti, said Desmarais used to drive the tow truck in between Drivers and her shop. She said Desmarais was always willing to volunteer to work so her family could have more time together.

Desmarais would put on a fireworks display at her house when their families would have get togethers, she said.

“His family was the world to him,” Lowell said. “They were put up on a pedestal higher than anything could possibly be. He would give his right arm for them. He worked for us, but he was family. He wasn’t blood but he was the nicest person ever, you wanted him to be your family member."

Lowell recalled when Desmarais got sick with bronchitis and, not long after, she came down with the same affliction. Lowell said she was touched when he was so upset he might have been the one to pass the sickness on to her and her family.

“He was very heartfelt, a perfect gentleman,” she said.

When the crash occurred, Michigan Department of Transportation crews had closed the freeway to replace a sign over I-94 near US-23. The freeway had been closed at 7 a.m. and was only scheduled to be closed for 15 to 20 minutes, but work on the sign lasted longer than anticipated. MDOT officials said warnings about the closure were posted, but there were fewer signs than would have accompanied a longer-term freeway closure.

Kari Arend, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Transportation, said a single lane had been closed on I-94 near US-23 from midnight until 7 a.m. Saturday. The entire freeway was scheduled to be closed for a short period of time at some point during that seven-hour period, but there was no set time for the closure to occur.

Arend said MDOT is investigating why the entire freeway closure occurred at 7 a.m. instead of earlier in the morning when there was likely less traffic.

“We’re still looking into that and figuring things out on our end,” she said.

“When we do those (closures), it’s hard to pinpoint when the short-term closures will be,” she added. “We just know they’ll happen sometime during this period.”

When the Dodge Ram truck Desmarais was driving hit the Santa Fe, the impact pushed the Hyundai into a semi truck. Nicholas Vandoornevelt, of Cottage Grove, Minn., and Spencer Yon, of Duluth, Minn., were in the Santa Fe. The 18-year-olds are both still being treated at the University of Michigan Hospital after suffering serious injuries.

Yon remains in critical condition Monday afternoon, and Vandoornevelt is in good condition, according to hospital officials. The two men had to be extricated from the Santa Fe on I-94 Saturday.

Thomas Smith, the driver of the semi truck, suffered minor injuries and was treated at the scene of the crash.

Michigan State Police Sgt. Mark Thompson said there was little confusion on I-94 before the crash occurred — vehicles were stopped and the backup was lengthy, but he was not aware of any cars attempting to get off the freeway by driving against traffic or turning around in the median. When asked if Desmarais had attempted to stop the Ram before hitting the Santa Fe, Thompson said police wouldn’t release that information.

“We wouldn’t really detail that because he would be the at-fault driver,” Thompson said. “He is deceased, so there is nothing for us to seek criminal prosecution against.”

Funeral services for Desmarais will be held on Thursday at Brightmore Church, 40800 W. 13 Mile Road in Novi. Visitation will be held at 10 a.m., the funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. and will be followed by a luncheon.

The Desmarais family asks anyone interested in sending flowers instead send donations to Drivers Driveline, 896 N. Harris Road, Ypsilanti Township, 48198. All donations collected will be sent to the family.

Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 12:12 a.m.

All of you commenting fail to mention the two young men he hit! One still in critical condition. How about prayers to their out of town families!

Stuart Brown

Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 2:46 a.m.

Hopefully, Sean's family will sue the State for wrongful death. This accident was a foreseeable event and the State failed to take necessary precautions. My advice would be to spend significant time finding the right attorney and don't be afraid to say, "next."


Tue, Nov 6, 2012 : 11:22 p.m.

This is a tragedy. I hope the geeks working on the "connected vehicle" project in northeast A2 help move us to safer travel.

music to my ear

Tue, Nov 6, 2012 : 8:39 p.m.

I knew Sean and I am heartbroken for his family they were all very close. they had some hard times in the past, and things were going good . so sorry to the family for your loss Sean, was a really great guy .


Tue, Nov 6, 2012 : 6:51 p.m.

I recently had a rusted brake line burst on a truck. Fortunately I was in a parking lot and shut off the ignition and used the parking brake to stop at less than 5mph. Until the police and investigators complete their job no one knows exactly what happened! To place blame in inconsiderate and ignorant (contempt prior to investigation) in my opinion.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 11:56 p.m.

There are comments on here that say that the airbag won't deploy if the seatbelt is not being used. That is not true according to this. Taking a look at those who have been killed or injured by airbags and how the airbag works will help explain the issues: People who don't wear their seat belts – The great majority of people who have been killed or injured by airbags were killed because they weren't wearing their seat belts. Airbags are technically known as Supplemental or Secondary Restraint Systems (SRS). You may have noticed those initials embossed into your steering wheel. If the airbag is a secondary restraint system that means the seat belt is the primary restraint system. Imagine the collision forces of a 150 pound man flying forward at 45 mph into an airbag that is coming toward him at 200 mph. The forces are tremendous. Airbags are meant to be used in conjunction with both the lap belt and the shoulder harness. If used properly, the driver's head will move forward into an already deployed cushion. You should never use the presence of airbags as an excuse not to wear your seat belt. Drivers should remember that the airbag won't deploy in every crash. The sensors that activate the airbag are located on the front bumper and have to be hit directly to activate. That means they will normally only activate in a head-on or a rear-end crash. Again, you can't count on the presence of airbags as an excuse not to wear seat belts. When the airbag does deploy, it will deflate one second later. The airbag deflates so that it won't be in the way when you're evacuating the vehicle. Airbags are a highly effective secondary life saving system. Remember that it is a secondary or back-up system; use your seat belts and make sure you are positioned a minimum distance from the airbag."


Tue, Nov 6, 2012 : 6:01 p.m.

With American adults becoming larger and larger auto manufacturers need to take this in to account and make the seat belt big enough to fit around them. I'm not 100% positive this is why he wasn't wearing his, but I am an acquaintenance and it COULD be the rationale.

Kyle Feldscher

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 11:38 p.m.

I've updated this story with comments from the Desmarais family and family friends.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 11:18 p.m.

I will repost this for everyone to see so that it does not show up as just a reply. To everyone making comments about how it was his fault: A man is dead and all you people can talk about is who's fault it is. Get over yourselves!! What if this was your son, or daughter, or mother, or father?! What if it was someone you cared about? How would you feel if you read comments like this. SOMEONE DIED and this is how people think? This is the society we live in! DISGUSTING and sickening! FAMILY MEMBERS read these comments!! You should all be ashamed of yourselves.


Tue, Nov 6, 2012 : 3:59 a.m.

George Santayana (1863-1952) : "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 11:11 p.m.

I'm troubled about people making various claims as to whether air bags deploy when the seat belt is not worn. Not one person who's made that claim has offered a reliable citation. The Wikipedia article makes a few claims. Here's a quote: "Advanced airbag technologies are being developed to tailor airbag deployment to the severity of the crash, the size and posture of the vehicle occupant, belt usage, and how close that person is to the actual airbag. Many of these systems use multi-stage inflators that deploy less forcefully in stages in moderate crashes than in very severe crashes. Occupant sensing devices let the airbag control unit know if someone is occupying a seat adjacent to an airbag, the mass/weight of the person, whether a seat belt or child restraint is being used, and whether the person is forward in the seat and close to the airbag. Based on this information and crash severity information, the airbag is deployed at either a high force level, a less forceful level, or not at all." By no means is Wikipedia definitive. But it's better than nothing. See:


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 10:41 p.m.

"Police said the airbags in the truck did not deploy, and he was not wearing a seatbelt." Airbags don't deploy if the seatbelt isn't engaged in ALL late model vehicles. ""We wouldn't really detail that because he would be the at-fault driver," Thompson said. "He is deceased, so there is nothing for us to seek criminal prosecution against."" Incorrect. That literally makes NO sense at all. Insurance will require a police report that declares which party is at fault. It is unfortunate that one of the parties is deceased but that doesn't change a single thing in regards to the vehicle collision report and declaring who was at fault.


Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 3:58 a.m.

Michigan is a no fault state. So no matter who is at fault? Everyone gets their injuries paid for and new cars to boot.


Tue, Nov 6, 2012 : 4 a.m.

Britney: George Santayana (1863-1952) : "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 11:14 p.m.

A man is dead and all you people can talk about is who's fault it is. Get over yourselves!! What if this was your son, or daughter, or mother, or father?! What if it was someone you cared about? How would you feel if you read comments like this. SOMEONE DIED and this is how people think? This is the society we live in! DISGUSTING and sickening! FAMILY MEMBERS read these comments!! You should all be ashamed of yourselves.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 11:03 p.m.

Sgt Thompson said "...he would be the at fault driver..." That info will be in the police report. Releasing the details to the public and releasing the details to the insurance companies are to separate issues.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 10:40 p.m.

After reading this several times, I can't imagine the man dying in the truck when it was Hyundai that went under the semi. So, no seatbelt and no air bag deployment? Wow. Deadly. I'd like to know whey the air bag did not deploy. Was he going under 30?. People really need to slow down. Good luck to the family.


Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 3:57 a.m.

I do know for a fact that an airbag will deploy even if you are not wearing a seatbelt. A friend was not wearing hers when she went to the grocery store. She walked but was lucky. Sounds like a major mfg lawsuit if you ask me.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 11:59 p.m.

Billy, He was driving a 2003 Dodge Ram according to the report. Dodge says you are 100% WRONG about an airbag not deploying if the seat belt is not fastened. I would trust the manufacturer over you any day.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 10:42 p.m.

Airbags don't deploy if you're not using the seatbelt. This is SOP for all late model vehicles.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 10:17 p.m.

Arend said MDOT is investigating why the entire freeway closure occurred at 7 a.m. instead of earlier in the morning when there was likely less traffic. I went through there Friday evening at 9pm and the it was closed. So it closed much earlier than the article states.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 10:18 p.m.

Forgot to "quote" the paragraph from the article

Paula Gardner

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 9:59 p.m.

@smacks, Yes, Kyle called the family's house today. I also called it Saturday about 8 hours after the crash. I can tell you that is one of the most difficult parts of this job. But I've also learned over many years of steeling myself to make the calls that, when you give a family the chance to talk, many of them take it. And the result is a chance for the people reading to feel a stronger connection to person who died and the grief felt by their survivors. Some people don't want to talk immediately; some never will. It's my belief that it's important for us to respectfully reach out and accept the answer. I also think it's important to keep trying for this reason: I'd rather have the family ignore our call today but know (via the call) we're doing another story than assume they don't want to talk and have them surprised by an article. Paula

jeny Martin

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 3:09 a.m.

I don't believe it was insensitive, it must be a very difficult thing to do. I'm not sure that I could do it. The comments that first started to appear when the story first broke were what were inappropriate and insensitive and I appreciate the careful update that was written to bring a little humanity to such a tragic loss.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 10:15 p.m.

As a non-journalist it does seem a bit insensitive to me to call so close to the event. But I do understand what your job is. I guess I'm just glad not to have to be put in a position to make that call.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 9:48 p.m.

Kyle! ARE YOU KIDDING ME!... How inappropriate and insensitive to call the family's home. If you want to find out how good of a guy he was, go talk to his co workers. Stay away from the grieving family.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 9:24 p.m.

This is so painful to read, my heart goes out to the family of this man.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 8:57 p.m.

@ smacks- I think you are wrong. The employer really liked his employee. Perhaps he was calling to share condolences from people that cared so much for him. Also ask if there was anything they could do for the wife and children. My prayers go out to the family, also to the famlies of those injured.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 9:04 p.m.

I don't think it was the employer calling - The article makes it sound like it was


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 8:49 p.m.

This appears to be a horrible accident that leaves a family devastated after their loss. Sympathy and kindness to family and close friends of this family man are in order. Highway closure certainly appears to be the cause of this family man's death. Any other conclusion is just mean and inconsiderate in my opinion.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 11:56 p.m.

" MDOT should have had better safety precautions in place. I have personally witnessed them putting up those signs on 94 in the last couple of weeks and the safety precautions were sorely lacking for those workers as wel" The sun got in my eyes, the check is in the mail. There is absolutely NO excuse to plow into the back of another car under any circumstances . YOU as a drive are responsible for your car and what it does to others. If he had killed the two kids in the car in front of him tell me what you would be saying then? Quite frankly his estate should be paying the families who have their 18 year old kids in the hospital and not a single story about them and what they or their families are going through I did not deem him at fault, the state of Michigan has already done that


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 11:41 p.m.

Matt Cooper, as I said, you were not there. You do not know what happened and neither do I. But I will not fault the dead man for something that happened that may not have been his fault at all. MDOT should have had better safety precautions in place. I have personally witnessed them putting up those signs on 94 in the last couple of weeks and the safety precautions were sorely lacking for those workers as well. Then again, think what happened to Brandon Inge when he slid on the ice at Scio Church and Parker and plowed into 4 cars.....nothing.

Matt Cooper

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 10:55 p.m.

Oh, one other thing. If you slide on ice into another vehicle and hit them, you are in fact the 'at -fault' driver not simply because the police need to label someone the at fault driver. it is because as the driver of that vehicle, regardless of weather conditions, you are responsible for the operation and safety of the vehicle. Sliding into another vehicle demonstrates that you were probably driving either too fast for the road conditions or too close to the other vehicle to stop safely. Either way, in that scenario, but for your lack of driving safely, the accident wouldn't have occurred. Just sayin'

Matt Cooper

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 10:51 p.m.

Well then, justcurious, you seem to want to relieve Mr Desmarais of responsibility. So, who then caused the accident? Was someone else driving his truck? Everybody else seemed to have no problem stopping. Why didn't he? Whose fault is it if not his? And just so you know, for police reporting purposes, the driver who is labeled the 'at-fault' driver is the one who is known to have been the causative agent of the accident. Not the bystander. Not the guys working on the sign. Not the drivers stopped in front of him. The driver that caused the accident. It baffles me why people seem to want to shift responsibility completely away from where it truly appears to belong.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 10:42 p.m.

Actionjackson you are so right.This family is in pain.I have trouble with Ann calling their house.I know they were planning a funeral today.Please people use some compassion.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 10:18 p.m.

Matt Cooper, in our state you are an "at fault" driver if you even slide on the ice and hit someone from behind. The State Police statement simply says that...

Matt Cooper

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 9:51 p.m.

justcurious and getyour, did you even read the article? "We wouldn't really detail that because he would be the at-fault driver," Thompson said. "He is deceased, so there is nothing for us to seek criminal prosecution against." The state police have him as the at-fault driver. This means they believe he caused the accident. So if not him, who else was at fault? Was it MDOT's fault that he obviously wasn't paying attention to the road? Or perhaps it was the fault of the two young men stopped in front of him and were injured? The fact of the matter is that when we get behind the wheel of a car, we are responsible for maintaining control of that car and driving safely and within the confines of the road conditions. I've driven that part of 94 thousands of times at all times of day or night. There is no excuse for anyone not seeing the stopped traffic. I didn't know Mr. Desmarais and I am surely not trying to make him look bad or say anything negative about him. And my prayers today are for his family and friends that have lost him forever, as well as for Mr. Yon and Mr. Vandoornevelt. I wish them a speedy recovery.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 9:20 p.m.

this was a tragic accident & someone is dead. i'm sure mr desmarais wasn't planning on hitting the stopped car. so johnnya2 i think your comment is a little cruel & uncalled for.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 9:14 p.m.

Well johnnya2 and MgoBlueMomma, you are the ones who are completely wrong because you were not there and don't have a clue as to what really happened. Blaming the dead victim would have gotten your comments deleted in the past and should now. People who were there also said that the traffic was stopped right after the curve and the sun was shining in their eyes.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 8:37 p.m.

You guys actually called the deceased's house this morning? For what? Am I wrong, or does this seem pretty callous to anybody else?

jeny Martin

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 3:01 a.m.

I'm sure it's a very difficult part of the job, but I thank you for updating story so folks can read about the wonderful person that just left this world too soon. It was a tragic accident, a family lost its father, brother, son. A woman lost her husband. Several of the first comments had been so heartless and hurtful. As hard as it may be to talk to the family at such a time, writing such a touching addendum to the first story helps to bring the tragedy into perspective. No one knows if the seatbelt would have even spared Mr Desmarais' life, so why the discussion about it? Has no one ever forgotten to buckle up? I pray for the grieving family - may the Lord bring them peace and comfort. I pray for the boys who were injured and for their families - how scary this must be for them - may the Lord bring healing. May we each look past the small distractions of everyday and remember what really matters. Hug your loved ones, tell them you love them. You never know when it may be the last time you see them.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 11:52 p.m.

There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with a journalist contacting a family after something like this. Many times it is a chance to talk about their loved ones. My 19 year old cousin was killed in a gruesome car accident on I-75 in Florida in August. The local reporter called my aunt and she was thrilled that somebody cared enough about learning about him other than name, date of birth and where he graduated from high school.My aunt was thrilled to tell the rest of the community the things she saw in her son. Obviously the reporters job is to understand that a wife, or mother is not going to give the negative about a recently deceased loved one, but it does give a side to them


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 11:02 p.m.

most people i see on the local news seem to have no problem being on camera, no matter how soon the tragedy happened (which always surprises me). i think this is one of those things that you are "damned if you do/damned if you don't". if kyle wrote the story without at least giving the family an opportunity to comment if they wished to (or had a spokesperson), people might be complaining that he didn't get a complete picture of the deceased and "he should have contacted the family".


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 10:59 p.m.

Thanks Kyle.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 10:21 p.m.

It's really no different from the local TV news where they have a camara in the deceased families face at the time the story breaks.

Kyle Feldscher

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 9:47 p.m.

USRepublic: I absolutely don't think she wants to talk to me. However, I try to be as sensitive as I can in these situations while still doing my job, which includes attempting to speak to Sean's family. If they choose to not call me back, that's totally fine and I understand. I'm not going to be calling their home repeatedly seeking comment. I just wanted to give them the opportunity. Tag- I've attempted to get updates on the case repeatedly to no avail. I've attempted to reach out to the driver of the Expedition as well and have had no luck. I will try and talk to the State Police about this again this week and try to see if there's anything new on it.

Matt Cooper

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 9:37 p.m.

Totally inappropriate? Hardly. It is standard practice for reporters to contact the families of the deceased and ask if they want to comment. Watch any 6pm news cast and you will see the same thing.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 9:37 p.m.

Kyle, great journalistic work I understand how difficult it can be to do your job. In this case you and (I believe) Susan did a great job covering this tragic accident. My deepest sympathies for all the families involved. All that being said, why has the follow up on the US-23 accident involving the Honda Minivan and the Ford Expedition been so lacking? Many readers have been waiting for a follow up regarding this accident as well. State Police should have completed their investigation by now and turned it over to the prosecutor to determine if charges would be filed. Talk to the driver of the Expedition?


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 9:26 p.m.

Reminds me of the Don Henley song..... Can we film the operation? Is the head dead yet? You know, the boys in the newsroom got a Running bet Get the widow on the set! We need dirty laundry Totally inappropriate...does Kyle think the grieving widow wants to talk to an Ann reporter after such a tragedy?.....Maybe the children can provide a headline?... Next time...leave the grieving family alone.....and let them call you. You might lose a few click throughs.... Give me a break.

Kyle Feldscher

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 9:06 p.m.

smacks - It's my opinion that it's necessary to give the most complete picture of the deceased, rather than just name, age and town of residence. It's important to me that readers know the person who died, at least a little bit, and a lot of times that means calling the home of the deceased to offer the family the opportunity to comment. It's not something I enjoy doing and it's not something I take lightly. However, I think it's fair to give the families of deceased people the opportunity to speak to me for a story. They obviously don't have to, but I feel I would be doing them, and my readers, a disservice by not giving them that chance.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 8:21 p.m.

I have always been extremely uneasy whenever I come up on stopped traffic on a freeway. I generally will move my car to the far right of my lane so I may possibly have a way out while constantly monitoring my rear view mirror for cars who may not stop. I also try to maintain more space between myself and the vehicle in front of me. I am so sorry for the Desmarais family and those that knew him. I also pray that the two young men will come out of this ok. It must be very hard on their families to have had this happen so far from home.

Ann English

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 11:29 p.m.

Sounds like you've internalized two good rules to follow when encountering stopped traffic on a freeway, with no warning signs around, such as when TWO freeway lanes are closed ahead. The only time I ever slowed down on a freeway due to an accident was at night and I had just gotten on the freeway and crossed a bridge; I had not been going fast long at all. It must have caught Mr. Desmarais by surprise to see stopped traffic ahead. It would have caught me off guard, too.