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December 6, 2004

Newaygo crash kills three teens

From:, MI - Dec 6, 2004

By Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood

NEWAYGO COUNTY -- When the phone call came at 7:19 a.m. Sunday, Rhonda Aldrich said she assumed her oldest son was in trouble again.

"I thought maybe Bobby got arrested," she said.

But the news was much worse this time. Robert "Bobby" DeWinter, 19, was dead.

He and two friends, Cody Allen Brewer, 17, and Brian "Bucky" Radford, 18, both of Grant, died at the scene of a 9 p.m. car crash Saturday in Newaygo County's Ashland Township.

A fourth passenger, Nic Dean, 16, of Grant, was listed in serious condition today at DeVos Children's Hospital.

It was one of two triple-fatal crashes over the weekend. Three students from a job-training program were killed in a single-vehicle crash at 2:45 p.m. Sunday in southwestern Barry County northeast of Kalamazoo.

In the Newaygo crash, police said DeWinter was driving a Volkswagen Jetta that sped through a stop sign at a railroad crossing on 136th Street. The car struck a Pontiac on the rear driver's side as the car was turning into a driveway, then caromed into the eastbound traffic lane, where it crashed head-on with a Ford pickup.

The truck burst into flames and the driver, Denise Marie Gribowski, 46, of Bailey, was pulled out of her vehicle by the men in the Pontiac -- Seth Harpe, 21, of Grant and Daniel Harpe, 18, of Newaygo. The men were not injured, and Gribowski was transported to Spectrum Butterworth in Grand Rapids. She was listed in fair condition today.

According to state police records, DeWinter was convicted in February of a misdemeanor drug charge while driving, and his relatives report he had crashed a vehicle once before.

"I hope he wasn't drinking," said Mary Unger, 66, DeWinter's grandmother. "His dad had really been hammering him to slow down."

Unger said her grandson hadn't had a "pretty life." DeWinter and his brother, Kenny DeWinter, 17, had both been placed in foster care when their parents, who are both deaf, were unable to care for them.

Adelita Juarez, of Grant, was DeWinter's foster mom while he attended Grant High School. During that time he earned all-conference football honors and competed on the wrestling team.

"He called about a week ago to let us know he had gotten a job and a car and an apartment and he was doing OK and had finally gotten his life together," she said. "He was a really good kid. He was well-liked, well-mannered. A lot of people are going to miss him."

Carla Radford, 37, said her son, Brian, just recently reached the end of his probation for a marijuana offense.

"They were pretty wild," she said about her son and his group of friends. "I know he worried me every time he left the house."

Kenny DeWinter saw his brother in Newaygo County about a half hour before he died. He said he didn't get in the car with him because he had to show some friends how to get back to Grand Rapids.

Police officers tried to notify DeWinter's mother about the accident Saturday night, but she wasn't able to hear them knocking at her door. A trooper came to the door with a signing interpreter Sunday.

Hoping to find one last photo to remember her son Sunday evening, Aldrich flipped through a stack of photos the family had just picked up from the one-hour photo at a drugstore down the street. Near the bottom of the pile, she found one of Bobby DeWinter holding an ice cream cone and doting on his 2-year-old stepbrother, Chris.

"There he is," she said, her eyes filling with tears.

In Barry County, police said the accident occurred when driver Rachel Kerns, 20, lost control of a 1993 Mercury Villager. The van ran off the road's south side, struck several trees and overturned.

Passengers Glen Dewayne Lloyd, 20, and Noel Louis Gelfund, 19, were ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene, along with Kelly Ann Vargo, 21.

All were students at the nearby Michigan Career and Technical Institute, which provides vocational and technical training for people with disabilities, Barry County officials said.

© 2004 Muskegon Chronicle. Used with permission
Copyright 2004 Michigan Live. All Rights Reserved.