6 months later, no charges issued in fatal Howard City accident

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 8:32 am on Monday, August 27, 2012

John Reniff

HOWARD CITY — Sunday will mark six months ago that John Reniff died in a multi-vehicle accident in Howard City.

Montcalm County sheriff’s deputies responded to a three-vehicle crash on Ensley Street south of Walnut Street at 9:23 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 26.

Nicole Stapleton, 30, of Howard City, was northbound on Ensley Street, allegedly going a high rate of speed in a 2006 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, when she allegedly rear-ended a 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe driven by Reniff, 31, of Gladstone, formerly of Howard City.

The impact forced Reniff’s vehicle across the road, where it struck a southbound 2006 Chrysler Town and Country minivan driven by Julie Osborne, 43, of Howard City, who was waiting to turn left onto Walnut Street.

After striking the Tahoe, Stapleton’s vehicle continued north and just missed the Dairy Bear ice cream parlor before striking a tree, where the vehicle came to rest.

The multiple crashes sent car parts and contents flying. Reniff was wearing his seatbelt, but something hit the back of his head, shattering his skull and knocking him out. He never woke up. He was airlifted to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, where he died at 10:20 p.m. that night.

Reniff and his girlfriend, Melissa Ballard, 30, of Gladstone, were in town to celebrate Reniff’s grandmother’s birthday party that day. Ballard, who was a passenger in Reniff’s vehicle and was wearing a seatbelt, was transported by Montcalm County Emergency Services to Butterworth where she was treated for a slight concussion and a broken arm.

According to deputies, further investigation found that moments before the crash, Stapleton had allegedly rear-ended a Volkswagen near Federal Road and Kendaville Road about one and a half miles south. Stapleton allegedly continued north into Howard City at a high rate of speed.

The Michigan State Police responded to the first crash. Sheriff’s deputies responded to the second series of crashes.

Stapleton, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was airlifted to Butterworth. She was treated for injuries and later released.

Deputies believe drug use was a factor in Stapleton’s driving. However, six months later, Stapleton’s blood test results remain at the Michigan State Police crime lab in Grand Rapids. No charges have been filed against the Howard City woman.

According to Montcalm County Prosecutor Andrea Krause, there is currently a seven- to eight-month wait time for results from the crime lab, meaning she may not receive blood test results until late October.

“It is my duty to seek justice for crime victims, to gather the best possible information before charging and the best possible case before seeking a conviction,” Krause said. “As soon as I get the information I need from the lab, I will be able to make a decision on the appropriate charge or charges.”

Bonnie Kuzee was waiting for Reniff to arrive to celebrate her 67th birthday on Feb. 26. She had visited with her grandson the night before was looking forward to seeing him again before he returned to Gladstone, where he had recently moved from Howard City to take a job driving semi truck — something he loved to do. Reniff and Kuzee had formed a close bond over the years.

“He was with me most in and out of his life,” said Kuzee, her voice weary with emotion. “If anything happened, he would call grandma.”
A fresh birthday cake was sitting on the table when Kuzee received the bad news.

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