9 months later and still no charges issued in fatal Howard City crash


By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 10:38 am on Monday, November 26, 2012

John Refiff

HOWARD CITY — Today marks nine 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, nine 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.

Montcalm County Prosecutor Andrea Krause was originally hoping to receive blood test results by late October since there is currently a lengthy wait time for results from the crime lab.

“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.”

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