Howard City woman arrested for year-old fatal accident


By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 10:47 am on Tuesday, January 15, 2013

HOWARD CITY — A woman is facing felony charges almost one year after allegedly causing a multi-vehicle accident which took the life of a man.

Nicole Diana Stapleton, 31, of Howard City, was arrested Tuesday evening by Montcalm County Sheriff’s deputies. She has not yet been arraigned.

An arrest warrant for Stapleton was authorized on Jan 3 by the Montcalm County Prosecutor’s Office and sworn to by Det. Thomas Goerge on Tuesday.

According to the warrant, Stapleton will be charged with operating while intoxicated while under the influence of a diazepam and/or desmethyldiazepam, causing the death of John Reniff, 31, of Gladstone, formerly of Howard City. The charge is a felony with a possible 15-year prison sentence.

Stapleton also will be charged with reckless driving causing death, a felony with a possible 15-year prison sentence, and failure to stop at the scene of a personal injury accident, a misdemeanor with a possible one-year jail sentence.

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, 2012.

Stapleton 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. The impact forced Reniff’s vehicle across the road, where it struck a southbound 2006 Chrysler Town & 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 a rest.

The multiple crashes sent vehicle 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, were in town to celebrate Reniff’s grandmother’s birthday 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.

Further investigation found that moments before the fatal 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 after the first collision.

The Michigan State Police Lakeview Post 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.

Her blood test results have been pending at the Michigan State Police crime lab in Grand Rapids ever since the accident until last week when the results were given to the Montcalm County Prosecutor’s Office.

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