Howard City fatal crash suspect to undergo evaluation


By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 12:07 pm on Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Nicole Stapleton

STANTON — A woman who allegedly caused a series of multi-vehicle collisions resulting in a man’s death one year ago is undergoing a forensic evaluation before heading to trial.

Nicole Stapleton, 31, of Howard City, is 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 is charged with reckless driving causing death, a felony with a possible 15-year prison sentence; operating while intoxicated causing serious injury to Reniff’s passenger, Melissa Ballard, a possible five-year felony; reckless driving causing serious injury, a possible five-year felony; and failure to stop at the scene of a personal injury accident, a misdemeanor with a possible one-year jail sentence.

According to Montcalm County Prosecutor Andrea Krause, the forensic evaluation was a joint request made by the prosecution and by Stapleton’s attorney, Kerry Sawyer of Grand Rapids. The forensic evaluation will take place at the Forensic Center in Ypsilanti and can take up to three months to complete, meaning Stapleton’s next court appearance might not take place until March or April.

Montcalm County sheriff’s deputies responded to a three-vehicle crash on Ensley Street south of Walnut Street at 9:23 a.m. on 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 that 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’s girlfriend Ballard, who was a passenger in his vehicle, sustained a broken arm in the crash. She continues to recover.

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