On October 25, 2022, a terrible two-car accident claimed the life of a Shelby woman, Kathy Ann Owens in the US 10-31 corridor in Amber Township, the local newspaper would report the following day:
"Owens was pronounced dead after her 2013 Ford Fusion was hit by a [westbound] 2012 Chevy Silverado while Owens was traveling eastbound on U.S. 10 and attempting to make a left turn into Watson's.
The driver of the Silverado, 29-year-old Zachary Scott Martinsen of Ludington, had minor injuries, but refused treatment by Life EMS. The crash occurred shortly before 8 a.m.
After the initial t-bone crash, Owens' vehicle left the roadway and went into the parking lot at Watson's. Traffic was restricted for much of the morning on Tuesday as the crash was investigated."
Kathy Owens had a long career in the nursing profession, she was survived by her husband, who we found out was leading her to Watson's in his vehicle so that her car could get serviced and turned safely into the driveway just before she would try to. The sheriff's office hinted later that week on the radio that they may seek charges against Martinsen. It wasn't clear why they would do that since the facts released to the media indicated that Owens was the one that turned in front of Martinsen. A driver making a left turn is often assumed to be the at-fault driver when they do so against someone who has the right-of-way, as Mortensen had.
Records the Ludington Torch has received through FOIA indicates that Mortensen's truck's Event Data Recorder (EDR) for the crash and his alcohol blood test was completed within a week, but his more comprehensive drug testing wasn't finished until just before Christmas, a week later the prosecutor was given all of the information to determine what should be done. On the last day of January, she would decide to charge Martinsen with Reckless Driving Causing death. He would be arraigned on that charge on February 9th. Sheriff Cole announced:
“The Mason County Sheriff’s Office Traffic Crash Team concluded Mr. Martinsen’s 2012 Chevy Silverado was traveling at a high rate of speed when it collided with a 2013 Ford Fusion, which was driven by Kathy Ann Owens, 70 of Shelby. Crash team reconstructionists were able to gather security video evidence along with the Event Data Recorder (EDR) and roadway evidence, which all confirmed Mr. Martinsen’s vehicle was at excessive speed prior to, and up to the point of impact.”
The lack of any specific speed mentioned in the press release indicated to me that Martinsen may have been overcharged for a felony when he may have just been travelling the prevailing rate of speed in that area, which is approximately 5-10 mph over the 55-mph speed limit. You can find attorneys and insurance sites that say 25 mph or more over the speed limit is considered reckless driving, one would think they would know. Davis Law group says: "driving 25 mph over the speed limit in the rain may constitute reckless driving." Others note: "There is no set speed in Michigan at which violating the speed limit is considered reckless driving. That determination depends upon the circumstances surrounding the violation."
One would think that the sheriff and prosecutor would be aware of this, so we here ordered up the records to see what was behind this felony charge against Martinsen and see whether it was deserved. Here's what we found out, but let's first take a look at an illustration of what the scene looked like Owens' car is 1, you will see that it wound up with the vehicles Watson's offered, Martinsen's Silverado wound up in the center lane. On this map, North is down.
You can see the black truck to the left and Owen's car to the far right in the picture below where we see a variety of agencies doing their work at this emergency, you are looking west and can see the driveway Mrs. Owens wanted to turn into:
Investigating deputies touched base with three people in the immediate area of the crash, first there was the husband, who related a story while probably going through phases of shock and disbelief:
Thomas' account doesn't offer much to understanding what happened as regards the accident but could indicate that his wife may have had her sightlines to oncoming traffic partially obscured by his vehicle and may have presumed she could turn in safely once he did. We may never know, but Martinsen then gave his version of events:
Martinsen's account is troubling in that he grossly underestimates his speed captured on the EDR which leads one to wonder whether he may have grossly underestimated his use of marijuana. Another witness was interviewed over the phone, she claimed to be the driver of the other car Thomas noted that was headed west with Martinsen, her full name is edited out, but they do call her 'Haley Rozycki' later in the report:
Haley's account of events had me wondering whether it was accurate, but first let's look at relevant data from Martinsen's EDR concerning his speed and when he applied his brakes. We find a table with the following values and a summarization by the investigator:
Haley said she was traveling about 60 mph and was passed by Martinsen going over 65 mph, which turns out to be about 78 mph according to the EDR. Haley also maintains she was passed in front of Watson's, but even when we go back to the very beginning of Watson's display vehicles one comes to a conclusion:
Martinsen's truck would travel about 3 seconds over that distance at 114 ft/sec (slightly less when he brakes the last two seconds), yet Haley's would also be travelling 88 ft/sec. (60 mph) from the point they were side by side in the right lane. She would thus be less than 78 ft. behind Martinsen when he hit Owens' car, or less than one second away from when her own car would have likely impacted Owens' turning car if Martinsen hadn't already did it. It would have been unavoidable given her statement, presuming Owens was going at about 10 mph in her 90 degree turn, which would have put her right in the middle of Haley's lane as she would have traveled 14 feet.
Haley was quite lucky that Martinsen's momentum pushed Owens' car much quicker than 10 mph across the right lane and that she likely began braking when she saw the Silverado doing the same. But when one objectively looks at the facts behind this accident, it does appear that the cause was not due to the speeding vehicle, but rather due to someone turning left when they shouldn't have.
Martinsen was shown to have zero alcohol in his system, and his THC levels 1.7 ng/ml. was quite a bit less than the legally impaired amount of 5 ng/ml. Travelling at 23 mph over the speed limit was very unlawful but does not seem to be the proximal cause of the accident, and this is necessary when trying to show this was a felony.
The prosecutor's decision to choose charging Martinsen with a felony that involves elements of intent that will be hard to prove without calling Mrs. Owens own reckless action into question seems to be a mistake. The prosecutor has a strong case for simple reckless driving, but she won't get any more than that with what's on the record. See the incident records here.
Thanks, X, for the 53 pages of police reports. Got through maybe a third, I am struck by how many of our law enforcement are reporting and the dedication and service and paperwork involved.
Regarding the accident, it confirms to me that Mo/a/rtensen travelling at 78 m.p.h. was in too big a hurry for his second job interview. Impatient and passing the north lane driver probably still travelling slightly over 55 m.p.h.
I advocate for a few round abouts on our 8th deadliest corridor in Michigan to slow the traffic down. They make an interesting drive on US 2/41 through Marquette. Fixed a unique problem on M-30/10 off ramp in Sanford, slowing traffic all the way to McDonald's and what about that new one on US 31 at M22? What has taken so long to get round abouts in Mason County? How many more deaths will it take?
Very sad accident and wishing peace to Kathy Owen's family.
Thanks for catching the one time I used Mortinsen instead of Martinsen in the article, you passed the test.
You raise an interesting point about roundabouts. It should be noted that Michigan has tens of thousands of regular intersections but only about 120 roundabouts, and makes up a very small fraction of one percent of all intersections in the state. Yet, half of the top six MI intersections leading in crashes happen to be roundabouts which begs the question about safety.
One can raise counterpoints about the apparent decrease in injuries of such accidents as seen in the above table at roundabouts, and one might be able to do some comparative analysis of those roundabouts and their past time as regular intersections and figure out reasonable conclusions.
Like stop signs, there are times where roundabouts may be warranted, but then there are times when they are definitely not, and only make situations worse. Roundabouts take a bit more real estate to create and are expensive to put in, I would not suggest using them strictly for traffic calming or for their novelty, and I'm sure that sensible traffic engineers would never put one in solely for those purposes in the PM corridor without a principled traffic study that suggest roundabouts would improve conditions.
Very sad situation. You never know when it's your time to go. Very good analysis X. Even though this accident happened on a road that allowed vehicles to move at a high rate of speed, this crash should have been survivable. In my opinion the fact that she was driving a smaller vehicle that was hit by a much larger vehicle probably was why she did not survive. The difference between the weight of a Chevy Silverado and a Ford Fusion is between 2,000 and 3,000 lbs depending on the models. That's an extra 1 to 1 and 1/2 tons of heavy metal crashing into the smaller vehicle. I can't imagine what would have happened to someone who might have been in the passenger seat of the Fusion.
I'm not a big fan of traffic circles. The next time you come upon one, look at the curb of the inner circle. You will notice a myriad of skid and scrape marks where cars overshoot the turn and proceed onto the circle. I myself have hit the inner curb on many of them because I misjudged my speed or tried to avoid other vehicles using the circle. Some circles are way to large and at night many are poorly lit.
Definitely vehicle mass differential was significant here and when you add 70 mph to the more massive vehicle one sees why the car was shot across the next lane and into the display cars across the sidewalk and culvert. Haley Rozycki was a very lucky woman that day, most collisions would have left a mass of debris in her way on the right lane before she could come to a complete stop, but the Silverado's momentum carried it to the center lane and Owens' car was launched through her lane and beyond. One could make the point through elementary physics that Martinsen's speed may have saved Rozycki from a secondary collision, giving Owens' car enough of a push to go over the curb and into Watson's lot.
Your issues on roundabouts will be exacerbated in an area where you see a lot of tourists driving trucks lugging 30+ ft. long trailers. You can't put these traffic circles on major thoroughfares in our area and not expect some major problems.
I love the round about so much I just go through them around and around and around. Just kidding, and the Marquette ones (about 5) are annoying, but the traffic does flow in the new growth areas. What I think causes traffic so problematic on US 10/31 at is everyone coming from outlying townships into Ludington for work and knowing the road so well on that long flat stretch. Then in the summer, introduce tourists who don't know where they are going that we need something to slow traffic. I''d rather have roundabouts than more stoplights because then you get people hurrying to get through a yellow light causing more danger.
A recent 2020 research paper noted there were not established warrants for installing roundabouts and offered some guidelines. I've had opportunity to use the roundabouts in Silver Lake and the one off 96's exit 16 going to Coopersville and wondered about the rationales for their installation.
Between the T-intersection of Old 31 to Scottville, US 10 really doesn't have a good candidate for a roundabout, the N-S roads just don't have much volume. Roundabouts from my perspective, bolstered from the linked article, would be best at low-moderate traffic four-way stops. If I had an ultimatum that we had to put three traffic circles/roundabouts in Mason County I would suggest they be put at:
1) Washington/Tinkham intersection in Ludington
2) Stiles/Hansen Rd intersection
3) Stiles/Fountain Rd intersection
I don't think they would be all that helpful anywhere else, but let the discussion begin...
The major problem with circles is the available land or lack of land around the intended circles. Any purchase of private property would add greatly to the expense of circle installation.
I think Washington and Tinkham would be a good fit for a traffic circle. It's busy but not overwhelming. The only problem would be the lack of unused real estate on the NW and SW corners. Large hunks of private property would have to be purchased.
Stiles and Hansen would be a good location and there seems to be ample area to fit a circle since the intersection is currently quite large.
Stiles and Fountain would be an ideal spot with a lot of open area to expand the intersection.
If money was not a problem and property owners would be willing to sell and a descent design could be created, I would love to see that nightmare intersection at Ludington Ave and Jebavy made into a circle. That intersection is a real pain in the summer but again all the tourist, especially the vehicles with campers, as X pointed out, would most likely clog it up faster than Biden's arteries.
Looking at a map it seems that Ludington already has it's own circle. However this one would fall under the category of a money pit circle.
That money pit circle is not even a full circle, so much for all those millions spent on engineering this school, when they can only make about 5/6 of a circle.
I considered the three way stops made by US 10 at Jebavy and Old 31 and thought they might be potential candidates for a secondary batch of roundabouts. I can't see the logic of doing one without doing the other, but I'm not sold on whether it would improve the situation.
Nor would it have much of any sort of traffic-calming effect on the rest of the corridor that Freedom Seeker originally hoped for when we diverted the discussion towards that. To that point, I think that there's not a lot more you can do for reducing speeds on the engineering angle, but there is more you can do on the education and enforcement angle.
You're right about the first traffic circle, but technically it's part of a school's driveway (not the county's/city's road/street system) and outside the city limits.
Is any of our readers with children in the elementary available to comment on how this circle works before and after school? It looks like this should work fairly well once one gets used to it being there.