Bond set at $1.25 million for wrong-way driver

1/2/2008

Michael Gagnon was arraigned this morning in Toledo Municipal Court and he received a bond of $250,000 for each of five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide in the Sunday night crash that killed a mother and four children, including an eight-week old baby.

Mr. Gagnon was returned to the Lucas County jail after the arraignment, which was attended by several of his family members. A public defender will be appointed later for him.

(From earlier editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com)

By LAREN WEBER

BLADE STAFF WRITER

Bethany Griffin was remembered yesterday in an online memorial as a devoted mother - the kind any child would love.

The 36-year-old enjoyed cooking, and she made her children's Halloween costumes and Easter dresses. She was faithful and patriotic.

Bethany and Danny Griffin had been married just over a year when she and four of their children died on Sunday.
Bethany and Danny Griffin had been married just over a year when she and four of their children died on Sunday.

"Bethany was a 'super mom' who loved her family with all her heart," a woman posted on the Myspace page memorializing the Maryland mother and her four children, including an 8-week-old infant, who perished Sunday when a drunk driver crashed nearly head on into their van.

"It breaks my heart that the survivors are now suffering such a huge, irreplaceable loss," the posting said.

The man who drove his pickup truck along I-280 in the wrong direction for nearly four miles before slamming into the Griffins' van will be arraigned today in Toledo Municipal Court.

Michael Gagnon, 24, of Adrian was charged with five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide.

According to court records, he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.254 - more than three times the legal limit in Ohio of 0.08 - at the time of the accident that occurred at 11 p.m.

Also killed in the crash were Jordan Griffin, 10, Lacie Burkman, 7, Haley Burkman, 10, and Vadie Griffin, 8 weeks old.

Danny Griffin, who was driving the van, was in serious condition yesterday at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.

Sidney Griffin, 8, was listed in critical condition.

Beau Burkman, 8, was also injured in the crash, but was released from St. Vincent's on Monday.

On Sunday, Mr. Gagnon drove from a bar in Oregon to the Taco Bell on Navarre Avenue, headed for I-280, and drove down a ramp used by southbound traffic exiting

I-280 at Navarre.

Numerous motorists called 911 notifying police of a truck heading the wrong way on the highway.

The fatal collision occurred only a few minutes later, just south of I-75 in Toledo.

Sam Gagnon, who is Mr. Gagnon's brother, said last night he is continuing to say prayers for the Griffin family.

"This is a terrible tragedy," Mr. Gagnon said. "Everything is just awful."

Nearly 500 people, some who knew the family and others who didn't, visited the online memorial at www.myspace.com/bhjlv, yesterday offering their condolences and asking God to provide peace to the family of those killed.

A woman from Tennessee wrote: "I look at these children and at Bethany and my heart just breaks. Words can't express the sadness we all feel."

A photo slide show slowly scrolled across the Myspace page, showing Mrs. Griffin and her husband on their wedding day, the children in their homemade Halloween costumes, and the newborn being embraced by her mother.

The couple celebrated their first wedding anniversary Dec. 18.

"She was such a devoted and involved mother," said Shanah Sewell of Itasca, Texas, who created the memorial page. "I can't explain the things she would do for people. She was such a giver."

In a telephone interview, Ms. Sewell said she met Mrs. Griffin through an online message board 11 years ago and they had kept in touch through phone calls and text messages since then.

Ms. Sewell said she believes that if Mrs. Griffin survived the crash, she would have found good in the tragedy.

"I'm sure there were lots of people who thought twice about getting in the car drunk [on New Year's Eve]. I'm sure lives were saved from it," a tearful Ms. Sewell said.

Donations to the family can be made through the online site.

Contact Laren Weber at: lweber@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.