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Published: Friday, 1/18/2008

Alcohol suspected in crash that killed 2 men and boy


Seconds after a pickup slammed head-on into an Oregon man s pickup on State Rt. 2 in Jerusalem Township, he called his boss pleading for help, saying his son was dead.

An injured and distraught Arturo M. Lopez, 29, contacted P.J. Kapfhammer three times Wednesday evening as he waited for rescue crews.

My son is dead, Mr. Lopez told Mr. Kapfhammer. Help me.

The 8-year-old who was killed, Arturo A. Lopez, a second-grader at Wynn Elementary in Oregon, is thought to be the fifth child and eighth person to die in alcohol-related crashes in Lucas County in less than three weeks. Authorities say they believe the other driver, Albert Michalak III, 52, of Curtice, who also was killed in the collision, was intoxicated.

Armando Cantu, Jr., 35, of Curtice, another passenger in the Lopez vehicle, also died in the wreck, said Lt. Robin Schmutz, commander of the Ohio Highway Patrol s Toledo post.

Mr. Lopez had left work at the Maumee Bay Turf Center, at Route 2 and Stadium Road in Oregon, and headed east on Route 2 with his son and Mr. Cantu, who was a co-worker. Mr. Lopez had planned to take Mr. Cantu home before returning to his residence in Oregon, said Mr. Kapfhammer, who owns the turf center business.

But police said the oncoming pickup Mr. Michalak was driving crossed the center line just east of Lyon Road and the vehicles collided head on about 8:25 p.m.

No one involved was wearing a seat belt, authorities said.

The Lopez boy, Mr. Cantu, and Mr. Michalak died of multiple blunt-force injuries, Dr. James Patrick, Lucas County coroner, said last night.

Mr. Lopez was flown to the University of Toledo Medical Center, formerly Medical College of Ohio Hospital. A nursing supervisor said yesterday she had no information on a patient by that name.

A passenger in Mr. Michalak s pickup, Franklin J. Gander, 42, of Curtice, was taken to St. Charles Mercy Hospital, where he was listed in fair condition.

Mr. Kapfhammer spent the night at the hospital with Mr. Lopez, who he said had some broken ribs.

Mr. Cantu was a single father of two daughters, Katilyn, 11, and Cassie, 9, who attend Jerusalem Elementary School. He had been employed at the landscaping business for two years.

They were fathers, they were family men, Mr. Kapfhammer said. They took care of their family.

Sgt. Scott Wyckhouse, the lead crash investigator for the Ohio Highway Patrol, said he has indications of where Mr. Michalak and his passenger had been before the crash, but he declined to divulge that information.

The Department of Liquor Control is assisting the investigation, he said yesterday while he and Trooper La Donna Klocinski set up a surveyor s transit to take laser measurements of the crash scene in front of the Phantom Fireworks store on Route 2.

Mr. Gander is not giving us a lot of information, the sergeant said.

Mr. Michalak had a prior drunken-driving conviction. In 1996, he was convicted in Oregon Municipal Court of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, and the same urine sample that revealed alcohol of about 0.164 gram per 100 millileters also tested positive for marijuana. Court staff said the 0.164 gram urine reading was equivalent to a 0.14 percent blood test.

Mr. Michalak also had five speeding convictions since 2002.

A woman who identified herself as Mr. Michalak s wife declined to comment by telephone from her home last night.

Bill Sanford, president of Compass Corporation for Recovery Services in Toledo, said police need to step up their enforcement against drunk drivers and punishment for those convicted of the offense needs to be tougher.

Something isn t getting through, he said. How many more people have to die before people take a strong stance on dealing with this issue?

Both pickups involved in the latest crash sustained heavy front-end and passenger-side damage, and the Lopez vehicle s cab became partially wrenched from its bed. That the heaviest damage occurred on both vehicles passenger sides shows that one or both drivers tried to avoid the crash at the last instant, Sergeant Wyckhouse said.

Sergeant Wyckhouse said blood samples were taken for analysis at the highway patrol s forensics laboratory, but results from those tests would not be available for weeks.

Mr. Lopez has been employed for eight years as a landscaper at Maumee Bay Turf Center. Mr. Kapfhammer said he would often take his son to work with him, and co-workers called the boy Junior.

The 8-year-old enthusiastically shoveled sidewalks and said he wanted to be in the business someday. He loved being at work with us, Mr. Kapfhammer said. He s like a son to me.

The principal at Wynn Elementary, Tim Holcombe, said the Lopez boy was smiling all the time.

Mr. Holcombe said as part of grieving process, students and teachers shared what they liked best about the boy.

Many students talked about how Arturo was their friend and how he went out of his way to talk to students when no one else would, Mr. Holcombe said.

Grief counselors were also at the school yesterday.

Arturo is believed to have been sitting between his father and Mr. Cantu in the pickup truck and was thrown out the vehicle s back window by the force of the crash, Sergeant Wyckhouse said.

The sergeant said it was not yet clear whether any charges will be filed in connection with the collision.

We re not going to take any action without the approval of the [Lucas County] prosecutor s office, he said.

Contact Laren Weber at: lweber@theblade.com or 419-724-6064.

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