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Published: Friday, 2/15/2008

Trial set in deadly I-280 crash

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Michael Gagnon, 24, is charged with five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and two counts of aggravated vehicular assault for the deaths of Bethany Griffin, 36, and her children, Jordan Griffin and Haley Burkman, both 10; Lacie Burkman, 7, and Vadie Griffin, 8 weeks. Mr. Gagnon is being held at the Lucas County jail in lieu of a $1.75 million bond. Michael Gagnon, 24, is charged with five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and two counts of aggravated vehicular assault for the deaths of Bethany Griffin, 36, and her children, Jordan Griffin and Haley Burkman, both 10; Lacie Burkman, 7, and Vadie Griffin, 8 weeks. Mr. Gagnon is being held at the Lucas County jail in lieu of a $1.75 million bond.
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The scars from a Dec. 30 car crash on I-280 ran deep in a Lucas County Common Pleas courtroom yesterday - both on the face of the man charged with causing the deadly accident and in the eyes of the driver who lost most of his family on that night.

Michael Gagnon, 24, of Adrian briefly appeared before Judge Linda Jennings, who set an April 21 trial date. He is charged with five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and two counts of aggravated vehicular assault for the wrong-way crash that killed five members of a Maryland family and seriously injured two others.

In the courtroom, surrounded by family, Danny Griffin sat with his body contained in a metal halo. Mr. Griffin, 36, was driving his family home from spending the holidays in Michigan when the crash occurred.

Killed were his wife, Bethany Griffin, 36, and their children, Jordan Griffin and Haley Burkman, both 10; Lacie Burkman, 7, and Vadie Griffin, 8 weeks. Sydney Griffin, 8, and Mr. Griffin sustained serious injuries. A sixth child in the van, Beau Burkman, 8, received only minor injuries.

"The defendant's family is praying for both families right now," defense attorney Rick Sanders said after the hearing. "It's encouraging to see Mr. Griffin up and around."

Mr. Gagnon is accused of having a blood-alcohol content three times the legal limit when the fatal crash occurred. He is being held at the Lucas County jail in lieu of a $1.75 million bond.

He faces up to 50 years in pris-on if convicted on all charges. The crash occurred just before 11 p.m. Dec. 30 on southbound I-280 near the Manhattan Boulevard overpass. Police said Mr. Gagnon's northbound pickup truck collided with the van being driven south by Mr. Griffin.

Mr. Griffin declined to comment after the hearing.

Mr. Sanders told Judge Jennings that he has received most of the evidence in the case and asked for another hearing date to address motions that he planned to suppress.

Judge Jennings set a March 27 hearing date.

Specifically, Mr. Sanders said after the hearing that he plans to file motions to suppress Mr. Gagnon's blood-alcohol content at the time of the crash as well as statements he made to authorities after the incident.

Records show Mr. Gagnon had a blood-alcohol level of 0.254 percent at the time of the crash. In Ohio, the legal limit for drivers is 0.08 percent.

The arrest was Mr. Gagnon's first drunken-driving arrest.

Assistant County Prosecutor Jeff Lingo said that whether statements Mr. Gagnon made about the incident would be allowed at his trial is "a call by the judge." He added that at issue would be whether he was in custody at the time. "There are certain statements made when clearly he is not," he said.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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