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Police report: Fatal July 4 crash caused by driver adjusting AC

By Audra Gamble/The Holland Sentinel • Oct 4, 2018 at 7:46 PM

The cause of a fatal crash in Olive Township in July, according to a police report obtained by The Sentinel, was a semi-truck driver adjusting the air conditioning in her cab.

Rhonda Vandermyde, 56, was arraigned in September for a misdemeanor moving violation causing death.

The crash took place at around 7:30 a.m. July 4. Vandermyde was driving a Herman Miller semi and trailer south on U.S. 31 and told police she did not see the red light at the intersection with Port Sheldon Street, as she was adjusting the temperature in her cab.

Vandermyde then looked up and saw cars stopping in front of her, but she told police that she knew she couldn’t stop in time to avoid a crash. She hit a green minivan driven by Emily Montelongo, then hit a black Jeep that was in front of Montelongo’s vehicle.

The driver of the Jeep, 60-year-old Ruth Bull of West Olive, died at the scene.

Ottawa County Prosecutor Ron Frantz said that because of a law change around 10 years ago, his office was limited to charging Vandermyde with a misdemeanor rather than a more severe crime because she was not intoxicated and there were no other “aggravation factors” in the crash.

Vandermyde was a contract driver for Herman Miller through VanEerden Trucking. She starting working at 10 p.m. July 3, and her shift was scheduled to end at 6 a.m. July 4. Her boss called Vandermyde at around 5:30 a.m., asking her to pick up one more trailer in Spring Lake. Vandermyde was on her way home with that trailer at the time of the crash.

Montelongo’s Ford Windstar had extensive damage to its passenger side and came to rest partially under the semi-trailer. Bull’s 2006 Jeep Wrangler also had extensive damage in the rear.

Montelongo could not find her cellphone in her car after the crash, so she walked to a nearby gas station to seek help. She was eventually taken to a hospital for a possible head injury and difficulty breathing.

Port Sheldon Township firefighters administered CPR to Bull on the scene, but she was unresponsive. She was pronounced dead at 7:45 a.m. Her injuries were not noted in the report.

Multiple witnesses to the crash told police they did not see Vandermyde attempt to slow down until after she hit the first vehicle.

“Rhonda advised me that she looked down to turn the temperature in her cab down as the cab was getting warm,” Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Eric Tubergen wrote in his report. “She did not see what color the light was, had just seen the stopped vehicles. Rhonda advised me that she attempted to avoid the vehicles by swerving, however, struck a minivan that was in front of her. Rhonda stated that she tried to regain control of her semi, however, then struck the Jeep that was in front of the minivan.”

While Vandermyde was writing her statement for police, Tubergen walked back over to her and saw her cellphone was on his clipboard. A text message displayed on the phone read, “I wanted to let you know I’ve been in an accident and it’s my fault.”

Police determined Vandermyde was not under the influence of any alcohol, drugs or medications, and was not using a mobile device at the time of the crash.

According to the Michigan Secretary of State, Vandermyde has a chauffeur’s license and a CDL license for the heaviest class of vehicles. She also has current endorsements for passengers and to drive a school bus. The only known incident on Vandermyde’s driving record was a 2012 citation given in California for speeding.

At the time of the July 4 crash, Vandermyde said her semi was set on cruise control at 57 mph. The speed limit on that portion of U.S. 31 is 55 mph.

Vandermyde entered a not-guilty plea at her arraignment, and her next scheduled court date is Nov. 1 for a final pretrial conference in Holland’s 58th District Court. If she is convicted of the misdemeanor, she will face up to one year in jail and/or fines of up to $2,000.

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