The people in the horse-drawn buggy were Mennonites, investigators believe, a family headed to church on a Sunday morning.
About 8:30 a.m. a red pickup truck crashed into the back of their buggy, mangling the wood-and-metal conveyance, critically injuring six adults and killing three children.
Michigan state police haven’t released the names of the dead: a 9-year-old girl and two boys, ages 12 and 7. There was also no update on the condition of the adults.
Investigators released only scant details of the crash on the rural road. Both the buggy and the truck were headed east on Condensery Road, a two-lane stretch in central Michigan’s Evergreen Township, about an hour’s drive from Lansing.
The driver and lone occupant of the Dodge pickup was wearing a seat belt and was sober, police believe. He escaped unscathed and had not been charged with a crime as of Monday. Authorities haven’t released the driver’s name. The horse pulling the carriage was also unharmed.
Photos from the scene showed extensive damage to the right side of the truck, including a shattered windshield. The buggy was in worse shape. It ended up in the grass on the side of the rural road, a heap of wood and metal, its passenger compartment severed from its frame and spoked wheels.
“I was sitting there at the TV, watching TV, and I saw the buggies go through, and I seen this red pickup go through, and all of a sudden I heard ‘bang,’ ” Alden Wernette, who lives near where the crash happened, told Grand Rapids NBC affiliate WOOD.
“Then another buggy went through, and just a couple minutes after that, the ambulance went through, and I thought, ‘This ain’t good.’ ”
The collision is under investigation, but police don’t think drugs or alcohol were involved. It’s unclear whether the people inside the buggy were wearing seat belts or were otherwise restrained.
Although there are differences from community to community, Mennonites, like the Amish, generally rely on horses and buggies for transportation, eschewing automobiles and other trappings of modern life.
To visitors, the outmoded vehicles can be whimsical throwbacks of a bygone era. For automobile drivers who see several buggies a day, they can become points of contention in communities with heavy Amish or Mennonite concentrations.
“Most of the accidents that happen are actually local people who I shouldn’t say should know better, but they are aware that there are buggies because they see them all the time,” said Brad Igou, the president and co-owner of the Amish Experience, a Lancaster, Pa., center interpreting Amish culture to visitors.
One issue is the speed of the horse-drawn vehicles, which may frustrate the drivers of faster-moving cars and back up traffic on rural roads with high speed limits.
In other places, Amish men have ignored state laws requiring them to put reflective signs or flashing lights on the slow-moving vehicles, the Associated Press reported. Placing lights or large, reflective orange signs on the back of a buggy, they say, goes against their godly requirement to live a plain life. Some courts in Michigan have sided with the religious freedom argument.
“Almost every Amish community has different rules about those kinds of signs,” Igou told The Washington Post. “Some Amish communities won’t allow reflective tape.”
Still, he said, the Amish are cognizant of the dangers — as are their neighbors who encounter buggies every day.
“Most of us, we see the flashing red lights at night, we know that’s a buggy up ahead,” he said. “But if you come around a bend, and you’re not paying full attention….”