PIERSON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - In Montcalm County, he was Rescue 27. Now, 70-year-old Richard Pierce faces charges for causing a crash that killed two people while he was rushing in an EMS unit to an earlier crash. That first crash also killed two.
"I feel bad about it," Pierce told 24 Hour News 8 at his home in Pierson on Wednesday.
Pierce was racing in a Montcalm County EMS rescue unit to a crash near Howard City on Oct. 4 when he drove into the intersection of South County Line Road and Kendaville, colliding with another vehicle.
The crash killed Max Young, 64, a retired farmer, and his girlfriend, Shirley Narloch.
"I feel horrible," said Wendy Woods, the great-niece of Young, in reference to the charges. "He's saved, I'm sure in his career, he's saved many, many lives -- and to accidentally kill two people, and I know that it was an accident, so for them to charge him ..."
Pierce was in Montcalm County District Court on Tuesday after a visiting prosecutor filed two counts of negligent homicide, a high misdemeanor which carries up to two years in prison. Prosecutors say he was driving too fast or in a careless or negligent manner.
Howard City Assistant Fire Chief Keith Grannis was on the first crash call -- the one Pierce was rushing to -- and spoke to Pierce later that day.
"He said, 'I looked, and I looked, and I looked and there wasn't anything coming. I didn't think there was anything there, and then all of a sudden, they were right in front of me,' and so, he made a tragic error." Grannis not only knows Pierce, but also was long-time friends with the couple whose deaths he's accused of causing. "They were two wonderful people," he said.
The great-niece of Max Young said she doesn't want Pierce to go to jail. "Our family is very forgiving, so if he weren't charged at all, I'm sure that they wouldn't be upset in the least," Woods said. "We've tried to move on."
Pierce not only worked for EMS for 15 years, but also was a volunteer firefighter. He often kept Rescue 27, a Ford Explorer, at his home, and often gave up vacations to help cover the area when other rescuers were not available, Grannis said.
"He's helped literally hundreds and hundreds of people," Grannis said. "He really had a strong belief that rescue was something that was needed for that community, as a first-response unit to try to help as many people as he possibly could and, you know, that's what he was doing and unfortunately, he made a mistake."
Grannis said Montcalm County rescuers recently were trained on driving to emergencies.
He said the deaths and charges should send a message to all rescuers.
"Hopefully, what it does is it says to other first responders that you keep your eyes and your ears alert and watch it when you're coming to intersections," he said.