Driver was going 90 mph, distracted by phone in crash that killed fire chief

KALAMAZOO, MI — The driver in a June 14 crash that killed Comstock Fire Chief Ed Switalski was driving 90 miles per hour and was distracted by his cell phone, a Kalamazoo County sergeant said.

Brandon Clevenger, 24, of Springfield, faces one felony count of reckless driving causing death in the crash that occurred in the eastbound lanes of I-94 near the 81 mile marker.

The charge against Clevenger was authorized Tuesday. Reckless driving causing death is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Clevenger was driving his 2006 Mercury and lost control of the car around 10:08 p.m., slamming into a cement median wall. The force of the crash propelled the car across the highway and caused it to strike Switalski, who was on the highway near a fire truck responding to an emergency.

Investigators looked at the data recorder in Clevenger’s vehicle and determined he was driving 90 mph 11 seconds before the crash and slowed to 87 mph three seconds before striking the median, Kalamazoo County Sgt. Craig Schmaltz said in a probable cause hearing.

Road conditions were “less than ideal,” with thunderstorms causing reduced visibility and traction, Schmaltz said.

Witnesses to the crash told police Clevenger was driving at excessive speeds and the fire trucks on the scene were clearly visible.

“One witness reported that he was attempting to pass them on the shoulder of the roadway prior to losing control and striking the wall,” Schmaltz said in the probable cause hearing.

Investigators conducted a search of Clevenger’s cell phone, which indicated he was either using his cell phone at the time of the crash or was distracted by it, according to police.

Switalski, 55, was pronounced dead at the scene.

More than 200 police and fire officials from across Michigan, Indiana and Illinois took part in a funeral procession to honor Switalski and attended his funeral at Wings Event Center.

Clevenger was arraigned Wednesday afternoon.