Family of man involved in fatal I-94 crash found stabbed to death

2012-08-16T20:00:00Z 2012-08-27T00:42:32Z Family of man involved in fatal I-94 crash found stabbed to deathStan Maddux Times Correspondent
August 16, 2012 8:00 pm  • 

A two-car crash on Interstate 94 that killed a Portage man led police to the discovery of three people killed in the Belleville, Mich., home of the other motorist.

When police in Michigan went to the home of the man who caused the fiery collision, they found his wife and two young children stabbed to death.

Michael Vanderlinden, 38, of Belleville, was traveling the wrong way about 1 a.m. Thursday on a ramp leading to an I-94 rest stop at County Road 900 North about a mile south of the New Buffalo, Mich., exit.

Vanderlinden's vehicle traveled several hundred feet on the interstate before hitting an oncoming westbound car being driven by Juan Nelson Jr., 45, of Portage, said LaPorte County Coroner John Sullivan.

Both men were pronounced dead at the scene, and their bodies were burned beyond recognition, Sullivan said.

"It was the worst one I've seen in recent history," he said.

When Sullivan arrived at the scene, flames were coming from both vehicles, which were entangled and had to be pulled apart.

The men's bodies had to be extricated.

"It was a very eerie scene," Sullivan said.

The crash backed up westbound traffic for miles.

Sullivan said he was later informed police in Belleville went to Vanderlinden's home after the crash to notify next of kin of his death.

Police there found the door open and the bodies of a woman and two children. Police in Van Buren Township outside Belleville said the deaths remain under investigation.

Sullivan said Nelson's wife was notified about his death over the telephone, and where he was going at the time of the crash was not known.

A neighbor said Nelson was very involved with his family.

"What I know of Juan, he seemed to be very family-oriented, including building a basketball court in the backyard for his kids," Aaron Cline said.

Cline said Nelson, who worked at a local steel mill, is survived by his wife and four children.

"It just seemed that family was very important to him," Cline said.

Cline recalls helping Nelson resolve a problem with his snowblower last winter.

"He was always grateful. ... He'd always drive by with a wave and a smile when he'd see me in my yard," Cline said.

Times staff writer Deborah Laverty contributed to this report.

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