PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Failing brakes were the cause of a traffic accident in Haiti that killed four Michigan residents on a medical mission, Haitian police said Saturday.
Garry Victor of Haiti's national police department said the Toyota Landcruiser carrying the four Americans and their Haitian driver crashed Friday afternoon through a barrier on a roadway in the mountains south of Port-au-Prince, then slid down a steep hill. The vehicle was in a five-vehicle convoy traveling to a hamlet where the missionaries were to spend a week providing medical attention to villagers.
Three of the Americans died on the spot and the fourth died in a hospital in the coastal town of Jacmel, Victor said. The Haitian driver was also taken to the hospital for medical treatment.
Roman Catholic officials in Michigan identified the four Michigan residents as Matt Kutsche, Mary LaPonsie and Jim and Rita Cwengros.
A West Michigan clergyman, the Rev. John Vallier, said LaPonsie and Jim and Rita Cwengros had previously served on at least 15 multiple missions to the village of Seguin in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
The long-time members of the Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., were "dynamic, active people ... living their faith as best they could," said Vallier, the church's pastor.
Vallier said his church had a relationship with a parish in Seguin. "We help them with their water filtration system and dental work. And they have representatives come here and share with us some of the things they do in the school and the church," he said.
Other missionaries in the group were planning to return from the trip early in the wake of the accident, the Michigan pastor said. He said that the families of those killed were in West Michigan on Saturday, waiting for more details about the crash.
A pastor in Jacmel was trying to figure out how to transport the bodies of those killed back to Michigan, said Bertorny Domond, director of the Matthew 25 inn in Port-au-Prince where the missionaries had stayed. "They're still working to get the authorization," he said.
The group's Haitian driver was identified as Martin Glisil by Theresa Patterson, executive director of Parish Twinning Program of the Americas, the Nashville, Tenn., nonprofit group that runs the inn where the Americans stayed the night before the accident.