BLAINE, Minn. (WCCO) — Minnesota Department of Transportation highway crews spent their day repairing a mangled cable median barrier separating lanes of traffic along interstate 35W in Blaine.
It’s the scene of Saturday’s crash that left two Michigan firefighters dead when the truck transporting them and seven other wild fire crew members crashed and rolled.
The truck’s driver, 28-year-old Michael Johnson, is in the Anoka County Jail, now charged with two felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide.
According to investigators, Johnson admitted smoking marijuana that morning, and using cocaine two days earlier. When the first troopers arrived on the scene of the crash they say Johnson showed signs of impairment.
Johnson also admitted he was tired and likely fell asleep at the wheel. He recalled hearing another of his passengers yell at him as he veered into the cable barrier.
The crash killed 23-year-old James Shelifoe, Jr., along with 25-year-old Allen John Swartz. Johnson and six other firefighters riding in the truck were injured in the crash.
The crash snarled traffic on the heavily traveled stretch of 35W well into Saturday evening.
About two hours after the crash a second Beartown fire truck carrying nine more firefighters was stopped in Bloomington. With their hands restrained, the firefighters sat along a curb to be individually questioned. The men were eventually released and let on their way. A spokesperson for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community says all firefighters who were part of the detail will be returning home shortly.
The Beartown Firefighters specialize in fighting forest and wildland fires and are occasionally sent to fight other fires around the region and country from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.
They were driving 1600 miles from Michigan’s upper peninsula to Utah where they were to join the fight to contain the raging Box River Canyon fire, east of Salt Lake City.
The firefighters were traveling in a convoy of three vehicles carrying 20 members.
Instead, the remaining firefighters are preparing for Tuesday’s procession back home with the bodies of two deceased comrades.
Michael Johnson is expected to make his first court appearance Tuesday morning in Anoka County District Court.