Bodies Of Mich. Firefighters Killed In I-35W Accident To Return Home

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The bodies of two Michigan firefighters killed in a crash on Interstate 35W in Blaine will be escorted back home Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the firefighter charged with causing the deadly crash could go before a judge.

Investigators said 28-year-old Michael Johnson had not slept in 28 hours and had been doing drugs in the days leading up to a crash. Johnson told officers he believes he fell asleep while driving on I-35W Saturday afternoon.

According to court papers, a witness said the fire truck was traveling at 80 to 90 miles an hour when it veered into the cable median barrier and rolled over.

There were nine firefighters in the truck, which was one of three fire trucks headed to Utah for a wildfire.

Police said Johnson showed signs of impairment right after the crash. They’re testing his blood.

Prosecutors have charged him with two counts of criminal vehicular homicide.

The two men who died were 25-year-old Alan Swartz and 23-year-old James Shelifoe, both of Baraga, Mich. The Minnesota Fire Service Foundation will be escorting the men back to Michigan Tuesday.

Ken Prillaman, president of the Minnesota Fire Service Foundation, said a firefighter dies every 73 days in the U.S.

Prillaman said it never gets any easier, especially when the deaths were preventable.

“It’s not just this type of situation. There are circumstances on the fire ground that result in deaths that are preventable. Anytime there’s one of those that’s preventable it makes it harder,” Prillaman said.

The fire crew was based on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and is managed by a Native American community.

Shelifoe’s funeral is set for Wednesday. Swartz’s funeral is set for Thursday.

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