GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Efforts have begun to bring the four West Michigan residents killed in a car crash in Haiti back to Grand Rapids.
Jim and Rita Cwengros, along with Matt Kutsche and Mary LaPonsie were passengers in a car driving from an airport in Haiti to a sister parish for a service trip when it drove off a mountainside.
The four were part of an 18-person group representing Haiti Needs You, an organization that works through the Parish of the Holy Spirit in Grand Rapids.
Brad Debruyne, a member of the group’s board of directors – and husband to one of the 14 members who also went on the mission trip – says two members of Haiti Needs You are in Haiti speaking with government officials to get the bodies back home as quickly as possible.
“Everyone is in complete cooperation,” Debruyne says. “From U.S. Customs to the Embassy to the aeronautics board at Kent County, everyone. We’re working to make this as smooth as we can and that’s why we’re asking for the prayers – that all the red tape is cleared for us as quickly as possible.”
One victim – Kutsche – was the focus of a FOX 17 profile piece on Detroit Tigers fans during the team’s World Series run in October.
When FOX 17 met Kutsche at his office in Holland that month, he was wearing a full Detroit Tigers uniform – a gift from his father after a trip to Tigers fantasy camp.
“It was the usual harassment,” Matt said about the office’s reaction to his outfit, “but I think they like it. They like the spirit.”
Family and friends say Matt was always full of spirit for life in general – and loved helping people in any way that he could. He had gotten involved with Haiti Needs You because of their work in medical and dental care. Matt’s father is a medical professional.
Matt was a 2010 graduate of Grand Valley State University and an alumni of East Grand Rapids High School. He was engaged to be married, and was planning on joining the National Guard in the future.
Kutsche was also the nephew of Kent County Undersheriff Jon Hess. Hess tells FOX 17 that his own daughter – Kutsche’s cousin – was another one of the 14 people who went on the mission trip.
All 14 other people who flew to Haiti for the trip have since returned home. All but one are from West Michigan.