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4 Killed From West Michigan During Trip In Haiti

Four West Michigan people have died during a mission trip in Haiti.

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01/18/13

Funerals Announced For Haiti Victims

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Funeral information has been released for the victims of the Haiti accident.

Below is a list of funeral times:

Mattew Kutche Visitation: Sunday, Jan. 20, from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at Zaagman Memorial Chapel, 2800 Burton Street SE.

Monday, Jan. 21, form 1-2 p.m. at First Congregational Church, 10 East Park Place NE

Funeral is Monday, Jan. 21, at 2 p.m. at 1st Congregational Church.

Mary LaPonsie visitation: Sunday, Jan. 20, from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. at Arsulowicz Brothers Remembrance Mortuary, 3525 Remembrance NW.

Funeral is Monday, Jan. 21 at 11 a.m. at Holy Spirit Parish, 2230 Lake Michigan Drive NW.

James and Rita Cwengros visitation: Monday, Jan. 21 from 3-9 p.m. at Holy Spirit Parish.

Funeral is Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 11 a.m. at Holy Spirit Parish.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The remains of the four people killed in a car accident while on a service trip to Haiti are back in Grand Rapids.

Jim and Rita Cwengros, Mary LaPonsie, and Matt Kutsche died on January 11 in Haiti when the car they were riding in drove off a mountainside. Haitian police confirm faulty brakes as the cause of the accident.

Carly Andrews is still wearing the engagement ring Matt Kutsche gave her in October. They were set to be wed on June 6, 2014.

She sits by the side of David Kutsche, Matt’s father, as he remembers his son.

“I think he got strength from helping others and just feeling good about that,” David says. “It was really touching as a parent to see what he was growing into.”

David and his family say they’ve heard story after story from people around the community who Matt touched with his kind acts and service. On top of his time spent on other service trips and coaching Special Olympic athletes, David knows his son did a lot in a short time.

“(He) did more in almost 25 years than other people do in a long lifetime,” he says. “Hopefully his memories, his examples will cause other people to do things that maybe they didn’t think about.”

Eric, Laura, and Andy Cwengros were raised by a father who they say lived a life inspired by a need to serve and a mother who constantly went the extra mile for others.

That’s the philosophy they carry on in their parents’ memory.

“If you have a calling, go ahead and do it,” Laura says. “Theirs was going to Haiti, but anything you can do to help others was their biggest joy in life. That’s what they thought everyone should do.”

“I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me that I’ve never met before and said they considered my mother one of their best friends,” Andy says.

“They just felt that it was the right thing,” Eric says of his parents’ service. “They felt like that’s what they needed to do. They had the skills. They had the know-how.”

“All their decisions came from their hearts,” he continues, starting to choke up. “That’s why we’re here today.”

Mary LaPonsie’s family echo the same sentiments about their mother and wife.

“Mary was a fantastic wife,” Mike LaPonsie says. “I’ve been blessed beyond belief to be married to her. And she’s been a wonderful mother and role model to our daughters.”

“You could not stop her if she wanted to do something,” daughter Sadie says. “She was just 100% into everything. The thing I just keep realizing is not only is she completely irreplaceable to us and to our family, but it’s going to be that way in 15 different roles – at work, everything that she does.”

“As hard as this is – which it is – we have comfort knowing that Mary was doing God’s work and doing it joyfully,” Mike says.

“We believe she’s in Heaven and that’s a comfort to us.”

Funeral arrangements are pending for the four victims.

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.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The victims involved in the deadly crash in Haiti have been identified.

Matt Kutsche, Mary Laponsie, Rita Cwengros and Jim Cwengros, were all killed when the car they were riding in from the airport to Sister Parish in Haiti drove off the mountain.

There was a total of 18 people, in three cars, on this medical mission from Grand Rapids.

The 14 remaining members are safe. They are trying to get getting back home.

The cars have Haitian drivers.  According to friends of the victims, the driver of the car survived.

The members of the mission had just arrived in Haiti making the 6 to 8 hour dangerous drive up the mountain when accident happened.

The church has done the trip every year, for 15 years, providing medical and dental help.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Four people from West Michigan have died during a mission trip in Haiti.

It has been reported to FOX 17 that a group from West Michigan, who were on a mission trip based from Holy Spirit Parish in Grand Rapids, were killed Friday, Jan. 11, in a car accident.

Their identities have not been released.

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