Charges: Driver fell asleep in crash that killed 2 Mich. firefighters

A Michigan firefighter is being charged with criminal vehicular homicide in connection with the crash that killed two of his fellow firefighters and injured several others on Interstate 35W in Blaine, Minn. Saturday. The firefighters were on their way to the Box Canyon Fire in Utah.

The crash took place at approximately 3:00 p.m. near the intersection of I-35W and 95th Avenue in Blaine. The truck carrying the firefighters drifted off the right shoulder, struck the median cable barriers and rolled.

The driver, identified as Michael Allen Johnson, 28, of Baraga, Mich. told police he believed he fell asleep behind the wheel and woke up to one of the passengers yelling at him as the truck veered off the road.

Johnson said he attempted to gain control of the vehicle, but it crashed into the median barrier.

Johnson told police he had been awake for nearly 28 hours when the crash occurred. He also admitted to smoking marijuana that morning and doing cocaine two days earlier.

Law enforcement officials say Johnson appeared impaired and was acting combative at the scene of the accident.

23-year-old James “Kimmy” Shelifoe Jr. and 25-year-old Alan “AJ” Swartz, both of Baraga, were killed in the crash. The other five passengers were taken to local hospitals, but all are expected to recover.

The crew was part of a three-vehicle convoy traveling from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Utah to help fight the Box Canyon Fire. The firefighters were members of the Beartown Firefighting Crew in Baraga, Mich., according to the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

The Keweeknaw Bay Indian Community says the deceased firefighters will return home to Michigan on Tuesday. They will depart Minneapolis at 6:30 a.m. and are expected to arrive in Baraga later that day.

Johnson is charged with two counts of criminal vehicular homicide for gross negligence. He will make his first court appearance in Anoka County on Tuesday morning.