Two local teens die in car crash, two injured

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A vigil was held Wednesday night at Tecumseh High School for Dakota Gonzales and Curt Orlowski, who died Thursday, July 3, in a car accident on US 23.

“Maybe Tecumseh is the only place with a heart,” said Nicole Braun-Benschoter, a nurse, who was one of the first on the scene of the car accident that took the lives of Dakota Gonzales and Curt Orlowski, both 18 from Tecumseh, on Thursday, July 3.

“I immediately pulled over,” she said. “I’m grateful that I stopped.”

According to Braun-Benschoter, the pickup truck was speeding and swerving in the northbound lane of US 23, almost hitting her car before crossing the center divide. The truck then struck the southbound car carrying Gonzales, Orlowski and Erin Lara, who survived the crash.

“It was one of the most horrific things I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve had nightmares. At first, I didn’t want to come forward,” Braun-Benschoter said. “I was scared they’d be upset with me.”

Braun-Benschoter has since met with the families.

What upset Braun-Benschoter the most was the number of people trying to drive around the accident. The pickup truck was blocking both southbound lanes of the highway.

“I yelled at a red Journey driving in the median to get around the truck. I yelled ‘there are fatalities here. He just threw up his hands,” said Braun-Benschoter. “I can’t believe how many people tried to drive by. I became a nurse to help people and save lives. Why people take their lives and the lives of other people is upsetting.”

The Michigan State Police suspect the 19-year-old Monroe man that hit the car was under the influence of alcohol, according to the Ann Arbor News, though blood work had to be sent to the Michigan State Police crime lab for testing. Results could take up to 30 days.

“When someone passes away, you go through a normal grieving process. This isn’t normal,” said Michelle Gonzales, Dakota’s mother.

Braun-Benschoter pulled Lara from the car and held her hand until she was taken away by the ambulance. When Lara got to the hospital she said there had been a woman with her, said Braun-Benschoter, who called the next day to give her contact information to the family.

“Until I called, they didn’t know I existed,” Braun-Benschoter said.

“I hope the community remembers there is a survivor and her needs,” Michelle said.

Braun-Benschoter went to school with Dakota’s uncle. “I didn’t even realize I knew him,” she said.

Both Dakota and Orlowski were 2013 graduates from Tecumseh High School. Dakota attended Cornerstone University where he was studying exercise training to become a physical therapist. Orlowski was a student at Northwood University studying marketing and advertising. He had plans of joining the Navy.

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up online for the Gonzales and Orlowski families. The campaign has broken its $10,000 goal and has already raised over $19,000.

“The community support is amazing for these kids that had their lives taken because of an accident,” Michelle said. “I’m just so appreciative. I can’t say enough. There are no words to describe how we feel.”

A vigil for the two young men was scheduled at Tecumseh High School the night of Wednesday, July 9.

“I hope the families can heal from this,” Braun-Benschoter said.

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