Michigan Firefighter, Family Killed in Crash

Updated: 08-01-2005 10:54:46 AM

Detroit Free Press via Associated Press

He spent three years helping to painstakingly restore the sleek and slender car to showroom shape.

He helped his father tear the convertible down to its frame. Then, on nights and weekends, they slowly returned it, piece by piece, to its original glory.

Once the project was finished -- when Bradley Patton would finally have to return the green-and-black 1929 Duesenberg with the tan soft top to its owner -- he decided to take it for one final spin with his wife, Kristin, and their three children in Superior Township.

But about 10 minutes from home, the ride turned deadly.

Bradley and Kristin Patton, both 35, were instantly killed, as was their 8-year-old son Nathan, when police say a Volvo ran a stop sign and slammed into the classic car at 8:10 p.m. Saturday.

The Pattons' two daughters -- Emily, 7, and Taylor, 10 -- were transported to University of Michigan Hospitals in serious condition.

Hospital spokeswoman Andi McDonnell said Sunday that Emily was upgraded to fair condition and Taylor to good condition.

The Duesenberg, built long before seat belts were mandatory in cars, had no restraints. The convertible top was down, authorities said.

The car rolled several times when hit at the intersection of Ford Road and Old Ford Road, ejecting the whole family.

The unidentified 25-year-old driver of the 2001 Volvo was not harmed.

He was arrested and transported to the Washtenaw County Jail, then released until the county Prosecutor's Office decides this week whether to charge him with negligent homicide.

The scene was especially heartbreaking once Superior Township firefighters arrived. Some had worked with Bradley Patton, a fellow firefighter in Ypsilanti, when he volunteered for their department.

"They're hurting as much as we are right now," Ypsilanti Fire Capt. William Wagner said, of the township firefighters.

Wagner described Patton as a devoted husband and father who loved restoring cars on the side with his father.

He and his dad planned to return the Duesenberg to its owner, a friend in Bloomfield Hills, Sunday so that it could be shipped to California for an auto show today.

"They had finished preparing the car, and he was proud of it and wanted to take the family for a ride before they sent it off," Wagner said Sunday.

The Duesenberg is the "ultimate collectible car," said Don Sommer, chairman of the annual Meadow Brook Concours d'Elegance. About 200 remain of the original 450, mostly made between 1929 and 1936.

The cars can net $1 million at auction.

Adding seat belts would have destroyed its value, Sommer said, and might not have saved the Pattons.

"For a car that heavy to get hit and roll; that was a hard hit," he said. "In something like that, there's not any safety thing you can do."

Lt. Max Anthouard of the Ypsilanti Fire Department said Bradley Patton and his father, Terry, were proud of the work they'd done on the car.

"His father told us yesterday that the car was very rare, but not as rare as his son," Anthouard said.

Anthouard rushed to the scene of the accident after he learned Patton was among the victims.

Patton won several awards for saving lives in his 12 years of fighting fires -- six years each in Superior Township and Ypsilanti.

In 2003, he was honored for saving two unconscious girls, ages 2 and 9, from a burning building.

During the rescue, he fell down some stairs and cracked his face shield, burning his face.

Interviewed by the Ypsilanti Courier at the time, Patton shrugged off the "hero" label.

"I was doing what I was paid to do," he told the newspaper.

Anthouard said Patton was an excellent firefighter with a great reputation.

"He was a good all-around guy," he said. "We're sure going to miss him a lot."

The Pattons lived in a quaint ranch-style home, white with burgundy shutters, at the border of Ann Arbor and Superior Township. A trampoline in the backyard could be spied from the street.

Neighbor Priscilla Johnson, 40, said Kristin Patton was nearly finished with a degree in nursing from Eastern Michigan University. The two often chatted at their kids' bus stop as they sent them off to school.

Nathan was best friends with Johnson's 8-year-old daughter, Emily. The two often ate dinner at each other's houses, she said.

"Whenever he came over, we had to buy a big gallon of milk because he would drink it all," Johnson said. "He was a wonderful addition to our family."

Two memorial funds have been created for the Patton family. The International Association of Firefighters, Local 401, is accepting donations at 525 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti 48197.

Donations also can be mailed to the Ypsilanti Area Federal Credit Union, 424 S. Mansfield St., Ypsilanti 48197.

Distributed by the Associated Press