Portage family tries to cope with death of husband, father in intentional crash
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune corresponent August 17, 2012 7:48PM
This photo provided by the Indiana State Police shows a fatal crash Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012, near Michigan City, Ind., which killed the drivers of two cars. Police say they found the bodies of a woman and her two children at a suburban Detroit home while they were trying to notify family members that a man had died in the crash. Identities have not been released. (AP Photo/Indiana State Police)
Updated: September 19, 2012 6:14AM
PORTAGE — The wife of the victim of an early Thursday morning crash on Interstate 94, possibly a suicide by the other driver, said Friday her family is coping with the tragedy with the help of God.
“It’s hard, but we are trying to deal with it,” Lena Nelson said.
Juan Nelson Jr., 45, of Portage was killed instantly on I-94 near Michigan City when a vehicle driven by Michael VanDerLinden, 39, of suburban Detroit, traveling east in the westbound lanes, slammed head-on with Nelson’s vehicle in a fiery collision. Both men died instantly.
Police are investigating whether the crash may have been intentional. VanDerLinden is believed to have stabbed his wife and two young children to death with a butcher knife in their Van Buren Township, Mich., home before traveling 200 miles west and stopping before dawn in Indiana. VanDerLinden has just left a highway rest area and was traveling the wrong way on the freeway when he crashed into Nelson’s car.
Police did not find a suicide note.
Van Buren Township police Capt. Gregory Laurain said investigators are looking into family issues as a possible motive for the slayings. It was unclear whether the predawn crash was intentional.
“We know from Indiana State Police, according to one of their witnesses, the vehicle that he was driving had its headlights turned off while on I-94 and at the time of the accident,” Laurain said. “We don’t know why. We don’t know if it was intentionally or accidentally.”
Lena Nelson described her husband as a good man who loved his children, ages 23, 20, 16 and 4.
“He was a wonderful man. He was a loving family man,” Nelson said.
Her husband was a Gary native and graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1985. The family lived in Portage. He worked at a local steel mill.
“We’re coping through God. Through the strength of God, we’re dealing with it,” Nelson said.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been set.
AP contributed to this story.