LANSING, Mich. (WJMN) – The three members of the ARC Automotive Airbag Defect Investigation Team based out of the U.P. are set to be awarded following an investigation of a traffic crash that led to an airbag recall from General Motors. The team members are being recognized by the Governor’s Traffic Safety Advisory Commission (GTSAC).

The members being recognized are Dep. Hans Tolkkinen of the Houghton County Sheriff’s Office, Spl/Sgt. Daniel Verlin of the Michigan State Police Eighth District Headquarters, and Tpr. Steven Wallenius, MSP Gladstone Post. The team was nominated for an Outstanding Traffic Safety Achievement Award.

The investigation began following a deadly August 2021 crash in Houghton County involving a 2015 Chevrolet Traverse and a 1981 Corvette. Deputy Tolkkinen was the original crash reconstructionist assigned to the incident.

During the investigation, Tolkkinen noted that the airbag of the Traverse was detached and in the far back area of the vehicle, along with part of the steering column. Deputy Tolkkinen contacted Spl/Sergeant Verlin of the MSP Traffic Crash Reconstruction Unit, who then requested Trooper Wallenius, an MSP At-Scene Crash Investigator, to remove the event data recorder from the vehicle to download the information.

The team discovered that the steering column appeared to have exploded from the inside and the damage was not consistent with damage from the crash. Additionally, pieces of the airbag inflater were found in the driver’s neck during the autopsy.

“The investigation of this incident has the potential to save an unknown number of lives,” said Lt. Lance R. Cook. “While the recall was for a limited number of vehicles, the industry and safety advocates are taking harder looks at other airbags to prevent similar deaths.”

The team will be honored during the Traffic Safety Awards Virtual Ceremony via Microsoft Teams at 10 am on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. The GTSAC recognizes organizations, programs and individuals for outstanding involvement in traffic safety.