Jim & Rita Cwengros (left); Matt Kutsche (top right); Mary LaPonsie (bottom right)
GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - Exclusive video obtained by WZZM 13 shows the scene of a crash in Haiti that killed four West Michigan volunteers. Jim and Rita Cwengros, Matt Kutsche, and Mary LaPonsie died Friday when their SUV plunged off a winding, narrow road and down a ravine.
Father John Vallier of Holy Spirit Catholic Church said of the accident, "If you know anything about Haiti, it's rough climbing up the mountain. It's not always as stable as you think."
18 volunteers from the church arrived in Haiti to work at a medical clinic. Jim and Rita Cwengros had taken the trip several times. Friends say Jim was a pharmacist and Rita was a nurse.
Mary LaPonsie learned about medicine as a regular on the trip.
"What she did there is she monitored the pharmacy. We spent two or three weeks ago just sorting pills, ust getting pills ready. She had it down to a science," says friend Betty Krauss who was one of the 18 missionaries on the trip. "We were in the van behind them. We came upon the scene. At first, it was unclear, who was where."
The brakes on the Toyota Land Cruiser had failed and the vehicle went through a guardrail and down a steep cliff.
"The bigger reality was to know they didn't survive," says Krauss.
The youngest member of the group was Matt Kutsche. His father, a doctor in Grand Rapids, was on the trip but in a different vehicle when his son was killed. Friends say Matt was always looking for someone to help.
"Just a charismatic, electric personality that I think is going to leave a void in a lot of us. It's out duty to take forth what Matt taught all of us and try to be a little more like Matt everyday," says friend Eric Lessens.
All of the surviving missionaries, with the exception of their leader, have returned to West Michigan. The tragedy is still on their minds, but they remain passionate about their mission and say they will likely return.