Sterling Heights, Buff Whelan Chevrolet Dealership Fire

Buff Whelan Chevrolet in Sterling Heights, Michigan decided to reopen their doors three days ago, on July 19, 2017, despite the fact that one of their service buildings caught fire the night before. The fire spread, burning up the body shop and more than 20 vehicles. The Van Dyke Ave. car dealership has been a large part of the community for at least 20 years and many of their customers and neighbors were in shock to see the building in flames. The blaze was so massive that fire and police departments from surrounding communities worked together to close down 18 Mile Road and reroute drivers and onlookers away from the area. People as far as 5 miles away claimed to have seen the smoke caused by the fire. 

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How The Buff Whelan Fire Started

The cause of the fire is still under investigation but it is believed that the cleaning crew accidentally started the fire around 7:30 PM on July 18, after a floor buffer came in contact with some flammable floor cleaning solution. Some sources have even speculated that the floor chemical solution spread to wiring, causing an electrical fire. Sterling Heights Fire Chief Chris Martin says from there, the fire spread quickly and set the vehicles and body shop on fire. This unfortunate incident is now being ranked as the largest fire in Sterling Heights history.

Tom Bechtel, the Sales Manager at Buff Whelan said he saw the smoke from his house but, didn’t realize the smoke was coming from his workplace. “The flames were unbelievable and the smoke — I can’t believe a service facility would burn like that...Unbelievable.” said Bechtel.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Whelan have expressed their gratitude to the fire departments that helped save their business and to the public for their support and concern and issued a statement saying that it is, “business as usual” and that they still have the inventory and accommodations to service their clients through their website and in person, while repairs are being made. 

A Few Fire Safety Tips

Structure and mercantile property fires, like the one at Buff Whelan Chevrolet, account for 41% of civilian deaths and 31% of civilian injuries. These fires are more common than people realize and many companies don't specifically train employees on what to do in case of fire, other than to call 911. Or even if companies do train their employees on fire safety, many people tend to fall asleep during the lecture or are unable to recall the long ago training when it comes to an actual fire or fire drill. For those people, here are a few fire safety tips to brush up on, supplied by BullEx, an expert fire safety company.

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  • Declutter - Paper, candy wrappers, spare clothing, and even those old and forgotten Halloween decorations left in the bottom drawer can be potential fuel for a fire to spread. Keeping work spaces clean can help keep small flames from becoming massive. 
  • Update Technology - Make sure any machinery, even cleaning machinery, is up to date in repairs. No need for loose wiring or a motor going haywire and causing a fire, as is suspected in the Buff Whelan Chevrolet fire. 
  • Read Safety Labels - Always be careful when mixing, using, and storing chemicals. Refer to the Material Safety Data Sheet that is oftentimes located on the the back label or lower right corner of the item to determine its flammability. 
  • Electrical Maintenance - Any faulty or electrical hazards should immediately be reported. BullEx warns that any electrical maintenance or repair should only be handled by a licensed professional. 
  • Don't Smoke! - Those “Do Not Smoke” signs are placed there for a reason! Those out on a smoke break should only use smoking designated areas, not because people are picking on smokers, but for safety reasons such as potential fire hazards nearby or setting off fire alarms and sprinklers. 
  • Security - No matter how big or small the workplace is, suspicious items, people, and areas should be reported to prevent potential arsonists from setting a life threatening fire. 
  • Fire Extinguishers - Businesses should supply employees or a designated employee(s) with instructions on how to work a fire extinguisher, just in case of a fire. Employees should also know where all emergency fire exits are located in their workplace and should always keep possible escape routes clear. These fire safety measures could be essential to saving lives and avoiding fire injuries.

Of course, fires can occur for a many number of reasons. By following these fire safety tips however, employees may be able to avoid some fires caused by human error. Thankfully, aside from the 20 or so cars, no humans were injured in the Buff Whelan Chevrolet fire. It does warm the heart however, to see how the Sterling Heights and other Metro Detroit communities came to the aid of a local business during such a crisis.


Fires don't just happen in buildings. Cars fires also occur when automobiles are involved in motor vehicle accidents. If you or someone you know has been involved in a car accident, call The Michigan Law Firm, PLLC. Our highly experienced staff is always available to speak to victims of car accidents. Call us today, at 844.4MI.FIRM for a free and fair legal consultation. 

Sterling Heights Lawsuit Against Macomb County, Over Sinkhole, Dismissed

Michigan residents are used to infrastructure issues such as potholes and even sinkholes frequently occurring due to Michigan's status as the land of lakes and tempered weather. Lately however, Michiganders are becoming exasperated with dealing with the financial and infrastructural fallout of these destructive holes. In December 2016, a particularly dangerous sinkhole in Fraser, Michigan appeared on 15 Mile Road and Eberlein Street, causing residents to be evacuated from their homes and for part of 15 Mile Road to be closed down.

The sinkhole was caused by a sewer line that is currently being funded and fixed under the Macomb Interceptor Drainage District (MIDD) which is made up of county and city entities including Fraser, Utica, Macomb Township, Clinton county, Harrison County, and Sterling Heights, to name a few. The MIDD tasked Sterling Heights with submitting a share of $22.2 million dollars toward funding repairs. The city of Sterling Heights was outraged with the portion of money that they were tasked to raise and responded with a lawsuit on May 8, 2017, against Macomb County. Sterling Heights claims that the county should be responsible for the repair cost, and not the citizens of the communities affected by the sinkhole.

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How The Sinkhole Was Created

As Fraser Public Safety's Lt. Mike Pettyes explains, the main 11-foot-wide sewer line - that lies 55 feet underground -  had a break that allowed waste and water to wash out the dirt and sand that supports the structures above ground. Once the supporting layers of dirt were washed out, it caused a gap that allowed for the land above, to sink into the hole in order to fill it in. Also, this isn't the first time a sinkhole has happened in this area. Back in August 2004, a sinkhole grew to be 160-feet long and 60-feet wide appeared as a result of a collapsed sewer line and was closed to the public for 10 months.

Sinkhole Repair Costs And Necessity

Based on current inspections, the sinkhole is expected to cost $75 million dollars to repair, if the pipe doesn’t completely collapse before it is repaired. $70 million of this enormous amount is supposed to be paid by 25-year-old bonds owned by Macomb County and the remaining $5 million is to be covered by state grants. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) uses the sinkhole as evidence that Michigan’s infrastructure is in need of improvements. This statement is sufficiently supported by The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) who gave Michigan’s infrastructure a D on it’s report card back in 2009. The latest reports show that in 2011, Michigan still wasn’t making the grade with nearly 1,300 of the 11,022 bridges in 'poor' to 'failing' condition, 22% of the major roads in 'poor' condition and 66 of its waste sites being put on the national priorities list.

Sterling Heights Lawsuit Dismissed

Crumbling Overpass

The MIDD contracted the Macomb County Wastewater Disposal District (MCWDD) back in 2010 to deal with repairs and upkeep of the sewer line. However, the MCWDD failed to do their job. As a result, the city of Sterling Heights was issued a bill for $22.2 million dollars of the estimated $75 million repair cost. This is a cost that Mayor Michael Taylor of Sterling Heights argues is unfair to his city, its residents, and its businesses to pay for, due to the “breach in contract” on MCWDDs part.

However, Macomb County Circuit Judge Jennifer Faunce didn't think so, which is why she dismissed Sterling Heights' lawsuit in favor of the MIDD's argument that the lawsuit was preventing the sewer line from being fixed. But, this may not be the last time the MIDD will face trouble from Sterling Heights. Mayor Taylor says that he is disappointed by Judge Faunce's decision and is currently reconvening with the city's attorney and the City Council to figure out a solution. 

“I’m going to do everything I can to protect our taxpayers,” declared Taylor.

Temporary Fixes

As of May 14, 2017, officials state that an additional $6.2 million in new repairs is needed. In the meantime, a temporary bypass line has been installed to help waste flow around the sinkhole area and allow inspectors to further investigate the damage of the sewer line. So far, east of the sinkhole (upstream) shows signs of deterioration with gushing leaks and fractures. West of the sinkhole (downstream) has been scheduled to be inspected for damages later on this summer and could possibly drive up the cost of the repair bill and the therefore the need for additional bonds to be sold.

Hopefully, while negotiations and repair are underway regarding who will pay for what, the sinkhole doesn't collapse even further or potentially spread and make the situation even worse. In the meantime, drivers should pay attention to where they are driving as sinkholes are a serious matter. Drivers should be careful of streets with noticeable dips or drainage problems which could be a sign of it's failing infrastructure. In addition, while repairs are being made along 15 Mile Road, motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists should all be wary of construction site accidents. By looking out for construction signs, slowing down car speed at construction sites, and by generally traveling through construction sites more cautiously, people may be able to avoid serious injuries that can arise from construction motor vehicle accidents.


Infrastructure damage and repair has been a growing problem in Michigan for many years, let alone the entire nation. In 2013, the ASCE estimated that the cost of updating the infrastructure in America could cost up to $3.6 trillion dollars by the year 2020. Have you or someone you know sustained injuries in an accident stemming from damaged infrastructure? If so, call 844.4MI.FIRM to speak with an attorney at The Michigan Law Firm, PLLC. Our firm provides free consultations.

Michigan State Police Enforcing Distracted Driving Laws

Drivers might want to think twice the next time they want to send a text or take a Snapchat while driving around the Sterling Heights, Michigan intersection of Hall Road and Schoenherr Road. Police have promised to crack down on distracted driving around that intersection, as it has been ranked by the Michigan State Police as the 8th most dangerous intersection in Michigan. 

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The tight enforcement of distracted driving will be a team effort, as the intersection falls on the city borders of Utica, Sterling Heights, and Shelby Township. The video news story posted on ClickOnDetroit this morning featured an officer pulling over a driver who was traveling 60 mph, which is well over the posted speed limit of 45 mph. Going 15 miles per hour over the speed limit is legal grounds for a reckless driving ticket. Within a time frame of less than an hour, officers at the intersection pulled over several other drivers for careless driving, reckless driving, and distracted driving. 

“This is a matter of life and death. We have people on the streets dying in the United States of America because somebody felt it was so important to respond to a text or an email while driving,” Sterling Heights Police Department Chief John Berg said. The tri-city effort to curb distracted driving in the area is being called “Operation Blue Light”. 

As previously stated, this intersection is ranked the 8th most dangerous intersection in the state of Michigan. Leading causes to this ranking are the speed that drivers travel at on Hall Road, as well as the high volume of traffic the area experiences on a daily basis. Add in a dose of distracted driving, and the likelihood of an auto accident increases dramatically. "If you just look around in your cars you will see everyone on their cell phones, it’s actually kind of embarrassing,” Shelby Township Police Chief Robert Shelide told Local 4 News. 

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The enhanced crackdown on distracted driving will begin on June 20th, as police will be looking for drivers who are not paying attention to the road or are using their cell phones while driving. The police departments want drivers to know that they are not doing this to simply write tickets, but to save a life instead. Traffic signs and billboards will be scattered throughout the area to bring awareness to drivers. 

If a driver feels it is necessary to use their cell phone while in the vehicle, they are strongly encouraged to pull over and come to a complete stop before sending a message or picture. Distracted driving is becoming a dangerous trend in the United States. Cell phones are estimated to be involved in 1.6 million automobile accidents each year, leading to 6,000 fatalities, according to Don’tTextandDrive.com


Distracted drivers not only put other drivers' lives at risk, they also put their own lives at risk. No text or email or picture is worth ruining someone's life over. If you our somebody you know has been injured in an auto accident because of distracted driving, call The Michigan Law Firm, PLLC. Our attorneys realize the long-term physical and emotional effects a car accident may have on a victim, and they will not rest until you get the help that you deserve. Call us today, at 844.4MI.FIRM for a free consultation.