BY ART BUKOWSKI
CENTRAL LAKE —
Diane Shafer always focuses on one thing above all else, family and friends said.
Shafer lives in Central Lake and works for the school system there. She's the mother of three girls: Veronica, 9, Andrea, 14, and Jacki, 12, and they mean more to her than anything.
"She's very nurturing. Her family is the number one most important thing in her life," said Donna McGinley, her step-sister. "That's always been her number one priority, making sure her girls are taken care of. They're her whole world."
Shafer, 37, is in a coma at Munson Medical Center after a Nov. 23 traffic crash in Antrim County. She and husband Paul Shafer were on their way home from a shopping trip with Veronica and Andrea when a suspected drunken driver crossed the center line on Alba Highway and slammed head-on into their vehicle.
Veronica broke her leg, while Paul and Andrea suffered minor injuries. The family is well-known in Central Lake, and citizens from throughout Antrim County and beyond are rallying around the Shafer family.
"Because of our small town, we're kind of one big, happy family," said Shena Miller, a Central Lake resident who is helping to raise donations. "We all stick together in times of need, and with what that family is going through, every little bit helps."
A Detroit-area man, 60, appears to be responsible for the crash, Gaylord-based Michigan State Police Sgt. Jeff Gorno said. His pickup truck crossed the center line and smashed into the Shafer's vehicle at a high rate of speed shortly after 4 p.m.
"This was what we call a level seven," Gorno said. "Very extreme."
Police arrested the downstate man on suspicion of drunken driving. Neither he nor a passenger in his vehicle were seriously injured. Gorno wouldn't disclose preliminary blood alcohol test results.
Antrim County Prosecutor Charles Koop said he's waiting for final blood alcohol test results and an accident reconstruction report from the state police before he makes his charging decision. He's also closely monitoring Diane Shafer's condition, as it will play a role in how he proceeds with charges.
"We are waiting and hoping for the best," Koop said. "Right now, the most important thing is her recovery."
The suspect is out on bond and has hired an attorney, Koop said.
Paul Shafer works at East Jordan Iron Works, and Diane is a food service and preschool aide for Central Lake schools. Diane also graduated from Mancelona High School, so the family has plenty of ties throughout Charlevoix and Antrim counties.
Diana Kelly, who taught Diane in middle school, said Diane has an upbeat, "Little Miss Sunshine" personality. Those who know her are struggling tremendously with the crash.
"This is something that you're just not ready for," Kelly said. "It's a terrible thing for the whole family."
Shafer has undergone multiple surgeries since the crash. Her uncertain future has been extremely stressful on the family, McGinley said.
"It's horrible not knowing, not having any answers, and trying to explain to the kids what's going on," she said.
Antrim-area residents have provided meals for the family and are in the process of raising money for a new vehicle. A benefit dinner is scheduled at Central Lake schools.
"It's been very emotional for the family to see the community support," McGinley said. "Diane is very well-loved in her community."
Shelly Derenzy is principal at Central Lake schools. She has known the Shafer family for years, and couldn't say enough good things about Diane Shafer's role in both the lives of her own children and those of other children in the district.
"She's a very involved parent, always volunteering," she said. "She's just an outstanding mom."