Police: Teen had seat belt on in deadly crash east of Ferndale

A Ferndale teenager had a seat belt on when he crashed Thursday, July 30, authorities confirmed a day later, in a reversal of what state troopers said in the hours after the crash.

Michael John Waltari, 19, was driving a red 1989 Toyota pickup westbound in the 800 block of West Laurel Road around 4 p.m. when the truck went off the road to the right in a straightaway.

The truck flipped, hit a power pole and came to a rest on its roof.

Waltari was conscious as the dispatcher took the first emergency call. By the time an ambulance reached the scene, he was unresponsive. Firefighters cut off Waltari’s seat belt to free him, said Fire District 7 Assistant Chief Larry Hoffman.

State troopers, however, released a press memo saying Waltari had not been wearing a seat belt, and Trooper Eric Goold, a spokesman for the state patrol, talked with investigators at the scene who told him that Waltari wasn’t wearing one when he crashed.

“Obviously,” Goold said the next day, “there was some miscommunication about what happened.”

After an autopsy on Friday the county medical examiner’s office confirmed Waltari had been wearing a seat belt. He died at the scene from “craniocerebral injuries” — head injuries — “sustained when his pickup overturned,” according to the Whatcom County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation by the state patrol.

Damage to the truck suggested Waltari had been going about the speed limit of 45 mph, and no evidence of drugs or alcohol was found at the scene, Goold said.

Waltari graduated from Ferndale High School in 2014.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or Read the Dispatcher blog at and follow him on Twitter at @bhamcaleb.