WARREN (WWJ/AP) - A Detroit-area man says he refused to stop and contact authorities after one of his passengers died during a drive to Michigan from Arizona in part because he feared being incarcerated if police investigated.
Ray Tomlinson told the Detroit Free Press he kept driving after his 31-year-old girlfriend died because he had his elderly mother in the van and wanted to get her home. He said he wanted to get the body to a morgue in Michigan.
"I had a 92-year-old that does not travel very well," said Tomlinson, who has been caring for his mother for 10 years. "The priority was to get her home and in a safe place."
No one has been charged and authorities are awaiting toxicology results from an autopsy performed on the body of the 31-year-old woman, whose name was not released.
Tomlinson said he worried that if he stopped, authorities "would have impounded my vehicle, they would have probably incarcerated me to do an investigation."
If he had a second chance, Tomlinson said he would do things differently.
"I loved her very much," he said. "I was in total denial."
When officers arrived Tuesday at his son's home in Warren, just north of Detroit, Tomlinson was weeping on the curb and his mother was in her wheelchair in the back of the van. The corpse was in the front passenger seat wearing a seatbelt and sunglasses.
"She obviously had been dead for at least 24 hours in screeching heat," said Warren Police Commissioner Jere Green.
According to police, the woman had been at a mental health facility in Aurora, Arizona, where Tomlinson and his mother spend their winters.
The woman joined the pair on their trip back to Michigan last Sunday. After stopping at a gas station restroom in Flagstaff, the woman apparently died from a prescription drug overdose, according to Green.
Instead of stopping, Tomlinson continued the 26-hour, 1,700 mile journey — the dead woman buckled in the passenger's seat, with sunglasses hiding her eyes.
"He Googled looking for information about what to do with a deceased body," said Green. "He was convinced by what he read on that site that it was OK; he had 48 hours before she needed to be tended to in any way."
Green said the authorities became aware of the situation when someone at the mental health facility called the woman to remind her to make an appointment once she got to Michigan. Tomlinson answered the phone.
"He tells them, 'Well, she can't — she's dead,'" Green said.
Someone with the mental health facility convinced Tomlinson to call 911, and a Macomb County Sheriff's Department dispatcher called police.
"We have a really unusual situation going on," the dispatcher said. "Uh…We have a male on the phone that has driven from Arizona, and… it sounds like he has a deceased body…a deceased female in his car. He was determined to go to the morgue, but we've been trying to stop him and ping his phone. We got him finally to pull over."
The incident remains under investigation, although police said foul play is not suspected.
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