Father, grandmother die in crash on way to baby’s birth

Crystal Matrau-Belt’s newborn son, Jeremiah.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The first-time mom doesn’t want to let go of her baby boy, Jeremiah.

He was born on Saturday — a little more than 8 pounds, 22 inches long and healthy — four hours after his father and grandmother died in a crash while rushing to the hospital for the birth.

“I don’t want to let him out of my sight,” Crystal Matrau-Belt said as she held Jeremiah in her bed at Bronson Methodist Hospital.

“He has my lips, for sure, but he looks like his dad,” she continued.

Jeremiah wasn’t supposed to arrive this early, but her mom’s high blood pressure kept her in the hospital on Friday. Then, on Saturday, doctors decided a C-section was best.

The baby’s father, Emil Skokan III, was home with his future mother-in-law, Peggy Nichols, preparing for the baby’s arrival.

“That was our plan, is he was going to just stay at home, get things ready, because we didn’t know it would be right then and there,” Matrau-Belt said.

Jeremiah would be their first baby together and her mother’s first biological grandchild.

“That was her biggest thing, you know, she was just excited every day,” she said of her mother.

On Saturday, Matrau-Belt made the call from the hospital — it was time. She remembers her fiance’s last words: “That he loved me and that he’d be here shortly.”

Headed to Bronson, her fiance lost control of a car in Comstock Township and hit a tree. They died in the crash at 4 p.m. — four hours before Jeremiah was born. Kalamazoo County Undersheriff Paul Matyas said speed was a “significant factor” in the crash.

Mom was back in her hospital room recovering when her dad, stepdad and stepmom told her the news.

“I just remember all their faces, and I knew something was wrong,” Matrau-Belt said. “I just didn’t know how bad it was, and that’s when I was told that they both died in a car accident on their way over here.

“All I can remember is just trying to think that what they were saying was like, you know, they were just kidding, lying. I didn’t want to believe it,” she continued.

Now, as she prepares to leave the hospital, she’s torn between joy and grief.

“It’s a hard balance… being so happy and excited to be a mother and holding him and grieving that his dad’s not here, his grandma’s not here, just having to battle back and forth grieving for the both of them and trying to be happy and excited for him,” Matrau-Belt said. “I know that once I leave the hospital, that’s when things will start to become real, and having to deal with everyday life is when it’s really going to hit me.”

She wants Jeremiah to remember his grandmother as a woman who would have done anything for him and his father as a man who couldn’t wait to raise him.

“Even now, he’s still there for him,” she said.

Friends of Matrau-Belt have started a GoFundMe account for her and her son.

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