West Bloomfield officials reflect on the loss of township attorney

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published September 8, 2022

 Michael Salhaney was an attorney who helped represent West Bloomfield Township. He was killed by a motorist while participating in a charity bicycle event July 30.

Michael Salhaney was an attorney who helped represent West Bloomfield Township. He was killed by a motorist while participating in a charity bicycle event July 30.

Photo provided by Steven Kaplan


WEST BLOOMFIELD — On the evening of July 30, West Bloomfield Township officials and department heads received a call from West Bloomfield Police Chief Michael Patton.

The reason for Patton’s call was to inform them that Michael Salhaney, who was an attorney that represented the township, had died earlier that day.

Salhaney had been biking in Ronald Township, which is located in Ionia County, when he was struck by a motorist on Stage Road.

He was participating in a Wish-A-Mile Bicycle Tour, which is a bicycle ride that covers approximately 300 miles over the course of three days. The tour raises funds for Make-A-Wish Michigan, which helps grant wishes to children with serious illnesses.

West Bloomfield Township Supervisor Steven Kaplan learned that Salhaney had been involved with Make-A-Wish for 23 years.

According to Kaplan, five bicyclists, including Salhaney, 57, were riding together in a single-file line when the accident occurred on the second day of the tour.

Salhaney was second in line. Both he and the cyclist who was first in line, Edward Erickson, 48, of Ann Arbor, were killed.

The other three cyclists sustained injuries but survived.

According to Kaplan, the accident occurred at around 10:45 a.m. Salhaney was air-lifted to a hospital near Grand Rapids, where he later died.

The driver of the vehicle that struck the cyclists was identified as 42-year-old Mandy Benn, of Ionia.

She was reportedly driving a Toyota RAV 4.

Benn was initially arraigned Aug. 1 on two counts of operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death/operating a vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance, which is a 15-year felony; one count of operating while intoxicated/operating a vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance, which is a 93-day misdemeanor; and second offense notice operating while intoxicated, which is a one-year misdemeanor.

On Aug. 12, Benn was charged with six additional counts — two counts of reckless driving causing death, two counts of reckless driving causing serious impairment of a body function and two counts of operating while intoxicated causing serious injury.

Benn’s bond was reduced from $1 million to $100,000 Aug. 12 by Ionia County 64-A District Judge Raymond Voet.

A probable cause conference has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Oct. 5.

Among other things, probable cause conferences include discussions as to a possible plea agreement between prosecuting attorneys, defendants and attorneys for the defendants.

Benn is being represented by Ionia County Chief Public Defender Walter Downes.

At press time, Downes had not responded to a request for comment.

Prior to his role as West Bloomfield township supervisor, Kaplan spent more than 20 years as a prosecutor in Macomb County.

He discussed Benn being charged with a 15-year felony.

“It’s equivalent to an involuntary manslaughter charge. It’s not an intentional homicide, but it’s one caused by extreme recklessness,” Kaplan said. “Being under the influence of a controlled substance is equivalent to driving while drunk, but she was not under the influence of alcohol.”

Salhaney, who graduated from Michigan State University in 1986 and Detroit College of Law in 1990, was a partner at Secrest Wardle, which is a law firm in Troy.

It was someone from that law firm who reached out to Patton.

“I got a call from one of his co-workers at the law firm where he works at, (who) knew that Mike was on his charity bicycle ride,” Patton said. “They had been paying attention to the media — I think it was Ionia County where the crash happened — and (were) expressing a concern that Mike may have somehow been involved. So we reached out to our law enforcement partners up in the county there, to try and determine if Mike was involved in the crash, and if he was, sadly, one of the ones that was (injured), or even killed, and it turned out that he was.”

Salhaney was a resident of West Bloomfield Township. After learning the news, Patton had an on-duty sergeant go to his home in case his family had not been notified.

As it turned out, they had.

Salhaney was married with seven children/stepchildren.

Kaplan explained what Salhaney’s role was with West Bloomfield Township.

“You can look at Mike Salhaney as nearly a full-time attorney representing West Bloomfield, because he attended all of the board meetings, including if we needed (him) at a Planning Commission meeting or a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting,” Kaplan said. “His law firm represents us. They are the township attorneys, and he was the principal attorney from that firm, assigned to West Bloomfield.”

Salhaney, who was raised in Bloomfield Township, had been in his specific role with West Bloomfield for more than five years.

Patton also provided details about how Salhaney assisted the township.

“Mike was what we call our general township attorney, so almost all the department heads here — police chief, fire chief, planning, zoning, assessing — every one of the department heads had a good, personal, close, working relationship with Mike — speak with him or see him several days a week,” Patton said. “He had to have a knowledge, a skill, an ability, to interact with such a wide variety of people here in the local government — with such a wide variety of issues — and he really excelled at it. So we’re missing him quite a bit.”

Patton said that Salhaney provided “comfort” to him.

“He’d be the one holding the police chief’s hand, giving me comfort, saying, ‘Don’t worry, chief, everything will be OK.’ He’s the guy that was able to tell that to the police chief,” Patton said.

West Bloomfield Township Clerk Debbie Binder stated that she knew Salhaney for over 20 years, as their children were the same age and participated in similar activities.

According to Binder, Salhaney was “the kindest of kind people.”

“The Township, the community and the kids all lost a treasured advocate that day,” Binder stated via email. “He will be remembered fondly by many who knew him. Our hearts go out to his wife, Alka, and the 7 children they shared, as well as his parents. Mike was an incredibly devoted son, husband and father. He will be missed.”

Kaplan has gone through a range of thoughts and emotions since learning of Salhaney’s death the evening of July 30. He said that he and Salhaney were good friends.

“It’s two-fold; one is the devastation that Mike Salhaney, beloved by the township, died at a young age — coupled with, he was doing something good — monumental for society,” Kaplan said. “And the death is just so unacceptable and preventable. Why is she operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs? Couldn’t she have called an Uber? Couldn’t she have called a cab? Why is she driving so recklessly?”

Finding someone to fill Salhaney’s role is something Kaplan doesn’t expect to be an easy task.

“They say that everybody is replaceable or dispensable, but it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find an attorney who had his professional qualifications, warm personality and unimpeachable character,” Kaplan said.