About two dozen protesters gathered outside the Waupaca County Courthouse Friday, Oct. 21, seeking answers for two people killed in a crash one year ago.
On Oct. 23, 2010, an eastbound car driven by Christopher Royer, now 23, of West Allis, crossed the centerline on State Highway 54 in Royalton and slammed into a westbound van driven by 75-year-old Milton “Red” Barnhart, of Waupaca.
Barnhart was taken by ambulance to the New London Family Medical Center, then to the Appleton Medical Center.
“His whole insides were crushed,” recalled Jan Barnhart, the victim’s wife.
She said Barnhart never fully recovered from his injuries and died on Sunday, Nov. 14.
Danielle Belanger, 21, of Oshkosh, was a front-seat passenger in Royer’s car. She and another passenger in Royer’s car, Jose Ortegon, 25, Wautoma, were taken by ambulance to Riverside Medical Center, then flown to Theda Clark Regional Medical Center in Neenah. She died of massive internal injuries about four hours after the crash.
At the time of the crash, the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Department reported that alcohol and bald tires may have been a contributing factor.
The daughter of Richard and Jacki (Walslager) Belanger, Danielle Belanger graduated from Wautoma High School in 2007. She had worked at Nordic Mountain Ski Hill as a cafeteria worker and at Copps Food Center as a produce clerk in Wautoma. She was recently employed at Alta Resources in Neenah as a production worker.
Danielle’s brother, Sean Williams, and his wife Amanda were among those protesting at the courthouse.
“It’s been a year and we need justice,” Sean said. “Since the beginning, they’ve been saying, ‘Give us three to four more weeks and we’ll have answers for you.’ We’re still waiting for answers.”
“It should never take this long to get the accident reconstruction done,” Amanda said. “Until the reconstruction is done, the case can’t move forward.”
The Williams complained about the lack of progress on the case. They said they did not know who was responsible for the delays, “but it seems like none of them are doing their jobs.”
The Williams contacted family and friends of Danielle Belanger and reached out to the Barnhart family to organize the protest at the courthouse.
Dale and Julie Stevenson took time off from work and drove from their home in Beloit to Waupaca to join the protest. They knew Barnhart through Odd Fellows.
“He was at Odd Fellows’ meetings in Green Bay that day. We were planning to build a new dementia care unit,” Dale Stevenson said. He was kind of a mentor to me in Odd Fellows.”
Those at the courthouse held signs demanding justice for the victims.
Jan Barnhart’s sign had her late husband’s photo and indicated what he meant to his family and community. He was a member of the Odd Fellows, had a wife, 12 children, 35 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. “Sponsored two orphanages. For 53 years made sure underprivileged kids went to camp,” the sign said.
Barnhart questions the fairness of why Royer “never spent a day in the hospital or spent a day in jail. He got to spend the holidays with his family. But our family did not get to spend the holidays with Red.”
Pointing to photos of the wreck, Jan Barnhart said Royer’s car crossed the centerline and slammed into the her husband’s van. The front wheel of the driver’s side of the van was pushed all the way under the front seat.
“Red was on his side of the road. He was a professional driver and drove a semi for decades,” she said. “Why do they need a reconstruction at all?”
“It’s one piece of the puzzle that has to be put in place before we can move on the case,” said District Attorney John Snider regarding the crash reconstruction report.
“I think any prosecutor would take that approach of ruling out exculpatory issues before leveling such serious allegations against someone,” Snider said.
He said the investigation into crash is still ongoing.
Sheriff Brad Hardel said the state patrol had been in contact with Waupaca County in late August, asking questions about information that had been in the original accident report.
One of the deputies had “noticed that the front tires were extremely worn with very little tread left on them.”
At the time of the crash it was also reported that the road surface had been wet.
Hardel said his department received results of Royer’s blood-alcohol test on Oct. 26. He said the test results will not be released until after a decision is made regarding whether or not to file charges.
He did say that state analysts later conducted further screening on Royer’s blood.
Snider also said he would not discuss the blood test results during a pending investigation.
Hardel said his deputies investigated the scene of the crash, impounded the vehicles for further investigation, interviewed those involved in the crash, sent blood samples to the state crime lab, then provided their initial report to the district attorney’s office on Nov. 3, 2010,
Over the next three months, prosecutors asked for more information and additional interviews from law enforcement.
“I’m still waiting on the results,” Snider said, regarding the crash reconstruction, which is being conducted by specialists with the Wisconsin State Patrol.
When asked why the investigation is till onging after a year, Snider said, “Too many crashes with criminal implications have to be reconstructed by too few experts.”