Waupaca County District Attorney John Snider filed vehicular homicide charges Monday against Christopher L. Royer, 23, Mukwonago.
Royer was involved in a 2010 crash that led to two fatalities on State Highway 54 in Royalton.
Relatives of the two victims – Milton “Red” Barnhart and Danielle Belanger – were in court Monday.
Several of them had been among the protesters demanding justice outside the courthouse in October 2011. At that time, they wanted to know why no charges had been filed against Royer one year after the crash.
Royer is now charged with two counts of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and two counts of homicide with a vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance. He was also charged with two counts of causing injury while under the influence, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Scene of the crash
Shortly after 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23, 2010, Deputy Nick Traeger and Detective Sgt. John Mocadlo, of the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Department, were dispatched to the scene of the crash.
According to the criminal complaint, when the officers arrived, they found a severely damaged red Chevy Astro van facing east in the middle of the road. Photos of the wreck show the front wheel of the driver’s side of the van pushed all the way under the front seat.
A grey Chevy Monte Carlo was in the north ditch. Traeger found Royer in the driver’s seat, calling for help. Treager shattered the driver’s side window and Royer was able to crawl out of the vehicle.
Barnhart, a 75-year-old Waupaca man, was trapped in the van. After firefighters extricated Barnhart from the vehicle, he was taken by ambulance to New London Family Medical Center, then to Appleton Medical Center.
Barnhart suffered blunt trauma to his abdomen during the crash, never recovered from his injuries and died on Nov. 14, 2010.
Belanger was a front-seat passenger in Royer’s car. The 21-year-old Oshkosh woman was rushed to Riverside Medical Center in Waupaca, where Dr. Stephen Hubbard tried unsuccessfully to save her.
Hubbard continued working to resuscitate Belanger as he rode with her in the ambulance to the trauma unit at Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah. She was pronounced dead at 6:37 p.m. the night of the crash.
Jose F. Ortegon, 24, Oshkosh, was a backseat passenger in Royer’s car. He was taken first to RMC, then to Theda Clark where he was treated for a broken leg.
Wild ride alleged
Ortegon told Traeger that he, Belanger and Royer left Wautoma for Waupaca after stopping to purchase a six-pack of 18-ounce beers for the two men and one 24-ounce can of light beer for Belanger, the complaint says.
Enroute from Wautoma to Waupaca, Royer “was driving very recklessly, taking corners very fast so as to drift and going fast on the hills in order to make their stomachs drop,” according to the criminal complaint.
All three of them were allegedly smoking marijuana from Royer’s pipe and drinking as they drove to Waupaca.
While in Waupaca, the three of them went to Schueller’s Great Exspechtations on Royalton Street. Ortegon told investigators he bought Royer and Belanger a shot of tequila and bought Royer two double shots of Jack Daniels and Coke. the complaint says.
Ortegon told police that the three of them began smoking marijuana after they left the bar. He reportedly said Royer peeled out of Schueller’s parking lot, causing the car to fishtail, then accelerated into the roundabout on State Highway 54. A short time later, they hit a van head-on.
Bald tires possible factor
While investigating the scene of the crash, Traeger noticed that the Monte Carlo’s front tires were worn and virtually without any tread. The front passenger tire appeared to have blown, which may have been a contributing factor to the crash. The front passenger wheel had also separated from the car.
State Patrol Trooper Steven Brown conducted a mechanical inspection of the Monte Carlo. He concluded that “all damage appeared to be caused from the collision. The lack of tread on the front tires could have an effect on the vehicle’s ability to maintain control, especially on wet roadways. This, of course, will depend on the dynamics of the crash. Without being at the scene, I cannot say whether the bald tires were a contributing factor.”
Trooper Thomas Rahmer reported that he found no evidence at the scene that the vehicle was out of control prior to the crash.
Ortegon told Traeger that he did not remember any problems with the vehicle and did not believe the tire blew prior to the crash.
At Monday’s hearing, Snider asked Judge Philip Kirk to set “a significant cash bail,” noting that Royer has a history of failing to appear for court hearings and that his driver’s license was recently reinstated.
Royer, who is charged as a repeat offender, has several prior misdemeanor convictions from Waushara County, including theft, disorderly conduct and resisting an officer.
Gerald Boyle, Royer’s defense counsel, asked Kirk to grant a signature bond.
“For the last year and a half, this boy’s behavior has been exemplary,” Boyle said. “He has been working hard, turning his life around.”
Royer has been living with his uncle since the incident and working two part-time jobs, Boyle said.
Boyle argued that Royer’s blood-alcohol level at the time of the accident was 0.056, significantly below the legal limit.
Kirk set an alternative bond of $2,500 cash or a $10,000 signature bond co-signed by Royer’s uncle.
Conditions of the bond prohibit Royer from leaving the state of Wisconsin, driving with any amount of alcohol or controlled substance in his system and driving without a valid licence. He is also prohibited from having contact with Ortegon.
Royer faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted of any of the counts of vehicular homicide.