Delays in homicide case cited in report
By Robert Cloud
The state Crime Victims Rights Board issued a private reprimand against Waupaca County District Attorney John Snider.
After reviewing a complaint from the daughter of Fred Lick, the 81-year-old Waupaca man who was killed by a car driven by Kristin Carlson, the board concluded that Snider “violated a crime victim’s statutory right to a speedy disposition of the case.”
Lick was killed on July 2, 2013.
Carlson was charged with homicide by negligent use of a vehicle two years later on July 16, 2015.
On July 7, 2015, Lick’s daughter, Lisa Schultz, filed a complaint with the Crime Victims Rights Board, which then opened an investigation.
According to the criminal complaint, Lick had been returning home from his mailbox, walking southbound across County Trunk Q when he was struck by Carlson’s car.
At the time of the crash, the sun was out, the road was dry and clear of debris, and there were no visual obstructions.
Carlson was transported to the hospital in Waupaca for treatment of minor injuries. A sample of her blood was also sent to the State Crime Lab.
She reportedly had a 0.05 blood-alcohol level. The legal limit is 0.08.
Detective Sgt. Robert Karski examined Carlson’s cellphone and determined Carlson sent a 134-character text message at 4:02 p.m. and received a text message at 4:05 p.m. Investigators believe the crash occurred at 4:06 p.m.
Karski reported that Carlson called 911 about 23 seconds after receiving the text message.
Trooper Jason Schwartz, a crash reconstruction specialist with the Wisconsin State Patrol, reported that Lick’s body was propelled nearly 210 feet from where he was struck.
Schwartz found that Carlson’s Malibu started braking about 85 feet after the point of impact and traveled 180 feet before coming to a complete stop.
He calculated that the vehicle was traveling 59-65 mph at the time it hit Lick. The speed limit there is 35 mph.
Snider requested and received assistance from state Assistant Attorney General Tara Jenswold to prosecute Carlson.
Carlson is now scheduled for a jury trial on Sept. 27-30.
The Crime Victims Rights Board found that the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office investigated the incident and referred it to Snider for prosecution on June 10, 2014.
Snider did not assign the case to an assistant district attorney because the person “normally responsible for this type of case was scheduled to leave office on June 20, 2014,” the board reported.
Former Assistant District Attorney Vicki Clussman was elected circuit court judge in April 2014 and sworn into office on Aug. 7.
She was replaced by a new assistant district attorney, Veronica Isherwood, in August of 2014.
Lick’s children met with Snider on April 24, 2015. At that time, Snider told them the case had been delayed due to his workload and because he was still waiting for reports from the sheriff’s office.
As of June 30, 2015, Snider had not notified the family whether he intended to file a criminal complaint against Carlson.
According to the board’s reprimand, Snider gave two reasons for the delay between the time the sheriff’s office referred the case to him on June 10, 2014, and the filing of the criminal complaint on July 16, 2015.
Snider attributed the delay to his office’s workload and to his requests for additional investigation from the sheriff’s office and the coroner.
The district attorney’s office has three full-time and one part-time prosecutors who handle felony, misdemeanor, criminal traffic, juvenile and other cases.
Prior to June 10, 2014, Snider’s office had filed a drunken driving homicide case and a first-degree reckless homicide of a child case.
After June 10, 2014, Snider’s office filed a first-degree intentional homicide case, a first-degree reckless homicide of a child case and a drunken driving homicide involving a fatal hit and run.
The board reported Snider described having “long been saddened and frustrated by a backlog of referrals in this office” where “sometimes, it gets to the point of not being able to prioritize as one would like, given all the matters needing immediate attention on a daily basis.”
On April 10, 2015, Snider sent an email to Sgt. Kevin Studzinski, asking if he had checked on surveillance video from area businesses.
On April 16, 2015, Studzinski responded: “We did call the local businesses and were unable to obtain video of the areas of interest.”
On April 24, 2015, Snider emailed Waupaca County Coroner Barry Tomaras, asking him to forward a copy of the autopsy report.
Tomoras emailed the report to Snider 34 minutes later.
On April 10, 2015, Snider emailed Detective Sgt. Rob Karski regarding a CD that contained information from Carlson’s mobile phone.
Karski responded by email the same day, indicating he needed to review the information again. He asked how soon Snider needed the information. Snider responded that he would have time to look at it between April 10 and April 17.
Snider did not receive a report on the text messages until June 3, 2015.
The board found that the sheriff’s office was further investigating the cellphone during this time.
A total of 401 days elapsed between the sheriff’s office referral and the filing of a criminal complaint.
The board determined the delay was not reasonable.
“The board concludes that a distict attorney must prioritize case work and a backlog may necessitate delaying some cases in order to file others,” the Crime Victims Rights Board reported. “But no matter what theory of prioritization a district attorney adopts for his or her office, cases that involve the loss of life must be given a priority.”
“I’m sorry that I took my eye off the ball,” Snider told the Waupaca County Post when asked about the reprimand. “I’ve learned that we need to prioritize better.”
Snider attributed the delays to the fact that one of his assistant district attorneys was elected judge and needed to be replaced.
“All of our positions are filled now. That helps,” Snider said.
Snider also noted that his office was responding to a large number of new types of cases involving heroin.
“It has been a humbling experience,” Snider said.