Sheboygan County Dist. Atty. Joe DeCecco filed a felony charge Friday against a 67-year-old man who crashed into and killed a bicyclist on County Highway Y on June 6.
The motorist, Roger Petersen, failed to pay attention, didn’t see a group of bicyclists ahead of him and plowed into them on a flat road with good visibility, DeCecco said. Somebody died as a result.
“That, in my opinion, is negligence,” DeCecco said. “We’re going to charge that every time.”
Other prosecutors, though, have reached a different decision in similar cases. Last month, Waukesha County Dist. Atty. Brad Schimel declined to issue criminal charges against a 21-year-old driver who fell asleep, crossed the center line on Woods Rd. in Muskego, and killed Robert Gunderson in a head-on crash.
Schimel said he could not prove the motorist’s actions represented criminal negligence, “that he was aware his conduct was practically certain to result in great bodily harm or death to another.” He also declined to issue charges in two earlier cases, in which a motorist failed to see bicyclists on the road ahead and crashed into them.
DeCecco took a different approach, and said it would be wrong to call Troy Tousey’s death an accident. The criminal charges serve to deter the motorist who killed him and send a message to the community: people who cannot drive safely should not be on the road. He noted that Tousey and his two companions were riding legally, in a proper fashion on the right side of the road.
“People have a right to feel safe and secure when they’re engaged in these activities,” DeCecco said.
The complaint DeCecco issued Friday charges Petersen with homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle, a felony carrying a 10-year maximum sentence, and two counts of negligent driving causing injury, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail. The second charge relates to the injuries suffered by Mark Duff and Timothy Sandee, the men bicycling with Tousey that summer evening.
Petersen, a Sheboygan resident, is scheduled to appear in court on Monday afternoon.
He told deputies at the crash scene he thought he fell asleep. He remembered “opening his eyes and the bicyclist was on the roadway right in front of his car, in his driving lane. He noticed there were two more cyclists on the road near the white line but this one was right in front of him. He said he didn’t even have time to brake because he was so close,” according to the sheriff’s reports.
Petersen also reported he suffers from sleep apnea, heart problems and diabetes.