MENOMONIE — A Dunn County judge has found probable cause and scheduled an arraignment for a 22-year-old California trucker accused of vehicular homicide following an accident on I-94 near Menomonie July 31.
Destry D. Wilson, 22, of Redding, California, appeared in Dunn County Circuit Court for a preliminary hearing August 13 with his attorney, Eric Newmark.
Wilson is charged with homicide by the intoxicated use of a vehicle, homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Brian Lee Paglusch, 43, was killed when his 2010 International Prostar semi truck owned by Viessman Trucking struck the back of a flatbed Wilson was driving that was stopped in the right lane of I-94 around 11:15 p.m. that night near milepost 42.
The flatbed was carrying a load of pine wood.
The cab of Paglusch’s truck started on fire, and bystanders and emergency personnel were unable to get him out.
Law enforcement officials testified during the preliminary hearing that when they arrived on the scene of the accident, the semi trucks were blocking the west bound lanes of I-94 and that one tractor was fully engulfed in flames.
Wilson told investigators he was talking with his girlfriend with a hands-free device, “cruising” at highway speeds, and that his truck then went into the ditch, he saw a yellow flash, thought the truck was on fire and started running.
Witnesses said the flatbed was stopped in the right lane with only running lights on but no flashers, and that no flares or warning triangles were set out.
Wilson told investigators he had been smoking synthetic marijuana, also known as “spice,” at the nearby rest area before pulling back onto I-94. He told investigators they would find the smoking device in the cab of his truck.
Chad Pollock, a deputy with the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department who is a certified Drug Recognition Expert (DRE), testified that he was called to the accident because officers on the scene thought drugs had been involved or that there was an impaired driver.
Synthetic cannabis (marijuana) has 300 or 400 different chemical compounds, is mixed with other substances that give it a fruity or incense type of smell when it is fresh, but that it smells similar to cannabis after it is burned, Pollock said.
Brandon Gray, a trooper with the Wisconsin State Patrol who is certified in accident reconstruction, said several other truck drivers reported that they had barely missed the stopped flatbed and that a number of cars had swerved to miss it.
A man at the rest area said he had heard on the CB radio about a truck stopped in the right lane and warning others to look out for it, he said.
The accident reconstruction is still pending, Gray said.
Chris Kruse, Dunn County medical examiner, said that when he arrived at the scene, the fire was still burning.
The deceased was still seatbelted into the cab, and after the fire was extinguished, emergency personnel removed the driver’s door in order to remove the body, Kruse said.
Paglusch was taken to Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire where an autopsy was performed the next morning, he said.
The provisional autopsy report lists the cause of death as catastrophic thermal injuries caused by the post-crash fire, Kruse said.
Several rib fractures were discovered during the autopsy but no other internal injuries. A blood test showed elevated carbon monoxide levels, indicating respiratory effort during the fire. Soot in the trachea also indicated respiratory effort during the fire, he said.
The body matched Paglusch’s basic height and weight, and when the shoes were removed, custom orthotic devices were discovered that were marked B. Paglusch (r) and B. Paglusch (l), Kruse said.
The defendant was operating a commercial vehicle that witnesses said was stopped in the right lane of I-94 with no flare, triangles, flashers or warning lights, noted James Peterson, Dunn County district attorney.
Stopping in the right lane of I-94 at night was negligent, Peterson said, asking the court to find probable cause and schedule Wilson for an arraignment.
The Honorable Judge Rod Smeltzer said the district attorney’s office had met the burden of proof for a preliminary hearing and determined that there was probable cause to believe felonies had been committed.
Newmark asked for reduction in the cash bond, and Peterson noted that he had initially asked for a $10,000 cash bond.
Wilson is free on $20,000 cash bond posted on August 12.
Judge Smeltzer ordered the cash bond to remain at $20,000 for now.
An arraignment is scheduled for Wilson in Dunn County Circuit Court on September 25 at 4 p.m..