By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — A 21-year-old Cadott man has been charged with six felonies and three misdemeanors in connection with a fatal accident on I-94 near Elk Mound that killed two people and injured six others on October 11.
Michael D. Sonnentag made an initial appearance in Dunn County Circuit Court October 17 on two counts each of homicide by the intoxicated use of a motor vehicle, hit and run involving death, first degree recklessly endangering safety, causing injury while under the influence, and misdemeanor bail jumping.
A cash bail of $50,000 was set October 13, and at the time of the initial appearance, Sonnentag was still in custody.
Sonnentag’s attorney, Harry Hertel, requested at the initial appearance that bail be reduced to $5,000 cash and a $70,000 signature bond, but Judge Rod W. Smeltzer denied the request and ordered the $50,000 cash bail to continue.
According to the criminal complaint, the Dunn County communications center received reports of a accident on I-94 in the Town of Elk Mound on October 11 at around 2:40 a.m.
When deputies arrived on the scene, they observed a vehicle that had rolled numerous times and was upside-down in the treeline.
Witnesses reported a second vehicle involved in the accident had fled the scene, initially going the wrong way on I-94, but then was observed going westbound again a few minutes later.
The witnesses said they had tried to flag down the vehicle, but it drove around them.
The vehicle, witnesses said, was smoking heavily and appeared to have heavy front-end damage.
One semi driver told law enforcement officers that the hood of the second vehicle had been in the middle of the lane of traffic, so he had pulled it off on the shoulder to prevent another accident.
Deputy Chad Pollock from the Dunn County sheriff’s department reported that when he had approached the upside-down vehicle, there were adults and children trapped inside. The children were tapping on the windows, screaming for help.
The people inside the vehicle appeared to be injured but no one appeared to have life-threatening injuries or massive trauma, according to the complaint.
Deputy Pollock said that he was also told about two other people who appeared to have been ejected from the vehicle.
One woman about 15 feet from the vehicle had massive head trauma and serious injuries to her extremities. Deputy Pollock reported that as a witness held a flashlight for him, he checked for breathing and pulse but could not find any signs of life.
The second victim also was outside the vehicle. Deputy Pollock did not observe signs of breathing, but when he checked for a pulse, he initially believed there was a weak pulse, although as he checked further, he could not find a pulse.
According to the complaint, deputies waited for ambulance crews and fire departments to arrive to extricate the other six victims from the overturned van.
Mall of America
The two people who died were a 28-year-old woman, Larci Ricafrente from Waterford, Mich., and another 28-year-old woman, Djamella Sugatan from the Philippines.
Those who were injured included Alvin D. Dimaranan, a 33-year-old man from Schiller Park, Illinois; Leah Lim Ricafrente, a 32-year-old woman from Schiller Park; Luisito L. Ricafrente, a 24-year-old man from Schiller Park; Lison R. Dimaranan, a 7-year-old girl from Schiller Park; Jovita Dela Cruz Alegre, a 55-year-old woman from Skokie, Illinois; and Anthan V. Dimaranan, a 5-year-old boy from Schiller Park.
Alvin Dimaranan, the driver of the Honda minivan, told state troopers that they were traveling from Illinois to the Mall of America in Minnesota.
According to the complaint, not long after the accident, the Menomonie Police Department reported an abandoned vehicle in the driveway of Value Implement at 610th Street and state Highway 12/29.
At around 4:30 a.m., another deputy observed a vehicle that had pulled into a driveway on 12/29 but the vehicle did not appear to belong there.
Zachery Kempf, the driver of the second vehicle, said he was there to pick up Michael Sonnentag, the registered owner of the vehicle found at Value Implement.
Kempf told deputies Sonnentag had called him at around 3 a.m., said he struck a deer, and that he wanted Kempf to come and pick him up.
Kempf said he was not aware of any serious or fatal accident that Sonnentag had been involved in.
Kempf told deputies when he was on his way to pick up the defendant, Sonnentag called back, said his cell phone battery was nearly dead, and that he was in a bean field heading toward a residence.
Deputies continued searching for Sonnentag, and around 6:42 a.m., Deputy Emmer Shields was leaving the Dunn County sheriff’s department at the judicial center on Stokke Parkway when he saw a man walking.
When the deputy got out of his car and asked the man who he was, he replied, “It’s me” and told the deputy he was the one “they were looking for.”
When deputies asked how Sonnentag had left the scene of the accident, he said he had exited I-94 near Shooter’s just west of Elk Mound.
Sonnentag told deputies he had been drinking before the accident and had consumed four beers beginning around 10 p.m. but that he had not consumed any alcohol after the accident.
During a field sobriety test, according to the criminal complaint, Sonnentag did not follow directions on the walking, standing, alphabet and counting portions of the test.
When deputies asked him if he felt “buzzed,” Sonnentag replied “a little bit.”
A Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) indicated a blood alcohol of .123, and Sonnentag agreed to submit to a blood test, according to the complaint.
In statements given to Wisconsin State Patrol officers, witnesses reported seeing sparks, the van flipping and another car taking off.
The semi driver said he was eastbound on I-94 and had seen a black car swerve and hit the minivan and then the black car had gone into the median.
The semi driver reported that after the car had gone into the median, he had tried to talk to the driver, but that the driver had driven off and had almost struck the semi driver while getting out of the median.
Another witness reported that shortly before the accident, a car had come up behind him going “way faster than 70 mph” and estimated the car to be traveling at 90 mph. The vehicle went to the right side of the highway and then swerved left. The witness watched the vehicle for another mile and saw a flicker, which was determined to have been the minivan.
The witness said he saw the vehicle come back a couple of minutes later on the right side of the highway, that it was driving on the center line and had gone around him, almost hitting him.
Several days later, state troopers contacted family members traveling in the van and learned that one of the injured had a fractured hand and another suffered a fractured spine. The remaining occupants of the minivan suffered bruises, but it was unknown what, if any other injuries, the passengers had suffered.
According to a news release from the state patrol, the two people who were killed and were thrown from the vehicle were not wearing seat belts, but all of those who were injured were wearing seat belts.
Deputies determined that on August 6 of this year, Sonnentag had signed a $500 signature bond in Eau Claire County in a case in which he was charged with misdemeanor theft.
One of the conditions of bond was that Sonnentag not commit any new crimes, which resulted in the charge of misdemeanor bail jumping in the Dunn County case.
A preliminary hearing for Sonnentag is scheduled in Dunn County Circuit Court on October 31.