Attorney/DA want competency evaluation for Cadott man charged with homicide in accident near Elk Mound

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE  —  Is a Cadott man charged with killing two people and injuring six others in an accident on I-94 near Elk Mound last October competent to stand trial?

Dunn County District Attorney Andrea Nodolf, and Harry Hertel, the attorney representing Michael Sonnentag, 21, of Cadott, agree that the court should appoint a qualified examiner to determine Sonnetag’s competency, Nodolf told Judge Rod Smeltzer in Dunn County Circuit Court February 18.

The court hearing was originally scheduled to hear arguments for the motion, but Nodolf said she had received word that Hertel was in the hospital and was unable to attend the hearing.

According to a letter dated February 6, Hertel also is asking for a competency evaluation for Sonnentag, she said.

The competency evaluation will be related to a motion to dismiss, Nodolf said.

The hearing for a motion to dismiss the case against Sonnentag is scheduled in Dunn County Circuit Court March 16.

Judge Smeltzer said he had reviewed the file for the preliminary hearing that was held last October and that he saw nothing to indicate Sonnentag was not competent to proceed with the case against him.

Since Hertel was unable to be in court, Judge Smeltzer called Hertel’s office to schedule another hearing and also called one of the victims in the case, Leah Ricafrente, who had requested to appear at the hearing by telephone.

Hertel has been suffering from a kidney stone, and he may require surgery, said Brenda Squires, who works in Hertel’s office.

Judge Smeltzer noted that even though he was on vacation the week of February 23, he would be at the judicial center for a while on Tuesday and Wednesday and that he could schedule the hearing for Wednesday, February 25.

Nodolf said she was going to be out of the country the week of February 23.

In order to make a decision on the competency evaluation, Judge Smeltzer said he would need to hear arguments from both Hertel and Nodolf.

Nodolf said she had been told to expect an evaluation of Sonnentag by February 1 but had only received his educational records but no formal evaluation.

Judge Smeltzer reiterated that he had not seen anything forming a basis for a competency hearing and nothing suggesting that Sonnentag was not competent to proceed.

Another hearing for the competency evaluation motion is scheduled for March 2 at 4:15 p.m.

Homicide

Sonnentag is charged with two felony counts of homicide by the intoxicated use of a motor vehicle, two felony counts of hit and run involving death, two felony counts of first degree recklessly endangering safety, along with four misdemeanor counts of causing injury while operating a vehicle while under the influence, and one count of misdemeanor bail jumping.

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, 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.

Two women who were thrown from the van were killed, and six others in the van were injured.

The two people who died were  28-year-old Larci Ricafrente from Waterford, Mich., and 28-year-old Djamella Sugatan from the Philippines.

The injured included two children, a five-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy.

Alvin Dimaranan, the driver of the Honda minivan, told state troopers 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.

Deputies continued searching for Sonnentag, and around 6:42 a.m., a deputy leaving the Dunn County sheriff’s department at the judicial center on Stokke Parkway 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.

A cash bail of $50,000 was set October 13, but bail was modified to $20,000 cash following the  preliminary hearing on October 29. As a condition of bail, Sonnentag was ordered to consume no alcohol and to maintain residence with his father in Stanley.

A jury trial in the case is scheduled in Dunn County Circuit Court May 18 through May 21.