By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — A 19-year-old Elk Mound man who was the driver in a car accident in the Town of Tainter last September that killed his girlfriend and injured another passenger has pleaded not guilty to homicide.
Gunnar D. Zurek, along with his attorney Michael Cohen, appeared in Dunn County Circuit Court April 13 before Judge James Peterson.
Zurek also has been charged with bail jumping for driving without a license and was in custody on a $25,000 cash bond.
According to a news release from the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department, a one-vehicle crash was reported at 11:11 p.m. September 23 in the 7500 block of 770th Avenue in the Town of Tainter.
Vannessa N. Marsh, 18, of Elk Mound, was ejected from the vehicle Zurek was driving and was pronounced dead at the scene.
When law enforcement officers arrived, they found two men outside of the car who were injured and a woman lying in the ditch not far from the overturned car, who was already deceased.
One of the men was identified as 34-year-old Joseph Thalacker of Augusta.
Thalacker told officers that he had been in the car with his cousin and his cousin’s girlfriend. He identified his cousin as “Gunnar” and his cousin’s girlfriend as Vannessa Marsh.
Zurek is charged with felony counts of knowingly operating a vehicle with a suspended driver’s license causing death, knowingly operating a vehicle with a suspended driver’s license causing great bodily harm, homicide by operating a vehicle after using a controlled substance, and homicide by the negligent operation of a motor vehicle.
He is charged with misdemeanor counts of possessing marijuana, possessing drug paraphernalia, bail jumping, and causing injury by operating a vehicle while using a controlled substance.
After receiving reports from the state crime lab and the state patrol, Dunn County District Attorney Andrea Nodolf filed an amended complaint that included the three additional felonies of causing great bodily harm and homicide and the misdemeanor count of causing injury.
The Wisconsin Crime Laboratory analyzed blood samples from Zurek and found opiates, marijuana and other restricted controlled substances, according to the amended complaint.
According to an accident reconstruction completed by Trooper Derrek Hanson of the Wisconsin State Patrol, the analysis concluded that the “crash sequence” started 595 feet west of the final resting place of the 2001 Dodge that Zurek was driving and that the car had rolled for 138 feet.
Trooper Hanson estimated that Zurek was traveling between 73 mph and 89 mph at the time of accident.
The bail jumping charge is related to an incident that occurred in Eau Claire in March.
According to the criminal complaint, an off-duty Eau Claire police officer observed a red Dodge truck driving very closely to a vehicle behind her on South Hastings Way just south of Eddy Lane.
The truck accelerated rapidly and then slammed on its brakes to avoid hitting the car in front of it, the officer said.
The officer was close enough to see the driver and also was close enough to get the license plate number of the truck.
Upon arriving at the police station, the officer performed a registration check on the vehicle, and it showed the registration to Gunnar Zurek.
The officer looked up the booking photograph of Zurek and said she was certain he was the driver.
Zurek posted a $1,000 cash bond in Dunn County after he was charged with the felonies related to the car accident in which Marsh was killed. As a condition of bail, Zurek was ordered not to drive a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license.
On the date of the incident in Eau Claire, March 7, Zurek did not have a valid driver’s license, and the Dunn County bond was still in effect.
Zurek is scheduled for another court hearing in Dunn County Circuit Court June 8.