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Sonnentag sentenced to 6 years in prison for fatal accident near Elk Mound

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE —  A 22-year-old Cadott man accused of killing two people and injuring six others in an accident on I-94 near Elk Mound last October has been sentenced to six years in prison and four years of probation.

Michael D. Sonnentag appeared in Dunn County Circuit Court July 9 for a sentencing hearing along with his attorney, Harry R. Hertel.

The sentencing hearing began at 8:30 a.m. Most of the morning was devoted to statements from the victims of the accident.

Judge Rod Smeltzer began addressing the sentencing at 3 p.m.

Sonnentag initially was charged with six felonies: two counts of homicide by the intoxicated use of a motor vehicle; two counts of hit and run causing death; and two counts of first degree recklessly endangering safety. In addition, he was charged with five misdemeanors, including four counts of causing injury while under the influence and one count of bail jumping.

Sonnentag pleaded guilty to the two felony counts of homicide by the intoxicated use a motor vehicle on April 24. The other counts were dismissed but were read into the record for sentencing.

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, 2014, 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.

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

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.

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 that they were traveling from Illinois to the Mall of America in Minnesota.

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.

According to court records, one of the witnesses who addressed the court did so from the Philippines by Facetime.

Dunn County District Attorney Andrea Nodolf requested five years of incarceration and five years of probation on each count, along with restitution of $345,000.

During the July 9 sentencing hearing, Judge Smeltzer indicated that a restitution amount would be considered during a hearing October 28.

The $345,000 would not include any civil settlements, according to court records.

Hertel, Sonnentag’s attorney, argued there was a valid reason to consider the defendant’s developmental disability and asked that Sonnentag be placed on 20 years of probation and be sentenced to 300 hours of community service to include talking with high school students and youth groups.

At the request of Nodolf and Hertel, Judge Smeltzer ordered a competency evaluation for Sonnentag in March.

Hertel said he was concerned about Sonnentag’s learning disability and his ability to understand the legal process to assist in his own defense.

Judge Smeltzer ruled April 13 that Sonnentag was competent to proceed with the case against him and to assist his attorney with his defense and based his decision on two separate psychological evaluations.

As part of Sonnentag’s sentence, Judge Smeltzer ordered that he is not allowed to vote in elections, is not allowed to possess firearms, is not allowed to have alcohol and is to have no contact with anyone who testified in court at the sentencing hearing.

Judge Smeltzer also ordered that restorative justice would be appropriate if the probation agent and the family members wish to participate.

A restitution hearing is scheduled in Dunn County Circuit Court October 28 at 9:30 a.m.