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Colfax resident asking for state-wide drug training following death of grandson

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  Leonard Larsen says he does not want another family to go through what his family has gone through.

In the summer of 2013, Larsen’s 16-year-old grandson was driving a riding lawn mower along a stretch of road in the southern part of the state where he lived to bring the lawn mower back home when he was struck by a driver who — as it turned out in the toxicology report — was high on heroin.

“Someone came along beside him and hit him, followed him into the ditch. There was no braking whatsoever,” said Larsen, a Colfax resident.

“They flew him to the children’s hospital in Milwaukee. During the first week he was improving. And then he had an episode that wasn’t a stroke, but it was like a stroke in that it restricted oxygen to the brain. And that caused tremendous damage. The statement was, ‘he would never be the same again.’ He died the 27th of June. This was in 2013,” he said.

“The situation was that after the accident, the police let (the driver) go and didn’t do much. By accident, I think, they asked for a blood sample. The toxicology report came back that he was on some sort of opiate. And it turned out eventually that it was street heroin,” Larsen said.

“We were totally lucky they had taken a blood sample. If they had not taken a blood sample, it would have been a totally different story. If they’d had somebody who could recognize it, things maybe would have moved faster,” he said.

“After the initial accident, the (district attorney) in Kenosha was not interested in even looking at it as an accident. As soon as the toxicology reports came back that there was in fact opiate involved, then he wanted to pursue it like crazy. As a result, this last month, (the driver) pleaded no contest. We are now in the process of doing a pre-sentencing investigation, and November 23 is the sentencing. He could face up to 25 years in jail and a fine,” Larsen said.


After the death of his grandson, Larsen attended a listening session held by United States Representative Ron Kind.

Larsen talked about the fact that Racine County and Kenosha County do not have any law enforcement officers trained to recognize someone on opiates.

After the listening session, Dunn County Sheriff Dennis Smith talked to Larsen.

As it turned out, Dunn County had sent a deputy for training to learn how to recognize someone who is using drugs.

“It’s a totally different process to recognize somebody on drugs than it is on alcohol. That’s the reason Smith sent (the deputy) for training. He could train others and would be willing to train in an adjacent county. But Kenosha is a little far away for that,” Larsen said.

And that’s why Larsen believes strongly the Wisconsin legislature should put a mechanism in place for making sure that someone is trained in all 72 counties in the state.

“One of the things, I feel, after all of this, is that the state should set a program or programs in motion to make sure every county has at least one person, so that person could train others, so people can learn to recognize drug use,” he said.

“One of the goals of the result of this is to find ways that we do the same sort of things with drugs as we do with alcohol. That we get them off the road,” Larsen said.


“As a family, this has been a horrendous experience. I don’t want this sort of thing to happen to some other family. It’s devastating,” Larsen said.

“When we got the call that we might lose him because of this episode that totally damaged his brain, we were going to go down. We got as far as Eau Claire, and my wife had what was called transient global amnesia,” he said.

One minute Larsen was talking to his wife, and the next minute, she did not know what he was talking about and was angry that he had “known for a week” about their grandson’s accident.

Which was not true at all.

The Larsens had, in fact, gone down right after the accident and had been in their grandson’s hospital room.

Instead of heading to Milwaukee, Leonard Larsen took his wife to an emergency room where it was determined that she had amnesia and also was suffering from dangerously high blood pressure.

“That reinforces I don’t want someone else to go through this,” he said.

One good thing “is we don’t have a trial. The trial was scheduled for 21st and 22nd of September. He pleaded no contest — which the judge didn’t really like. She immediately came back and said, ‘you realize, given that, you are guilty.’ The lawyer indicated they were doing a no contest rather than guilty because it would make it easier if there was a civil suit to make a statement that he had never admitted guilt. But it also says he is unwilling to take responsibility and accountability for his actions. Which bugs us like crazy too,” Larsen said.


Larsen said his grandson was gifted in the use of computers and technology.

“Our grandkid was quite a kid. He was into technology. When he was 10 or 12, you know those games you can play on the t.v. He felt the controller needed to be upgraded. He felt it didn’t have the characteristics he wanted. As a 10 or 12-year-old, he took that thing apart, modified it to do what he wanted it to do,” Larsen explained.

For two summers before Larsen’s grandson died, he worked at his school, helping to make sure all of the computer labs were updated for the next year.

“The May before he died, he received his Eagle Scout award. His Eagle Scout project was to re-do and enhance the wrestling team scoreboard so it would work properly. I went down at one point and helped him with the project. So here is this young man who has contributed to society. It’s not just the family that has been deprived of somebody. We have no idea what he would have accomplished and how he would have affected society. But he probably would have had quite an impact. He already had an impact,” Larsen said.

Larsen’s grandson also was working on modifying keyboards for computers when he died and belonged to a blogging group that deals with modifying keyboards. He was planning on creating apps for cell phones, too.

“I don’t have an answer. But I think if someone is caught with heroin, they ought to have their license taken away, and then they should have to prove that they are free of heroin. I don’t know how to get that accomplished,” Larsen said.

Several days after the interview, Larsen and his wife, Margaret, planned a trip to Twin Lakes for a run-walk as a memorial to their grandson.

All the proceeds from the run-walk went into to a scholarship fund.

Vulnerable users

Within the last several years, the Wisconsin Legislature passed a bill that Governor Scott Walker signed into law in April 2014 regarding “vulnerable users” of the highways.

Vulnerable users can include people walking, bicyclists, and someone driving a horse and buggy. The law also includes farm implements.

But the law, Larsen said, does not include a penalty for violating the rights of vulnerable users to also be out on a road.

“It’s a good thing but it does very little,” Larsen said.

Attaching a penalty to the law, or making it a “penalty enhancer” so that if someone causes an accident and the jail time is say, 20 years, if the vulnerable users law also is invoked, the total penalty could be 25 years, would be more meaningful, he said.

“Sometimes it is impossible to get from one place to another without using the road … in our case, the fellow never put on his brakes. He was not going terribly fast. He was on a road with a speed limit of 55. They tried to get it pulled back to 45,” Larsen said.


“The other thing that bothers me is the epidemic of drug use,” Larsen said.

To better understand how people become addicted to drugs, Larsen attended a seminar at Sacred Heart Hospital.

“It was about how people migrated from prescription pain medications to street heroin,” Larsen said.

The problem often begins when people receive pain medication for an accident or a surgery. In time, they become addicted to the pain medication, and then it turns out that it is cheaper, and perhaps even easier, to buy drugs on the street, he said.

And while there is help and treatment available for drug users, there is very little available to help those who are affected by drug users, Larsen said.

In the case of the Larsen family, not only did Larsen’s daughter lose a son and not only did the Larsens lose a grandson, but the students at his school also were affected, as were other friends, neighbors and relatives.


Larsen said he is hoping that the state of Wisconsin will seriously consider making sure that training is available for each of the  72 counties to have a law enforcement officer who can recognize drug use.

In addition, the vulnerable users law should have penalties.

And last, but not least, more programs should be available to treat drug use and to help families that are affected by drug use.

“I don’t want anybody to have to face this sort of stuff,” Larsen said.