By Shereen Siewert
Sixteen months after an alcohol-fueled crash that left a 49-year-old Athens man dead, Oneida County officials have filed official homicide charges against a Wausau-area woman accused of driving a UTV that veered off the road and crashed into a tree.
Brenda Reiche, 48, was formally charged Tuesday, Dec. 3 in Oneida County Circuit Court with homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle and homicide by use of a vehicle with a prohibited alcohol concentration. Reiche’s boyfriend, Adam Rietz, died in the crash.
A test of Reiche’s blood taken roughly 90 minutes after the crash showed a blood alcohol concentration of 0.236 percent, but that level would have been higher at the time she was allegedly driving, officials said.
The crash happened just before 8 p.m. Aug. 4, 2018 on The Point Road East in the town of Nokomis. When first responders arrived, they discovered Rietz, who was partially ejected from the passenger side of the vehicle and partially pinned inside, dead at the scene, according to police report. Autopsy results show Rietz died of multiple blunt force injuries sustained in the crash.
According to a DNR report obtained by Wausau Pilot and Review, Reiche allegedly drove the UTV northbound when she failed to negotiate a curve and traveled off the west side of the roadway and onto the west shoulder before veering back onto the roadway. Then, according to the report, Reiche overcorrected by steering left and entering the east ditch, tipping the vehicle passenger side first before becoming airborne and striking a tree with the engine hood and left front.
Investigators say Reiche, who was critically injured in the crash, was ejected through the driver’s side opening and came to rest about 30 feet north of the vehicle.
Reiche has repeatedly denied being behind the wheel. But in their final reports DNR investigators now say the “physical evidence and movement of the occupants during the rollover indicate Reiche was the driver and Rietz was the passenger at the time of the crash,” according to the case report. Investigators also analyzed DNA taken from multiple areas both inside and outside the vehicle to help determine passenger placement, according to the file.
The coroner’s report also concluded Rietz was the passenger and not the driver of the UTV.
The report, which included extensive crash reconstruction data, calculated the speed of the UTV at the time of impact at between 47 and 55 mph. Investigators noted that heavy rain had fallen for about four hours leading up to the crash. The speed limit on the road is 55 mph.
Neither passenger was wearing a seat belt and there were no mechanical malfunctions that appeared to contribute to the crash, according to the DNR and Wisconsin State Patrol.
In a police interview shortly after the crash, Reiche told investigators she and Rietz had been at a golf tournament before stopping at a bar on Prairie Rapids Road in the town of Nokomis, where she had a few drinks. Reiche also told police the couple stopped to visit a relative before the crash.
During the interview, Reiche strongly denied driving and said she had told Rietz it was a “bad idea” to drive, according to the investigative report. Reiche refused a blood test, but a lab technician drew her blood at Sacred Heart Hospital in Rhinelander before Reiche was flown by medical helicopter to Aspirus in Wausau.
In addition to the homicide charges five citations have been filed in connection with the crash: operating a UTV while intoxicated, refusing to take an alcohol test, operating a UTV without each person wearing a seat belt, operating a UTV in a careless way, and operating a UTV with a prohibited alcohol concentration. Those citations were filed Oct. 3, 2018 and are still open cases in Oneida County.
Oneida County Capt. Tyler Young said investigators are relying on both statements and physical evidence that placed Reiche behind the wheel at the time of the crash.
Oneida County Sheriff’s Department officials, who handled the criminal investigation into the crash, is recommending charges of homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle be filed against Reiche. That recommendation was forwarded to Oneida County District Attorney Mike Schiek in August 2018.
Homicide by drunken driving carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in the Wisconsin Prison System and up to $100,000 in fines. Reiche, who is free on a signature bond and now lists a Wausau address, is due in court Jan. 9 for a preliminary hearing, when a judge will decide if enough evidence exists to move forward to a trial. She is prohibited from entering taverns or consuming alcohol as part of her bond conditions.