By Shereen Siewert
A Wausau woman who led police on a high speed chase that ended when she crashed into a van, killing a 34-year-old Minocqua man, was granted early release this week and will leave prison within the next month.
Danielle Zdeb, now 39, petitioned Marathon County Greg Huber on Tuesday for a sentence reduction. Police say Zdeb was driving drunk as she fled from police in downtown Wausau in 2006. Steven Luebke died in the crash.
The chase began in the early evening hours of Dec. 18, 2006, when a Marathon County Sheriff’s deputy noticed a truck weaving in and out of its lane without headlights on Sixth Street in Wausau. The deputy caught up with the pickup just as Zdeb turned off onto Fulton Street, making a hard turn.
Zdeb ignored a stop sign and drove through Fifth Street, then attempted to run a stop sign on Third Street, according to court documents. That’s when she crashed into a van driven by Luebke, who died at the scene. A passenger in Luebke’s van, Todd Cooper, was injured in the crash.
Police say the fatal chase lasted less than 20 seconds.
In a separate case, Zdeb was also convicted of dealing cocaine out of her home while her young children were present.
In March 2009, Judge Huber sentenced Zdeb to 15 years in prison followed by 15 years extended supervision after she was convicted of homicide by drunken driving, fleeing an officer leading to death, causing injury while driving under the influence, bail jumping, second offense OWI and resisting an officer. She was also convicted of dealing cocaine out of her home while her young children were present.
“A message needs to be sent . . . that you do not drive drunk, you do not endanger people, that there is a consequence to doing so,” said Huber during the 2009 sentencing, adding that Zdeb should have known better – because of her prior convictions. “You’ve been on notice, you’ve been picked up before for drunk driving,” he told Zdeb, who had drunk previous driving arrests in Illinois and Indiana as well as in Wisconsin.
At sentencing, Zdeb was granted 814 days credit for time served awaiting trial.
But on Tuesday, Huber granted Zdeb’s petition for early release despite objections by prosecutors and the victims’ family members.
State law allows defendants who are convicted of C- or E-level felonies to submit such petitions after serving 85 percent of their sentences. In cases where the petition is granted, the additional time that would have been served in prison is added to the defendant’s period of extended supervision.
The Wisconsin Prison System now has 30 days to process Zdeb’s release.