By Shereen Siewert
A scheduled plea and sentencing hearing for a Wausau woman accused of driving drunk in a 2018 fatal UTV crash was adjourned Wednesday to allow the suspect to seek a second opinion on crash reconstruction, according to court records.
Brenda S. Reiche, 50, appeared via Zoom Wednesday in Oneida County Circuit Court, where she faces charges of homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle. Citations of 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 have also been filed and remain pending.
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.
According to a DNR report obtained by Wausau Pilot and Review, Reiche allegedly drove the UTV northbound after a day of drinking when she missed a curve and drifted onto the west shoulder before veering back onto the roadway. Then, according to the report, Reiche over corrected 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.
When first responders arrived at the crash scene on The Point Road East in the town of Nokomis, they discovered Rietz, who was partially ejected from the passenger side of the vehicle and partially pinned in the inside passenger seat, dead at the scene, according to police report. Autopsy results show Rietz died of multiple blunt force injuries.
Investigators say Reiche was ejected through the driver’s side opening and came to rest about 30 feet north of the vehicle. She was critically injured in the crash.
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 allegedly 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, according to the investigation report.
Reiche has repeatedly denied being behind the wheel. But in their final reports DNR investigators concluded that 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.
But during Wednesday’s plea and sentencing hearing, Reiche’s defense attorney, Gary Cirilli, asked Circuit Judge Mike Bloom for an adjournment to allow a new reconstruction engineer for a second opinion on the report, a process that will take several months. Oneida County District Attorney Mike Schiek did not object to the request. Bloom then granted the request and set a March 5 conference.
Homicide by drunken driving carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in the Wisconsin Prison System and up to $100,000 in fines. Reiche remains free on bond.