By Shereen Siewert
A Wausau woman who had a blood alcohol concentration nearly three times the legal limit when she crashed her UTV into a tree, killing a passenger, will spend three years on probation after reaching a plea deal this week in Oneida County Circuit Court.
The sentence for 50-year-old Brenda Reiche is a sharp contrast to penalties given in other drunken driving cases throughout Wisconsin. State law requires judges to sentence drivers in OWI homicide cases to a minimum of five years in prison, but the law went into effect after the August 2018 crash that left 49-year-old Adam Rietz, of Athens, dead. Though OWI homicides committed before the law was enacted in Wisconsin do not require a mandated prison term many judges are already imposing stricter sentences in such instances, a review of recent cases shows.
During a hearing Friday, Circuit Judge Michael Bloom issued a withheld sentence, which means that if Reiche does not follow the rules of her probation she could be re-sentenced at a later date. Bloom also ordered Reiche not to consume alcohol and stay out of taverns during her probation term.
Reiche repeatedly denied driving in the crash. But in their final reports, Department of Natural Resources investigators stated 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.” 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.
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 the DNR report, 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.
Witnesses called police at 7:53 p.m. on Aug. 4, 2018 to the crash, which happened 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.
Investigators say Reiche, who was critically wounded in the crash, was ejected through the driver’s side opening and came to rest about 30 feet north of the vehicle.
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.
During Friday’s hearing, Reiche pleaded no contest to a single charge of homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle. She will retain her voting rights, will perform 100 hours of community service, pay a $1,000 fine and will regain her driving privileges in five years.
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