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High-speed chase OWI suspect appears in court

Tony G. Hetchler

Felony — not felonies.

That’s what St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Scott Needham said he saw presented during a hearing for a River Falls man accused of leading deputies on a high-speed chase in April while driving drunk.

Still, Needham concluded there was enough probable cause to bind the case against Tony G. Hetchler over for trial during a Friday, May 1, preliminary hearing.

Hetchler is charged with five felonies: three counts of recklessly endangering safety, one count of OWI (eighth) and one count of fleeing police. He is also charged with four counts of misdemeanor bail jumping.

Two officers testified at last week’s hearing to the incident that began with a report of a pickup truck leaving the Cajun Club at about 10:30 a.m. April 3.

St. Croix County sheriff’s deputy Charles Coleman said he began his pursuit of the truck in the Town of Somerset, when he saw it “all over the roadway.”

“It took a long time for me to catch up to the vehicle,” he said, describing how he drove his squad car 100 mph “to start catching it slowly.”

Coleman described following the truck nearly 19 miles as it drove through stop signs as speeds continued at 75-90 mph until it stopped at a logging trail on a dark, wooded area near the Willow River at the Cylon State Wildlife Area. He said he found the driver’s side door open, with a smartphone and wallet apparently belonging to Hetchler.

The driver was gone and a female passenger refused to say who the driver was, Coleman said in court, adding that the keys were not found.

A cooler loaded with 16 unopened cans of Michelob Golden Light were found in the truck. Another beer of the same kind was found opened and still cold outside the truck, Coleman said.

Defense attorney Joel Schlitz asked Coleman if the beer was preserved for fingerprints or if prints were taken off the truck. He said they were not in either case.

Fellow deputy Nicholas Krueger testified at the hearing that he found Hetchler at 7:50 a.m. the next day off 220th Street, near the site where the truck stopped. Krueger said Hetchler was wearing a short-sleeve shirt, was wet from the waist down and smelled of alcohol.

Since temperatures had dropped to about 30 degrees the previous night, Krueger said he decided to forego field sobriety tests in lieu of letting Hetchler warm up in his squad.

He later performed those tests, only some of which drew Hetchler’s cooperation, according to Krueger’s testimony. A preliminary breath test revealed a 0.023 blood-alcohol level, Krueger said.

Schlitz then asked Krueger if he ever probed whether Hetchler was driver the previous night and if he had anything to drink that night. Krueger said he hadn’t asked.

Krueger said Hetchler was carrying keys to the pickup. Schlitz asked if he tried them on the door; Krueger said a key fob appeared to operate the truck’s locking mechanism when he tried.

Hetchler is set to be sentenced on a separate driving revocation case on Wednesday, May 6; he will be arraigned on charges from the April 3 case at the same hearing.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

(715) 426-1072
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