MADISON — A 29-year-old Dodgeville man arrested for fatally striking an off-duty Lake Mills firefighter as he assisted a stranded motorist along the snowy Monona Beltline last New Year’s Eve will serve no time behind bars.
Samuel P. Cremers pleaded no contest to a charge of operating while suspended causing death when he appeared in Dane County Circuit Court Thursday, Oct. 3.
He was ordered to pay $7,500 in fines in relation to the felony per a plea agreement, but will face no jailtime.
Cremers initially was expected to face a charge of homicide by intoxicated use in the death of Lake Mills Fire Department Capt. Christopher Truman, 46, on Dec. 31, 2018, but a blood draw four hours after the crash showed his blood-alcohol content was .047, under the legal limit of .08.
The case was decided Thursday by written stipulation between Cremers; his lawyer, Shaun O’Connell; and Dane County Assistant District Attorney William Brown. The $7,500 fine was ordered in writing by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Ellen Berz.
Under the stipulation, the case became a civil matter and not a criminal one.
In the plea agreement, Cremers admitted that his license was suspended, and Brown said he could not prove that Cremers knew at the time of the crash that his license was suspended.
Under the stipulation, Brown agreed that although Cremers’ driver’s license had been suspended by a municipal court in Columbia County for failing to pay a fine for a traffic ticket, Cremers was never notified that judgment was entered against him.
“This is not a good or perfect result,” Brown wrote in a letter to the judge. “Unfortunately, this is the only result possible and represents what the state could prove at trial.”
Shortly before 7 p.m. last New Year’s Eve, Truman had stopped at the scene of a crash on the Yahara River bridge to help a motorist when he allegedly was struck and killed by Cremer’s vehicle.
According to the letter to the judge, Brown wrote, “As the traffic approached the crash, the car in front of Cremers recognized the stopped truck of Mr. Truman and merged into the other lane of traffic. It was at this moment that police believe Cremers first observed the stopped truck of Mr. Truman. Evidence suggests that Mr. Cremers could not merge into the other lane because of traffic and, therefore, chose to merge into the shoulder lane to avoid crashing into the rear of Mr. Truman’s truck.”
The crash reconstruction suggests that Cremers was not speeding and executed the maneuver in a controlled manner.
“In summary, there is no indication that Mr. Cremers was driving poorly, speeding or violating any rules of the road,” Brown wrote.
Cremers remained at the crash scene and attempted to help the victims.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said that a blood draw taken after authorities obtained a search warrant showed that Cremers’ blood-alcohol content was 0.047 percent, below the legal limit of .08 for drivers under state law.
Cremers reportedly admitted to an officer on the scene of the accident that he had consumed two beers. He took a preliminary breath test after the crash that read .079 percent; however, that was inadmissible in court.
“There is no doubt that Mr. Cremers had consumed some alcohol; however, there is no law in Wisconsin against this so long as Cremers was below the legal limit and driving without impairment. In addition, there was no evidence that Mr. Cremers was driving recklessly. The unfortunate result here is that a fateful series of events led to an extremely serious and fatal crash,” Brown wrote.
According to the criminal complaint filed, Monona police were dispatched to reports of a crash just before 7 p.m. Dec. 31, 2018, after a woman reportedly lost control of her vehicle on eastbound U.S. Highway 12/West Beltline on the Yahara River bridge.
Within moments, authorities were told that there was a man down on the pavement.
Various reports indicate that the woman had exited her vehicle when Truman saw she needed assistance and pulled up behind the vehicle, with his emergency lights flashing.
The woman’s car reportedly was against the wall perpendicular to the road with the front facing north and the back of the car extending into the first lane. Truman parked his vehicle in the first lane of traffic and told the woman to get back into her vehicle, which she did.
According to the complaint, a witness told police that he was a passenger in an eastbound car that had spun out and struck the Beltline’s inner concrete barrier. He said that another man, identified as Truman, stopped to help. Then a third vehicle, a red Ford Escape, struck the crashed car on the passenger-side door, pushing it against Truman, who was standing at the driver’s door.
The female driver, her passenger and Truman were taken to hospitals, and Truman died shortly after arrival. Officials with the Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed Truman died from injuries sustained in the crash.
Cremers allegedly told police that he was going about 40 mph as he drove on the inside eastbound lane of the Beltline. He said there was a vehicle in front of him and one to his right in the center lane. When the vehicle in front of him moved to the middle lane, he told police, he saw what looked like a crash in front of him and tried to stop but could not.
Cremers said he veered onto the left shoulder, but there was a vehicle there as well, and he could not stop before striking it.
Truman was a firefighter for 13 years. The last eight years he was a captain with the Lake Mills Fire Department. Before that, he worked for the Cambridge Fire Department.
“It is abundantly clear to me that Christopher Truman was, and is, a hero,” Brown wrote in his letter to the judge. “His actions that night likely saved the lives of two young people on the roadway. As a fellow human and citizen of this community, I am in awe of the courage displayed by Mr. Truman and wish I could do more to bring a sense of justice and peace to his friends, family and fellow firefighters.”