Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Sunday, May 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Death toll in Christmas parade crash rises to 6 as suspect appears in court

Bail was set at $5 million for the Milwaukee man accused of driving an SUV through a Christmas parade in nearby Waukesha, killing six people and injuring dozens.

WAUKESHA, Wis. (CN) — The man accused of plowing an SUV into a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, made his first court appearance Tuesday, where the state’s attorney noted that a sixth victim, a child, has died, adding to the five previously known victims and dozens injured in the crash on Sunday.

At around 4:30 p.m. Sunday, a suspect—now alleged to be 39-year-old Darrell Brooks of Milwaukee—drove a red SUV down Main Street in Waukesha during the annual Christmas parade in the Milwaukee suburb.

Five deceased victims—Virginia Sorenson, 79; LeAnna Owen, 71; Tamara Durand, 52; Jane Kulich, 52; and Wilhelm Hospel, 81—were identified on Monday.

During Brooks’ initial court appearance at the Waukesha County Courthouse on Tuesday, Waukesha County District Attorney Susan Opper announced that a sixth victim, a child who was not named, has also died from injuries sustained in the crash.

The criminal complaint filed in Waukesha County Circuit Court on Tuesday charges Brooks with five counts of first-degree intentional homicide. Opper said a sixth charge for the child victim will be added, and she noted other injured individuals, of which the criminal complaint says there are 62, are currently in critical condition.

Brooks faces life imprisonment without parole if convicted of even one of the homicide charges.

The suspect, dressed in a dark jail smock, bent over and wept at the courtroom table next to his attorneys on Tuesday as his criminal history and charges connected to the parade incident were detailed.

Based on Brooks’ extensive criminal history—which spans more than two decades, includes cases in Georgia, Nevada and multiple Wisconsin counties, and features several violent crimes and bail jumps—Opper recommended bail be set at $5 million.

Waukesha County Circuit Court Commissioner Kevin Costello agreed with the prosecutor’s bail recommendation, calling it “extraordinarily high” but justified given the horrific circumstances of the parade crash, the allegations against Brooks and what he termed Brooks’ repeated failure to follow the rules of society, much less the courts.

“The nature of this offense is shocking,” said Costello, who has spent nearly 40 years in the courts, starting as a prosecutor and spending the last 17 years as a commissioner.

In particular, Costello pointed to allegations from two detectives in the criminal complaint who say witnesses told them Brooks zig-zagged and never slowed down while driving through the parade route, seemingly intent on avoiding other cars while hitting as many people as possible.

An officer on Waukesha police radio said a citizen told police two people were fighting at a school near the parade, according to the complaint. Officers were sent to the school to investigate, and a few minutes later, a detective heard a horn honking and observed people jumping out of the way of the SUV before it drove by the detective and turned onto Main Street.

The complaint alleges multiple officers shouted at Brooks to stop as he drove through the parade staging area and onto the route, with one officer pounding on the hood and driver’s side door while the SUV, described as a red Ford Escape, drove at a slow speed.

According to the complaint, one officer on the scene at one point saw the SUV hit the brakes, then rapidly accelerate, squeal its tires and turn left toward a crowd of parade participants.

“At this point, it was clear to Officer Butryn that this was an intentional act to strike and hurt as many people as possible,” the complaint states.

“I’ve not seen anything like this in my very long career,” the court commissioner said.

Brooks currently has two open felony cases in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. One from July 2020 includes charges of second-degree reckless endangerment and firearm possession by a felon from when Brooks allegedly shot at his nephew after the two were in a fight.

The other, from earlier this month, charges reckless endangerment with domestic abuse modifiers from when Brooks allegedly punched the mother of his child, took her phone and ran her over with the same car Brooks drove during the parade crash. In that complaint, officers observed the woman had dried blood on her face, a swollen lip and tire tracks on her pants leg.

For the second Milwaukee case, court records show Brooks posted his $1,000 cash bail on Nov. 11 and was thereafter released from custody. A statement on Monday from the office of Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm called the bail “inappropriately low” and inconsistent with the office’s approach to violent crime. The statement said an internal review of the bail recommendation is underway.

In court in Waukesha on Tuesday, the only substantial remark from Jeremy Perri, a Waukesha defense lawyer speaking on behalf of Brooks, was that Brooks is financially indigent and qualifies for public defender assistance.

Costello tentatively scheduled a preliminary hearing for Brooks on Jan. 14 at the close of the suspect’s initial appearance.

A woman in the gallery did the sign of the cross and put her hands together in prayer as Brooks was escorted out of the courtroom.

Follow @cnsjkelly
Categories / Criminal, Regional

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.