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Victims of Wisconsin Christmas parade crash testify at murder trial

Witnesses at the parade last November painted a chaotic scene in which the suspect seemingly reacted to hitting spectators and participants with his SUV only by increasing his speed.

WAUKESHA, Wis. (CN) — Victims and witnesses of the car crash tragedy at a Waukesha, Wisconsin, Christmas parade last fall testified in court on Monday about what they experienced during the incident, hours after the defendant in the case apologized for his turbulent behavior while representing himself in his trial.

The suspect in the parade crash, 40-year-old Darrell Brooks, began the second week of his trial by apologizing to the court for his disruptive outbursts in recent proceedings. Brooks, who wore a suit and tie instead of the orange jail uniform he wore in court late last week, acknowledged he needs to conduct himself more respectfully going forward.

The defendant said the trial is “very, very emotional,” not only for himself and his family but everyone involved. That does not excuse his actions, he admitted.

“I should carry myself with better respect than that. I wasn’t raised that way,” Brooks said before standing up and formally apologizing to everyone in the courtroom, bailiffs, clerks and court reporters included, and promising to do better.

Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow, the frequent target of Brooks’ outbursts, said she appreciated his realization that courtesy and decorum are important in a court proceeding.

Despite his more contrite demeanor on Monday, Brooks continued to press Dorow to establish the court’s jurisdiction over his case and repeated his lack of consent to be referred to as “Darrell Brooks,” a name by which he has said in court he does not identify. He also kept up his tactic of questioning the validity of the state of Wisconsin as a plaintiff or injured party in his case.

Brooks is alleged to have driven his red Ford Escape down Main Street in Waukesha during its annual Christmas parade on the afternoon of Nov. 21, 2021, striking dozens of participants and spectators and killing six people, including a child.

The six deceased victims were Virginia Sorenson, 79; LeAnna Owen, 71; Tamara Durand, 52; Jane Kulich, 52; Wilhelm Hospel, 81; and Jackson Sparks, 8.

Brooks faces 76 felony and misdemeanor charges, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and five dozen counts of first-degree reckless endangerment. The Milwaukee native faces life imprisonment without parole if convicted of one of his homicide charges.

Among those giving testimony on Monday was Nicole White, a parade participant who said she was struck by Brooks’ SUV as he drove through the parade route. She did not realize anything was wrong at the parade before she was hit, she said.

Nicole White, a woman who was struck by the SUV involved in the deadly crash at a Waukesha, Wisconsin, Christmas parade last November testifies at the crash suspect's homicide trial in Waukesha on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. (Court TV livestream via Courthouse News)

“I just remember being struck from behind,” before the SUV drove over her, veered around the van she was marching behind and accelerated away, White said. She could not recall hearing Brooks honk his horn before or after he struck her at what she estimated was 20 mph, and she did not see his brake lights activate as he drove away.

White’s injuries from the crash included two torn ligaments in her knee and two compressed vertebrae, according to her testimony.

As with most who have testified thus far, Brooks used some of his cross-examination to needle witnesses, including White, about the details in police reports they or others filed after the incident.

The suspect also continued trying to complicate the ability of witnesses to recall what they saw or heard at the parade, including in order to identify him as the driver or determine whether he was honking his horn amid the noise and chaos of the parade.

Brooks directly questioned White on her estimation of how fast he was driving through the parade route, something she stood by but admitted she could not precisely corroborate.

“There’s no way for me to say for sure how fast the vehicle was going. I was not driving it,” the victim witness told Brooks.

Others, such as police and parade spectators who were on the scene, testified that they believed Brooks to be driving as fast as 30 or 40 mph, including after he had hit people.

Kyle Jewell, a parade spectator, testified that he saw the red SUV Brooks was driving bounce while driving over members of the Waukesha South High School marching band “like speed bumps,” then speed up as it kept driving.

Sarah Wehmaier-Aparicio, the director of the high school band who was marching alongside it at the time of the crash, said on the stand that she witnessed the SUV hit members of the band – who she said suffered injuries like broken bones and internal bleeding – and the countenance of the driver never changed, according to what she saw.

“The driver was staring straight ahead and could have clearly seen they were running over people,” she said.

Officer Sonia Schneider with the Waukesha Police Department said in her testimony that when she suddenly saw the SUV driving through the parade route and tried to position herself in front of it to stop it, the driver had no expression and just looked forward “as if he was looking straight through me.”

“I never heard any honking…never at any point,” the officer said.

Testimony ended Monday with statements from Thomas Greene, a parade spectator whose two kids were clipped by the SUV as they sat on the sidewalk next to the parade route. The kids, one struck in the legs and the other in the hand, suffered nerve damage and severe bruising, Greene testified.

On cross-examination, when Brooks questioned Greene about his statement that the SUV swerved when he saw it, Brooks asked what direction it swerved.

“To the left, towards me and my family,” Greene said.

Brooks asked if the vehicle ever swerved away.

“After it hit my family, yes,” Greene said.

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