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Wisconsin Christmas parade crash suspect faces dozens of new charges

A police detective who witnessed the incident testified during a preliminary hearing that the suspect appeared to swerve his SUV toward bystanders while driving through the parade route.

WAUKESHA, Wis. (CN) — The man suspected of driving his SUV into a crowded Christmas parade and killing six people in Waukesha, Wisconsin, in November appeared in court for the second time on Friday, days after dozens of new felony charges for injured victims were added to his case.

Darrell Brooks, 39, is alleged to have driven his red Ford Escape down Main Street in Waukesha during the Milwaukee suburb’s annual Christmas parade on the afternoon of Nov. 21, striking dozens of participants and spectators and killing six individuals, including a child.

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

The initial criminal complaint brought by the Waukesha County District Attorney’s office charged Brooks with five counts of first-degree intentional homicide. A sixth homicide charge for Sparks was added later.

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

During a preliminary hearing on Friday, Waukesha County Circuit Court Commissioner Kevin Costello read through 71 charges added in an amended complaint filed on Wednesday.

The new charges include 61 counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety with use of a dangerous weapon modifiers, one for each victim Brooks allegedly injured. Each reckless endangerment charge carries a potential 12 ½ years in prison.

Also included are six hit-and-run involving death charges for each homicide victim, two counts of felony bail jumping, and two misdemeanor domestic abuse battery charges connected to an alleged fight Brooks was in with his girlfriend at a park near the parade route before the crash.

The only witness testifying Friday was Waukesha Police Detective Thomas Casey, who said during direct examination by Waukesha County District Attorney Susan Opper that he pounded on the hood of Brooks' SUV and repeatedly shouted at him to stop as Brooks slowly drove through the parade staging area. Casey said he chased Brooks on foot as the SUV honked its horn and increased its speed, eventually driving out of his sight down the parade route.

After reviewing scores of videos of the incident from citizens, businesses and city cameras, Casey said Brooks appears to periodically slow down and speed up, sometimes driving in a “zigzagging motion” as if intentionally aiming for people. At one point, Casey alleged, Brooks hits the brakes to get someone off the hood of the SUV, then runs that person over.

Roughly 61 people were directly struck by the SUV, Casey said, with injuries ranging from road rash to skull fractures and other severe blunt force trauma. Many of those struck had their backs turned to the SUV and did not know it was coming, the detective testified.

After an officer fired three times and struck the SUV, Brooks drove out of the parade route and into a nearby backyard, then got out and started running before being apprehended later by police, according to Casey.

The detective added that a Wisconsin State Patrol mechanical inspection unit checked over the Ford Escape and found nothing in the SUV was defective such that it would not stop or would unintentionally accelerate.

On cross-examination, State Public Defender Anna Kees tried to complicate the narrative Casey offered by asking where squad cars and barricades were used to block off the parade route and where exits from the route may have been blocked by spectators.

Kees pointed out that there were other people around the first victim who were not struck themselves. Casey ultimately answered that “there were only six people who died out of hundreds.”

The public defender posited that Brooks could have been swerving to avoid hitting people. She also noted one of the officers who arrested Brooks said he had red, bloodshot eyes and smelled like marijuana at the time, and Brooks also told one of the officers, “I didn’t mean to kill nobody.”

On redirect, Opper poked a hole in Kees’ assertion that Brooks may have been unable to exit the parade route by saying Brooks could have just stopped and gotten out of the car at any time. If Brooks was intoxicated at the time he struck people, Opper said, that would still be a felony.

Costello bound Brooks over for trial and modified his bail conditions, in part such that Brooks cannot contact any of the dozens of victims related to his latest charges. The court commissioner set Brooks’ arraignment for Feb. 11, and the suspect will remain in custody at the Waukesha County Jail on $5 million bond.

Much has been made of the fact that Brooks was freed on $1,000 cash bail two weeks before the parade crash in connection with one of multiple open felony cases he has in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. The bail amount was raised to $200,000 four weeks after the crash.

In that case, Brooks is accused of intentionally running over his girlfriend with the same Ford Escape he allegedly drove through the parade. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, called the bail in the case “inappropriately low” shortly after the parade incident and said an internal review of the bail recommendation is underway.

Critics of Chisholm, mostly Republicans, have called for his ouster for overseeing Brooks’ release on bail. Democratic Governor Tony Evers has declined to remove him from office, saying the voters should be the ones to make that decision.

A new felony case against Brooks was filed in Milwaukee on Dec. 6. He is charged there with two counts of felony intimidation of a witness and bail jumping for allegedly threatening the woman he ran over with retribution if she did not retract her statements to police during phone conversations the two had while Brooks was held at the Milwaukee County Jail. An initial appearance in that case is scheduled for Feb. 2.

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