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Sunday, March 03, 2024

Shock and horror in Waukesha: What we know now

Here’s what we now know about the incident that brought tragedy to a community.

A red Ford Escape driven by a 39-year-old Milwaukee man plowed through a Christmas parade in Waukesha on Nov. 20. 60 people were struck by the SUV, leaving 62 injured and 6 dead. School in Waukesha was closed the following Monday. 

"We will grieve as a community, and we will heal as a community," said Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly.

“I'm grateful for the first responders and folks who acted quickly to help,” Gov. Tony Evers said in a statement.“We are in contact with local partners as we await more information."

The victims have since been identified as Wilhelm Hospel, 81, Virginia Sorenson, 79, LeAnna Owen, 71, Tamara Durand, 52, Jane Kulich, 52 and Jackson Sparks, 8. Of the victims, three were grandmothers, members of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies.

As of Sunday, 8 children are still at the hospital with injuries from the parade. A GoFundMe has been created on behalf of Sparks.

"I sat on the curb of this parade as a little kid, probably my entire childhood. We were always down here," said Reilly. "This is a parade that has a lot of history. It's almost six decades of having this wonderful event where people come together and celebrate."

J.J. Watt, defensive end for the Arizona Cardinals, previous Badger and Waukesha native, pledged to cover the funeral costs for every family who lost a life.

Darrell Brooks Jr., the accused driver, has been charged with six counts of intentional homicide as of Monday, with bail set at $5 million. Each homicide charge carries a life sentence. His next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 14. 

Brooks Jr. was previously out on a one thousand dollar bail for being accused of driving over a woman. The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office said they were launching their own internal investigation into the prosecutor's “dangerously low” bail. Brooks Jr. has an additional extensive criminal record, being charged with 3 felonies in July 2020 and currently has 2 open court felony cases in Milwaukee County.

According to witness reports, Brooks Jr. had multiple routes to exit the parade and appeared to be driving in a zigzag motion to hit a greater number of people. Brooks Jr. hid the car near Carroll University before being arrested at a nearby home, where he stopped to ask for help claiming that he was homeless.

Rarely in unison, Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Sen. Ron Johnson issued a joint statement warning that outside groups may try to profit off the tragedy. 

“It has come to our attention that outside individuals or groups may attempt to exploit the tragedy that occurred last Sunday in Waukesha for their own political purposes," the statement said. "As the U.S. Senators representing Wisconsin, one from each political party, we are asking anyone considering such action to cease and desist.”

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Annabella Rosciglione

Features editor


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