Three members of the same Kenosha family killed in a crash in Salem Lakes Friday were on their way home from a church dinner when they were struck by a suspected drunken driver.
The Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department identified the victims Monday morning as Dr. Michael Rizzo, 67; Dr. Vincent Rizzo, 76; and Mary C. Rizzo, 74, all of Kenosha.
Michael and Vincent Rizzo were brothers — Michael a general practitioner in Kenosha, Vincent a dentist. Mary Rizzo, a registered nurse, was Vincent’s wife.
“They were well-known, influential people in Kenosha, and it is with heavy hearts that all of Kenosha lost these three people,” said Sheriff David Beth.
A fourth member of the family, Gerald Rizzo, 72, a third brother and the driver of the Jeep the family was travelling in, was injured in the crash and remains hospitalized.
According to the sheriff’s department, the driver of the pickup that struck the family’s vehicle was Timothy Vandervere, 40, of Beach Park, Ill. He was released from Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa Monday afternoon and taken to Kenosha County Jail.
The sheriff’s department expects Vandervere to be charged with three counts of reckless homicide, three counts of knowingly operating after revocation-causing death, one count of knowingly operating after revocation causing great bodily harm and one count of operating while intoxicated.
The crash occurred in the eastbound lanes of the 21600 block of Highway 50 in Salem Lakes at 6:45 p.m. Friday when an eastbound white GMC pickup truck driven by Vandervere crashed into the rear of the Rizzo’s eastbound Jeep SUV.
Moments before the crash, another driver had called 911 to report that the driver of a white pickup was driving recklessly and at high speeds on Highway 50.
In the recorded 911 call, the witness reports having almost been hit by the truck.
“I am driving eastbound out of Paddock Lake and I’ve got a white GMC truck that was tailgating me, swerving, he almost rear-ended me three times,” the man told the dispatcher. “He’s all over, all the lanes plus the right shoulder.”
As the witness was still on the phone with the dispatcher, having given the truck’s license plate number, he saw the crash although from his vantage point he did not see that the truck had hit another vehicle. “Oh my God he just went off the side of the highway. Oh my God. Oh my God, he went flying right off the highway,” the shocked driver exclaimed to the dispatcher. He and others went to help the driver of the pickup while others went to the Jeep. The caller described the driver of the truck as being unconscious. “It doesn’t look good,” he said.
Beth said the Wisconsin State Patrol estimates that Vandervere was traveling at about 100 mph when he struck the Jeep. “He literally ran directly into the back of the Jeep and flipped it over,” Beth said.
The Jeep went off the road, coming to rest on its roof in a marshy area down a slope from the highway. Vandervere’s vehicle continued east, going off the road and crashing through a fence and into a wooded area about 100 yards from the crash site.
Michael Rizzo was pronounced dead at the scene. Vincent and Mary Rizzo died after being transported to hospitals.
Beth said that emergency workers at the scene could smell alcohol when interacting with Vandervere. The sheriff’s department is awaiting results of a blood test to determine Vandervere’s blood-alcohol level at the time of the crash. Before he struck the Rizzo’s Jeep, Beth said, Vandervere had been “riding ATVs and shooting pellet guns that afternoon and possibly, according to his brother, drinking alcohol that afternoon or evening.”
According to the sheriff’s department, Vandervere has a prior OWI charge. Although he has a valid Illinois license, his Wisconsin driver’s license was revoked.
According to Wisconsin court records, Vandervere received a municipal citation in the city of Kenosha for driving while intoxicated in 2005. His blood-alcohol level listed on the citation was 0.17. In Wisconsin, first-offense operation while intoxicated charges are treated as a traffic ticket rather than a crime. Court records show Vandervere appealed his municipal court conviction to circuit court, the ticket was dismissed in 2007 and the citation amended to reckless driving.
In Illinois, Vandervere has a long history of traffic violations, according to court records there, with 31 traffic violations listed in Lake County Court records since 1995, including reckless driving and speeding. There are also records of past misdemeanor charges for battery, mob action and disorderly conduct.
Vandervere and his family are involved in auto racing. Online racing websites show Vandervere as a driver competing in sprint car driving, including competing in Wilmot. His most recent racing results were in 2016.
Beth said he spoke to a member of the Rizzo family Monday morning. That family member told Beth he did not want to know the suspect’s name.
“He said, ‘I don’t want to focus any of my energy on who caused this.’ He (said), ‘Our family’s main goal is to just somehow make it through burying three members of the family by the end of the week.’”
Vandervere declined to speak with investigators at the hospital, Beth said. Beth said he did not know the extent of Vandervere’s injuries. A spokesman for the sheriff’s department said Vandervere is expected to make his initial appearance in court this afternoon.
According to the sheriff’s department, deputies and detectives have already interviewed several witnesses who saw Vandervere driving recklessly before the collision, but are asking anyone who witnessed the event to contact the sheriff’s department detective bureau at 262-605-5102.
The Wisconsin State Patrol is assisting with accident reconstruction. The investigation is continuing.
Also assisting were members of the Salem Lakes Fire and Rescue Department, the Bristol Rescue Department, the Twin Lakes Fire and Rescue Department, Flight For Life and the Kansasville Fire Department.