A Salem Lakes man charged in the hit-and-run death of a bicyclist told deputies he had been drinking before the crash.
Ryan S. Peterson, 39, made his initial appearance in court Tuesday, charged with hit-and-run resulting in death and homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle. According to the criminal complaint, after turning himself in to deputies Monday afternoon Peterson said while he had been drinking before the crash, he did not believe he was drunk.
Assistant District Attorney Andrew Burgoyne said investigators believe that the man who was killed, 29-year-old Jackie Hutcheson Jr. of Trevor, was riding his bike north on the gravel shoulder of Highway JF sometime between 9:10 and 9:30 p.m. Sunday when he was struck from behind by a Volvo driven by Peterson.
Hutcheson had been headed home from a family gathering at his sister’s house nearby when he was struck. When he didn’t make it home his mother looked for him and came upon the crash scene while deputies were still there investigating.
Outside court Monday, Hutcheson’s family was overwhelmed with his loss, and upset when they learned in court that Peterson had been drinking. “That was my baby boy. He took him away from me, I’ll never be able to see him again,” his mother Delise Hutcheson sobbed.
“One day we’re going to have to forgive this man for taking our son away, because that’s the Christian thing to do,” his father Jackie Hutcheson Sr. said. “But today we have hate in our hearts.”
While the stretch of road where the crash occurred is dark, Burgoyne said the road is straight with a clearly marked fog line and a 4-foot-wide paved shoulder beyond the fog line. According to the criminal complaint, an accident investigator believes based on gouge marks in the gravel that Hutcheson and his bicycle were about 4 to 5 feet east of the fog line and on the gravel when struck by the Volvo. “He did not locate any tire marks on the roadway or gravel shoulder indicating any evasive action taken by the motor vehicle driver,” the complaint states.
Peterson told investigators he believed he had struck a deer, but said he did not stop to check beyond looking in his rearview mirror as he drove away.
“The defendant said he was distracted because he was attempting to plug in his cellphone,” Burgoyne said. “He admitted that he never stopped to check what he had hit.”
Under state law, Burgoyne said, drivers have an “absolute duty” to check what they have struck in a crash.
Hutcheson’s body was found by another driver who came by a short time later and saw the bicycle lying on the side of the road. The man told deputies he drove by, but turned back because he was worried something wasn’t right about the scene. He found Hutcheson in the ditch line. He was unconscious and not breathing, and was later pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy showed he died of a head injury.
Burgoyne said that when Peterson arrived home after the crash he told his wife, Trisha, he believed he had struck a deer and that is what damaged his Volvo and cracked the car’s windshield. Peterson and his wife “then pulled an Acura out of their garage and put the Volvo in the garage so that anyone investigating would not be able to see the damage.”
According to the criminal complaint, Peterson’s wife later told deputies they put the damaged car in the garage so their children would not see it.
On Monday at 2:20 p.m Peterson’s wife, who works as an instructional aide at Central High School, contacted the deputy stationed at the high school as a school resource officer and told him that her husband said he thought he hit a deer on Highway JF at the time the bicyclist was struck, but that he did not stop. Another deputy then arranged to meet Peterson at the high school.
According to the complaint, Peterson told that deputy he had been drinking during the day, including three vodka drinks and two beers, and that he had been driving home from watching the Green Bay Packers game at a relative’s house when the crash occurred. “However, he stated that he believed he was sober at the time of the crash.”
Defense attorney Fred Zievers said Peterson has no criminal history and turned himself in to the sheriff’s department, arguing that his client should be released on a signature bond. Zievers called the investigator’s determination that the crash occurred on the shoulder “conjecture” and said there is no evidence beyond Peterson’s statements that he had been drinking, because deputies did not do a blood test after he was taken into custody.
Court Commissioner David Berman said that while Peterson’s alcohol consumption was self-reported, he did not know that a blood test would have been valuable 16 to 17 hours after the crash occurred. “We’ll never know (if Peterson was above the legal alcohol limit) because Mr. Peterson did not stop.”
If convicted, Berman said, “there is a great likelihood that he is going to spend a significant time in prison” before setting a $15,000 bond.