2016 story: Dropped charges fuel emotional hearing

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Family members packed a St. Croix County courtroom Monday to voice their discontent following revelations that prosecutors were dropping all but one charge against a woman initially accused of killing a pedestrian while she drove drunk.

St. Croix County District Attorney Eric Johnson confirmed at the hearing that three homicide-by-vehicle charges were being dismissed due to a lack of evidence supporting allegations that the suspect, 23-year-old Alyssa M. Kochsiek, was responsible for the fatal crash.

All but one count of OWI (first) was dismissed.

The Hammond woman received a forfeiture and a fine after pleading no contest to the OWI; there is no criminal penalty in Wisconsin for first-offense drunken driving offenses.

St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Michael Waterman revoked her driving privileges for nine months and ordered her to 12 months’ use of an ignition interlock system, along with a $1,000 fine.

“We’re bound by the facts and the evidence and the law,” Johnson said after the hearing. “It’s a difficult decision, but we’re still a nation of laws and it has to be applied.”

Kochsiek was charged in the April 23, 2015, incident that left New Richmond resident Jeffrey S. Boardman Jr. dead.

An SUV Kochsiek was driving struck Boardman as he walked near the shoulder of County Road C while taking to the Star Prairie-area roadway after drinking at the Outpost Bar -- the same bar Kochsiek was leaving at the time of the crash. Blood tests later revealed a 0.15 blood-alcohol content in Kochsiek’s system.

Waterman offered empathetic words for family and friends of Boardman who assembled in the courtroom.

“The only word that I know of to describe this case and what happened is ‘tragic,’” he said.

Neither his words nor Johnson’s explanation for the dropped charges appeared to assuage the frustrations of Boardman’s mourners who spoke during the hearing.

Friend Jessica Myer lamented how Kochsiek did not offer an apology and will not face criminal charges as a result of the incident.

“In the end, there is no justice in his name,” Myer said, “no debt to be paid for his death.”

Two of Boardman’s sisters also spoke at the hearing, including Rebecca Lutz, who read a poem to Kochsiek called “If I Knew.”

“I hope you take it to heart,” Lutz said of the poem, which describes emotions felt at the loss of a loved one.

Lutz also read a letter she said was written by her father, which chastised Wisconsin’s criminal justice system and chided Kochsiek for her role in Boardman’s death. After reading the letter, Lutz called on Kochsiek to turn around in her seat so she could make her look at a photo of Boardman pictured on a shirt Lutz was wearing.

Defense attorney Aaron Nelson answered that Kochsiek -- seen shaking during the hearing -- would not turn around. He declined to comment after the hearing.

Waterman told Lutz he was moved by the poem. He also acknowledged a perspective to which few others in the courtroom were privy: Kochsiek’s reactions.

“I get to see how you react. What happened that night weighs on you very heavily,” the judge said, telling Kochsiek she must live with the choices she made that night. “I hope and pray that something good comes out of this.”

Boardman’s other sister, Elizabeth Benyo, told the court that her brother “had a way about him that could bring out the best in people.”

“I lost one of the best parts of me, which was him,” she said behind tears.

The problem facing prosecutors, Johnson explained, was that the state’s accident reconstruction report revealed the collision would not have been preventable even if Kochsiek had been sober at the time.

The report states that Boardman was likely in the roadway at the time of the crash -- rather than inside the shoulder of the road -- and was walking with traffic, Johnson said. Combined with the fact that Boardman was wearing dark clothing at the time, that there was no lighting in the area and that Kochsiek was not speeding diminished her culpability below the criminal threshold, according to the prosecutor.

The OWI plea “is a significant step down” from the homicide-related charges, Johnson said, “but as prosecutors, we’re bound by the evidence.”

Johnson said his office aggressively tackles the 400-or-so drunken driving cases it receives each year -- a claim Waterman attested to during the hearing.

“The district attorney has taken a very strong position, a very aggressive position on drunken driving offenses,” the judge said Monday.

Johnson admitted that some prosecutors wait for accident reconstruction reports before issuing charges. He opts not to, because weighty criminal charges trigger a “no-drink” bond that he said protect the community.