By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Prosecutors were waiting for the state crime lab to complete blood tests on a repeat drunken driver this summer when he struck and killed a man changing a flat tire along the interstate.
Results of the blood work could have kept Frank Schiller behind bars, canceling his bail and preventing the fatal accident, a liberal advocacy group charges. The test results were sent to prosecutors on July 11, three days after the crash and more than three months after they were submitted to the crime lab for processing.
It’s impossible to know whether a judge would have revoked Schiller’s bail and put him behind bars before the fatal crash if prosecutors had gotten the blood work sooner. But delays in crime lab test results almost certainly will be an issue in Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel’s re-election campaign next year.
Scot Ross, director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, said delays have become a systemic problem under Schimel’s leadership.
“This case is an example of how tragic consequences of those delays can be and how important it is that it get fixed,” Ross said.
Deputy Attorney General Paul Connell said a string of court decisions allowed Schiller to remain free on bail despite multiple arrests before the crash and played a bigger role Peter Enns’ death than the delay in blood work.
“There is nothing unusual about this case,” DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos said. “The reason Mr. Schiller was out, driving around after being charged has nothing to do with the results of the toxicology report. As you know, Mr. Schiller was out on bail after being arrested on these other occasions.”
Schiller was charged in Milwaukee County in March with driving under the influence. He had been convicted of drunken driving four times before. Milwaukee County Court Commissioner Grace Flynn released him the same day he was charged with the condition that he stay sober.
Less than a month later he was back in trouble, charged with drug possession and bail jumping in Washington County. He was released on a $500 cash bond only to be charged again in mid-June with drug possession in two separate Waukesha County cases. He went free on $1,000 bail on June 29.
Ten days later, on July 8, Schiller was heading east on Interstate 94 near Delafield when he tried to pass other cars on the shoulder and struck Enns, who had stopped to help another driver change a flat tire, according to court records. Prosecutors leveled a host of charges against him on July 13, including homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle.
Blood tests in the March case were finalized on June 12 but weren’t sent to Milwaukee police until July 11, three days after the crash, Koremenos said.
“There is a series of reviews and checks toxicology work must go through before being released to the submitting agency,” Koremenos said. He did not elaborate. The Associated Press filed an open records request for the test results but the DOJ denied it because Schiller’s case was still pending.
According to the DOJ’s website, the average turnaround time in 2014 for blood and other bodily fluid tests was 32 days in 2014. By 2016, Schimel’s second year in office, the average turnaround time had risen to 52 days. Koremenos said so far this year the crime lab’s toxicology unit’s average turnaround time is 56 days.
Schimel created 11 temporary crime lab positions in August, eight weeks after Schiller’s fatal crash, to speed up evidence processing. He said at the time that police submissions had risen 49 percent from 2015 to 2016 and 31 percent from 2016 to 2017. Earlier this month Schimel appointed DNA analyst Nicole Roehm to lead the crime lab. She replaced Jana Champion, who retired.
Koremenos said Champion’s retirement had been scheduled and Schiller’s case wasn’t the impetus for the additional hires. He said the agency wasn’t aware “of the intricacies of this case” until The AP inquired about it.
Milwaukee County Assistant District Jim Griffin, who is handling Schiller’s March drunken driving case, didn’t return messages about whether the blood results would have prompted him to seek to revoke Schiller’s bail.
Schimel faces former federal prosecutor Josh Kaul in the November 2018 elections. Kaul campaign manager Ashley Viste declined comment.
Schiller pleaded guilty in September in the March drunken driving case and is to be sentenced Oct. 17. His other cases are pending.