Felony charges in Marathon County death

Tracy Kruzkicki, in Marathon County Circuit Court yesterday. Photograph by 'xer Zhon Kha/Wausau Daily Herald

Despite his initial claim “I didn’t even see her, ” Tracy A. Kruzicki, 42, was charged yesterday in court with a felony for driving his car into and killing Tammy Gass on Highway KK near Mosiniee on the morning of May 23rd. Marathon County District Attorney charged Kruzicki with operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license and causing the death of another person. Kruzicki faces up to six years in prison if convicted, and the District Attorney is considering harsher charges, including homicide, pending further review of the crash investigation. Those decisions will be made prior to the preliminary hearing for the trial, which is scheduled for Sept.12th.

The courtroom video of Kruzicki being charged below is from the Wausau Daily Herald Report. In the video below and in the crash investigation report, it is clear that Kruzicki is genuinely remorseful and even tried to help Tammy Gass at the crash scene. Regardless of this behavior, Kruzicki will not easily wash away his part in the loss of Tammy Gass.

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Warning: report contains graphic descriptions of crash. Click image to download a PDF of the full crash report.

According to crash report, which you can see in its entirety by clicking on the image to the right, Kruzicki was approximately two feet into the shoulder of the road when he hit Gass from behind. In the crash report (MV4000e) Kruzicki said “I didn’t even see her.”  In the more detailed investigation, he said the following according to the supplemental narrative from the Marathon County Sheriff:

“Kruzicki initially said that he “remembers nothing” from the crash, just the impact. He said he remembers hitting “something” in the windshield, but did not know what it was until he got out of his car.

Kruzicki told me that he didn’t think he was doing the speed limit prior to the crash. He said he knew he did not have a valid license, so when he “is in a hurry”, he “watches his speedometer” so he doesn’t get pulled over. He said that he wasn’t in a hurry today, so he was just “coasting along” and “not in a big rush”. He said he “likes to take it easy when he’s not in a big rush” Kruzicki thought he was going “about 40 to 50″ miles an hour. He said as a habit, he does watch ahead, but admitted that he could have “possibly drifted” onto the bike lane. He said that generally, he doesn’t speed along CTH KK because of all the corners.

During our conversation, Kruzicki repeatedly broke down in tears and was very distraught over the incident.

When I pressed him to try to recall the crash, he stated that “I might have veered … or she might have blended in”. He stated “Usually I see that stuff. I’m always looking ahead”. He did say that after the crash, he viewed the scene from where he was driving and saw a big mailbox near the crash scene. He thought that perhaps the bicycle blended in with that mailbox and that’s why she didn’t stand out.”

It is appropriate for us to share in the sadness at the death of Tammy Gass, and to be human means we may also understand that Kruzicki appears genuinely remorseful, but our feelings have very little to do with the felony charge brought against him, nor should they.  Given his past record of driving violations and knowingly driving without a license, it is clear he has trivialized his responsibilities behind the wheel. As a result of his actions, Tammy Gass is dead. So far this year, people driving cars killed four people riding bicycles.  The specifics of each crash are quite different, but the end result is the same: an innocent person is dead.

Given my initial review of the circumstances of each fatal crash so far this year, it appears that all of these tragedies could have been avoided if we as a society took the task of driving more seriously.  My 16-year-old daughter is taking drivers education classes as I write this post.  This morning at breakfast she was telling me they learned that in many other countries, getting a driver’s license requires many more hours of study, practice and a much higher degree of testing.  She was also amazed to learn that in many countries, a person arrested for driving drunk is immediately put in jail for a long time.

She also told me that most of her fellow students seem bored by the class, don’t pay attention, or even make jokes about what they are learning. If even my teenage daughter, who is very excited to earn this right of passage to adulthood, can see that we as a culture just don’t treat driving a motor vehicle with the respect it deserves, why can’t the rest of us do something about it?

Dozens of yard signs are out in Wausau.

The Bike Fed is trying. We will continue to cover these crashes here on this blog. In fact we have more information about the other three crashes which I will publish in a later post in the next day or two. More proactively, through our safety campaigns the Bike Fed is working with individuals, businesses, and media companies across the state to get the message out. We have billboards, public service announcements on radio and television, yard signs and trained local ambassadors spreading the safety message in cities, towns and villages across Wisconsin. You can read about our radio PSAs in the previous post.

It is appropriate to charge people for a crime when they violate the law and kill someone (even if they are remorseful), unfortunately current laws make it impossible to charge many people who kill someone while driving. For that reason, one of the top legislative priorities for the Wisconsin Bike Fed is to get a Vulnerable User Law passed.  The point of this law is to emphasize that when we are driving around more vulnerable users of the road, (people walking, biking, working, on horses, on motorcycles, and law enforcement officials) we need to take extra care, slow down, and pay full attention to our driving.

Stay tuned here for updates on the other three people killed this year while riding bicycles in Wisconsin. And please, let us all keep the victims in our thought and prayers and do our part by obeying all traffic laws whether we are walking, riding bicycles and especially when we are behind the wheel.

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

6 thoughts on “Felony charges in Marathon County death

  1. It is a tragedy when anyone is injured by a car. They are dangerous. We don’t let people play wih knives or guns. And when they loose control people get hurt. I am a cyclist and ride all over. I am afraid of inattentive drivers and really try to stay safe. I don’t drive in respect for others and the awareness of just how dangerous they are . I know your daughter knows bicycle safety, but we need to
    add it to drivers ed training. Also a big crackdown on cell ph Es and driving.

    Again cars can easley kill someone. May God bless all involved in this tragedy. And may all people learn to ride/drive safely.

  2. Driving on a suspended license.  I’m sorry, but any sympathy I might have had for the driver went right out the window when I read that.  We need laws and penalties that have teeth in them, rather than the slap on the wrist.  If a person strikes and kills a pedestrian or cyclist, why do we let these people get off with little more than a fine and an extension of a license suspension which they already have shown they will ignore anyway?

  3. One to many time I have seen bikes NOT follow the laws. They run stop signs, they ride into the road, they do what they feel they need to do. Well, when one of them gets hit then it is a drivers fault. This guy needs to be punished by all means but if you have laws they also need to have laws for bikes. AND FOLLOW the laws for someone on a bike. It drives me insane when I drive on 4 wheels and follow rules, then a bike with 2 wheels can do what they want.? IDTS…

    • Leah,

      I’m sure you are speaking generally and not relative to the Marathon County case in which the driver was knowingly behind the wheel without a license. In this case, he was certainly at fault, consciously breaking the law and admitted to doing so on a regular basis. I can’t imagine you would excuse that sort of behavior that results in the death of an innocent person who was obeying all the laws.

      We definitely agree that people should obey the laws no matter what mode of transportation they choose. I feel the same way as you when I driving my car the speed limit and hundreds of cars pass me in the 20 miles between Milwaukee and Racine where my daughter rides horses, too far to bike with a saddle ;) .Why do the majority of the people in cars get to break the law, even when they go past a Sheriff? I get even more angry when I stop my car to let a person waiting at a corner walk across the street, but the person can’t because all the cars behind me refuse to stop, and pass me on both sides, even in he parking lane. Sometimes I even throw open my door and jump out and stop the cars.

      While we seem to agree that everyone should obey the laws, as a former manager of the Milwaukee neighborhood traffic program, where I did speed studies and yield studies at crosswalks, I am sorry to report that you and I are the rare drivers who never speed and always yield to pedestrians waiting at the corner. Most radar and traffic engineering studies show the majority of people driving drive over the speed limit and fail to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks.

      I must also disagree with you in that the laws are such that even if a person driving a car illegally hits a person riding a bicycle or walking in a crosswalk, all they typically get is a minor ticket. In cases when a person in the car hits someone riding a bicycle (or walking) who made the illegal move, the person in the car is not going to get a ticket. Police tend to be quite biased in favor of motor vehicles, those are the facts. Statistics from recent WisDOT crash studies also show that people driving cars are generally more likely to be at fault in most crashes with bicycles. In 5 out of the 7 instances where a person in a car killed a person riding a bicycle, the motor vehicle was at fault, but most of those people have yet to be charged with a serious crime.They rarely get severe penalties because current laws require the DA to prove “criminal negligence” rather than simple negligence. The Bike Fed is trying to change that law.

      I am glad to hear from you, another person who always drives the speed limit (never faster), stops for people waiting to cross the corner, and passes bicycles with three feet. Thanks for doing all you can to be a safer driver. The Bike Fed advocates similar behavior on bicycles: stop at red lights, ride as far to the right as practicable (but take the lane when it is unsafe for a car to pass you in the same lane without crossing the center line, yield to pedestrians, don’t ride on the sidewalk, use a light at night, etc. We would all be better off, and perhaps Tammy’s children would not be without parents, if other people drove cars with as much respect for the law and the responsibility for the more vulnerable users of the road as you do.

      Thanks for reading, writing and driving your car according to the law. I hope I have cleared up a few misconceptions you may have had. If only more people in cars and on bikes were as law abiding as you and I, the roads would be a safer place for all of us.

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