Prosecution moves forward in deaths of Northwestern Mutual executives

A Waukesha County Circuit Judge cleared the way Monday for the prosecution of a 21-year-old man accused of killing two men riding bicycles on Highway 36 in Muskego, more than nine months ago.

Tony Oliver

The judge, Lloyd Carter, ruled that Brett Hartley’s statements to police following the crash and his blood-alcohol test results could be used against him at trial. Hartley’s attorney had filed motions seeking to exclude the statements and blood evidence. He argued police lacked probable cause to arrest the young man from South Milwaukee and that the subsequent questioning in the Muskego Police Department was illegal.

Cramer found ample cause existed for police to focus on Hartley as the driver who crashed into Paul Brown, 45, and Anthony Oliver, 54. The veteran executives from Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. were out on one of their regular training rides when they died, and Oliver was preparing for the Iron Man Triathlon.

Police on the scene reported that Hartley struggled to stand at the crash scene and officers smelled alcohol on his breath. A preliminary breath test showed his BAC was .06%, a violation of the “Not a Drop” law that prohibits people under 21 from driving with any alcohol in their system. He was 20 at the time of the crash.

According to the criminal complaint, Hartley told police he had been drinking at a party in Richfield on Friday night June 5, and the party stretched nearly to dawn on the 6th. He fell asleep while driving two women to Waterford and crashed into Oliver and Brown while southbound on the divided highway.

Oliver and Brown were riding to the right of the fog line, and Hartley crossed over a series of rumble strips before hitting them from behind. Witnesses said they saw him swerve repeatedly and observed that he was asleep at the wheel.

He is scheduled to appear in court on April 25 for an update on a potential plea agreement in the case. Hartley is charged with two counts of second-degree negligent homicide. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison.

An analysis of fatal crashes involving people on bicycles found alcohol was a factor in 27% of those collisions in Wisconsin, from 2011 through 2013. In 2015, either the driver of the person riding the bike had been drinking in five of the 15 bicyclist deaths caused by collisions with motor vehicles.

Despite the 15 deaths last year, the number of serious crashes and fatalities involving people on bikes in Wisconsin has dropped steadily in recent decades.

The number of crashes has been on the decline for years, even as the number of people commuting by bicycle increases. The fatal crash numbers are so small, that the variations from year to year are probably statistically insignificant. Of course our goal is to make that number zero.

Note that in the graph below, it was common to have 30-40 fatal bicycle crashes in the 1970s and today we average around ten. We have bike lanes and education to thank for the huge reduction in fatal crashes. In fact, our Share & Be Aware Program is one of the biggest programs we run at the Wisconsin Bike Fed. Our regional S&BA staff teach classes, work with Drivers Ed instructors, and share safety information at hundreds of events around the state all summer long.

Fatal crashes involving bicycles have dropped from highs of 30 or more in the 1970s and hovered between zero and 15 in recent years.

Whether you are on a bike, behind the wheel or on foot, drinking dramatically increases the chances of a crash. Of course if you drink and drive, you might not be the only victim. We can all help make Wisconsin roads even safer by limiting the risk of driving or riding under the influence of alcohol.

If you would like to request one of our S&BA Ambassadors for a class or to table an event, make your request online here. We can also give you free safety information to share in your community or at you employer.

8 thoughts on “Prosecution moves forward in deaths of Northwestern Mutual executives

  1. Thanks for keeping track of these stories. Justice often comes slowly (if at all), and I appreciate the Bike Fed following up on these stories long after the initial crash.

    • I’m not sure what you are referring to with that figure of 60. The number of people killed riding bicycles in Wisconsin each year averages about 11. There were four in 2014 and 15 in 2015.

  2. Thanks for the update Tom. The idea of a plea agreement is somewhat troubling. Justice needs to be swift, severe, and widely broadcast.

    • Plea agreement would likely come with an admission of guilt. I expect a sentence of 20 years, with 10 behind bars. Tragic.

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