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5 counts of homicide recommended for man suspected of driving through Wisconsin Christmas parade

Police say Darrell Brooks, 39, was fleeing a domestic incident when the SUV he was driving plowed into the Waukesha parade.
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A Wisconsin man was arrested and accused of driving an SUV into crowds at the Waukesha Christmas parade on Main Street as revelers watched in horror, officials said Monday.

The man, Darrell E. Brooks, 39, was booked on suspicion of five counts of intentional homicide, Waukesha Police Chief Daniel Thompson told reporters.

City officials identified the four women and the man who were killed as Virginia Sorenson, 79, LeAnna Owen, 71, Tamara Durand, 52, Jane Kulich, 52, and Wilhelm Hospel, 81.

There were 48 additional injuries, included two to children who in critical condition, police said.

Brooks "intentionally drove his maroon SUV through barricades and into a crowd of people" at 4:39 p.m. Sunday, Thompson said.

Brooks had been involved in a domestic incident involving a knife before the crash, but it was not clear who the victim was, law enforcement sources said.

Brooks had fled scene of the domestic disturbance just as officers were arriving and then got redirected to the parade, police said.

"Was there an initial complaint of a knife being involved? Yes," Thompson said. "Do we know if there actually was one there? We don’t know, because we didn’t even make it there. We ended up immediately responding to the crisis."

An officer opened fire on the SUV but quickly stopped shooting, believing there were too many people nearby, Thompson said. No one was shot.

Brooks was taken into custody shortly after the collisions.

“We’re confident he acted alone,” Thompson said. “We have no information that Brooks knew anybody in the parade."

The popular community event attracted many off-duty police officers, firefighters and emergency medical service personnel, who jumped into action as soon as the carnage began, officials said.

“What stands out in my mind from the conversations is that we had people with military backgrounds who likened it to a war zone,” Waukesha Fire Chief Steven Howard said.

Brooks, who has a significant criminal history, was questioned overnight, with investigators examining the possibility that he driver been fleeing an earlier incident involving a knife fight.

The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office released a summary Monday of pending charges, including second-degree recklessly endangering safety and being a felon in possession of a firearm from July 2020. In lieu of a speedy trial, which wasn’t possible at the time, his bail was reduced from $7,500 to $500. He posted bail in February and was released.

Brooks had posted bail earlier this month in a separate domestic abuse case, court records show.

He is charged with resisting or obstructing an officer, bail jumping, recklessly endangering safety, disorderly conduct and battery, the records show. He appeared in court Nov. 12 and is scheduled for another hearing next month.

He posted a $1,000 cash bond Nov. 11, the court records show. 

"The State’s bail recommendation in this case was inappropriately low in light of the nature of the recent charges and the pending charges against Mr. Brooks," the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement Monday.

The office is conducting an internal review of the bail recommendation.

Brooks' lawyer declined to comment.

Five sources in positions to be briefed about the incident said that at this early stage of the investigation, there appeared to be no connection to terrorism and no indication that the incident was in retaliation for the not guilty verdict Friday in Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial.

An FBI spokesperson said that the bureau was aware of the event but that local authorities would lead the inquiry.

Video from the scene showed the red SUV speeding down the parade route and barreling into the crowd while a band was playing. It went through barricades set up for the parade before it struck people, Thompson said.

An officer opened fire in an attempt to stop the SUV, said Thompson, who said police were no longer searching for it.

On Sunday afternoon, spectators gathered along the street in downtown Waukesha to watch the procession of floats, classic cars and dancing children. Video from just before the incident showed spectators standing and sitting in chairs, watching a marching band perform.

Spectators began to scream when the vehicle plowed into the crowd. After it happened, people cleared the area.

A group called the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, whose members are grandmothers, said in a statement on social media that “members of the group and volunteers were impacted and we are waiting for word on their conditions.” 

“Please keep the Grannies, all those injured, and all those who witnessed this horrible event in your thoughts and prayers.”

Jaymz Touchstone, who attended the parade, said he was watching his daughter’s band when the vehicle “swerved around the big truck right behind the band and then accelerated through the band and down the street.” 

“I tried to pursue the car. I couldn’t. I turned around and came back and started to render first aid to the people there,” Touchstone said. “The kid that I was rendering first aid to ... his feet were crushed. They ran over both of his legs. He hit his legs, got trapped under the tire.”

Thomas Kluka, who said he goes to the parade with his family every year, said that when he saw the SUV barreling toward him, he threw his daughter out of harm’s way and that the car came within 2 feet of him. 

“I could’ve touched the car going by,” he said. 

Angelito Tenorio, a candidate for Wisconsin state treasurer, said he had just finished marching in the parade with the Waukesha County Democratic Party when the vehicle sped down the route.

People [were] running away from the scene, leaving their belongings behind, looking for their kids, family, friends,” he said on MSNBC. “It looked like there were folks on the ground lying who may have been struck by the vehicle.”

Scott Greger, a Waukesha resident, said he saw the vehicle strike someone, continue and then hit a float.

“The red SUV came barreling down the street — very, very high rate of speed — and hit a pedestrian,” he said.

He said the SUV’s arrival was preceded by police sirens.

Greger said the route was full with marchers and spectators. The event in suburban Milwaukee, billed as Waukesha’s 58th annual Christmas Parade, was canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Jesus Ochoa of Waukesha, who attended the event with his wife and their 3-year-old daughter, described how the parade continued marching in the moments just after the incident.

“It carried on because no one realized yet, because the SUV, in the spot where we were, it didn’t pass in the middle of the street, but it passed on a side,” he told Reuters.

Area hospitals reported treating at least 28 people, 13 of them at Aurora Medical Center in Summit. Aurora said in a statement that three of its patients were in critical condition.

Officials of Children’s Wisconsin, a pediatric trauma center in Milwaukee, said at a news conference Monday that 18 children were treated there, including three sets of siblings. The children are 3 to 16 years old.

Police alerted the hospital soon after the incident, and extra doctors, nurses and surgeons were brought in, the officials said. The first patient was admitted at 5:30 p.m.

The children suffered facial abrasions, broken bones, serious head injuries and other injuries, said Dr. Amy Drendel, the hospital's medical director.

Six children underwent surgery Sunday night, and two more were expected to undergo surgery Monday, she said.

Six patients were listed in critical condition, three in serious and one in fair, officials said. Eight other patients were listed as fair, and two children had been discharged from the hospital.

Ten children remained in intensive care, and six more were in other units of the hospital.

"Injuries from Sunday night will go well beyond the physical and will take time to heal," said Dr. Michael Gutzeit, the hospital's chief medical officer.

Mental health support has been organized for the children, their families and staff members.

A Catholic priest and multiple parishioners and Waukesha Catholic school children were injured, said Sandra Peterson, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Roads in the area will remain closed, as will businesses, the city said on Facebook. The Waukesha School District canceled classes Monday.

"I’m grateful for the first responders and folks who acted quickly to help, and we are in contact with local partners as we await more information," Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers wrote Sunday evening on Facebook.

Evers ordered for flags to be flown at half-staff Monday as a mark of respect. 

President Joe Biden expressed his condolences Monday, saying his administration is monitoring the situation “very closely.”

“Last night people of Waukesha were gathered to celebrate the start of a season of hope and togetherness and Thanksgiving. This morning Jill and I and the entire Biden family, and I’m sure all of us, pray that that same spirit is going to embrace and lift up all the victims of this tragedy,” he said.

“While we don’t have all the facts and details, we know this morning that five families in Waukesha are facing fresh grief of a life without a loved one,” he said.