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Driver in Bewley crash going 100 mph, police reports say
  • Updated

The woman killed when her car collided with another driven by state Sen. Janet Bewley in July was traveling at 100 mph immediately before the crash, according to police reports.

Police also found a vape pen loaded with Delta8, a substance related to marijuana, in the car driven by Alyssa Ortman, according to reports obtained by the Daily Press under state open-records law.

State Patrol Contributed Photo 

The violence of the crash left Ortman’s vehicle crumpled.

Ortman and her 5-year-old daughter, Khaleesi Fink, both of Pennsylvania, were killed in the crash that happened when Bewley pulled from the Maslowski Beach parking lot onto Highway 2 and into the path of Ortman’s car. Ortman hit Bewley’s car then caromed across the highway and into the path of an SUV driven by Jodi Munson of Washburn, according to police.

The reports obtained by the Daily Press comprise hundreds of photos, surveillance video from businesses near the July 22 crash scene, a recording of a police interview of Bewley and inspection reports on every vehicle involved in the crash. Blood samples revealed Bewley was completely sober at the time of the crash; results of Ortman’s blood test were not included.

The most revealing information is taken from the computer controls of the vehicles, which show that Ortman’s 2019 Honda Civic was traveling at 100.04 mph a half second before the crash, when she first applied her brakes and attempted to swerve. The speed limit in the area is 45 mph.

Bewley’s car after the crash, as investigators examined it. (State Patrol photo)

Just before the collision, Ortman lifted her foot off the accelerator and began braking, the report said. Her car still was traveling at 91 mph at impact, it said. Munson was going about 49 mph when Ortman’s car hit her SUV.

Video of the Civic traveling down Lake Shore Drive just before the crash, taken from a nearby business’s surveillance system, shows the Honda speeding far faster than other traffic. A second video shows the Civic after it glanced off of Bewley’s car as it slams violently into Munson’s vehicle in the oncoming lane. Even after the collision, the Honda is moving faster than other traffic in the video.

In an hour-long interview with police, Bewley said she was talking on a hands-free phone after leaving the Sandbar restaurant, where she had coffee, when the crash happened. She verified that she had had cataract surgery on one eye at 9 a.m. the previous day, but said her eyesight was fine.

“Your vision is actually perfect from the moment the cataract is off…. It’s miraculous,” she told police.

She said she was preparing to pull cross the highway and looked both ways before leaving the parking lot the Sandbar shares with Maslowski Beach. She saw two black cars coming her way.

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“It was far down, far down enough that knowing what the speed limit is there, that I had time to cross the lanes,” she said.

Police reconstructed the crash scene using aerial photos, inspections of every vehicle involved and data from onboard computers, which told them everything from the speed at which the vehicles were traveling to whether occupants were wearing seat belts or listening to the radio. (State Patrol graphic)

She took her foot off the brake of her Golf, which had a manual transmission, and was creeping into traffic. Her vehicle’s computer said she was going 11 mph at the time of the crash.

“I barely moved a foot and pow, I get hit,” she said.

She told police she never saw Ortman’s car coming.

“I remember as clear as it happened yesterday,” she said. “My first thought was, ‘Where in the hell did that car come from?’ And my first thought was, ‘That car was driving on the wrong side of the road.”

Immediately after the impact, Bewley couldn’t fathom what had happened, she said.

Schultz_000221-2755_2019_Honda_Civic_Mechanical_Inspection.pdf

“When you get hit by something and you thought you checked everywhere, and you get hit by something that doesn’t make any sense, it was like it was just dropped out of the sky ‘cause it shouldn’t have been there,” she said.

Bewley, who has repeatedly declined to comment on the crash, immediately recognized that the crash was serious.

“This is not good, this is not good,” she recalled telling the reporter to whom she was speaking on the phone.

“I’m alright, but I don’t know what happened,” she said. “I don’t know where this car came from.”

Betley_000221-2755_LTD.pdf

After colliding with the front of Bewley’s Volkswagon Golf, Ortman’s Honda veered into oncoming traffic and slammed into Munson’s Ford SUV so violently that it was thrown partially into the air. Photos taken by investigators show that every part of Ortman’s Honda was crumpled, in some places almost unrecognizable as a car.

Investigators conducted thorough inspections of every vehicle involved in the crash, probing everything from their steering and braking systems to tire treads and seatbelt operation. They found no defects in any of the vehicles that might have contributed to the crash, the reports said.

The reports now are in the hands of Ashland County District Attorney David Meany, who will determine if any charges should be filed.

He declined Wednesday to discuss the case or say how Ortman’s speed might affect his decision.

But John Gross, director of the Public Defender Project at the University of Madison Law School, said any prosecutor would have to consider Ortman’s speed.

22FX13911_Bewley.pdf

“The question would be, you’d want to look at the behavior of all the parties involved and determine who if anyone is negligent,” Gross said. “One of the factors is how fast the car was going. If you’re operating at an excessively high speed, you are negligent and likely to cause death.

“They will look at this and say, ‘Did the senator do something to cause this accident?’ If the other car was at over 100 mph, it’s hard to see how the negligence isn’t on the driver traveling at that excessively high rate of speed.”

Another expert, assistant professor of ophthalmology Bikash Pattnaik in the UW School of Medicine, said cataract-surgery recovery time can vary greatly depending upon how deep the cataract was and other factors. He said it would be “not unusual” for an eye doctor to tell a patient to return to normal activities as soon as their vision was clear, which can be immediately after an operation.

Brandon Fink, Khaleesi’s father, has filed suit against everyone involved in the crash and their insurance companies, alleging that their negligence contributed to his daughter’s death.

Bewley’s office on Thursday issued a brief statement thanking emergency workers and sending thoughts and prayers to everyone involved in the crash, saying she would issue no additional comments.


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U-turn: Book Across the Bay drops Washburn
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Washburn officials are reeling after organizers of the 26th annual Book Across the Bay ski and snowshoe trek announced that the Feb. 28 event no longer will end in the city.

In a brief letter to Washburn officials, organizers said the fiscally responsible move will have the Book both start and end in Ashland. The event, which routinely draws thousands of local and visitor participants, will run across Chequamegon Bay to Bird Island, a small outcrop just off Washburn, and then back to Ashland. The new course is about 11 kilometers, roughly 1 kilometer longer than the previous course.

Washburn Mayor Mary Motiff said Book organizers abruptly dumped Washburn after City Council members on Oct. 10 voted to ask race organizers to contribute money to offset costs associated with the event.

Rheanna Scharenbroch 

Motiff

“The city can’t even afford to have a recreation department anymore. We’ve had to cut and cut and cut over the years to just stay afloat,” she said.

Motiff said recent Book events cost the city between $4,181 in 2022, when there was no post-race party because of the pandemic, to $6,545 in 2020. The expenses cover police and medical personnel, garbage clean-up and other costs associated with the parties and beer tents hosted around the finish line.

“That kind of money does have an effect,” she said. “It is kind of a big deal and we need to treat all events the same. When we are charging a football game for EMS to be there, we have to have all non-profits pay a fee for that kind of service.”

Book Across the Bay organizers countered that paying several thousand dollars to Washburn would threaten the event’s future. Organizer Andy Matheus said that while Washburn’s reimbursement request was not the only reason for the change, it was a big factor.

“It became really clear that in order to keep the longevity and sustainability of the event going, we needed to make some changes,” Matheus said.

The new Book Across the Bay route will take skiers and snowshoers from Ashland to a turnaround at Bird Island near Washburn and then back to Ashland, an 11-kilometer distance. (Contributed photo)

Matheus went on to say that the Book already has lost money some years and couldn’t afford to pay Washburn for providing municipal services.

“We’ve had board members carry the costs of thousands of dollars we lost just to make sure that our volunteer groups could get compensated for their work and keep it as their fundraisers,” Matheus said.

Matheus

Organizers also are trying to figure out how to pay $15,000 to repair the event’s trail-groomer and new tents for the start-finish area.

“We can’t afford one bad weather year or a bad turnout year. That could really sink the event, maybe even eliminate it,” Matheus said.

Organizers also feared that if they paid Washburn, Ashland would similarly demand money for its expenses.

“With these escalating costs, how do you maintain this?” Matheus said. “To take a thousands of dollars hit in a situation where we are on the edge of financial sustainability — we just had to make some changes.”

Moving to one central site for starting and finishing the race essentially cuts the need for staff and infrastructure in half, and saves organizers about $9,000 in shuttle bus costs, he said.

Still Matheus said he and others are sad to leave Washburn, where the event got its start as a benefit for the library.

“We love Washburn. I’m from Washburn. The Book loves Washburn. But the worst thing for Washburn would be for it to be dissolved because of financial inadequacy,” Matheus said.

The move will be a blow to Washburn businesses that have relied upon the race for years to bring in money during the slow days of late winter, Washburn Chamber of Commerce Director Melissa Martinez said.

Martinez

She couldn’t say precisely how much business the Book brought to town, but she hopes to retain some of it.

“It is a lot of money. I am not going to deny that,” she said. “I also know that people are going to need to stay there, because there are not enough hotel and motel rooms in Ashland. I don’t see that dwindling. If they are here because they are staying here, they are going to stop for breakfast at CoCo’s, they are going to stop for coffee at North Coast on the way in. It’s going to pinch. I don’t think it’s going to pinch quite as hard as people think or are assuming.”

Martinez said there has also been a backlash because of the decision.

“I’ve seen a lot of people say they won’t do it again, so we are not going to be the only ones who get hurt by this for the first year for sure. I can see them having a slow year, possibly,” she said.

Martinez said she was among those who were unhappy with the decision.

“I just don’t think it’s right, in the bigger picture of things, to take an event that started in Washburn, that was meant to support a local organization, and morph it into something that has lost its roots completely,” she said. “There is nothing now that connects it to what it used to be.”

Ashland Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mary McPhetridge, on the other hand, said Ashland businesses always have benefitted from the race and should do even better if finish-line festivities come to the city.

“We are just excited that it is not going away,” she said. “If this is the way they are going to be doing it, we are really excited to have it here. It is a great event that happens in the dead of winter, so we would never want to see this go away.”

McPhetridge

McPhetridge said the city’s share of increased hotel-room taxes over the Book Across the Bay weekend would easily cover any added expenses the city would incur. Like Martinez, she thinks the Book lifts all boats in the Bay.

“It’s a busy weekend regardless of where it starts and ends. It’s good for everybody,” she said.


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Shedding light on downtown: Expert offers tips to bring more business to Ashland
  • Updated

As Seanette Corkill strolled through downtown Ashland Tuesday evening, she had to admit she wasn’t entirely comfortable.

“It feels a little scary,” she said as she walked past NorthLakes Clinic and nearby alleys.

“It feels like a long way to the street light,” she said. “I could see (NorthLakes Clinic) adding lights every 12 feet or so, ‘cause if I’m someone visiting the clinic and park here, I would have to walk the whole way. It would be an amenity to have a nice lighted pathway all the way to the front door.”

Those sorts of suggestions are precisely what Ashland’s Main Street Board was looking for when it invited Corkill to visit downtown and make suggestions on how business owners could attract more customers.

Main Street Manager Jaclynn Findlay said she often hears from residents who avoid downtown because they perceive it as dark and a little dangerous — especially in winter, when the sun goes down in early afternoon.

She and her board asked Corkill, an expert in retail development and lighting, to give business owners tips on how to address those perceptions.

“If every store front was lit up, the whole district would be lit up,” Findlay said.

As she and a group of merchants and Main Street members walked the city, Corkill pointed out areas for improvement.

“Imagine signage, projecting lights and lights in the windows. The sidewalk would glow,” she said.

Such lighting can do more than just make shoppers feel safer, she said.

“Lighting is one of the critical components every good storefront needs to boost your curb (appeal) and help stand out on the block. Correct lighting will maximize your 24/7 visibility as well as provide a sense of safety and well-being,” she said.

As the group continued along Main Street, one thing became apparent — vacant buildings that can lead shoppers to believe downtown is dead. But Corkill encouraged Main Street members to look at them as opportunities for development.

“What a good time for the property owner to go in and add infrastructure that someone is going to be need,” she said. “From a property owner’s standpoint, I want to make improvements that will add value. Sales will go up and rent will go up.”

After the tour, Market on Main owner Julie Anderson said Corkill helped her realize how much work she has to do to improve her storefront.

“I definitely need to add window lighting and signage,” she said.

Findlay said the city is seeking grants to help Anderson and other business owners revamp their lights and signs.

“Hopefully by the end of the year, that is up and running,” she said.

If every business owner did some work on their storefront, Corkill said, “People would see downtown in a whole new light.”


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