A Hayward area woman appeared in Sawyer County Court Tuesday, Sept. 1, on a charge of first-degree reckless homicide by delivering a powerful opioid to a woman who consumed the drug on June 9 and died June 12 at a Duluth hospital.
Mary Ann Hammond, 33, 13029W Water Tower Lane, Hayward, is charged in the death of 53-year-old Lisa D. Quagon at a residence at 7725N Dixon Avenue in the Town of Bass Lake.
The court charges state that Hammond caused the death of Quagon by delivering Percocet pills (Fentanyl and Hydrocodone), which Quagon used.
Hammond also is charged with two felony counts of recklessly endangering safety of two other women who also consumed the pills at the Dixon Avenue residence.
The court file states that on June 9 at approximately 5:51 p.m., emergency medical responders and officers were dispatched to the Dixon Avenue residence. The dispatcher informed responding units that two subjects in the residence were unconscious and unresponsive. Upon ar-
rival, an LCO tribal police officer observed first responders attempting life-saving measures on two victims.
After the victims were taken to the hospital, the officer spoke with a woman who stated they had taken Percocet. The officer gained permission from the homeowner and located a pill container in a pair of pants that one of the victims had been wearing in a back bedroom. The officer observed several pills, a rolled-up dollar bill and a straw. The officer field-tested the straw, which tested positive for heroin.
On June 13, an LCO police officer met with a woman to talk about the overdose death of Quagon. The woman stated that she and two other women including Quagon purchased six pills that appeared to be Percocet pills from Mary Ann Hammond. After purchasing the pills, they crushed them and shared them between themselves.
The woman said that five minutes after consuming the pills, she "felt very high, which was unusual for the amount she believed she was using." The two other women stated they also were feeling the effects. One woman left the room and the other woman noticed (Quagon) beginning to overdose," the woman told the officer.
Quagon was transported to St. Mary's Hospital in Duluth for medical care. After receiving medical care, the second woman called Hammond and talked to her on the phone in front of the third woman. After the conversation, the second woman told the third woman that Hammond had "received the pills from the cities." She showed the third woman Facebook messages between herself and Hammond discussing the purchase of the pills.
On July 1, an LCO police officer met with a woman, who stated she and the other women had "set up (via Facebook Messenger) to buy blues," 30-milligram Percocet pills, for $50 per pill from Hammond. She stated that Quagon bought four pills and she and she and the other woman bought two. She said they crushed two pills, made three lines between the three of them and snorted the powder. She stated that after snorting the powder, she "attempted to get an air conditioner and woke up in the hospital."
On July 18, the officer met with Hammond at her residence and asked if Hammond sold the drugs to the woman. Hammond replied, "Yes I gave them to her." Hammond stated she told the woman that "the drugs were strong since she (Hammond) took a quarter of one, and warned her of how strong they were."
The St. Louis County assistant medical examiner stated that Quagon died on June 12 "due to the toxic effects of fentanyl and hydrocodone."
On Aug. 1, the officer met with Sawyer County Coroner John Froemel, who stated that Quagon died of a lethal dose of fentanyl.
Hammond was placed on a $5,000 signature bond. A preliminary hearing is set for Oct. 13.
After a succession of three weeks with increasing numbers of COVID-19 positive cases, the good news this week is that in Sawyer County the number of new positive cases over the past seven days is noticeably fewer than in previous weeks.
On Tuesday, Sept. 1, Sawyer County Public Health Officer Julia Lyons reported the total number of positive cases for the county had risen to 162, or 15 more than the previous Tuesday, Aug. 25, total of 147 positive cases.
The 15 new positives is half the number of new cases reported for the three previ-
ous weeks when over 30 new cases per week had been reported.
"We are making really good progress," Lyons said, noting the county's seven-day average per 100,000 population (a statistical model reference) had dropped noticeably to 14.7. Several weeks ago the sevenday average had risen to 34.6 (when the national average was then 15).
"We are coming down nicely," Lyons said.
Lyons attributes the drop in new cases to people being more diligent about practicing social distancing, especially when they are out in public, and to wearing masks.
She said another good sign is that there appears to be no surge in positive cases related to the recent Sawyer County Fair.
"What we were doing at the fair definitely worked," she said of precautions taken by the fair committee. "It also helped that we didn't have as many at the fair this year and those who attended were masking and that hopefully helped."
Tuesday school opening
With the number of new positives dropping, Lyons said, she feels much more comfortable with schools opening.
"We will see how it goes this week," she said. Of the county's three school districts, the Hayward district is the only one offering in-person attendance beginning Sept. 1.
"We have been working closely with schools on developing plans for making sure that when there are sick kids in school that we can isolate them away and get them tested so we can keep the population as safe as we can."
Lyons anticipates learning lessons from Hayward's experience that will help the other two schools as they return to in-person attendance in the weeks ahead.
The health department also is in the process of hiring individuals to staff a satellite COVID-19 testing site in Winter so that students there can be tested locally without having to travel to Hayward.
"That satellite site can also be used by anyone who needs testing in the southern end of the county," she said.
Lyons said her department is now sending out a second letter to businesses who are not complying with the state's order requiring face masks to be worn in public places.
She said if those business do not come into compliance then citations will be issued.
Other COVID-19 numbers for the county include 139 who had tested positive but have recovered along with 23 active positive cases.
Lyons said she is unaware of anyone testing positive twice. The county uses a threemonth window — a standard used nationally — during which all subsequent positive tests are still considered under the reporting of the initial positive.
Six people have been hospitalized. Lyons said all six had been "significantly ill" when they were hospitalized.
No deaths have been reported in Sawyer County.
There have also been 3,971 cases/persons who have tested negative, some of whom have tested negative more than once. Those 3,971 negative tests represent more than 20% of the county's population.
The Wisconsin National Guard was testing in the Village of Exeland on Sept. 1 and was planning to test in Hayward from 11 a.m. 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 11, at the Hayward Wesleyan Church.
Lyons also noted that the county's COVID-19 screening hotline number (715-934-4518) is now available for calling 24/7 but actual testing is only available by appointment during the day.
Lyons said there appears to be more interest in being vaccinated for the upcoming influenza season to avoid being ill from flu and COVID-19 at the same time.
She said the flu vaccine is typically available in late September or early October, and this year her department will put even more effort into encouraging people to get vaccinated.
"I anticipate we will have more people who will want to be vaccinated for the flu and we want them to be vaccinated as early as we can," she said. "If we can get the vaccine in our bodies and get an immunity to influenza before it hits our community, that's our goal."
Henry Zietlow had so much potential.
He did well academically. He was a gifted athlete. He was a musician. A teacher once described him as someone who approached life with a "joyful enthusiasm."
But all of his potential would forever be unrealized.
The 18-year-old was traveling north on Highway 63 in the Town of Springbrook on Jan. 14, 2019, heading from his Minnesota home with his mom, Sarah Risser, to a ski trip in Michigan, when a truck driven by Andrew Ninke, 25, of Deer Park — hauling a trailer with a vehicle on it — crossed the center line and crashed into them.
Ninke and Risser, both injured, were taken to hospitals, but Zietlow died at the scene.
"A brilliant young man lost his life," Risser said. "He was born with such a big heart. He was really gentle, he was very sweet natured. He worked so hard. He was a really hard worker. He did really well academically. He was in his first semester of college."
Ninke was cited for operating left of center, causing a death, which had a fine of $1,397.50, and operating a semitrailer without capable brakes, which carries a $175.30 forfeiture.
Alcohol blood concentration tests showed no alcohol in his system.
The registration for Ninke's truck also had expired the month before. The trailer was owned by a man from Clayton, and Ninke's Ram did not have a system for operating the trailer's brakes. The combined weight of the trailer and the Ford Fusion that it carried was
above the legal weight limit for a trailer without brakes.
Risser maintains that the left of center and no brake charges are insufficient, and that Ninke should have been criminally prosecuted.
She said she is not out for vengeance, just for accountability and to raise awareness about driving responsibly and hauling responsibly. Her campaign to see that happen has been very public, with a billboard close to the accident site and an online petition urging the Washburn County's district attorney to prosecute Ninke.
"I think so often people become statistics, and I think it's really important to have an image to make people realize how real it is," Risser said of the billboard. "Loss of life is hugely significant."
The online petition says its intent "is to communicate to the state that enforcing the laws on the books that were enacted to ensure safety is imperative — not only for justice — to address the ongoing public health crisis of traffic violence and road fatalities. This petition is as much about upholding Wisconsin law as it is about preventing senseless and needless loss of life on Wisconsin's roads and the ongoing pain and grief endured by surviving family and friends of road-traffic victims."
Risser said she believes that criminally negligent drivers "get a pass."
"If we want to improve road safety, we need to start holding criminally negligent drivers accountable," she said. "I think that a lot of people care about road safety. I think that a lot of people want to see justice, who care. I think a lot of people are concerned that we have such a high number of road fatalities every year."
According to the Department of Transportation, between 2013 and 2018, the latest years shown on its website, on average, 128,789 crashes occurred annually, 504 of them with fatalities, with an average of 41,415 injured each of the years.
Wisconsin's fatality rate is .89 per 100 million miles of travel.
Washburn County averaged 348 crashes between 2013 and 2018, compared to 257 in Sawyer County, 660 in Polk County, 807 in Douglas County, 253 in Burnett County, 791 in Barron County, 363 in Bayfield County and 300 in Ashland County.
"This is about our son, but it's really about so much more," Risser said. "It's about doing what's right. It's about curbing the loss of life."
She would not say whether she believes incarceration of Ninke is appropriate, or for how long, but she said Ninke's driver's license should have been revoked, at the least.
Two traffic tickets were not commensurate with the loss, she said.
"It really is another public health crisis, the number of people who lose their lives on our road, and we need to start doing something about it. That's really the message."
The case originally was considered by District Attorney Angeline Winton, now circuit judge for Washburn County, and the charges reflected her decision in the case. The citations were from the State Patrol.
The case had been closed when current District Attorney Aaron Marcoux took office, but the family had contacted the State Patrol with questions about the investigation, and the State Patrol asked Marcoux to meet with the family to hear their concerns.
Marcoux, four State Patrol officials, county victim witness coordinator Tammy Fee, Risser and her husband, Nathan Zietlow, met last November.
Marcoux said in meeting with the family he went through each point they raised and explained his position that Ninke was not criminally negligent.
Risser said she found the answers "extremely unsatisfying and subjective" and a follow-up letter with additional photos and reports was "100% dismissed."
Marcoux said he had the case reviewed by his assistant district attorney, without saying what his own conclusion was, and also sent the case file to the state attorney general's office and asked that the traffic and driving-while-intoxicated specialists also review it.
"Just to make sure nothing was missed," he said.
They all reached the same conclusion: "That this is a very, very tragic accident," Marcoux said.
A tragedy, but not a case of criminal negligence.
One of the major points Risser disputes is the condition of the road at the time of the accident. Ninke listed sleet as a weather condition and snow or ice as a road condition in his statement to the State Patrol.
Trooper Michale Anderson said in his report, "It was an overcast day with freezing rain which caused icy road conditions in Washburn County."
The citations cite freezing rain or drizzle and "wet, ice" as road conditions.
In the dispatch audio following the 911 call, according to Marcoux, the icy roads were discussed, and officers were said to be slipping. Salt trucks were requested.
Coincidentally, Marcoux had driven that same road that day and had gone through the same storm. As a salt truck driver earlier in his life, he said he recognized clues of iciness in the trees weighed down by the mist, for example, and a skim layer of black on the road.
"I remember it being very icy, and I remember having to deal with the roads and drive through that very stretch on Highway 63," he said.
Risser said the iciness was never proven.
"It was always speculative," she said. "That was always presented as it may have been a contributing factor, but it was never proven, ever, that ice caused the accident."
In her own statement to the State Patrol, Risser recalled the weather being rainy and the road "wet."
She said other vehicles that stopped after the accident did not slide, and other people walked there with no problem.
"I got out of the car and walked," she said. "I was injured. I was in a state of shock. I could walk without slipping."
What was known "beyond a shadow of a doubt," she said, was that Ninke got into his vehicle knowing it did not have a way to engage the trailer's brakes and the trailer was overloaded.
One of the citations said Ninke "was pulling a trailer behind his vehicle that was loaded with another vehicle. The trailer/vehicle combination require trailer brakes be equipped. The trailer had brakes but they were not equipped to the defendant's vehicle."
Marcoux said that he learned in his investigation that even if the brakes had been connected, their use on icy roads could have caused the truck and trailer to jackknife, potentially causing more fatalities.
He said his investigation showed the lack of brakes on the trailer and the overweight trailer and load were not factors in the accident.
Culpability embodies a spectrum of levels, from negligence to recklessness to being intentional.
According to Wisconsin Statute 939.25, "criminal recklessness" means "ordinary negligence to a high degree, consisting of conduct that the actor should realize creates a substantial and unreasonable risk of death or great bodily harm to another."
Marcoux said negligence as a legal term embodies duty, causation and harm. Drivers have a duty to everyone to operate by the rules of the road. Crossing the center line into oncoming traffic caused the accident that took Zietlow's life.
"So you have duty, causation and harm, so you have negligence," Marcoux said.
"That's the civil standard of negligence. Criminal negligence has a very specific standard that's found in the statutes, as defined in the statutes, and in looking at the different case law and looking at the facts of the case, looking at the police reports, looking at all of the stuff, I didn't believe it rose to that level of criminal negligence."
A civil case, yes, he said, but no amount of compensation would ever compensate the family for the loss of their son, he said.
"I've got six children of my own," Marcoux said. "I don't want to spend a second even contemplating having to bury one of my children in the way that she had to put her son to rest."
But the death was caused by an accident, he said, and ethically, he could not prosecute the case. Beyond that, he added, it would be highly likely a jury would return a not-guilty plea.
"It's just a really a heartbreaking situation because I would love to be able to bring the family some sort of relief," Marcoux said. "I would love to be able to use the authority and the power of this office to bring them reconciliation, to bring them whatever it is that they need to heal.
"But I am bound by the law. I can only use the authority of this office with the authority that the Legislature is given me, and that is that I am to prosecute crimes, and I'm to prosecute forfeitures in traffic citations and all that other stuff, and law enforcement in this case issued citations.
"And they were the appropriate citations for the facts. There is a civil case in a civil remedy to deal with the financial end of the compensation for the loss, the harm."
Risser said the research into case law on criminal negligence by her and her husband, Nathan Zietlow, a lawyer, suggests that the case actually does rise to criminal negligence.
She said she would like to have a conversation with the state attorney general about the case. She is not sure how she will pursue the case, but said she has no intention of pursuing it in civil court because she is convinced it is a criminal case.
Marcoux said Ninke has expressed remorse for the accident.
"He explained to me that he is contacted on a regular basis by the family and that he wants the family to understand that it was a tragic accident and he is extremely regretful and extremely sorry that a life was lost during that," Marcoux said.
Two premier fall events in the Hayward area — the Hayward Fall Festival and the Stone Lake Cranberry Festival — have been canceled due to a concern for public health amid the recent uptick in positive COVID-19 cases in Sawyer County.
And in Bayfield County, the Cable Fall Festival is also canceled.
The Hayward Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors on Friday, Aug. 21, announced it has decided to cancel the 36th annual Fall Festival, which was scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 26.
"This decision was not made lightly, as we worked through many scenarios as to how we could safely host an event that gathers a large number of people in our small downtown," said Chris Ruckdaschel, HACC executive director.
"While we are very disappointed to not be hosting this event next month, we are already looking forward to a bigger and better Fall Festival next year on Sept. 25, 2021," he said.
The Cable Area Chamber of Commerce previously had announced the cancelation of its annual community fall festival held at the end of September.
In addition, the Sawyer County American Cancer Society Relay For Life Super Hero 5K run-walk and fundraiser, originally scheduled for Sept. 26, has been canceled due to COVID-19.
The cancelation of 2020 events extended south to Stone Lake as the Stone Lake Cranberry Festival Committee voted to cancel this year's festival, which was scheduled for Oct. 2-4.
The committee issued a statement saying, "It is with great sadness the Oct. 3, 2020 festival has been canceled. Due to rising COVID-19 cases in our area we decided it is the best course of action. We look forward to seeing you all on Oct. 2, 2021."
Committee Chair Shirley Armstrong said, "It was a hard decision, but we canceled the fest. We're concerned about the community, the rise (of COVID-19 cases) in Sawyer County over the last couple weeks," Armstrong said. "That doesn't mean that things will not have quieted down by Oct. 3. But in order for us to plan and be the best that we can, we would either call it now or move forward. So we decided to call it (cancel it) now."
The Stone Lake Cranberry Festival typically includes an awards dinner, pancake breakfast, cranberry marsh tours, hundreds of street vendors, a parade and cranberry Krate Derby, plus a 5K run-walk.
"The Cranberry Fest will have nothing," Armstrong said, noting that any events scheduled for that weekend will not be associated with the Cranberry Festival Committee.
The annual Cranberry Festival has grown to be one of the largest fall events in northern Wisconsin, drawing 20,000 to 30,000 visitors each year.