Jury deliberation to start Monday in Baumann trial
Both the prosecution and defense rested their cases Friday as testimony ended in the trial of Ashley Baumann. Baumann, 26, of Merrill, is charged with seven felony counts in connection to a June 2012 car crash that killed two people.
The state has attempted to establish that Baumann was driving the vehicle at the time of the crash, while the defense has offered the possibility that the other surviving occupant, Jerrica Woller, could have been driving.
The state rested its case just before noon on the fifth day of the trial. The defense immediately entered a motion to dismiss the case, which was denied by Judge Jay Tlusty.
“The testimony of the last four days speaks for itself,” said special prosecutor Tara Jenswold.
To start the day, the jury heard from Merrill Police Department lead investigator Pat Wunsch. Wunsch had interviewed Woller on June 20, at which time she gave an account of where the four women were seated in the vehicle which was consistent with what she had told other investigators, Wunsch said. In that interview, Woller remembered going to a tavern on the evening of June 6 and leaving after bar close on June 7. She recalled that Baumann was driving the vehicle, Wunsch said.
The vehicle stopped at a residence on Heldt Street. As they pulled away from the residence and proceeded west on Heldt Street, Woller said Baumann was driving too fast. At the intersection of Heldt Street and Mill Road, Woller said she got out of the car and confronted Baumann about her driving behavior. She told Baumann she would drive if needed, Wunsch testified.
GPS analysis of photos taken on Glisch’s phone show that the vehicle was stopped near the corner of Mill Road and Joe Snow Road for a few minutes. A couple of short videos were also taken on the phone while the vehicle was stopped. The photos include shots that show Woller and Glisch belted into the back seat and Baumann and Hartwig in the front seat, with Bauman behind the wheel.
Under cross examination, Wunsch noted that Woller has never said Baumann was driving at the point of the crash.
“She doesn’t remember the crash itself to this day,” Wunsch said.
“Never once has she said Ashley was driving at the time of the accident?” Laufenberg asked.
“That is correct,” Wunsch responded.
A witness who lives near that intersection heard a vehicle stopping and people talking in that time frame. She testified that she saw a vehicle stopped at the corner between 2:30 and 3 a.m. on June 7. She heard talking, which seemed to turn to arguing by the tone, but couldn’t tell what was being said. The people were there for about 10 minutes before she saw the car leave.
The defense played a recording of Woller’s interview with state troopers on the day of the accident while she was in the ICU at Aspirus Wausau Hospital. In that interview, she said she didn’t know whose car they were in when they left the bar, but she did recall that Baumann was driving. She recalled that Baumann was driving too fast on Heldt Street and she asked her to slow down.
“If you’re gonna drive like that, either you let me drive or I’m walking,” Woller related what she had said to Baumann. “I wanted her to stop and I was going to drive for her, but…”
Laufenberg also asked Wunsch about the decision not to have an autopsy performed on Jessica Hartwig. According to Wunsch, that decision was made by Lincoln County Coroner Paul Proulx because he felt the cause of death was obvious. After hearing of Proulx’s decision, Wunsch went to the funeral home to take a blood sample and photos of Hartwig to submit to the forensic examiner who was performing the autopsy on Glisch.
Proulx was later called as a witness for the defense. He said he decided not to send Hartwig’s body for an autopsy because the cause of death was obvious after he examined the body at the Good Samaritan morgue.
“There was no doubt in my mind what caused her death,” he said. “I didn’t have to look further.”
He said he saw possible seatbelt marks on both bodies. The forensic examiner who performed Glisch’s autopsy said she had classic restraint marks.
Proulx said he believed Glisch to be seated on the left side the vehicle, based on the seatbelt marks. He also said that Hartwig appeared to be seated on the right side of the car, based on possible marks.
Under cross examination, Proulx agreed that it is not his job to determine where people are sitting in a fatal crash. On the official motor vehicle death forms, Proulx marked seatbelt use as unknown for both victims.
The defense called crash reconstruction expert Scott Rohde, chief of police for the UW La Crosse campus and a private vehicle crash reconstructionist for the past 22 years. At Laufenberg’s request, Rohde had reviewed the State Patrol’s report on the crash.
“Ultimately I was unable to determine who was driving this vehicle to a reasonable degree of certainty,” Rohde said.
Rohde agreed that the vehicle was traveling about 95 mph before it started to slide and was at 83-89 mph while in a critical yaw.
He said footwear impressions should have been taken to attempt to determine whose feet were on the vehicle’s pedals before the crash. Under cross examination, he said that technique has never determined a driver in any of the cases he’s reviewed.
Rohde said there are cases where it can’t be determined how an accident happened.
“Not every accident can be reconstructed,” he said.
Rohde said there is the possibility that occupants moved around in the vehicle during the accident. The presence of Woller’s blood all over the back seats doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where she was when the car crashed, he said.
“It certainly suggests that at some point she was in the back seat,” he said, “the question is when.”
He also said the fact that one of Baumann’s hairs was found in the driver’s door window frame doesn’t prove she was the driver.
“I would expect to find her hair in her car,” he said. “I don’t think that alone rises to the level of credible finding.”
It’s possible, Rohde said, that the front seat passenger could have shifted into the driver’s lap during the initial skid.
“Occupant movement would be likely,” he said.
The jury was released for the weekend Friday afternoon, to report back at 9 a.m. Monday for jury instructions. Attorneys will make closing arguments and deliberations will begin Monday. Once deliberations begin, the jurors will not be allowed to go home until a verdict is reached. The county is prepared to put them up in a hotel for as long as necessary.