A Fond du Lac County Judge has ordered the state Crime Lab to test a blood sample in a drunk driving homicide case after Josh Kaul’s office did not even bother to assign the sample to an analyst for testing for more than a month, court documents obtained by Wisconsin Right Now show.
The deceased victim was a 58-year-old Waukesha man, Mike Hoffman, whose wife, Julie, was also injured in the crash, according to a GoFundMe page to help their son.
The court was acting on a request by Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney, who is prosecuting the case. During the state Attorney General’s race last fall, Toney repeatedly criticized Kaul for crime lab delays more severe than his predecessors, which Toney said were imperiling public safety. For example, Kaul’s crime lab saw delays worse than Republican AG Brad Schimel in multiple categories despite having more positions to work with.
“I cannot recall having this same experience with a blood analysis for ethanol in a drunk driving case, especially in a homicide case. The blood test result is necessary evidence for the state to present our case and for the defendant to be aware of the results of this evidence,” Toney wrote in a Feb. 23, 2023, letter to the judge. We contacted Toney after obtaining the documents, and he declined comment.
“It is unsettling to the State for the lab to have the evidence for over a month without an analyst having been assigned to begin the testing of the defendant’s blood. This has the potential to delay this case and create uncertainty for the defendant as well as the victim’s family.”
A GoFundMe page was set up for the victim’s son, who is a college student named Caleb Hoffman. “On the night of January 14th, Caleb received a call from a Fond du Lac County Sheriff, letting him know that his father Mike, and mother Julie, were in a terrible accident. Mike died immediately and Julie has been fighting for her life in the hospital,” it reads. “This was all caused by a selfish drunk driver. Mike and Julie were coming home from helping their niece and nephew move. This senseless act has changed so many lives.”
The case involves defendant Brian A. Sippel, 56, a repeat drunk driver from Oshkosh, who is accused of killing Hoffman in a multi-vehicle crash at the intersection of Highways 151 and 41. Circuit Judge Tricia L. Walker signed the order on Feb. 23, 2023, according to court documents obtained by Wisconsin Right Now. A jury trial has not been set in the case because the test is languishing in the crime lab, Toney’s letter to the judge says.
“The Court hereby orders the State of Wisconsin Crime Lab to test the blood sample(s) in this matter for ethanol and a drug panel and provide the ethanol test results to the State by March 8, 2023,” the court order says.
On Feb. 23, 2023, Toney wrote the judge, “Today I contacted the Madison Crime Lab to determine the status of the blood test in this homicide case. I was informed by the Crime Lab that they received the blood Sample on January 17, 2023, and as of today’s date the Crime Lab informed me that the blood sample has not been assigned to an analyst for testing.”
See Toney’s letter here, State’s Request to Order Crime Lab to Test Blood Sample – Sippel, Brian A; 2023CF000060; Sippel, Brian A_2697154_26
According to Toney’s letter, the Crime Lab “inquired if a jury trial has been scheduled, leading me to believe an analyst may not be assigned until a trial date is set. As the Court is aware, a jury trial has not been set because we have not had the preliminary hearing, which is scheduled for March 9, 2023.”
From past experience, “the Crime Lab often waits until trial dates are set for the lab to begin processing evidence such as DNA, controlled substances, and blood panels,” wrote Toney.
Toney’s letter asked the judge to:
1) Order the Crime Lab to test the blood samples for ethanol and have those blood sample results submitted to the
state by March 8, 2023. This will provide the State time to file an amended criminal complaint with those results.
2) I am also requesting the court defer any decision on the defendant’s motion until the preliminary hearing date
of March 9, 2023.
The criminal complaint shows that Sippel is charged with homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle while having a prior intoxicant-related conviction or revocation.
The incident caused the death of a person on January 14, 2023, in the Town of Fond du Lac, the complaint says. A second person was injured and the defendant was also accused of endangering the safety of others.
“On Saturday January 14, 2023 Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Deputies were dispatched to the intersection of Highways 151 and 41 in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin for a multi vehicle crash with injuries. Deputy Birkholz was the first to arrive on scene and observed on Highway 151 over Interstate 41 that a white vehicle had heavy rear end damage and was located in the grassy median as well as a black sedan in the middle of the intersection with disabling heavy read-end damage,” the complaint says. “Deputy Birkholz also observed a grey Ford F-150 pickup truck in the grassy area near the on-ramp to Interstate 41.”
According to the complaint, “Deputy Birkholz observed several bystanders attempting to make contact with the driver and passenger of the black sedan. VICTIM 1, the male driver appeared unconscious, not breathing, and Deputy Birkolz was unable to obtain a pulse from the wrist or neck of VICTIM 1.”
“Deputy Breister arrived to the scene and made contact with the defendant, Brian Sippel. The defendant was seated in the driver’s seat of the Ford F-150 pickup truck. The defendant stated he was OK. Deputy Breister also made contact with the occupants of a Toyota SUV, another vehicle involved in the crash. The Toyota SUV was being driven by VICTIM 3, who advised that the truck came out of nowhere. VICTIM 4 stated she heard screeching prior to the crash and heard two bangs, which we believed was the truck rear-ending another vehicle and pushing that vehicle into their SUV.”
The complaint continued: “Deputy Birkholz learned through the investigation that traffic was at standstill on Highway 151 over Interstate 41 near the traffic lights. The traffic light was green at the time but that traffic was backed up, overflowing into the intersections.
The defendant, Brian Sippel, was operating a grey pickup truck and struck the back of the vehicle operated by Victim 1 with Victim as a passenger. This impact caused the Victim 1’s vehicle to be pushed into the back of a white SUV with three occupants, VICTIM 3, VICTIM 4, and VICTIM 5.”
“Deputy Olson detected the odor of intoxicants as he was following the defendant and Deputy Galligan and there were no other individuals around at that time.”
“Deputy Olson attempted to gather information from the Defendant about the crash. The defendant stated he was finished with work around 6:30 p.m., which Deputy Olson knew was not correct because the crash occurred approximately 45 minutes prior to 6:30 p.m. leading Deputy Olson to believe the Defendant’s perception of time was skewed. The defendant stated he had one blood mary in St. Cloud on his way home. The defendant did not recall which bar he was out but stated he arrived between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m.”
“Deputy Olson noted that the defendant’s speech was talkative but thick and slurred. Deputy Olson also observed the defendant’s eyes to be bloodshot and watery. Deputy Olson also observed the defendant’s lips to be dry and could hear what sounded like thick saliva, which Deputy Olson is aware to be common with individuals who have consumed intoxicants.”
“Deputy Galligan became aware that the Defendant’s Department of Transportation driving reflected two prior convictions, suspensions, or revocations, as counted under s. 343.307 (2)., which were for operating under the influence or prohibited alcohol concentration convictions from August 25, 2004 and May 17, 2016 which remain of record and unreversed.”
“A search warrant was obtained for a sample of the defendant’s blood and Deputy Galligan observed Lab Tech Kalen retrieve two samples of the defendant’s blood. Those blood samples were then submitted to the lab for testing. A second search warrant was later executed to obtain the blood sample taken by the hospital for treatment purposes.”