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“Yes, I grabbed the wheel:” Prosecutors say 1 of 8 kids in van shot video of fight that led to crash

MILWAUKEE — Two people have been charged after a vehicle slammed into a retaining wall on I-43 SB at Fond du Lac Ave. Wednesday morning, Jan. 10. There were eight children, ranging in age from one to 12 in the vehicle at the time. Prosecutors say one of the children used a cellphone to record what happened leading up to the crash.

Amanda Martinez

30-year-old Amanda Martinez and 36-year-old Ellis Toms are facing the following charges:

  • Second degree recklessly endangering safety
  • Two counts of child neglect (bodily harm)
  • Five counts of child neglect (misdemeanor)

According to the criminal complaint, deputies were dispatched to a single-car vs. barrier wall accident on southbound I-43 near Fond du Lac Ave. around 1:40 a.m.

Upon the arrival of deputies, two adults were found standing outside a minivan, along with the eight children, ages 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 10, 11 and 12. Several of the children suffered minor injuries.

Ellis Toms

According to the complaint, a witness indicated the van passed him at a high rate of speed and suddenly veered sharply and drove straight into the freeway retaining wall. He then heard the driver yelling at the passenger — asking why he would yank on the wheel.

Deputies spoke to several of the children who corroborated that the passenger, Toms, had been drinking and arguing with the driver, Martinez.

Martinez suffered a leg injury. When deputies spoke with her, they detected an odor of alcohol and red, bloodshot, glassy eyes. Martinez told officials she had one beer.

According to the complaint, Martinez tested .088 on a preliminary breath test. She was arrested for OWI, first offense with child under 16 years of age in vehicle, disorderly conduct and seven counts of child neglect.

The complaint indicates deputies then spoke with Toms, who also appeared impaired. He stated, “this is (expletive). All I did was grab the steering wheel and I get arrested. She’s the one driving crazy and crashed.”

According to the criminal complaint, Toms stated that he and Martinez got into an argument. He stated that Martinez was driving because she drank less than he did. He claims Martinez was driving very fast and yelling that she was going to kill all of them. Toms stated that he grabbed the wheel in an effort to stop the car and then they crashed. Toms said “yes, I grabbed the wheel because she said she would kill us and she wouldn’t stop the car. If that was wrong, I’ll take it.”

One child said, “everybody was screaming for them to stop. When we got on the freeway he kept grabbing at the steering wheel. He grabbed it again and we crashed and then I blacked out.”

Authorities conducted a download of the minivan’s airbag control module. The information obtained from the module showed that the minivan was traveling at 78 miles-per-hour 5 seconds before the impact.

As a result of the collision, a 12-year-old child was treated for a laceration to his leg that required stitches — and a 10-year-old child was treated for a dislocated jaw.

Martinez also received citations for operating without a valid license, and operating a vehicle with no insurance. Meanwhile, Child Protective Services placed the kids in the care of a relative.