Racine Co. Sheriff honors deputy, citizen for life-saving efforts during hit-and-run

RACINE COUNTY -- Honoring heroes after a horrific tragedy. A hit-and-run crash nearly took the lives of a Racine County couple -- but they managed to survive because of the quick thinking of deputies and bystanders at the scene.

There were a lot of emotions Friday morning, February 2nd as Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling honored Deputy Karen Hernandez and citizen Christopher Dustman with an award for their life-saving efforts during a hit-and-run crash at Festival Foods.

17-year-old Isaiah Degroot of Racine is facing  27 felonies after prosecutors say he plowed a stolen SUV into two pedestrians as they walked out of Festival Foods in Mount Pleasant Sunday, Jan. 14.

"We are angry at what happened," Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said. "The coward ran away."

But Racine County Deputy Karen Hernandez took immediate action and provided life-saving medical treatment prior to the arrival of rescue.  A concerned citizen, Christopher Dustman, also provided medical assistance at the scene.

Their quick thinking is credited for keeping the couple alive.

Deputy Karen Hernandez

Christopher Dustman

Degroot could face life in prison after prosecutors say he admitted he was behind the wheel of the stolen SUV with a handgun and drugs inside. He shouldn’t have been driving in the first place, because investigators say he’s never had a valid license — one of the things about this case that has frustrated the victims’ family.

As for the victims, Cheryl Coopman, 47, and Jeffery Coopman, 53, the family told FOX6 News Wednesday, Jan. 24 Cheryl hadn’t woken up since the crash, and Jeffery lost his leg.

Cheryl Coopman and Jeffery Coopman were severely injured in this incident. Sandra Coopman-Roberts, Jeffery’s sister, said on Jan. 16 they’re lucky to be alive.

“It was just a horrific scene. She lost her leg and her hand. She has some bleeding on the brain. He has some internal injuries — a broken hip, his leg. He’s going to need a lot more surgery. They are in critical condition so you are praying for the best,” Coopman-Roberts said back on Jan. 16.

Cheryl Coopman and Jeffery Coopman

According to the criminal complaint filed against Degroot, a Racine County sheriff’s deputy identified an SUV on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 14 as having license plates that did not match the vehicle they were on. The deputy turned and followed the vehicle — and “activated the lights and sirens on her unmarked squad and attempted to execute a traffic stop.”

The complaint indicates Degroot sped up “before abruptly turning left into the parking lot of Kohl’s Department Store.” The deputy terminated the attempted traffic stop — as there were a lot of people in the parking lot. But moments later, the complaint says Degroot “lost control of the vehicle and crashed — striking two pedestrians.” The deputy immediately stopped and began rendering aid to the injured man and woman.

Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling noted the deputy was more concerned with saving the lives of those injured than chasing the suspect immediately. The deputy applied the tourniquet after recognizing the victims were near death. A Festival Foods employee came out and took off his belt for his pants to help apply a second tourniquet to another area of the victim’s body. Shmaling thanked both for saving lives.

"We want to both honor you and commend you for your actions," Schmaling said.

Schmaling proudly awarded Hernandez and Dustman with certificates for their collective efforts.

"You jumped right in and helped," Schmaling said.

Hit and run crash in Mount Pleasant

Witnesses to the crash as well as surveillance video showed Degroot ran from the crash scene. The criminal complaint indicates he was “located in the weeds” not far away from the scene. The complaint says “he spontaneously admitted to (deputies) that he was the driver” of the SUV.

When investigators searched the SUV Degroot had been driving, they learned it was stolen out of Milwaukee County. Inside the SUV they found a red handbag “that contained a substance that later tested positive for the presence of THC.”

Records from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation show Degroot “has never had a driver’s license issued to him.”

Additionally — investigators said Degroot was arrested in November for violent felonies including firing shots from a vehicle. He was out on bond at the time of the crash at Festival Foods. In that November case, he’s charged with two counts of first degree recklessly endangering safety as party to a crime, one count of possession with intent to deliver THC, less than 200 grams, possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under the age of 18, discharging a firearm from a vehicle and carrying a concealed weapon.

Hit and run crash in Mount Pleasant

“I’m just sad that the system has failed once again. He should not have been out of jail. You destroyed lives,” Coopman-Roberts said. “Right now I want to put him out of my mind. and pray for my brother and his wife.”

FOX6 News learned the victims in this case just lost their only daughter a few months ago, and they were caring for their 3-year-old granddaughter after her death.

"He is very grateful to each and every one of you," Coopman-Roberts said. "Our family thanks everyone including the entire community for all their support and prayers. it's going to be a long recovery and their lives will be changed forever."

The couple is going to face a lot of challenges when they come home -- so the community stepped up and donated more than $6,000 at Festival Foods. A GoFundMe.com account has also been set up to raise money for their medical expenses. CLICK HERE if you’d like to make a donation.