KENOSHA COUNTY -- Timothy Vandervere, the man accused in the crash that killed three prominent residents of Kenosha on Friday, April 5, made his initial appearance in Kenosha County court on Tuesday, April 9. Cash bond was set at $2 million.
Vandervere, 40, is accused of driving a white pickup truck that slammed into an SUV that included four members of the Rizzo family. The collision between the truck and the SUV caused the Rizzo's vehicle to end up in a ditch along Highway 50. Those killed in the wreck included 67-year-old Dr. Michael Rizzo, 74-year-old Mary Rizzo, and 76-year-old Dr. Vincent Rizzo. A fourth family member, Gerald Rizzo, who was driving the vehicle, was hurt.
The Rizzo family called Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Kenosha their church home.
"They were good about practicing their faith. They were constant. Every Saturday or Sunday they would be here," said Father Robert McDermott. "I was just very shocked -- a tragedy compounded three times."
They contributed more than 140 years to the medical community. Vincent Rizzo was more commonly known as Dr. Rizzo. He owned a dental practice and had several patients for more than 40 years. Mary Rizzo was remembered as a nurse and loving mother. Dr. Michael Rizzo worked at Aurora Medical Center.
"Somehow it was ingrained in them -- a life of public service," said Father McDermott. "Any of them could have been retired at this point. They loved what they were doing and they did it right until the very end."
Vandervere is charged with the following criminal counts in this case:
- First degree reckless homicide (three counts)
- Knowingly operate motor vehicle while revoked -- causing death of another (three counts)
- Reckless driving causing great bodily harm
- Knowingly operate motor vehicle while revoked -- causing great bodily harm
- Operate motor vehicle while revoked
- OWI, first offense
According to the criminal complaint, deputies responded just before 7 p.m. on April 5 to the intersection of Highway 50 and 216th Avenue, with 911 callers indicating there were two vehicles in the ditch, one that had rolled over. A black Jeep SUV was found on its roof -- with extensive damage. Three of the four occupants were not conscious and had labored breathing. The driver, Gerald Rizzo, said, "He had no idea what happened, and did not know how his vehicle ended up where it was."
The pickup truck was found just inside a barbed wire fence -- where several trees were found on the ground. The pickup truck was resting in a small creek-- wedged between large rocks on the driver's and passenger's side. The pickup suffered heavy front end damage. Vandervere was found unconscious in the pickup. He eventually began to regain consciousness and "was babbling incoherently." The complaint said a deputy noticed his eyes were glassy. Flight for Life arrived on the scene, and rescue personnel indicated "they could smell the odor of intoxicants coming from (Vandervere)," the complaint said.
The complaint said Michael Rizzo was not breathing and did not have a pulse when he was extracted from the vehicle. He, Vincent, Mary and Gerald Rizzo were taken to the hospital. Vincent Rizzo was pronounced dead after suffering "massive chest and abdominal trauma" and other blunt force injuries. Mary suffered "multiple rib fractures, head trauma, a fractured right hip and a deformity to her right wrist." She died after surgery to treat multiple blunt force injuries. Michael Rizzo died possibly of mechanical asphyxia and blunt force injuries.
Gerald Rizzo told investigators the family had been at a fish boil in New Munster at St. Alphonsus -- and Michael was in the front seat, while Vincent and Mary were in the back seat. Gerald Rizzo suffered rib fractures, bruised lungs, blood around the heart and heat injuries.
A witness said he was headed eastbound on Highway 50 near County Highway B when a white truck pulled in front of him. He said the truck was "swerving all over the road and going off the road -- almost hitting mailboxes and street signs." He said the erratic driving created a traffic backup. He said when he came over the hill on Highway 50, approaching 216th Avenue, "he noticed debris all along the roadway." He said he saw a vehicle upside down in the ditch, and he ran to check on the passengers until first responders arrived.
Another witness said a white pickup truck was headed east on Highway 50 at a high rate of speed, and it rear-ended a dark SUV traveling east at normal speed. He said the collision caused the SUV to roll into the ditch. He said the pickup truck continued at a high rate of speed, crossing 216th Avenue and entering the ditch near 216th Avenue and Highway 50. He said the truck hit the curb before entering the ditch and becoming airborne. The witness said he ran to the dark SUV to try to help in any way possible.
A third witness said he saw the white truck swerving between both eastbound lanes. The witness said the white truck was within inches of his bumper when the truck was behind him. The witness said, "He thought for sure he was going to hit him," and "He didn't think he ever had a car so close to him." He said when the truck passed him, it was inches from the side of his truck and the white truck almost hit him. He decided to call 911 because," He thought for sure this guy was going to hit someone." As he was on the phone with 911, he said the white truck took off at a high rate of speed, and after cresting the hill, the first thing he saw was the white truck in the air off to the side of the roadway. He said he pulled up and saw the dark Jeep down the embankment.
The complaint said Wisconsin State Patrol officials estimated the white truck was traveling at an estimated 100 miles per hour in the 55 miles per hour zone.
"My Vandervere was traveling at such a high rate of speed that he crushed the rear end of Mr. Rizzo's car, and hit him with such velocity and force that it propelled Mr. Rizzo's car forward, causing it to flip over. It does not appear, based on the evidence there, that he braked at all in an effort to avoid crashing into Mr. Rizzo's vehicle," said Angelina Gabriele, prosecutor.
Vandervere's brother told investigators he believed Timothy Vandervere had been drinking at their home, where they had been, "Drivin' four-wheelers and shootin' guns." He wasn't sure what Timothy Vandervere might have been drinking, but said he may have been drinking out of a bottle and he thought he may have been drinking Budweiser.
"It's a difficult day, as you could see in court. I think it will continue to be difficult for all the families involved moving forward. I would say this is probably a shocking and very difficult time for both of these families," said Matt Last, Vadervere's defense attorney.
The judge called the case tragic.
"I understand they're allegations, but they go beyond tragic. They're senseless and tragic. The charges speak for themselves. They are very serious," said the judge.
Vandervere's license was revoked indefinitely as of November 2015 after a previous alcohol-related conviction, the complaint said. He was convicted in September 2005 and his license was never reinstated. He was convicted of an implied consent violation in September 2015, but did have a valid Illinois license issued to him. He was also previously convicted of causing injury while under the influence of alcohol in August 2006.
Vandervere is scheduled to be back in court on Thursday, April 18. Meanwhile, a funeral was planned for the Vincent, Mary and Michael Rizzo Saturday, April 13.
The Kenosha County Sheriff's Department released the following 911 audio from the crash on Friday.