MADISON, Wis. (AP) – An Iraq veteran pleaded no contest this week to charges that he drove drunk down a Wisconsin interstate and slammed into a disabled vehicle, killing three University of Minnesota students.
Bradley Erickson, 32, entered the plea Thursday to three counts of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and one charge of operating while intoxicated causing injury.
The Associated Press left a message with Erickson’s attorney seeking comment Friday.
The crash occurred Oct. 7 in the town of Burke, after the victims’ car had pulled over with a flat tire.
One passenger, Carlos Rios, told investigators a rear tire blew out and the group pulled completely into the emergency lane near the median of Interstate 39/90/94. Rios said he saw a vehicle “coming very fast” toward them, and he shouted to alert his friends before jumping over the median barrier.
The vehicle slammed into the disabled car, killing Marcus Johnson, 20, of Milwaukee; Elysia Rapp, 20, of Racine; and Wilfredo Ugarte, 23, of Puerto Rico. Johnson and Ugarte were members of the University of Minnesota’s cheerleading squad.
Erickson told an investigator he didn’t see the victims’ car because he had gone around a semitrailer, according to the criminal complaint.
Prosecutors said Erickson registered a 0.158 percent on a Breathalyzer shortly after the crash. That’s about twice the legal limit for drivers in Wisconsin.
Erickson graduated from Verona High School in 1998 and served in Iraq. Friends told investigators that Erickson was being treated for a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder and that he sometimes used alcohol to cope.
Shortly after he returned from Iraq, Erickson received a misdemeanor citation for a first-offense OWI in February 2005.
After the crash that claimed the lives of his brother-in-law and two friends, Rios recorded a message as part of a new safety campaign by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation campaign.
“It’s just been a very hard year,” Rios said in a video released Thursday. “Everything, living life after that is very traumatic, not only for me but also for the gentleman who caused the accident. So even if you think, `Oh, just a couple beers aren’t going to do too much’ — no, because buzzed driving is drunk driving and it does happen to people.”
A WISC-TV report said Erickson will be sentenced in Oct. 28. He faces a maximum penalty of 78 years in prison and a $310,000 fine.
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