Man who launched minivan into house pleads to felony charge

DA recommends prison for driver who said he suffered seizure, had marijuana in his system at time of June crash

A MINIVAN that went airborne after hitting a retaining wall slammed into a Newburg house and became lodged, wheels first, in a bedroom wall in June. One of the owners of the house was in bed at the time, and although covered with debris, was not injured. Photo courtesy of the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office
Ozaukee Press staff

A 36-year-old Waubeka man who  in June launched his minivan into a Newburg house where it became lodged, wheels first, in a wall 15 feet off the ground pleaded no contest to a felony charge in Ozaukee County Circuit Court last week.

Alva P. Richards was found guilty of second-degree recklessly endangering safety and second-offense operating a vehicle with a restricted controlled substance, a misdemeanor he also pleaded no contest to. A blood test showed that Richards, who told authorities he believed he suffered a seizure just before the accident, had marijuana in his system at the time of the crash, according to the criminal complaint.

During a March 15 plea hearing, District Attorney Adam Gerol recommended that Richards be sentenced to 1-1/2 years in prison followed by 2-1/2 years of extended supervision. 

Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Sandy Williams ordered a presentence investigation and scheduled sentencing for April 25.

Richards was driving to work on Hawthorne Drive in Newburg when at about 3:15 a.m. Thursday, June 28, his 2009 Mazda minivan sped off the road, went through a yard and hit a 3 to 4-foot-tall fieldstone retaining wall between two properties.

Instead of hitting the wall and stopping, the minivan grazed a tree and went over the wall, launching into the house of Ken and Annette Bienlein. The vehicle destroyed the wall of the bedroom where Mr. Bienlein was sleeping, snapped trusses and poked a hole in the roof of the house.

Covered in motor oil and other auto fluids, Mr. Bienlein said it took him a few seconds after being jolted awake to figure out what had happened.

“I realized I was covered in debris,” he said shortly after the accident. “Then I noticed there was a car right there in our bedroom. Part of the car landed on the bed next to me, and there was glass and other debris everywhere.”

Fortunately, Mr. Bienlein said, his wife had gotten up to go to the bathroom and was not in the room at the time of the crash. “If both of us had been in bed, one of us would be dead,” he said. “The amount of debris everywhere was incredible.”

Lanser Garage and Towing of Belgium was able to lift the minivan out of the house.

“I’ve been doing this for 50 years and I’ve seen a lot of cars in buildings, but never one with all four tires literally stuck into a house,” Randy Ingelse, owner of the company, said.

Authorities arrived at the scene to find Richards behind the wheel of the minivan stuck in the house. He appeared to be unconscious at first, but then lifted his head and began moving around the vehicle, according to an Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office report.

Eventually Richards climbed out a window of the minivan and fell about 15 feet to the ground.

Authorities described Richards as being in “an altered state of mind,” but later, when he became more lucid, he told deputies that he suffers from a seizure disorder and self-medicates by taking cannabidiol, or CBD, gummies he orders from Florida, which he said do not contain the active ingredient in marijuana, according to the report.

He also told authorities that he uses marijuana daily and had last smoked it at 6 p.m. the night before the accident, the report states.

Authorities found 0.6 grams of marijuana and a grinder in the minivan, according to the criminal complaint.

Richards was charged with second-offense marijuana possession, but that charge was dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

The day after the accident, Richards went to the Bienleins’ home with his children.

“He was very apologetic,” Mrs. Bienlein said. “He was very scared he had hurt someone.

“I accepted his apology and told him to lead a good life.”

In addition to the prison sentence, Gerol recommended that Richards be fined $450 and that his driver’s license be revoked for 16 months.

As conditions of Richards’ extended supervision, Gerol recommended he be ordered to maintain absolute sobriety and be allowed to operate a motor vehicle only if he is compliant with his medication regimen.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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