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Drunken driver crashes into Elkhorn mom

One day after release drunken driver causes crash

Joy Populorum, and her son, Eric, stand by her totaled car that sits in the family driveway.


February 08, 2012 | 08:32 AM
ELKHORN — Joy Populorum affectionately calls her 2002 Dodge Intrepid her "gold" because it was the reward she bought herself a few years ago for working three jobs and saving money.

Now all she can do is stare at the crushed car sitting in her driveway and replay in her head the accident that changed her life.

"All I hear is glass breaking, I can't sleep," she said. "It has taken a toll on me. It's hard."

Populorum is trying to pick up the pieces after a multiple-time drunken driver crashed into her one day after he was released from the Walworth County Jail.

Larry Ross, a felon who is on extended supervision, was arrested Jan. 23 for what is allegedly his fifth drunken driving offense. After the Jan. 25 crash with Populorum, Ross was arrested for sixth-offense drunken driving.

Ross is on probation and probably wouldn't have been released from jail after his Jan. 23 arrest if his probation agent had known about it, but a communication failure within law enforcement allowed the repeat offender to post bond and walk out of jail.

Meanwhile Populorum, a married mother with a 2-year-old son, said she began physical therapy on Monday for two discs that shifted in her back. She will have to attend therapy every other day until the first of March.

As a result of the crash, she is in physical pain, which is tough for her son, Eric, to see. She can't always pick him up, which is hard for a 2-year-old to understand.

"I tell him, 'Mommy has a bad back,' and he responds 'mommy I can fix it,'" Populorum said.

After Ross was arrested Jan. 23, Judge John Race set his bail at $1,500 cash, which someone posted for Ross within 24 hours.

On Wednesday, Jan. 25, police believe Ross fled the scene after he crashed into Populorum's vehicle. According to the accident report, Ross was driving on North Washington Street where he blew a stop sign and hit Populorum, who was driving on East Court Street. The impact of the crash forced Populorum's vehicle into a light pole. She had to crawl out the vehicle's broken window to escape.

Ross, 50, has a long criminal history, which dates back to 1980. He has felony convictions for fourth-offense drunken driving, fleeing and other convictions from the early 1990s and 1980s.

Big question

One of the biggest questions in this case is why Ross, who was released from the Kenosha Correctional Center on Oct. 18 and is on extended supervision until Aug. 26, 2016, was released so quickly after a felony arrest.

Department of Corrections spokesman Tim Le Monds said after an arrest probation agents are typically notified and have an opportunity to hold the offenders in jail.

Had the probation agent been notified of Ross' arrest, a hold would have been placed on him, Le Monds said.

"We were never notified," Le Monds said of Ross' Jan. 23 arrest. "The question becomes why weren't we notified."

Le Monds said it is the arresting agency's responsibility to notify the Department of Corrections when they have contact with a person who is on probation.

On Jan. 23, the city of Delavan Police Department arrested Ross on South Wright at Ann streets at 11:50 p.m. The officer reported Ross smelled of alcohol, according to the criminal complaint.

City of Delavan Police Chief Tim O'Neill said when his officer arrested Ross, he didn't appear in the computer system as being on probation, which is why his department didn't report him to his agent.

"There is no indication on the original paperwork that says he was on probation," O'Neill said.

He said the arresting officer printed off a 20-page report with Ross' driving record and criminal background. After being contacted by the Regional News, O'Neill said he twice reviewed the report and had a captain at the department look over it. Neither one of them found anything indicating Ross was on probation.

When the Regional News contacted Le Monds Monday to find out why Ross wasn't listed as on probation, he didn't immediately have an answer and said he would need time to look into it. He didn't call back before deadline.

Populorum questioned why a repeat drunken driver would be released on a bond she considers relatively low.

Assistant District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld, who is prosecuting the case against Ross, said a standard bond for fifth-offense drunken drivers doesn't exist.

"There are some that receive signature bonds and some receive higher cash bonds," he said.

Wiedenfeld, who makes recommendations on bonds, said ultimately the decision is left up to judges. He also said judges can't set a high bond as a form of punishing a defendant.

"They set the amount of cash necessary to ensure they show up to court," he said. "I do my best to give the court all information I have, so they are the best informed when they make that decision."

People on probation aren't typically released from jail without their agents being notified.

"Generally, if someone is on some type of supervision at the time of an offense, law enforcement is aware of it, the agent is aware of it and my office is aware of it," Wiedenfeld said. "And in this case, we just didn't have that information."

So far, Ross has been charged with fifth- and sixth-offense drunken driving. He is scheduled for a Feb. 10 preliminary hearing. Wiedenfeld said he planned to file more charges against Ross, but declined to say what those charges will be.

Affects on victim

Populorum isn't looking for sympathy, but she wants to advocate for stronger drunken driving laws for multiple-time offenders.

As a result of the crash, the Populorums are down to one car, and with both parents working, transportation is a challenge. Populorum works at the Road Ranger gas station in East Troy. She also works part-time cleaning at the Royal Group, in Elkhorn, which is where her husband is employed.

Both her and her husband's employers are understanding of the situation, which has caused her to be late to work on a few occasions.

After saving money by working three different jobs, Populorum was able to buy her 2002 Dodge Intrepid XST back in 2008.

With the expenses of raising a child, replacing that car won't be possible.

She said she can't afford car payments and will use her tax refund to buy a new car. She originally planned to use that money to go on a vacation, a luxury she hasn't experienced.

"Now I have to use a $1,000 to find a reliable and safe car for me and my child," she said.

Populorum had insurance on her car, but only liability and uninsured motorist, which won't help get the vehicle replaced. The car is totaled and is sitting in the family driveway covered with tarp.

Populorum and her son also are spending more time at home, and not going to places they usually visit.

"He took my first gold away," she said about Ross. "My second gold is to make stronger drunken driving laws."


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