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Man pleads not guilty in fatal crash

No drugs, no alcohol in Dees' system

Jeremy Dees
January 26, 2011 | 09:10 AM
Elkhorn — Bizarre.

That is how Walworth County District Attorney Phil Koss described Jeremy C. Dees' behavior in the days leading up to a fatal two-car accident in Como more than two months ago.

On Friday, Dees appeared in Walworth County Court in an orange jail jumpsuit with his left arm in a sling. In front of Judge John Race, Dees pleaded not guilty to homicide by negligent use of a vehicle and two misdemeanors charges for reckless driving causing bodily harm.

A jury trial has been set for March 7 to 10. All three charges will be tried at the same time. There will be a status hearing on the case Feb. 11 at 3 p.m. in front of Race, who will preside over the trial.

The charges against Dees are the result of a Nov. 16 crash which killed 9-year-old Eastview Elementary School student Carter Dorwin and injured his mother, Nicole, and brother, Bradley. According to the criminal complaint, Dees was leaving the city of Lake Geneva on Highway H at a high rate of speed and was in the wrong lane of traffic at the time of the crash.

Apparently that occurred minutes after Dees had been at a Lake Geneva church where he was involved in an argument, removed some of his clothing and threw his cell phone. That was part of the "odd" behavior Koss said had occurred for days leading up to the accident.

The homicide count is a felony and, if convicted, Dees may be fined not more than $25,000 or imprisoned not more than 10 years. The misdemeanor charges each carry between a $300 and $2,000 fine and between 30 days and a year in prison.

The plea was just part of the court appearance Jan. 21. Several members of the Dorwin family and their supporters along with Dees's mother and sister attended the hearing.

Most of the 35 minutes spent in front of Race focused on reducing Dees' bond. Previously set at $250,000, Dees' attorney James Duquette called that amount "excessive."

He asked for the bond to be reduced to no more than 10 percent of $25,000 or a straight signature. Duquette said neither Dees nor his family have the financial ability to post bond any higher than that. He said the plan was for Dees to leave jail and return to Oostburg, where his family resides. Duquette said when the initial bond was set, the belief was that alcohol or drugs contributed to the crash.

He said that is not the case as neither were found in his blood.

Duquette also said Dees can no longer work. He lost his residence in Elkhorn and still is suffering the after effects of the crash, including vision problems and nerve damage in his left arm. Duquette said Dees could receive more medical treatment and rehabilitation away from jail. Duquette also said Dees was not a "flight risk."

Koss said Dees' previous bail jumping is a "grave concern." He said while there wasn't any alcohol or drugs detected in his blood, there is a solid case for negligent homicide. He said Dees was traveling in excess of the speed limit on the wrong side of traffic.

"The stakes are very high in this," Koss said.

But, Koss agreed the $250,000 could be reduced, to $75,000 or $50,000, but urged Race to look at Dees' previous issues.

"It should be amended, but let's make sure it's still significant," Koss said. "Our job is to protect the public."

He said Dees did not have the capability to pay the bond amounts he suggested.

Race set a $50,000 cash bond and reminded those in court Dees is presumed innocent. As of Monday, Dees remained in Walworth County Jail.

According to the complaint, Dees was on his way back to his home in Elkhorn after going to church in Lake Geneva that morning. It was about 7 a.m. and the Dorwins were on their way to school in Lake Geneva.

Dees' green Jeep was on Highway H leaving the city of Lake Geneva limits at an estimated 75 to 80 mph, according to a witness in the complaint. The witness also stated Dees' vehicle left the roadway onto the shoulder and then continued on Highway H.

Nicole Dorwin said Dees' vehicle was completely driving in her lane and was swerving. She said the oncoming vehicle was traveling west toward her and crossed the center line before swerving back. She said it crossed again and kept heading toward her.

At that time, Dorwin said she tried to move out of the way by pulling her vehicle off the roadway as far as she could and stopping. But, Dees struck the rear of Dorwin's vehicle, where Carter was sitting. The collision plunged the vehicles into the marsh off Highway H near Park Street.

Upon arrival at the accident, the police met with Nicole, who was with Bradley. According to the criminal complaint, she told police "her other son was in the vehicle still and that he was dead."

Dees told police after he went to the church, he was returning to Elkhorn, but he did not remember anything until he awoke in the hospital.

Following the accident, police initially stated alcohol may have been a factor. However, a blood test after the crash showed there was no alcohol in Dees. Police say at the scene, Dees "blew a .03 percent" on the breath test and "he had crossed over the center line at a high rate of speed," which typically are "good indicators" that alcohol may have been a factor.

He has three prior drunken driving convictions, the last one being May 5, 2008. In 2009, he was convicted of a disorderly conduct charge in Marathon County. He also has been found guilty of using a firearm while intoxicated and for bail jumping.

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Walworth County