Drugs reportedly in driver’s system at time of fatal crash

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Brandon Ballweg is pictured at his initial Dane County Court appearance. (Credit John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal)

By Correne Martin

A Wisconsin state toxicology lab report indicated the presence of THC and cocaine in Brandon Ballweg’s system the evening he crashed his vehicle in Madison, resulting in the deaths of Kirk U’Ren and Jenni Steiner, according to a criminal complaint filed in Dane County Circuit Court. Wisconsin State Patrol speed estimates also determined Ballweg’s speed range at the time of the crash was between 87 and 92 mph.

Ballweg is scheduled for his preliminary hearing in Dane County court Thursday, April 20, at 9 a.m. He faces two counts of second degree reckless homicide, two counts of homicide by vehicle use with a detectable amount of a restricted controlled substance, three counts of second degree recklessly endangering safety, reckless driving causing injury, and operating with a detectable amount of a restricted controlled substance in the blood-causing injury.
According to the criminal complaint, a blood draw taken two and a half hours after the Feb. 12 crash, and prepared by the state lab, showed Ballweg had 6.9 mL of Delta-9-THC and 490 mL of Benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine, in his system.

According to a witness at the scene of the Feb. 12, four-vehicle crash, Ballweg’s Honda Civic came from the far left lane of the eastbound lanes of Highway 30 and drove into the median ditch. The witness, who was directly behind the U’Ren couple’s Ford Explorer, said the Civic then went airborne and landed on top of the Explorer, causing the vehicle to spin around multiple times and hit two additional vehicles before coming to a stop. The Civic then split in half and part of the vehicle went into the ditch.

According to the witness, Ballweg was not thrown from his vehicle but, after it stopped, he crawled out and went over by a guard rail.

The criminal complaint alleges that Madison Police Officer Jordan Ebner spoke with Ballweg on the scene and he stated he had not been drinking alcohol or consuming drugs the day of the crash, though he had attended a party the prior evening. Fellow MPD Officer Timothy Liston also spoke with Ballweg, who said he was “very tired when [he] began to drive.” When asked about recreational drug use, Ballweg said he uses marijuana regularly, but stated, “I don’t think I took any today, but I don’t remember.”

En route to the hospital, Ballweg told Officer Liston he remembered trying to race a Trailblazer and that “people try to race him often due to his car...having a lowered suspension system, common in many racing cars,” the criminal complaint said. When asked his speed at the time of the crash, Ballweg estimated he was driving about 75 mph, though the speed limit where the crash occurred was 45 mph. In the complaint, the defendant is reported as saying, after the Trailblazer passed him, he went to move his vehicle into the left lane and “lost control of the car.” He later told a different officer that he had no intention of racing the Trailblazer, but was trying to get around it and change lanes, when he jerked his wheel and lost control. He said the vehicle began to slide, so he hit his brakes and panicked. After his vehicle slid toward the ditch, he said he didn’t remember anything else, according to the complaint.
Also in the criminal complaint, Ballweg admitted to an officer that he knew he needed new tires on his vehicle and that the front two tires were bald.

The complaint further stated that when Ballweg was asked if he had consumed any drugs or alcohol, he said he smoked a “bowl” of marijuana that morning around 3 a.m. before going to sleep.

U’Ren was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, nearly two hours after the incident was reported to Dane County dispatch. On the morning of Feb. 25, his wife, Steiner, a Prairie du Chien native, died at the University of Wisconsin Hospitals. The criminal complaint said U’Ren died due to multiple blunt force traumas to the head, resulting from a motor vehicle crash. It also stated Steiner died as a result of multiple blunt force traumas to her head and torso as a result of a crash.

Furthermore, another woman injured in the crash, Gerelyn Foy, sustained a fractured left shoulder and fractured thoracic spine, according to the complaint.

Ballweg faces 132 years in prison and $489,000 in fines if convicted of these crimes.

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