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Child is sixth to die after SUV slammed into parade in Wisconsin

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 11/23/2021 Kim Bellware, Amy Cheng, Marisa Iati, Reis Thebault, Mark Berman

WAUKESHA, Wis. — The man accused of careening his vehicle into a holiday parade in Wisconsin appeared in court for the first time Tuesday, facing several counts of intentional homicide as the toll grew to six — the latest fatality a child who died of injuries sustained at the event.

Prosecutors said Darrell E. Brooks Jr., a Milwaukee resident, committed “an intentional act to strike and hurt as many people as possible” when he drove his maroon SUV into the holiday celebration in Waukesha on Sunday, plowing through barricades and past police officers, accelerating into a crowd that included young children, parents and elderly performers.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Brooks appeared in a Waukesha County courtroom a mile from the site of the parade carnage to hear the five homicide charges against him. Prosecutors informed the court of the sixth fatality and said they intend to file an additional homicide charge. If convicted, Brooks could spend the rest of his life in prison.


Brooks’s bail was set at $5 million, an amount the court commissioner, Kevin Costello, said was “extraordinarily high, but it’s an extraordinary case.”

“There are not words to describe the risk that this defendant presents to our community,” Waukesha County District Attorney Susan L. Opper said at the hearing.

Brooks’s first court appearance took place amid mounting scrutiny of his criminal history — he faced two open cases before Sunday, including one in which he was accused of running over the mother of his child while driving the same vehicle that police say was used on Sunday.

He was released from custody in that case five days before the parade after posting $1,000 cash bail, which the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office now says was “inappropriately low.” Critics say Brooks should not have been freed last week.

Police say Brooks was fleeing a crime scene on Sunday, but questions remain about how the SUV ended up plowing into the parade, and whether authorities could have done more to de-escalate the situation.

Darrell E. Brooks Jr. appears for a court hearing in Waukesha County, Wis. © Mark Hoffman/AP Darrell E. Brooks Jr. appears for a court hearing in Waukesha County, Wis.

The scores of people struck by the vehicle Sunday included Jackson Sparks, 8, who had an infectious smile and loved baseball, according to his Sunday school teacher. The boy died Tuesday, according to friends and family.

Tara Bollmann knew Jackson his whole life. She became his Sunday school teacher a few years ago at Lifepoint Church, where the Sparks family was heavily involved. Sheri Sparks, Jackson’s mother, decorates for the Sunday school team, and Aaron Sparks, his father, is a member of the church’s media team.

The extended family they built outside their home and in their house of worship moved members of the church to pray over a blanket to be placed on Jackson for healing.

“We took it to Jackson last night in hopes a miracle would take place,” Bollmann told The Washington Post. His parents were at his side when he died, according to Bollmann.

“He was a fantastic kid,” she said.

Jackson’s 12-year-old brother, Tucker, has been in intensive care but is expected to be released from the hospital soon, according to a statement from his family.

Thirteen young patients are still receiving care at Children’s Wisconsin, the hospital said Tuesday night, including six who were in critical condition.

Meanwhile, a criminal complaint filed Tuesday said that Brooks repeatedly ignored opportunities to leave the parade route, which was full of participants and lined with spectators.

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The complaint cites Waukesha police officers who lay out a grim narrative of the scene, describing their attempts to intercept the vehicle, only to watch it crash into people at the holiday celebration.

One detective recounted seeing people leaping out of the way of the Ford Escape on White Rock Avenue, which was packed with parade participants. At White Rock and East Main Street, the officer stood in front of the vehicle, hit the hood and yelled “Stop!” multiple times, the complaint said.

But the driver carried on, the complaint said, moving slowly, even when the detective banged on the driver’s side door and yelled “Stop!” again. The detective saw Brooks in the driver’s seat as the vehicle moved into the parade route, and he chased the SUV but it accelerated, the complaint said.

The detective radioed that the vehicle was in the parade route, the complaint continued, but seconds later, he heard on the radio “that the vehicle was striking people” and not stopping. The detective later saw three people in the road; all of them had been killed, the complaint said.

Another officer heard the radio chatter and tried to redirect the Ford, the complaint said. The vehicle turned toward the officer and passed him, even as he yelled for it to stop, the complaint continued.

The officer, the complaint said, saw “the driver looking straight ahead, directly at him, and it appeared he had no emotion on his face,” the complaint said. The vehicle had been sticking at that point to a part of the road with an open lane separating spectators from those in the parade, the complaint said.

At one point, the vehicle passed through an intersection that the officer thought would have been a good option for a lost driver to get out of the parade route, the complaint alleged. But then, the complaint continued, the horn sounded and the vehicle appeared to pick up speed.

That officer saw the SUV’s brake lights when it approached another intersection, but the vehicle “appeared to rapidly accelerate,” with squealing tires audible, the complaint said. The officer said the attempt to smash into people was clear.

The vehicle, the officer said, “appeared to be intentionally moving side to side, striking multiple people, and bodies and objects were flying from the area of the vehicle,” the complaint said.

The officer kept up the chase, and another officer reported shooting at the SUV three times, hitting it three times, the complaint said. Witnesses told police that the vehicle appeared to be zigzagging to avoid vehicles, not people, and may have been aiming for people, the complaint said.

At the courthouse on Tuesday, more than half a dozen family members of victims attended Brooks’s hearing, some of them carrying a large photo of their loved one in a hospital bed.

Inside the courtroom, news media filled most of the rows in the gallery, while victims’ family members filed onto one bench.

Brooks was led into the courtroom wearing a green jail-issue vest and a mask. As the judge read the counts against him, Brooks lowered his head, nearly doubled over, and sobbed.

Celeste Ortmeier, a Waukesha County resident, was not related to a victim, but she attended the hearing to show support for her close-knit community. She arrived two hours early to get a seat and clutched a rosary as the judge read through the bail conditions, gasping at times as Brooks’s criminal history was detailed, and throwing her hands up in frustration as prosecutors recounted the times Brooks was released or broke bail terms.

What we know about the suspect accused of killing 5 in Wisconsin parade

“It’s not six degrees of separation, it’s more like two degrees,” she said, noting that most in Waukesha probably know victims or witnesses who attended the parade.

Brooks’s next court date is set for Jan. 14.

“You better believe I’m back here,” Ortmeier said.

In downtown Waukesha, many businesses lining Main Street opened their doors Tuesday, even as shop owners were haunted by the sights and sounds of the crash. Several of them had pulled people into the safety of their stores.

Some residents said they’re having trouble sleeping, replaying flashes of their close calls. Vivid images linger: youngsters’ clothes, the color of an abandoned stroller, the looks on the faces of parents searching for their children.

And reminders were everywhere. Clusters of candles and bouquets of flowers. Forensics markings from the police investigation spray-painted along the road.

Outside the shops, dried blood was still visible on the pavement.

María Luisa Paúl in Lakeville, Minn., Griff Witte and Lateshia Beachum in Washington and Rachel Pannett in Sydney contributed to this report.

More coverage:

Beloved ‘dancing grannies’ among those killed after driver plows through Wisconsin Christmas parade

The scene after a driver plows through a holiday parade in Wisconsin

SUV crash into Wisconsin Christmas parade is latest among deadly car-ramming incidents


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