Todd Kendhammer does not want jurors who will decide whether he killed his wife to visit the site where he said a freak car accident took her life in September 2016.
La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke argues that taking jurors to the scene to observe the road and distance Kendhammer drove after he said an airborne pipe pierced his windshield and struck his wife will help the panel understand the evidence.
“While there be a concern that the time of day, weather and surrounding vegetation may not be the same as the day in question; the roads, distances and directions involved have not changed,” he wrote in a motion to the court.
Kendhammer’s attorneys argue visiting the location in winter is misleading and that prosecutors can rely instead on hundreds of scene photographs, maps, and squad, drone and re-enactment videos.
“The additional time that such a view would require would not provide any greater benefit to the jury’s ability to understand the evidence that is presented at trial,” attorneys Stephen Hurley and Jonas Bednarek wrote to the court. “That the state has charged this accident as a crime does not affect the ability of courts and jurors to determine the facts without traveling to the scene at a different time of year.”
La Crosse County Circuit Judge Todd Bjerke will rule on the motion during a hearing next month before Kendhammer’s trial Dec. 4-15 for first-degree intentional homicide.
Kendhammer, 47, told authorities he was driving the couple’s Toyota Camry north on a straight and flat stretch of Hwy. M south of Bergum Coulee Road about 8 a.m. Sept. 16 when a 53-inch pipe fell from an oncoming flatbed truck and impaled the passenger side of the windshield, striking his 46-year-old wife, according to the criminal complaint.
He continued to drive about 100 yards north while trying to remove the 10-pound galvanized steel pipe from his wife, then turned east onto Bergum Coulee Road and drove another 100 yards before the car rolled backward into a grassy embankment, according to court records.
Kendhammer removed the pipe from the windshield and his wife from the passenger seat and tried CPR for three to five minutes before calling 911 at 8:06 a.m., according to the complaint. Barbara died the next day at a hospital.
A passerby said he spotted the Camry half in the ditch on Bergum Coulee Road with its passenger door open and its windshield intact, the complaint stated. He did not see the couple as he drove slowly past the car.
A defense witness will examine whether the weather conditions on the day of the incident would have prevented the passerby from seeing the damaged windshield by examining the angle of the sun and vegetation, according to the defense motion.
The weather was overcast at 8 a.m. Sept. 16, said Todd Shea, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Office in La Crosse.
“It was definitely a rainy day,” he said.
A medical examiner during autopsy found extensive blunt impact injuries to the front and back of Barbara’s head and neck that did not match her husband’s description of an airborne pipe piercing the windshield and striking her, according to court testimony.
A State Crime Laboratory analyst determined the pipe hit the passenger side of the windshield at least once before it broke through. Bloodstains patterns indicate Barbara was inside the car when “force” that was “consistent with a beating” was applied, according to the crime lab, and the spread of glass particles indicate the windshield was smashed when she was not in the car.
There was no blood on the pipe.
Kendhammer told investigators the couple was en route to Holmen to pick up a truck to replace its windshield when his wife was injured in the accident, although she was scheduled to work at 8 a.m. at West Salem Middle School. The vehicle’s owner said he did not arrange the repair, according to the complaint.