Onalaska commission confirms suspension of fire chief in wake of drunken-driving arrest
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Onalaska commission confirms suspension of fire chief in wake of drunken-driving arrest

From the Year in review: Some of the biggest crime stories of 2019 in the La Crosse area series
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The Onalaska Police and Fire Commission voted Monday in favor of an agreement that gives Fire Chief William D. Hayes a five-day unpaid suspension.

Onalaska Fire Chief Billy D. Hayes


The agreement between Hayes and the city acknowledges Hayes’ conduct toward police who stopped him during an April 7 drunken-driving arrest. The drunk-driving and speeding charges are pending.

Hayes was pulled over for speeding and a preliminary breath test showed he had a blood-alcohol content of 0.13 percent, according to the incident report.

It is Hayes’ first OWI offense, according to the incident report, and police issued three separate citations: operating while intoxicated (driving under the influence), operating with a prohibited alcohol concentration (driving under the influence) and exceeding speed zones, according to the incident report.

“This is an agreement that the city and the chief agreed to and we feel that this is, frankly… a last-chance type situation,” said Mark Dahlke, president of the Police and Fire Commission, “(He) needs to toe the line and if he doesn’t, then there are real consequences for that.”

According to the incident report, Hayes told officers: “You just ruined my career.”

“What I don’t understand is that I’m the fire chief and you’re going to do me this way,” Hayes said while performing the field sobriety test, which he failed, according to the incident report.

“I would just like to commend the officer also for doing his job and acting professionally in a difficult situation,” Dahlke said.

“The officer was doing what he is required to do by the city of Onalaska,” said Jim Binash, a member of the commission, “I don’t believe there’s any collusion with this incidence.”

Binash also said while he knows Hayes regrets his actions, Hayes is held to a higher standard because he’s the Onalaska fire chief.

“The main thing is making sure that we’re looking out for the safety of the people and the citizens of the city of Onalaska,” Dahlke said, as well as “making sure we maintain the integrity of the department (and) that Chief Hayes is treated in a fair manner.”

Hayes declined interviews with reporters.

The city had no comment in regards to Onalaska Assistant Chief of Police Jeffery Cavender’s retirement April 15.

The agreement with the city focuses on the traffic stop, stating “Chief Hayes made certain comments regarding his position and title with the city of Onalaska, and also referenced socializing with the assistant police chief,” Cavender, who subsequently was placed on administrative leave and retired two days later.

In addition to the five-day unpaid suspension, the agreement states that any future rule or policy violation could result in termination by the Police and Fire Commission, and that “this traffic stop incident shall be an aggravating factor … for which termination would be appropriate.”

The city agrees to review the so-called “last-chance agreement” in nine months, and Hayes waives any right to file a grievance in the case, according to the document.

Hayes returned to work April 19 — the day after he signed the agreement.

He will appear in traffic court Thursday, May 2.


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