A Lodi man is charged with reckless homicide after a man fell out of the bed of a pickup truck during a bachelor party in the town of Armenia in 2019.
Tony Zeman, 29, of Lodi, is charged with felony second-degree reckless homicide. If convicted he faces up to 25 years in prison or a fine of up to $100,000, or both.
According to the criminal complaint:
On Aug. 24, 2019 Deputy Brian Bader was dispatched to Highway G and 19th Avenue in the town of Armenia for a male bleeding from his head. Upon arrival Bader determined the victim was “clearly deceased.”
Bader made contact with four witnesses who were riding in a truck with the victim and Tony Zeman, the driver of the truck. The witnesses stated they were in Armenia for a bachelor party and had left a tavern to go to a gentleman’s club. The victim was in the bed of the truck while they were driving.
According to the witnesses, they were driving on the road when they heard a bump. The truck stopped and the occupants got out, saw blood, and Zeman then got in the truck and drove away leaving the four witnesses and the victim behind.
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Bader was later informed by dispatch that Zeman had crashed on Highway G near 4th Street, and was going to be med flown to the hospital. Nekoosa Ambulance’s report indicated Zeman admitted to drinking alcohol and had an odor of alcohol coming from his breath.
During initial interviews with each of the witnesses, the witnesses stated they were at a tavern for about 30 minutes where they had one drink then left to go to a gentleman’s club. Zeman was driving about 45 mph with the four witnesses in the cab and the victim in the bed of the truck when they heard a thud. The witnesses said there were no road hazards and Zeman appeared in “good shape to drive.”
Upon stopping the truck they ran back about 30 seconds to the area where the noise was heard and saw blood. Zeman was “freaking out,” and a witness called 911. Zeman ran back to the truck and then drove off in the direction they were traveling. The witnesses stated they believed Zeman was going to go for help, but Zeman did not return.
According to the initial statements from the witnesses, Zeman was not driving recklessly and the victim was not engaged in any behavior like “surfing” that would cause the victim to fall out. The witnesses denied that the group coordinated their story relating to the crash.
On Oct. 15, 2019 Detective Ben Goehring met with the family of the victim. The victim’s father stated he had spoken with the witnesses to ensure the “recollection of events surrounding the death of his son was accurate to the information he received from the witnesses.” The victim’s father provided notes from each of the meetings with the witnesses.
According to the notes, multiple witnesses admitted to the victim’s family that Zeman had exhibited reckless driving behavior before the victim’s death. One witness said Zeman drove through stop signs, drove recklessly and did a “brake check/swerved.” Another witness said Zeman swerved the vehicle to try to make the victim drop his phone. A third witness said Zeman was driving “good,” and the fourth witness said Zeman did a “brake check and swerved” before or during a bend in the road “out of the blue,” after which they heard a sound.
Additional interviews were conducted with the witnesses on Dec. 14, 2019 and Jan. 16, 2020.
During the Dec. 14 interview one of the witnesses admitted to omitting information. One witness said Zeman jerked the steering wheel and recalled Zeman stating “do you think I can make (the victim) drop his phone?” just prior to jerking the steering wheel, which he called a “correction.” The witness estimated 30 seconds elapsed between the sudden movements and hearing the noise associated with the victim falling out of the truck bed. The witness said he omitted the information to protect Zeman. The witness further stated Zeman was driving recklessly earlier in the night and had ran a stop sign.
During the Jan. 16 interview a witness said Zeman made a “correction” of the steering wheel in an aggressive and abrupt manner. Immediately after the maneuver with the steering wheel the witness heard the noise of the victim being ejected from the truck. The witness denied talking to any of the other involved parties except the witness from the Dec. 14 interview.
Depositions taken during a civil case against Zeman where all individuals testified under oath indicated Zeman was driving recklessly.
A witness stated during a deposition held Sept. 30, 2020 that Zeman was “screwing around” and attempted to make the victim drop his phone by swerving.
A second witness during a deposition Sept. 30, 2020 testified Zeman had been drinking multiple beers.
In a deposition held Jan. 22, 2021 a witness said Zeman swerved the vehicle and the maneuver “shocked” the witness as it was not appropriate for driving.
During a deposition held Feb. 12, 2021 a witness said someone made a comment about the victim being in the bed of the truck, after which Zeman swerved and called “elephants.” The witness said he believed Zeman was “trying to mess” with the passenger.
Zeman signed a $50,000 signature bond on Sept. 16, 2021. He is scheduled for a plea hearing Jan. 18, 2022 at the Juneau County Justice Center.
Reach Christopher Jardine on Twitter @ChrisJJardine or contact him at 608-432-6591.