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Ashland County DA won’t bring charges in fatal car crash involving former state Sen. Janet Bewley

County's top prosecutor says there's not enough evidence to bring charges

Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, D-Mason
State Sen. Janet Bewley speaks at a Capitol press conference. Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Watch

Prosecutors will not bring criminal charges against former Democratic Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley for a fatal car crash last summer that killed a Pennsylvania woman and her 5-year-old daughter.

Bewley was driving a car that collided with the Pennsylvania woman’s vehicle on U.S. Highway 2 just outside of Ashland on July 22. In a statement, Ashland County District Attorney David Meany concluded there’s not enough evidence to charge Bewley with a crime.

“Based on all the evidence submitted by law enforcement agencies regarding the accident, I have concluded that there is not a sufficient basis to believe that the state could meet its burden of establishing all the elements of a violation of a Wisconsin criminal statute beyond a reasonable doubt against a potential defendant,” Meany said.

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Meany added that law enforcement agencies haven’t referred any charges to his office.

An investigation by the Wisconsin State Patrol found that 27-year-old Alyssa Ortman was driving 100 miles an hour less than a second before the crash. A toxicology report also detected the psychoactive compound Delta 9 THC in Ortman’s blood. The substance is often marketed as “weed lite.”

Investigators said Bewley pulled out onto U.S. Highway 2 near Ashland, colliding with Ortman in the inner traffic lane heading westbound. The vehicle Ortman was driving spun into another lane, striking an SUV driven by Jodi Munson.

The former Senator was speaking on a hands-free phone at the time of the crash, but Meany said there’s no evidence she was distracted while driving. At the time of the incident, Bewley was heading to a medical checkup after undergoing eye surgery the day before the crash.

“The medical evidence shows that there were no restrictions placed on Bewley’s activities after that operation, and there is no evidence that Bewley’s eyesight was impaired at the time of the accident,” Meany said.

Bewley submitted a blood sample for analysis after the crash, and lab screenings show she wasn’t under the influence of alcohol or other impairing substances.

As part of his review, Meany considered evidence from investigators and Bewley’s recollection of where the collision occurred. He determined the point of collision didn’t change the significance of Ortman’s excessive speed.

The Ashland County DA said his decision not to file criminal charges doesn’t address whether anyone involved is liable in any civil proceedings. Brandon Fink, the father of the 5-year-old girl, filed a civil lawsuit against Bewley, Munson, and several insurance companies. The case is still ongoing.

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