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Mercy doctor reportedly charged in fatal crash in New Zealand

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Frank Schultz
Thursday, March 16, 2017

JANESVILLE—A heart surgeon who works for Mercyhealth in Janesville has been charged in a double-fatality accident in New Zealand, according to press reports from that country.

Dr. Kenneth Wolnak is on leave from the health care system, according to a statement from Mercyhealth Medical Director Dr. Mark Goelzer.

“Dr. Wolnak has worked at Mercyhealth for 15 years and has been an excellent physician who is very well-liked by his patients, peers and the community,” Goelzer said in a prepared statement Thursday. “During this difficult time, our thoughts and prayers go out to the Wolnak family and the others involved.”

Wolnak, 63, and a 60-year-old woman traveling with him were among four injured in the accident on the Coastal Highway near Nelson, New Zealand, on Feb. 28, according to press reports.

Kevin Gerard Whitburn, 69, of Christchurch and Stephen Anthony Jayes, 41, a father of two from Nelson, died at the scene, according to reports.

Wolnak was driving a rental car at the time of the accident. The other vehicles were a four-wheel-drive vehicle, a truck and a caravan, according to reports. A caravan is a recreational vehicle with living quarters.

Police allege Wolnak made a U-turn in front of a truck carrying scaffolding.

Wolnak was charged last week with two counts of careless driving causing death and four counts of careless driving causing injury, and he had surrendered his passport, according to press reports.

“For reasons I don't need to go into, he is going to be in New Zealand for some time,” Wolnak's attorney was quoted as saying.

Wolnak was released from the hospital March 2.

The woman with Wolnak and two men in the truck, ages 19 and 28, were reported in stable condition March 1.

Wolnak was scheduled to appear in Nelson District Court on Tuesday.



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