Janesville family repeat victim of drunken driving

Comments Comments Print Print
Neil Johnson
Sunday, June 11, 2017

JANESVILLE—When a drunken driver hit his parked work truck and fled early Thursday morning, Janesville floor-cleaning contractor Brian Davis was upset, although he might not have been very surprised.

In a world of drunken driving and repeat-offense drunken driving, you could call Davis and his family repeat victims.

Over the last decade, Davis says he has had drunken drivers clip the garage at his Janesville home, smash into his son's Janesville home, and most, recently, smack into Davis's truck.

Davis and his family either have galactic bad luck—or they're living proof that drunken driving is prevalent enough in Wisconsin and Rock County that it can victimize a single person more than once.

Davis leaned against his pickup truck during an interview with The Gazette late last week, recounting details of drunken-driving incidents that have left he and his family victims of property damage—yet thankfully—without physical injuries.

Davis ran his hand over the dented fender of his work truck. It's the only truck Davis owns, a faded, 1997 Dodge Ram pickup he calls “Loretta.”

“I'm really not superstitious, but drunken driving seems to keep coming after me and my family. But at least this time it was the bumper of the truck that got crushed in—not me, or somebody else,” Davis said this week.

The latest accident happened in a tavern parking lot at 2 a.m. When the crash happened, Davis, who cleans floors and bar equipment for a living, had just showed up to start cleaning at Bogey's bar and grill on Janesville's north side.

As he usually does, Davis had come to do the contract cleaning work at 2 a.m.—bar closing time.

Davis was inside the bar when he looked through a window and saw a larger pickup truck hit Davis's truck's front bumper, caving it in. The driver peeled out of the tavern parking lot, jumped a curb, and narrowly missed a tree before speeding away, Davis said.

Moments later, Davis's work partner, Ron Ruble, was headed north on Oak Hill Avenue to meet Davis for work cleaning Bogey's when he said he saw a a pickup coming from the other direction, careening straight at him.

“He was going pretty fast, swerving. He about ran me off the road. I found out a minute later it was the same guy who hit Brian's (truck) at Bogey's,” Ruble said.

Tim J. Johnson, 50, town of Fulton, the driver who hit Davis's truck and caved in its front bumper at Bogey's Thursday, was arrested shortly afterward. Janesville police found Johnson's truck parked in the middle of North Pine Street, blocks away from Bogey's. Johnson was inside the truck, passed out behind the wheel, according to police reports.

Johnson, a repeat drunken-driving offender, was arrested for his seventh operating while intoxicated arrest, according to police reports. Johnson was so intoxicated at the time that police loaded him straight into an ambulance

Johnson's blood alcohol concentration later tested at .20, police said—more than twice the legal limit.

In 2009, a drunken driver Davis didn't know followed Davis to his South Academy Street home, apparently mistaking Davis for a woman he wanted to follow home from a tavern. The driver, a man, pulled into Davis's drive, and then hit the gas pedal instead of the brake. The driver crashed his vehicle through the door of Davis's then brand-new garage, Davis said.

The accident happened at about 5 p.m., during the daytime. Davis, and his wife, Kathryn Davis, said they were appalled when the drunken driver stumbled out of his vehcle and started to get tools out the back.

“He offered to fix the damage on the spot. We told him, 'No thanks. you've done enough,'” Kathryn Davis said.

Another time, in 2013, the Davises said, a drunken driver plowed a vehicle into their son's home, which is just down the street from their home near the t-intersection of South Academy Street and Rockport Road.

The driver was speeding at least 60 miles an hour southbound on Academy Street before his vehicle jumped the curb at the t-intersection at Rockport, swerved up through a yard, and slammed into the home of Davis's son.

The impact was so severe it jarred the house loose from the foundation, Brian Davis said.

Both of those earlier incidents ended in arrest of the drunken drivers responsible, the Davises said. Neither left any of the family injured, yet the accidents have made them hyper-aware of the potential they could run up against a drunken driver at any time, day or night.

Brian Davis, who often must work during the overnight hours, now calls home once he gets to work to say he got there safely. Kathryn waits for that call. Brian even has started getting to work at taverns a few minutes later than bar time to minimize his risk of running into potential drunken drivers leaving the taverns.

“You feel like you're a magnet for drunk drivers. What do we have to do? Build a moat around our property? Drive a Sherman tank to work?” Brian Davis said.

On Thursday night, Davis's show-up-for-work-just-before-bar-time strategy didn't pan out. Last week, Davis was still trying to learn if Johnson, the driver who hit his truck, even has auto insurance.

“Loretta is the only truck I have, and I've worked hard to take care of her. Now look at her. It's real upsetting to have to show up to meet a customer, and you pull up in a work truck with front end smashed in.

“Even if it's not your fault, people might look at it and say, 'Well, you can't even take care of your own property, so you probably can't take care of this job.' That's what they'll think,” Davis said.

Todd Radloff, a Janesville police officer who works third shift patrol, said local police don't hear many people report that they have been repeat victims of drunken drivers.

He said the closest example to compare to Davis's multiple run-ins with drunk driving experiences was a few years ago, when police were handling a spate of dozens of sideswipe accidents that were damaging parked cars along Mount Zion Avenue on the north side.

Many of those crashes were happening at late at night, at around bar closing time, Radloff said. Police learned drunken drivers at bar time were using Mount Zion as a back street to avoid police or other traffic. They were hitting cars parked along the street.

He said police started cracking down on that street late at night, and the problems eased.

In 2015, Wisconsin logged about 24,000 drunk driving convictions. Repeat offense drunk driving like Johnson's reported seventh OWI Thursday makes up a percentage of drunken driving.

Kathryn Davis said that she believes there should be more of a concerted effort in Wisconsin by lawmakers, the criminal justice sytem, and also at a grassroots level to stem drunken driving.

“If the lobbying and the drinking culture is too strong against changing (drunken driving) laws here? There is Uber. There are designated drivers,” she said. “What's wrong with a 1 a.m. announcement by the bar tender, right before last call? They can say, 'If you're too drunk to drive, use this phone and call these numbers to get someone who can.'”

“This has happened to us so many times now,” Kathryn Davis said. “Other people get killed as victims of drunk driving. As unlucky as we've been, we realize we've dodged a lot of bullets,” she said. “We wonder, how many more bullets can you dodge?”

Comments Comments Print Print