Brodhead man sentenced for fatal OWI crash

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Gina Duwe
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

JANESVILLE--Sean Waterman had been arrested more than 30 times before he got behind the wheel drunk Sept. 23, 2012.

Prosecutors said he likely passed out, launching his vehicle into the air and killing his friend Douglas Axelson, 26.

Hours later, he was arrested at a Rockford, Ill., hospital for his third drunken-driving charge, this one a homicide.

Months later after posting bond, Waterman violated court orders by going to Illinois for a wedding where he contacted Axelson's family and drank alcohol at the reception.

“Maybe this is his wakeup call, maybe he really does finally get it,” prosecutor Scott Dirks said in court Wednesday. “But I just don't think that this community can take that chance. … We're talking about a lifetime of alcohol and substance abuse.”

Dirks asked Rock County Judge Richard Werner to send Waterman, 34, Brodhead, to prison for 12 years, followed by 10 years of extended supervision.

Werner outlined the seriousness of Waterman's actions and the need for alcohol and drug abuse treatment before sentencing him to 10 years in prison and five years on extended supervision. He also ordered Waterman to pay the funeral costs requested by Axelson's mother.

While Werner said he believed Waterman's remorse was genuine, his 38 arrests as an adult show continuous defiance of the law. His adult total doesn't include eight underage drinking convictions.

Waterman's trip to the Illinois wedding after his homicide arrest “flies in the face” of his willingness to follow bond restrictions while he was “under a microscope,” the judge said.

Danielle Axelson said she admired her brother for seeing the positive things and goodness in everyone. He always knew what to say to make her feel better, she said through tears, and he would have made a wonderful husband and terrific father one day.

Axelson's mother, Nancy, said it didn't matter what sentence was given because justice will never be served.

“My son got life,” she said.

She and her family face a life without Douglas, while Waterman still will have a life to live after his prison term.

Waterman sat in orange jail clothing and handcuffs with his head down most of the hearing. He told the court he had prepared a statement, but he said it wasn't right to read it after hearing Axelson's mother and sister addressed the court.

“I know that my sorrys are never going to pay for the pain, suffering, their emptiness they have, and I know that nothing I can say or do will ever bring my good friend back,” he said. “I know Douglas was a good guy. He was one of my best friends, a brother to me. I would never, ever want anything to happen to Douglas. Ever.”

Waterman apologized by name to Axelson's family members and asked them for a chance to “make it right.”

“I would give my own life to bring Douglas' back, but that's not the way it works,” he said, sniffling. “If there's anything you need from me, want from me, absolutely anything, you got it.”

Defense attorney Walter Isaacson asked for a sentence along the lines of the state Department of Corrections' pre-sentence investigation, which recommended four to five years incarceration with four to five years extended supervision.

Dirks disagreed, citing facts from the day of the crash. Waterman spent the afternoon drinking and watching football at a friend's house, he said.

After having about eight beers and at least one glass of wine, he and Axelson left for a bar to get more alcohol. Waterman had at least another shot and another beer before buying a case of beer and driving.

But for Waterman to hit the 0.286 blood-alcohol concentration he had after the crash, he must have drunk the equivalent of 20 to 21 beers, Dirks said.

Dirks said a crash reconstruction showed Waterman likely passed out when he traveled about 160 feet on the shoulder of Highway 213 in the town of Spring Valley, maintaining a speed of about 68 mph.

The vehicle launched into the air after striking a driveway apron and landed 90 feet away. Axelson died at the scene.

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