Janesville66°

Koepp nabbed after drunken driving chase

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Mike DuPre'
January 18, 2007

James C. Koepp was supposed to be talking to Rock County detectives as a "person of interest" Tuesday night in the investigation of a triple homicide discovered Friday.


Instead, Koepp, who had volunteered for the interview, was driving drunk on Highway 51 and fled from the sheriff's deputy who spotted his car weaving across the road, the Rock County Sheriff's Department reported.


The missed interview and the drunken driving appear to be coincidental, Sheriff Bob Spoden said. The deputies who arrested Koepp on traffic charges were unaware that detectives wanted to interview him about the murders, the sheriff said.


After investigators were done talking to Koepp, they arrested him on three charges of first-degree intentional homicide at 4 p.m. Wednesday.


Other than the chase, which reached speeds of 80 mph, Koepp was arrested without incident or injury, Spoden said.


No weapon was found at the time of arrest, Spoden said, but he declined comment on whether weapons were found when search warrants were executed Wednesday on Koepp's home and two vehicles.


Koepp cooperated with investigators, Spoden said, but he would not comment on whether Koepp confessed or otherwise acknowledged guilt.


The victims were Koepp's neighbors.


Danyetta Lentz, 38, and her children, Nicole, 17, and Scott, 14, lived at Lot 37 in Janesville Terrace, a mobile home park at 3315 S. Highway 51, Janesville.


Koepp, 47, lived at Lot 69 with his wife, Nancy. They have adult children, sheriff's department officials said.


Koepp is the sole suspect, Spoden said.


The alibis given by Danyetta's estranged husband-Tom, who was in Texas-and Nicole's boyfriend-James Warner, who was in a driver's education class Thursday night-are valid, the sheriff said.


Koepp also was arrested on charges of drunken driving, knowingly fleeing an officer and recklessly endangering safety. He was being held in the Rock County Jail.


District Attorney David O'Leary said his office intended to follow through by formally filing the murder charges. O'Leary anticipated Koepp would make his first court appearance on the homicide charges Friday afternoon.


Koepp's criminal history includes convictions in 1983 on four counts of second-degree sexual assault in Dane County, a conviction for drunken driving and a conviction for burglary.


Koepp was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the sexual assaults and later to three years for the burglary.


Other than announcing the arrest, Spoden on Wednesday continued his policy of saying little about arguably the worst crime in Rock County history. The investigation is ongoing and complex, the sheriff said, and he doesn't want to release any details that might jeopardize the criminal case against Koepp.


Any of the three victims could have died from multiple causes, Spoden said.


But he would not divulge what those causes were, the time the Lentzes were killed, whether they were killed en masse or sequentially and what Koepp's motive might have been.


Koepp is 5 foot 6 and weighs 150 pounds, according to sheriff's department records.


Asked if any of the victims was sexually assaulted, Spoden again declined comment, noting that such evidence would be shown by autopsies. The sheriff's department is keeping autopsy results confidential.


Koepp knew the Lentzes, Spoden said, but he would not say for how long or comment on their relationship other than to note they were neighbors.


Spoden drove Wednesday afternoon to personally inform Russ Lucht, Danyetta's father, and other relatives of Koepp's arrest.


"There is a sense of relief," Spoden said, "but we still feel a sense of sadness for this family. There were three decent human beings who lost their lives. ?


"I think the community can feel safe. I feel the community always has been safe, but now that we have the person we think was involved, there is a sense of relief."


The chase that led to Koepp's arrest started about 7:15 Tuesday night on Highway 51. A reporter for The Janesville Gazette happened to be listening to a police scanner and noted the following:


Koepp turned east onto Sunny Lane and headed toward Read Road, going about 50 mph. He turned north onto Read Road and drove about 40 mph through light traffic.


A deputy asked for "somebody to block off the Interstate."


Koepp drove west on Highway 11 through roadblocks and at one point was driving west in an eastbound lane.


Janesville police were called to help establish a perimeter as Koepp drove in what turned out to be a circle. At one point, his speed approached 80 mph on Highway 51. Sheriff's deputies laid stop sticks at County G and Sunny Lane, and the spiked obstacles apparently blew out a couple of tires on Koepp's car.


Koepp was reported in custody at 7:35 p.m. Tuesday.


Spoden declined to elaborate on what led detectives to Koepp. Several interviews and "investigative techniques" initially established him as a person of interest, if not a suspect, the sheriff said.


The State Crime Laboratory was to start analyzing potential DNA evidence Wednesday afternoon, but the sheriff's department did not know when it would receive results.


Spoden credited crime lab personnel and officers and detectives from the Janesville and Beloit police departments for their help in the intensive investigation.


"We feel good," he said, "but there's still a lot of work to be done. Evidence-gathering is ongoing, and there are many avenues to clarify."



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