ELKHORN

The case against an alleged getaway driver charged with recklessly causing the death of a passenger, who was shot by a Walworth County sheriff’s deputy in 2016, will move forward with the new homicide charge, a Walworth County Court official ruled Friday.

Court Commissioner Kelly Iselin ruled there was probable cause Jose G. Lara, 32, of Milwaukee committed a felony during the incident, in which Deputy Juan Ortiz shot into the car Lara is accused of driving and killed Christopher J. Davis, 21, also of Milwaukee.

Police were responding to a report of a drug deal when Ortiz fired twice into Lara’s car as it sped toward him Feb. 24, 2016, in the parking lot of Roma’s Ristorante and Lounge in East Troy, according to court documents. One of Ortiz’s bullets hit Davis in the head.

Then-District Attorney Dan Necci wrote in July 2016 that the shooting was justified.

Almost two years later, Lara has been charged with second-degree reckless homicide, which means he is accused of recklessly causing Davis’ death under state statute.

On July 11, 2016, Lara pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to deliver cocaine and attempting to flee an officer in the same incident.

At Friday’s preliminary hearing, Lara’s lawyer, James Duquette, questioned state Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Ricardo Tijerino about what caused Davis’ death.

“Well, I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty certain a shot to the head caused it,” Tijerino responded.

Duquette argued that driving the vehicle was not a substantial factor in Davis’ death, as would need to be proved for a second-degree reckless homicide conviction. The substantial factor was Ortiz’s bullets, he said.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Leusink said a preliminary hearing is about proving there was probable cause Lara committed a felony, given the accusations in the criminal complaint. Prosecutors do not have to prove probable cause that Lara committed second-degree reckless homicide, he said.

As an example, Leusink cited a party to the homicide charge, which would accuse Lara of aiding and abetting a crime in which the shooting was a “natural and probable consequence.”

“It does not have to be the only factor in causing the death of the victim,” Leusink said. “We have a defendant who was driving at a high rate of speed directly at a law enforcement officer with his weapon drawn.”

Lara is next due in court for an arraignment at 1:15 p.m. March 23.

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