Father admits to car crash cover-up
Daniel Wilczek told the court he was trying to keep his son, Christopher, out of criminal trouble when he transported a severely injured young woman from a drunken driving accident without reporting the accident to law enforcement or seeking medi...
Daniel Wilczek told the court he was trying to keep his son, Christopher, out of criminal trouble when he transported a severely injured young woman from a drunken driving accident without reporting the accident to law enforcement or seeking medical attention for the woman.
Daniel Wilczek, 51, of Duluth pleaded guilty Friday in St. Louis County District Court to a felony charge of aiding an offender. As part of a plea agreement reached with the St. Louis County Attorney's Office, a second count of aiding an offender was dismissed.
Daniel Wilczek testified that he received a phone call from his son about
2 a.m. on June 4. "He said, 'Dad, I really screwed up. I've been in an accident. Can you come and get me?' " the defendant said. He said he then asked his son if anybody was hurt. He said his son told him, "No, Zadie has a little blood."
However, Zadie Morgan, 18, had suffered severe and numerous injuries with broken bones in her face and teeth knocked out, and her nose was left hanging by a small amount of flesh. She has undergone at least five surgeries.
St. Louis County prosecutor Nathaniel Stumme filed a motion with the court asking for a longer-than-guideline sentence because the victim was particularly vulnerable. That vulnerability, he argued, stemmed from the victim's reduced physical and mental capacity that Daniel Wilczek knew or should have known about, and because Wilczek was responsible for treating her with particular cruelty. That longer sentencing request was dropped as part of the plea agreement.
Christopher Wilczek, now 18, but 17 at the time of the accident, pleaded guilty in August to criminal vehicular operation causing great bodily harm while under the influence of alcohol. He and Morgan had been drinking at a "senior kegger" celebrating Wilczek's graduation from Hermantown High School. Morgan is a senior there this year. He drove his Chevy Blazer off the road and into a tree. His driver's side airbag deployed, but the vehicle was not equipped with a passenger-side air bag. A keg-tapper was found in the vehicle.
Under questioning by Stumme, Daniel Wilczek admitted that he told his son to be less than forthright with law enforcement because he wanted to keep him out of trouble.
Daniel Wilczek said that he didn't realize the extent of Morgan's injuries because she was wrapped in a blanket his son kept in his SUV and because of the victim's long hair. He said when he escorted the girl into her house he left his business card and home phone number before leaving.
Morgan's father, Shaun, and his girlfriend saw the extent of the young woman's injuries and she was immediately taken to the hospital.
Defense attorney Richard Holmstrom spoke for Wilczek outside the courtroom Friday.
"I want the public to understand that nothing that Dan Wilczek did compromised the health and safety of Zadie Morgan," Holmstrom said. "He tried to find the accident scene, got there as soon as he could and when he got there he got her in the vehicle and took her straight to her parents' house.
"The notion I want to dispel is the false information that came out that he had taken her (Morgan) to his house and tried to clean her up and make her more presentable before he brought her over to her parents' house. That simply did not happen."
The criminal complaint alleged that Zadie Morgan told her father, Shaun, that Wilczek had taken her to his house in an attempt to clean her up before taking her home. The defendant testified Friday that he didn't take the victim to his house.
Holmstrom was asked if his client wasn't obligated to take a closer look at the victim and see how seriously injured she was?
"I don't know about an obligation," Holmstrom said. "He did not delay her getting to medical treatment in any way, shape or form. That being said, he did not check her for injuries at the scene. It was a matter that he was in a hurry. It was pouring rain. He knew that she had at least minor injuries and wanted to get her to her parents' house. Should he have checked her injuries further? Yeah, I suppose so in 20-20 hindsight. Should he have called 911? Yeah, he should have in 20-20 hindsight, but it was 3 in the morning in a driving rainstorm out there."
Daniel Wilczek has no prior criminal record, and under Minnesota sentencing guidelines it is presumed that his one year and one day sentence will be stayed for a probationary sentence with conditions to be set by the court.
Judge Mark Munger ordered that Wilczek cooperate with an Arrowhead Regional Corrections probation officer who will investigate the defendant's background before sentencing, which is scheduled for Nov. 8.