Throwback Thursday: Four die when beer-laden car rams tree in Winona
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the April 4, 1969 edition of the Winona Daily News.
Four men have died and four more, including two Winona policemen, received serious injuries as the aftermath of a high speed chase by police through the streets of Winona early Thursday evening in two related accidents.
The reported theft of about 25 cases of beer from a delivery truck parked at a Wisconsin tavern triggered the cross-town chase that ended when the fleeing vehicle crashed into a tree at East Fourth and Adams streets on Winona’s far east side about 8:45 p.m. The pursuing squad car was struck by a third vehicle at the intersection of East Fourth Street and Mankato Avenue and crashed into a tree at the southeast side of the intersection.
As ambulances and additional policemen arrived on the scene so did a large crowd of spectators, said Winona police Sgt. Ray L. Kauphusman. Many of the spectators “helped themselves” to the hundreds of cans of beer littering the area, he said.
Police this morning counted 535 cans of beer — more than 22 cases — which were picked up from the area of East Fourth and Adams Street. It is not known how much beer was taken from the scene by spectators. The Daily News learned this morning that a recount of the beer taken from the La Crosse Distributing Co. truck revealed between 28 and 30 24-can cases missing.
Many of the beer cans were split or punctured and the ground and pavement surrounding the accident area was covered with a mixture of blood and beer. Several policemen were called from off duty to supervise and help clean the area of debris.
Dead are: Robert Wayne Savoy, 32, and Richard Raymond Rose, 19, both of Winona; Charles F. Schocker, 18, Alma, Wis., and James Vernon Jilk, 18, rural Stockton.
According to Winona Chief of Police James McCabe, the chain of events started at about 8:25 p.m. when Winona police received a call from Mrs. Jerry Dureske, an employee of the Bright Spot Tavern, Marshland, Wis. She reported that a quantity of beer had been taken from a truck owned by the La Crosse Distributing Co., which was parked at the tavern. The truck driver, Harold Eickhoff, West Salem, Wis., estimated that about 25 cases of cans had been taken from the truck.
Mrs. Dureske told police that she had observed “a light colored General Motors car” with a loud exhaust and a broken lens in the left tail light and Minnesota plates driving west on Hwy. 35-54 toward Winona. Upon receipt of the information, Capt. John H. Scherer sent a squad car across the interstate bridge and posted two cars on the Winona side to watch for the reported vehicle.
The squad car on the Wisconsin side spotted a vehicle answering the description of the suspect car and radioed ahead. The vehicle, a 1960 model Buick, turned east off the bridge at West Fourth Street and Winona Patrolmen Dale Schafer and Milton Ronnenberg gave chase with red light and siren.
According to McCabe, Schafer did not check his speed during the chase but remarked this morning that the speed of both vehicles had been “extremely high.”
As the chase continued through the central part of the downtown area the squad car edged up to the fleeing vehicle but was forced to fall back when the driver of the Buick tried to force the squad car into the parked cars lining the street.
The chase continued through stop signs at Main, Hamilton and Laird streets and through the Mankato Avenue intersection. The fleeing car continued on East Fourth Street through Mankato Avenue, and as the squad ear followed, it was struck broadside by the southbound Janikowski vehicle at Mankato.
The impact sent the squad car careening through the intersection where it struck a tree about 50 feet east of the avenue on the south side of Fourth Street.
Meanwhile, the fleeing Buick containing the six men continued for another five blocks east on Fourth Street, failed to make a curve to the right and smashed into a tree and struck the abandoned Chicago Great Western freight depot.
When the Buick hit the tree it split open from the left front door clear around to the right rear fender.
A squad car containing Kauphusman and Patrolman George M. Liebsch had sped east on Broadway hoping to cut off the fleeing vehicle if it turned south on Mankato Avenue and arrived on the accident moments after the crash. Kauphusman said Rose and Schocker were dead and Savoy was thrashing around on the pavement and looked as if “he was trying to get up.”
Kaphusman said he warned Savoy to lie still but that Savoy was dead on arrival at the hospital.
Meanwhile, back at the Mankato Avenue intersection, patrolmen George C. Kostner and Edward E. Matthees were attempting to give assistance to Ronnenberg and Schafer. In order to extricate the two officers from the smashed squad car it was necessary to pull off a front door using a log chain hooked to the second squad car.
Ambulance service operator Melvin Praxel used two ambulances and made four trips to carry the injured and dead from the accident scenes.
Winona County Coroner Dr. Robert Tweedy was called to the accident scene and to the hospital later.
Charles Pehler, Buffalo County (Wis.) traffic officer, was investigating the theft of the beer from the truck outside the Bright Spot when he overheard the actions of Winona police on his radio monitor. He came to Winona, along with Officer H. A. Zeichert, Cochrane, Wis., to assist in the investigation.
Pehler said this morning that he had issued an equipment violation ticket to Jilk about two weeks ago for the broken lens in his tail light. Pehler pointed out the damaged light had made a positive identification for Winona police in attempting to apprehend the six men in the death car.
Pehler said his office is continuing the investigation regarding the theft of the beer.
The investigation is also being continued by the Winona police in an attempt to determine who the driver of Jilk’s car was. Although the car was owned by Jilk, McCabe said this morning that a determination has not yet been made as to who was driving the fleeing vehicle. He said that upon arrival of officers at the scene, bodies were spread over the area surrounding the wrecked vehicle.
McCabe said the beer which was taken from the scene would remain in custody of Winona police until a court determination is made.
Rose and Schocker were killed instantly. Savoy was alive when officers reached the accident scene seconds after the crash, but was dead on arrival at Community Memorial Hospital. Jilk died at 2:25 a.m. today.
Two others who were riding in the death car, Edward Smoluch, 16, and Kenneth H. Kinowski, 18, both of Winona, were listed as satisfactory at the hospital where they are being treated for multiple facial and body lacerations and possible internal injuries.
Patrolmen Milton J. Ronnenberg, 38, and Dale A. Schafer, 25, driver of the police squad car, were taken to the hospital where Ronnenberg was listed this noon as in fair condition. He’s being treated for possible internal abdominal injuries, a fractured pelvis and possible spine injuries. Schafer is in satisfactory condition with a cut on the right arm.
The third vehicle involved in the incident was driven by Gary W. Janikowski, 16. His passengers were Charles Loshek, 16, and Mark, 15, and Terry Grupa, 16, all of Winona. Loshek complained of head bruises and was treated at the hospital and released. The others had no reported injuries.
Both the police squad car, a 1968 model, and the death car were totally wrecked and the Janikowski vehicle, a 1960 model sedan, received $400 front end damage.