Kelly Duke pleads no contest to all criminal charges

MILWAUKEE — Kelly Duke pleaded no contest on Thursday, October 4th to two felony counts of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle. He also pleaded no contest to hit-and-run involving death and operating while suspended. This plea deal was a surprise, as Duke had been trying to get declared mentally incompetent.

Duke is the 17-year-old driver accused of driving drunk and causing a crash that killed Ed and Jean Thaves of New Berlin on New Year's Day 2012.

The criminal complaint says an officer responded to the scene near 27th and St. Paul and observed the Thaves' silver Nissan with its roof torn off, and significant damage.

The Thaves' were pronounced dead at the scene.

The other vehicle involved, a maroon Chevy vehicle had also sustained severe damage. The vehicle came back registered to a Dennis Pruitt, and the driver of that vehicle had fled the scene.

The officer responding to the scene talked with an adult citizen witness who said he was coming home from work, and was behind the Thaves' silver Nissan, and they were stopped at a red light at the intersection of 27th and St. Paul.

The witness indicated he observed the maroon Chevy vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed lose control at the intersection, and become airborne. The witness said the maroon vehicle tore the roof off the silver Nissan. The witness said he then ran to the silver car, and observed two people inside, and shortly thereafter, saw the driver of the maroon Chevy vehicle jump out the driver's side window. The witness said he approached the driver to see if he was okay, but the driver ran away toward Wisconsin Avenue.

The complaint says an officer at the scene spoke with a man claiming to be Duke's brother. That man told the officer he had just received a call from his mother, saying Duke had taken the maroon Chevy, which belonged to his aunt, without their permission. The man said he came upon the accident because he was looking for the car his brother had stolen, and his brother.

Duke's brother later called officials and reported Duke's whereabouts, leading to his arrest at a home on S. 35th Street. Officials say when they arrested Duke, he had thick, slow speech and an odor of alcohol on his breath. The complaint says he also had several fresh lacerations and other injuries, and was transported to the hospital.

The complaint goes on to say when questioned by police, Duke said he couldn't remember if he had permission to take the vehicle, but he believed he did. Duke said he took the car and went to his grandmother's house, where he began drinking. He said he doesn't remember how much he was drinking, and said he remembers being in a car accident, but doesn't remember what happened.

Duke said when the accident occurred, he was on his way to visit his girlfriend, who works at Potawatomi Bingo Casino, which is where the Thaves were leaving from, about to get on the freeway to head back to their New Berlin home early New Year's Day.

The complaint says a toxicology report indicated that three-and-a-half hours after the accident, Duke had a blood alcohol concentration of .183.

Duke's driver's license was suspended after multiple failures to pay forfeiture and for a juvenile alcohol violation back in January of 2011.

Autopsy reports performed on Edwin and Jean Thaves concluded they both died from multiple blunt force traumas to the head.

The Thaves' family was in court Thursday and said what they heard was not what they were expecting.

"Why hurt our family any more by not just saying 'I'm sorry, I did it -- I'm pleading guilty.' This, to me, was a blow," daughter Lyann Buena Franco said.

"We're still waiting for justice. If we fail to make an example of Kelly Duke, this community will continue to be victimized by drunk drivers like him. Kelly Duke still has not admitted his mistake. He still has not expressed any remorse. He still has not expressed any sympathy for the family. I'm hopeful that at some point we'll have some closure," son Edwin Thaves said.

The family said they are also upset this case has dragged on for close to 10 months because of competency hearings. Now, they'll have to wait even longer for closure, as Duke's sentencing  has been set for January 11, 2013. He faces more than 45 years in prison.

Related stories: