The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Kimball drunk driving fatality case draws year in jail, stiff costs

 

Ralph Ansami/Daily Globe

MATTHEW SORRELS, 30, of Gurney, Wis., left, is sentenced Tuesday afternoon in Iron County Court in Hurley for the 2015 drunk driving death of Harold Hill. Sorrels sits next to his attorney, Dennis Melowski, while special prosecutor Assistant Attorney General Tara Jenswold is at the right.

By RALPH ANSAMI

ransami@yourdailyglobe.com

Hurley - A Gurney, Wis., resident was sentenced Tuesday in Iron County Court to a year in jail and five years of probation for felony homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle.

Matthew Sorrels, 30, was also ordered by Acting Judge John B. Rohde to pay fines, court costs and restitution amounting to more $10,500 in the plea agreement that the judge accepted.

Two other felony charges were dropped, as well as a host of traffic citations, but Sorrels also entered a no contest plea to operating while intoxicated, with a confirmed blood-alcohol level of .096.

Sorrels was involved in a Feb. 27, 2015, traffic accident on U.S. 2 in the town of Kimball that claimed the life of Harvey Harold Hill, of Washburn. Hill died at a Wausau hospital two weeks after the accident.

Hill's brother, Reino Hill, addressed the court. Fighting tears, he said he lost his only brother in the crash and he hopes Sorrels can get his life together.

Reino Hill said he believed the court system "muffed it," referring to the case that was litigated for two years.

Assistant Attorney General Tara Jenswold, who prosecuted the case, pointed out the difficulties with the case from the prosecution's perspective several times.

Jenswold noted the admissibility of a blood draw was challenged by the defense. She said a police officer from Wisconsin was authorized by a judge over the telephone to draw blood at the hospital in Ironwood, with the actual search warrant being drawn up and signed a month later.

Sorrels was injured in the accident and was in jeopardy of being airlifted from the hospital when the blood was drawn. Jenswold said of the officers, "They did what they're trained to do," but she acknowledged there were questions about the admissibility of the evidence.

Rohde said with challenges to the case, it could have gone on for another year to five years.

Sorrels apologized to the victim's family. "This will not happen again," he said. Defense attorney Dennis Melowski said Sorrels quit drinking alcohol after the accident and noted he had no prior criminal record.

Charges were filed on March 17, 2015. Sorrels was also charged with homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and with a prohibited alcohol content, the two felonies that were dropped through the plea agreement.

Witnesses said Sorrels' truck crossed the center line into the eastbound lane of traffic and struck the Hill vehicle head-on.

The conviction on the negligent homicide count could have carried up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $25,000.

The judge, from Langlade County, said as an attorney he had been involved with two similar drunk driving cases that resulted in deaths and the sentences were six months in jail and six years in prison.

He granted Sorrels work release privileges from the county jail and agreed the sentence can be served beginning in two weeks, since Sorrels is starting a new job.

As a convicted felon, Sorrels will not be allowed anywhere near firearms and cannot vote. His driving privileges will also be revoked because of his guilty plea to the drunk driving charge. His vehicle will be returned to him on March 14.

Melowski called his client "a young man of high character" who has quit drinking and had not been in trouble before the accident or since.

Regarding the plea agreement, he said, "A lot of eyes looked at this case," and both the defense and prosecution came to the mutual agreement. He said there would not be an appeal.

Jenswold said Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel signed off on the case.

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