WASHBURN COUNTY -- Felony charges have been filed against a man who engaged law enforcement in a high-speed pursuit through Washburn County on the afternoon of April 21, 2021.
A driver in Barron county first noticed the vehicle traveling northbound on Highway 53 and exhibiting unusual driving; accelerating to a high rate of speed and then slowing to approximately 30 miles per hour. The caller stated they were taking exit 140 but the vehicle was continuing northbound and provided a partial license plate number.
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Rice Lake Police Department responded to the vicinity and observed a vehicle matching the description provided by the caller. The vehicle was repeatedly moving onto the gravel on the side of the roadway and then pulling back into it’s lane of travel. An Officer activated their squad car lights and siren, and the vehicle accelerated. The Officer had to speed up in excess of 100 miles per hour to catch up to the vehicle which showed no signs of stopping or slowing.
The vehicle traveled into Washburn County and the Washburn County Sheriff’s Office and the Spooner Police Department joined the pursuit with lights and sirens activated.
A Wisconsin State Patrol Unit deployed stop strips in the area of the Highway 70 overpass, but the vehicle swerved completely around the stop strips and then accelerated rapidly reaching speeds of 110 miles per hour.
Officers in pursuit of the vehicle observed that the driver appeared to be throwing small packages out of the window, which was creating small brown puffs when they struck the pavement.
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The vehicle continued on through the Highway 53/County A intersection, at speeds over 100 miles per hour; passing vehicles both on the right and the left, and nearly striking a truck and boat trailer.
In the area of Highway 53 and County Road E, a road construction crew was actively working; the vehicle went through their construction zone at speeds of nearly 100 miles per hour. The vehicle then proceeded northbound on Highway 63, accelerating again to over 100 miles per hour.
As the pursuit approached the Village of Earl on Highway 63, the Officer in the pursuit estimated that the vehicle was traveling at 112 miles per hour. Just past Hamilton Road, the vehicle attempted to pass another vehicle in a no-passing zone, overcorrected, traveling across the right lane, down into a ditch before jumping a driveway embankment, and finally coming to rest with the front of the vehicle striking a tree.
The driver, identified as Christopher Wilbanks, of Fitchburg, WI, was taken into custody. The criminal complaint filed against Wilbanks, states that he was belligerent and aggressive with the Officers at the scene, lunging at them and yelling at them when they asked if he needed medical attention.
Officers could smell a strong odor of intoxicants on Wilbanks. When asked if he would do field sobriety testing, Wilbanks refused and said that he was going to sleep. A warrant was obtained for a sample of blood, and Wilbanks was transported to the Shell Lake Emergency Room for a blood draw. Test results of that blood draw were still pending at the time the charges were filed.
Wilbanks is charged with Class G Felony Second Degree Recklessly Endangering Safety; Class I Felony Attempting to Flee or Elude an Officer; Misdemeanor Operating While Intoxicated-3rd Offense; and Misdemeanor Operate While Revoked.
Online circuit court records show that at a hearing on April 22, 2021, the Court placed Wilbanks on a $5,000 cash bond. Wilbanks made an initial appearance on his criminal charges on May 3, 2021. The Court has ordered that Wilbanks undergo a competency evaluation and he is scheduled to appear again in June 2021 for a hearing regarding the results of that evaluation.
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Pursuant to the direction of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, as found in Supreme Court Rule 20:3.6, Trial Publicly, you are advised that a charge is merely an accusation and that a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.