Man sentenced for Legend Lake bridge death

Waukechon sent to prison for 3 years

Kevin Murphy Leader Correspondent

A Keshena man who caused a passenger’s death when he tried to drive under a bridge on frozen Legend Lake while intoxicated was sentenced Thursday in federal court in Green Bay to three years in prison and three years of supervised release.

Saswaen Waukechon, 38, previously pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in connection with the Jan. 13 death of the female passenger whose name has been withheld from court documents.

According to the plea agreement:

Waukechon, a woman and a man had been drinking at the War Bonnet Bar and Grill in Keshena before Waukechon drove his Dodge pickup on the road and eventually onto the frozen surface of Legend Lake.

The female passenger was in the front seat and the male was inside the rear area of the cab.

Waukechon was driving about 45 mph on the ice toward Brave Island, then steered toward a bridge that connected the island to the shore.

The male passenger told Waukechon not to try to drive under the bridge, which had extremely low clearance.

Waukechon hit the brakes about two seconds before reaching the bridge and was still traveling about 40 mph when the truck slid on the ice and struck a bridge support beam.

The collision caused the westernmost support beam to break loose and collapse on the truck’s windshield and roofline.

A pathologist determined that the female passenger died of blunt force trauma to the head and neck during the collision caused by the defendant. Waukechon sustained a broken jaw, while the male passenger was uninjured.

Waukechon was transported to a trauma center for treatment and while there investigators obtained a search warrant for his blood. Blood analysis showed Waukechon had a blood alcohol content of 0.195, which is more than twice the 0.08 limit considered intoxicated for operating a motor vehicle.

Waukechon’s attorney, Federal Defender Thomas Phillip, sought a two-year sentence for his client.

Phillip wrote the court that Waukechon always held a job either working construction or as a logger for the tribe. He took care of his children, stayed out of trouble, and kept good and close relationships with his family. Waukechon is remorseful for causing the death of another person and completed a substance abuse program this summer.

“Waukechon does not have a history of antisocial behavior. To the contrary, his history is positive. He has good habits to return to, rather than bad. He has a positive family to return to, rather than one full of problems. He has a work ethic that will help keep him out of future trouble,” Phillip wrote.

An involuntary manslaughter conviction carries maximum statutory penalties of eight years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years’ supervised release.

Waukechon was sentenced under advisory guidelines which have less severe penalties.

In addition to the prison term and supervised release, District Judge William Griesbach ordered Waukechon to pay restitution of $12,612 to the victim’s family.

The Menominee Tribal Police Department, Wisconsin State Patrol, Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, and Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the case, which was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Maier.