MILWAUKEE — How do you combat reckless driving? It's a complicated question. One place to start is the roads.
Drivers in the city often take roads like Capitol Drive, Fond du lac Avenue, Appleton Avenue, or 27th Street instead of the main highways. But in most spots they have much slower speed limits, along with cross streets, meaning more potential for danger.
"There’s a lot of reckless driving and high speed driving on these major thoroughfares because people forget that this is a city street, this is not designed for those high speeds," said Milwaukee Police Capt. Jeffrey Sunn.
Sunn is the head of the Traffic Safety Unit at MPD, created this year to help combat reckless driving. He said crashes on those streets may cause more damage and have more potential for harm or death than on the interstate.
"When you have an interstate where the speed limit is 55, 65, and now 70 miles an hour on I-94 or 43 to north of the county, those roads are destined for those larger speeds," Sunn said. "Number one there’s no cross traffic. Number two there's concrete barriers or a cable in between to stop if something were to occur."
Police have issued more speeding tickets in 2021 than in previous years, particularly for going 25 miles per hour or more over the speed limit. From the start of the year to mid-September, MPD says they issued 3,351 tickets for drivers caught going 25 miles per hour or more over the limit. In 2019 and 2020 combined, they issued 3,230 such tickets.
Sunn says enforcement can help, but it only goes so far.
"We need the community and citizens to be part of the solution," Sunn said. "Get out there, talk to family members. Individuals that are driving in a reckless manner, they get in an accident that might be another family member, a friend, that they hurt or perhaps sometimes kill in the worst-case scenario."
That worst-case scenario became Julie Wellinger's reality. She lost her son, Jerrold, in a crash near 60th and Hampton this August. That crash also killed his friend, Devonte Gaines.
According to the criminal complaint, the driver was going more than 120 miles over the speed limit seconds before the crash.
"They took two very very special people away from us, and you have to be punished," Wellinger said.
As we interviewed Wellinger at the site of the crash, someone drove through a red light heading west on Hampton Avenue.
"It doesn’t surprise me, because I see it all the time," Wellinger said in response.
Pleasant Prairie Municipal Judge Richard Ginkowski has said the toolbox for judges in Wisconsin may be limited as far as mandatory penalties for reckless driving and excessive, or as he calls it "lethal," speeds. But Ginkowski, who is the president of the Wisconsin Municipal Judges Association, does say more can be done from the bench.
"I think judges getting a little more serious about it and saying look, if you're driving at a lethal speed, if you're driving at a lethal speed, we want you to come to court, we're going to make it a mandatory appearance and you might not walk out of here with your driver's license intact," he said.
Ginkowski says enforcement is only a part of the issue. Wellinger agrees this isn't about stuffing the local jail with speeders. State Rep. Supreme Moore Omokunde, who sits on the Assembly Transportation Committee, adds that there are infrastructure gaps that need to be addressed in Madison that could help the problem.
"The long-term solution is we need to make sure that we're getting as many cars off the road as possible," he said.
Moore Omokunde says long-term projects like expanding the interstate and investing in a more robust public transportation system would help do that.
Another way to help the problem would be to change the roads themselves. The city is planning on using $6 million in federal funds to help change the way the roads are constructed, to make it harder for drivers to weave in and out of lanes.
Moore Omokunde adds there are gaps in access to mental health that, if bridged, would go a long way towards curbing reckless behavior in general, not just behind the wheel.
"It’s not a simple problem," Moore Omokunde said. "If it were simple, we wouldn’t be standing here right now. Somebody would have solved it already."
These are long-term solutions. With the grief of her son's death still fresh, Wellinger is pushing for change right now.
She was part of a recent petition to ask for stiffer penalties in Wisconsin for reckless driving. She delivered the 1,100 signature petition to the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office about a month after her son was killed.
"Bottom line, it's the consequences," Wellinger said. "There has to be higher consequences because you can fly right over a speed bump."
Lawmakers are considering allowing red-light cameras to help catch reckless drivers, but the proposal comes with a list of questions and concerns.
"My main concern is the safety of individuals and the protection of their civil rights and civil liberties, and I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive," Omokunde said.
He says if those concerns were addressed, he would be willing to move on the proposal.
Meanwhile, Wellinger plans to continue to search for solutions, in the memory of her son Jerrold.
"He doesn’t want me to be down, depressed laying in bed crying. He wants me to be doing exactly what I’m doing today," Wellinger said, preparing to drop off the petition. "He would want us to fight for what’s right and to make this a better city, because he loved this city."
The I-Team exposes loopholes in the law, and learns the frustrations of speed enforcement. Tune in to TMJ4 News at 10 for more.