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Social media rumors prompted the DOJ to take over review of Oshkosh boat hit-and-run case

Posted at 3:33 PM, Aug 26, 2022

In a memo from the Winnebago County District Attorney's Office, discussion on social media about the Oshkosh boat hit-and-run case made the appearance of a conflict.

Rumors and incorrect information were spoken about on social media, concerning particular community members being on the powerboat. The DA reported that there was no conflict regarding any of the passengers that were on the boat but the false information on social media helped create the appearance of conflict between the parties involved and the DA.

In the memo, it was stated that two people in the DA's Office are socially familiar with the driver of the powerboat, and would have been firewalled from the case.

As investigations continued, a full list of the victims was released and it was found that individuals in the DA's Office also know some of the victims.

I am writing to inform the Court that the Winnebago County District Attorney's Office has requested that a special prosecutor be assigned to this case......To have a properly functioning criminal justice system, we must first avoid real conflicts. Public trust in the process, and in outcomes of criminal cases, is also tremendously important, which means we also must avoid the appearance of conflict. Given all the factors outlined in the memo, I have concluded that it is not possible for my office to prosecute this case without creating the appearance of conflict, and we are pursuing the appointment of a special prosecutor.
District Attorney Eric Sparr

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ORIGINAL REPORTING

The Wisconsin Department of Justice is taking over the review of a boat hit-and-run that happened in Oshkosh earlier this summer.

The state DOJ confirmed to NBC 26 in an email Friday that it's taking over the review of the case and any potential prosecution.

Several people were injured when a powerboat crashed into a paddleboat in Winnebago County and then fled the scene on Saturday, July 9.

According to the Winnebago County Sheriff's Office, a commercial stern-wheel pleasure cruise paddleboat carrying 43 passengers was severely damaged when it was struck by a private 45-foot powerboat carrying seven people.

Video shows boat hit-and-run in Oshkosh

The paddleboat was able to make it safely to the shore of the Fox River. Several people on the paddleboat had some form of injury, the Sheriff's Office says.

The powerboat fled the scene after the crash. Several agencies searched boat landings and nearby private residences to find the powerboat, its owner, and additional occupants but had no luck.

Later, the Sheriff's Office said the owner and operator of the powerboat was identified as a 52-year-old Oshkosh man. He was arrested and made his first court appearance on July 13, he appeared via video camera from inside the jail.

The court agreed to a cash bail of $10,000 with the conditions of absolute sobriety and compliance with a 24/7 alcohol program. He was also ordered to not leave the state of Wisconsin and to surrender his passport.

NBC 26 has not named the boat operator because he hasn't yet been formally charged.