Drunk driving crash may end deputy's career
Photo: Video by tmj4.com
CREATED Oct. 31, 2013 - UPDATED: Oct. 31, 2013
MILWAUKEE - Deputy Andy Wendt set an ambitious goal in 2012.
"For me to go out there and find those drunk drivers and arrest them made me feel safe for other people in the community," Wendt told TODAY'S TMJ4 reporter Tom Murray. "I made a goal with my OWI task force members that I was going to set out and arrest 100 drunk drivers."
Wendt, a lifelong Milwaukee County resident, wanted to arrest 100 drunk drivers in a calendar year. He was two arrests shy of his goal just days before the new year. His life changed for ever during a traffic stop at 2am on December 29th.
"As soon as I sat in my squad car, I started issuing a citation. I was suddenly hit from behind," Wendt recounted.
A Wisconsin Department of Transportation camera captured the crash at a blurry distance. The drunk driver's tail lights are seen heading toward and crashing into the squad at a dangerous speed.
"Full freeway speed. About 55 miles per hour," Wendt said. "Luckily, I was in the shape I was in, according to doctors. And, my body was turned sideways so I hit the steering wheel with my left shoulder instead of flying out."
A TODAY'S TMJ4 photographer was there moments after the crash. Paramedics are seen moving Wendt to an ambulance.
Wendt said he knew had been struck by a drunk driver as soon as he saw the man in his rear view mirror.
"To me, with all my training and the skills I developed, he was impaired," Wendt said. "It was pretty obvious."
The drunk driver was 22-year-old Marquette University student Roberto Maldonado. He wrote in a court filing he had four glasses of wine and several beers that night to celebrate a job promotion.
This was Maldonado's first drunk driving arrest. He is currently serving a 10-month jail sentence in county corrections with work and school release privileges.
"My officers out there on the freeway system, they're in harm's way. They know they have to put themselves in harm's way to make that highway safer," said Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. "It really hits home for this organization when one of ours gets picked off by a drunk driver."
Deputy Wendt suffered nerve damage in his left shoulder. It severely impacted his ability to move his left arm.
"I'm trying to prevent this from happening and here, it happens to me," Wendt said. "I have significant mobility problems, lifting problems and dexterity problems. It very well could be career-ending."
Wendt, who has served with the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office for more than a decade, is unable to do the job he loves. He is a husband and father of two girls with another child on the way. This has been especially hard on Wendt's youngest daughter.
"She drew a picture that day, and it kind of breaks my heart, of a car ramming into daddy's police car," he said. "Then, she drew a little stick figure in jail saying that's who hurt daddy. He's in jail."
Maldonado and his attorney declined to comment for this report.
Wendt said he wanted to speak publicly to help others understand the consequences of driving drunk.