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Highway 73 fatal crash

One woman was killed and several others injured when a semi-truck struck a van pulling a camper on Aug. 11 on Highway 73 at Highway E in the Columbia County town of Randolph.

Criminal charges have been filed against the Mississippi semi-truck driver in a highway crash that killed a Lake Geneva woman in August near Randolph.

The Columbia County district attorney filed a criminal complaint Tuesday charging Patrick Craft, 40, of Collins, Mississippi, with one count of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle, carrying a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

Prosecutors say Craft was hauling potatoes eastbound on Highway E around 1 p.m. on Aug. 11 when his truck blew through a stop sign and plowed into a Nissan van headed north on Highway 73. The van, driven by Christine Novak, 40, had seven juvenile family members in it and was pulling a camper. Highway 73 traffic does not have a stop sign at the intersection.

First responders pulled both Craft and Novak from the wrecked vehicles, after which a helicopter took Novak and one of the minors to the hospital. Three others were taken from the scene by an ambulance. Craft also was injured in the crash. Novak later died from her injuries.

The collision was captured on the truck’s dash cam, which showed Craft had been driving at 55 mph as his truck passed the “STOP AHEAD” sign, then 54 mph as it crossed the stop line, just before hitting the van.

“When this accident happened, we knew we had an at-fault accident,” Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Detective Lt. Roger Brandner said. “I don’t think there was any intent, but there was negligence.”

Brandner said the investigation examined factors of driver response and potential distractions.

Once the Wisconsin State Patrol finished its investigation, including crash reconstruction, information was sent to the district attorney’s office for recommended charges.

An initial court date for Craft has not been scheduled. Brandner said Craft likely returned to Mississippi after he was discharged from the hospital.

“We have his information,” Brandner said. “We know where he’s from and we know where he works.”

During a November meeting of the Columbia County Traffic Safety Commission, a member of the sheriff’s office shared the truck’s dashcam video with the group. Committee members speculated how while driving on the monotonous stretch of road, Craft may have “zoned out” or lost track of where he was before the crash.

At the meeting, Columbia County Highway Commissioner Chris Hardy said rumble strips would be installed for vehicles approaching that intersection on Highway E. Those safety measures are now in place.

Another serious crash occurred at the same intersection on Oct. 24, 2017, when two injured people had to be transported from the scene via helicopter.

Editor's note: This article was changed on March 2 to reflect that the children were in the van at the time of the crash.