Deputy’s investigation identifies suspect
James D. Vanbuskirk. 57. New London, was charged Feb. 7 with felony hit-and-run and reckless driving causing injury.
He is accused of hitting a teenaged pedestrian around 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, on County Trunk W in the town of Mukwa.
According to the criminal complaint, a 16-year-old girl was riding her skateboard on the south shoulder of County W near the New London High School football field.
She was facing oncoming traffic when she saw an approaching vehicle slowly creeping over the fog line.
She moved onto the gravel shoulder, but the vehicle struck her, causing the girl to spin around and fall to the ground.
She told Waupaca County Deputy Justin Malueg that she was hit by the vehicle’s front passenger-side headlight, which was damaged in the crash.
She estimated the vehicle was traveling about 25 mph and it did not stop after hitting her.
She could not identify the make or model of the car that hit her, although she said it may have been a SUV and possibly red.
A short time later, the girl waived down a passerby in what she described as a Jeep. The driver stopped and asked if she needed help.
She called her parents and said the man left before they arrived.
She said the man moved part of a damaged headlight off the road before he left.
Her step-father and mother drove her to the ThedaCare Medical Center in New London.
The girl “seemed in good spirits” at the hospital, the complaint says.
She suffered some pain from her injuries, but apparently no broken bones.
The girl’s step-father told Malueg that he remembered seeing a vehicle with only one headlight traveling past the scene but he could not remember much else about the vehicle.
Malueg investigated the scene. He did not find a headlight, but he located small piles of glass and white and black plastic that he collected as evidence.
The deputy went to O’Reilly Auto Parts in New London. Employees there were able to find numbers and identify the parts as belonging to a Mitsubishi Outlander or Toyota Highlander-type of vehicle.
At 6:20 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2, an O’Reilly employee texted Malueg and indicated he had the vehicle’s license plate number,
Malueg immediately called the employee, who said his friend had seen a vehicle matching the description of the one he was looking for. Its passenger side mirror was damaged.
The deputy entered the license plate number into the Flock app on his cellphone, which is an AI system linked to traffic safety cameras. A Flock camera is located at the corner of North Shawano Street and State Highway 54.
At 3:09 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, prior to the crash, the camera captured an image of a Toyota 4Runner with the same license plate and no visible damage.
At 3:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2, the same camera captured an image of the Toyota with what appeared to be damage to the passenger-side headlight and mirror.
The vehicle was registered to Vanbuskirk.
Malueg contacted Vanbuskirk by phone on Monday, Feb. 5. He asked Vanbuskirk if he had seen the news about the hit-and-run investigation.
Vanbuskirk said he did not follow the news, but he had stopped to help the girl when he saw her on the side of the road the evening of Feb. 1. He said he waited while she called her parents and denied moving anything other than her skateboard off the road, the complaint says.
Vanbuskirk agreed to meet with Malueg at the Bear Creek Citgo at 8:15 p.m. on Feb. 5.
When Vanbuskirk arrived in a silver SUV, Malueg asked him if that was the same vehicle he was driving the night of the hit-and-run. Vanbuskirk replied it was not the same because he wife was currently using it.
Vanbuskirk initially told Malueg that he had been heading west from his parents’ residence when he saw the girl on the side of the ride. She appeared distressed, so Vanbuskirk stopped and asked what happened. She told him she had been hit by a car.
When Maluleg began asking him about damage to his car, Vanbuskirk asked “Do I need to get a lawyer?”
Malueg asked why he thought he needed an attorney. Buskirks replied, ““I’m concerned that like I’m being implicated as the person that was responsible for the accident,” according to the complaint.
Malueg then explained how the Flock traffic camera had captured images of his vehicle and asked Vanbuskirk to be honest with him.
“I reminded him that the victim did not have any serious injuries and that she was going to make a full recovery. He immediately looked down and replied, ‘It was my mirror.”
Vanbuskirk told Malueg, “I’m going down the road and the next thing I know, BAM, my mirror flies up.”
He said he thought he hit a deer, then turned around and drove back.
“But I’ll be honest with ya, the first thing I thought whan I hit her was I’m driving the car, she was a pedestrian, I’m gonna go to jail. That’s what went through my head,” Vanbuskirk said.
He explained he had been helping his elderly parents move into an apartment in New London. They had health issues and he was stressed out with worry about could he care for them if he was in jail.
He also said he was certain he had been in his lane of traffic because he did not see the girl at all.
Vanbuskirk was released from custody on a $2,000 signature bond.