Merrill man charged in fatal OWI crash headed to trial
For the Tomahawk Leader
LINCOLN COUNTY – A Merrill man charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and causing a crash that killed a child and injured several others will go to trial.
John J. Lahti, 42, is charged with one felony count of homicide by intoxicated use of vehicle while having a prior intoxicated-related conviction and a misdemeanor count of causing injury/operating while under the influence.
Lahti was previously convicted of operating while intoxicated in Feb. 2004.
The crash occurred on Sept. 17, 2022 in the Town of Merrill.
According to the Wisconsin State Patrol, a Dodge Ram operated by Lahti was traveling southbound on State Hwy. 17 near Sunset Rd. when it crossed the centerline into the northbound lane and collided head-on with a northbound Chevrolet Silverado, operated by Thomas J. Skaar, 41, of Gleason, and occupied by passengers Leah M. Skaar, 37, of Gleason; a female, 9, of Gleason; and a male, 8, of Gleason.
Thomas J. Skaar and the nine-year-old female were transported to Aspirus Merrill Hospital with non-threatening injuries.
Leah M. Skaar suffered critical injuries and was flown to Aspirus Wausau Hospital.
The eight-year-old Gleason male was fatally injured.
All four passengers in the Chevrolet Silverado were wearing seatbelts at the time of the crash, according to the State Patrol.
Lahti received non-life threatening injuries and was transported to Aspirus Merrill Hospital. Following medical clearance, Lahti was taken into custody by Lincoln County deputies and was transported to the Lincoln County Jail, where he was booked on a charge of homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle.
According to a criminal complaint, Lahti displayed signs of intoxication at the scene, and his blood alcohol concentration was .290, more than three times the legal limit to drive.
Court documents said law enforcement recovered a liter brandy bottle, slightly over half full, from Lahti’s vehicle.
Lahti appeared in Lincoln County court on Monday, March 13, where he waived his right to a preliminary hearing. Judge Robert R. Russell determined that there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial.
Lahti is scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday, March 28 for an arraignment.