WAUSAU – A high profile case of road rage dating back to December 2012 in Marathon County is far from settled in court.
The charges of battery and disorderly conduct in the case stem not from the road rage, but what happened after they each called Marathon County 911 for help.
Nick Flanagan of Menominee, Michigan is charged in Marathon County Court for a run-in with Scott Van Patter of Appleton.
The two came face to face in a Menard’s parking lot in Wausau after both drivers were directed there by 911 dispatchers to wait for police.
It was in that parking lot before police arrived that Van Patter told police he was attacked by Flanagan.
“He was reaching over the door with his keys stabbing me,” said Van Patter.
“We referred charges of battery and disorderly conduct and I believe that’s what was charged,” said Wausau Police Captain Ben Bliven.
Wausau police confirm there was a scuffle between the two men in the parking lot.
But FOX 11 Investigates raised the question to Wausau police and the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department whether placing two angry drivers together in a parking lot, to wait for police was a good idea.
Each indicated to FOX 11 they had feared for their life. And each claimed to 911 dispatchers to be the victim of road rage.
“We have a car that’s being disgruntled on the road. It just hit us,” said Flanagan to 911.
“They sideswiped my car. I’m eastbound on 29,” said Van Patter to another 911 operator.
The court case doesn’t involved the road rage incident, since there were no independent witnesses.
“We’re here because the defendant got out of his vehicle, attacked him in the parking lot, not what happened on the highway,” said Kyle Mayo, Marathon County Assistant District Attorney.
But Flanagan’s defense attorney argues his client was just trying to protect himself against a man he says attacked him on the road, with no police in the parking lot to control the peace.
FOX 11 Investigates reporter Mark Leland raised the concern of 911 dispatch making a mistake in putting two angry drivers together.
“It could have been a volatile situation,” said Leland.
“Sure. I mean it certainly sounds like it was a volatile situation,” said Wausau Police Captain Ben Bliven.
“Is that an ideal situation to put one of your officers in?” asked Leland.
“Well ideally we like to keep people separate especially if there’s some sort of controversy or argument going on.”
But that is not what happened. The Marathon County Sheriff’s Department staffs the 911 dispatch.
“Looking back is there something (the dispatchers) should have done differently in this case?” Leland asked Marathon County Sheriff’s Captain Dale Wisnewski.
“Well if you look at hindsight,” Wisnewski responded, adding both drivers ignored dispatcher directions to lock their doors and wait for police.
“Unfortunately the responsibility has to go back to them that they disregarded what they were told to do,” said Wisnewski.
At the direction of his attorney Flanagan declined to talk for this report. But after the incident in 2012 Flanagan did talk to FOX 11 by phone to explain his actions in the Menard’s parking lot.
“I could see him reaching underneath his seat which I obviously knew was for a weapon. So I get out, I open up his door, I grabbed his belt and I’m trying to pull him out of his vehicle before he can reach his firearm,” said Flanagan.
The prosecution will produce witnesses in the parking lot that will say Flanagan went after Van Patter, although they don’t know about the road rage crash, or the gun in Van Patter’s car.
“When I felt that I was in imminent danger and I could not protect myself that’s when I reached behind and uncased my weapon,” said Van Patter, explaining he responded only when attacked.
Police arriving on the scene knew about the gun in Van Patter’s possession. When Van Patter called 911 he mentioned he had “concealed carry.” Police say they took that to mean he had a concealed carry weapon “permit.” And that’s the message that was relayed to the responding officers.
But documents obtained by FOX 11 Investigates show Van Patter’s permit wasn’t granted until 9 days after the crash. Police say Van Patter originally said he misplaced the permit.
So did Van Patter lied to police?
“Well it appears so, based on our investigation with the state in terms of when they received the application,” said Bliven.
“But even if I didn’t have a concealed and carry the state of Wisconsin does have a law that allows you to defend yourself,” explained Van Patter.
In addition to questions about the concealed carry permit, the defense is also trying to show a pattern of road rage.
“I’ve provided the court with eight other incidents where Mr. Van Patter, Scott Van Patter, the other driver, has been involved in what I guess are best described as road rage incidents,” said defense attorney James Connell in court.
Jurors won’t hear about most of those alleged road rage incidents. The judge ruled they were too old or not relevant. Except for one case three months after the December incident. The defense will produce testimony from a motorcyclist in Menasha who says Van Patter knowingly cut him off, and forced him to wipe out.
Van Patter declined to talk about the case with the motorcyclist since it is still in litigation.
Van Patter originally made headlines as a hero fending off would-be attackers with his gun. Now he says he feels like he’s on trial.
“I’m really surprised that things have not become about being attacked in my vehicle and being run off the road, they’ve become more about whether I had a gun permit and how my driving record was 20 years ago,” said Van Patter, who has since moved away from Appleton to rural Northwestern Wisconsin.
With no witnesses in the road rage crash, the prosecution maintains this trial is only about the attack in the parking lot.
Flanagan says he was offered a plea deal in the case, replacing the charges with a small fine. But so far he says, no deal. The prosecution says discussions are ongoing. The trial in the case has been postponed until September.
To date no charges have been filed against either party in the road rage incident that started it all.