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5 counts of homicide recommended for man suspected of driving through Wisconsin Christmas parade

Dennis Romero, Tom Winter, Jonathan Dienst and Marlene Lenthang
Waukesha parade suspect has a history of arrests
Waukesha parade suspect has a history of arrests

A Wisconsin man was arrested and accused of driving a red SUV into a crowd at a Waukesha Christmas parade on the city's Main Street, as revelers watched in horror, officials said Monday.

Darrell Brooks, 39, was booked on suspicion of five counts of intentional homicide, Waukesha Police Chief Daniel Thompson told reporters.

The victims were women aged 79, 71, 52 and 52, and a man, 81, was also killed. Thompson said 48 people were injured, including two children in critical condition.

Brooks was involved in a domestic stabbing incident before the crash, but it's not clear who the victim was, law enforcement sources told NBC News.

Brooks had fled scene of that domestic incident just before officers arrived there, Thompson said.

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The suspect has a significant criminal history was questioned overnight, with investigators probing the possibility that the driver had been fleeing an earlier incident involving a knife fight.

On Monday, the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office released a summary of pending charges against Brooks, which include charges of second-degree recklessly endangering safety and felon in possession of a firearm from July 2020. 

Man intentionally drives SUV through a crowded parade route
Man intentionally drives SUV through a crowded parade route

In lieu of a speedy trial, which wasn't possible at the time, his bail was reduced from $7,500 to $500 on those charges. He posted bail in February and was released.

Brooks had posted bail earlier this month in a separate domestic abuse case, court records show.

He's charged with resisting or obstructing an officer, bail jumping recklessly, endangering safety, disorderly conduct and battery, the records show. He appeared in court on Nov. 12 and is scheduled for another hearing next month.

He had posted a $1,000 cash bond on Nov. 11, the court records show. 

A red SUV speeds past attendees moments before plowing into a crowd at a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, U.S., in this still image taken from a November 21, 2021 social media video.
City of Waukesha | Reuters

"The State's bail recommendation in this case was inappropriately low in light of the nature of the recent charges and the pending charges against Mr. Brooks," the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office said in a statement Monday.

The office is conducting an internal review of the bail recommendation.

Brooks' lawyer declined to comment.

Five sources in a position to be briefed on the incident said that at this early stage of the investigation, there was no connection to terrorism and no indication that it was in retaliation for the not guilty verdict Friday in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial.

An FBI spokesperson said that the bureau was aware of the event but that local authorities would lead the inquiry.

A stroller lays abandoned on the street after a vehicle plowed through the Christmas Parade, leaving multiple people injured in Waukesha, Wisconsin, U.S. November 21, 2021.
Scott Ash | USA TODAY Network | via Reuters

Video from the scene showed the red SUV speeding down the parade route, then barreling into the crowd while a band was playing.

The vehicle went through barricades set up for the parade before striking people, Thompson said.

An officer opened fire at the SUV in an attempt to stop it, said Thompson, who added that police were no longer searching for the vehicle.

On Sunday afternoon, spectators gathered along the street in downtown Waukesha to watch the procession of floats, classic cars and children dancing. Right before the incident, video from the scene showed spectators both standing and sitting in chairs, watching a marching band perform.

When the vehicle plowed into the crowd, spectators began to scream. In the minutes after it happened, people cleared the area.

A group called the "Milwaukee Dancing Grannies," whose members are grandmothers, said in a statement on social media that "members of the group and volunteers were impacted and we are waiting for word on their conditions."  

Police and emergency personnel work on a crime scene on November 21, 2021 in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Jim Vondruska | Getty Images

"Please keep the Grannies, all those injured, and all those who witnessed this horrible event in your thoughts and prayers."

Parade attendee Jaymz Touchstone said he was watching his daughter's band playing when the vehicle "swerved around the big truck right behind the band and then accelerated through the band and down the street." 

"I tried to pursue the car. I couldn't. I turned around and came back and started to render first aid to the people there," Touchstone said. "The kid that I was rendering first aid to … his feet were crushed. They ran over both of his legs. He hit his legs, got trapped under the tire."

Thomas Kluka, who said he goes to the Christmas parade with his family every year, said when he saw the SUV barreling toward him, he threw his daughter out of harm's way and the car came within 2 feet of him. 

"I could've touched the car going by," he said. 

Angelito Tenorio, a candidate for Wisconsin state treasurer, said he just finished marching in the parade with the Waukesha County Democratic Party when the vehicle sped down the route.

"People [were] running away from the scene, leaving their belongings behind, looking for their kids, family, friends," he told MSNBC. "It looked like there were folks on the ground lying who may have been struck by the vehicle."

Scott Greger, a Waukesha resident, said he witnessed the vehicle strike someone, continue and then hit a float.

"The red SUV came barreling down the street — very, very high rate of speed and hit a pedestrian," he said.

He said the SUV's presence was preceded by police sirens in the area.

Greger described the route as "full" with marchers and spectators. The event in suburban Milwaukee, billed as the Waukesha's 58th annual Christmas Parade, had been canceled in 2020 as a result of the pandemic.

Waukesha resident Jesus Ochoa, who attended the event with his wife and 3-year-old daughter, described how the parade continued marching in the moments just after the incident.

"It carried on because no one realized yet because the SUV, in the spot where we were, it didn't pass in the middle of the street, but it passed on a side," he told Reuters.

Area hospitals reported treating at least 28 people from the parade, including 13 at Aurora Medical Center in Summit. Aurora said in a statement that three of those patients were in critical condition.

Officials from Children's Wisconsin, a Milwaukee pediatric trauma center, said during a news conference Monday that 18 children were treated there, including three sets of siblings. The children range in age from 3 to 16 years old.

The hospital was alerted by police soon after the incident, and extra doctors, nurses and surgeons were brought in, the officials said. The first patient was admitted at 5:30 p.m.

The children suffered from injuries including facial abrasions, broken bones and serious head injuries, medical director Amy Drendel said.

Six children underwent surgery Sunday night, and two more are expected to undergo surgery Monday, she said.

Six patients are listed in critical condition, three in serious and one in fair, officials said. Eight other patients are listed as fair, and two children have been discharged from the hospital.

Ten children remain in the ICU, and six are in other units of the hospital.

"Injuries from Sunday night will go well beyond the physical and will take time to heal," Michael Gutzeit, the hospital's chief medical officer, said.

Mental health support has been activated for the children, their families and staff.

At least one Catholic priest, as well as multiple parishioners and Waukesha Catholic school children were injured, according to Sandra Peterson, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Roads in the area of the incident would remain closed, as would businesses, the city said on Facebook. Classes were canceled for Waukesha public schools Monday.

"I'm grateful for the first responders and folks who acted quickly to help, and we are in contact with local partners as we await more information," Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers wrote on Facebook Sunday evening.

Evers ordered for flags to be flown at half-staff Monday as a mark of respect for the victims of the parade. 

President Joe Biden on Monday expressed his condolences, saying his administration is monitoring the situation "very closely."

"Last night people of Waukesha were gathered to celebrate the start of a season of hope and togetherness and Thanksgiving. This morning Jill and I and the entire Biden family, and I'm sure all of us, pray that that same spirit is going to embrace and lift up all the victims of this tragedy," he said.

"While we don't have all the facts and details, we know this morning that five families in Waukesha are facing fresh grief of a life without a loved one," he added.