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Police: Man charged in fatal hit-and-run was on the phone at time of crash

Dec. 20, 2013
 
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James R. Erdmann Jr.

APPLETON — The man charged in a fatal hit-and-run was on the phone with his girlfriend at the time of the crash and later acknowledged hitting someone with his truck, police said.

James R. Erdmann Jr., 20, of Poy Sippi, was driving to Little Chute to pick up his girlfriend in the early hours of Nov. 9, according to the criminal complaint reviewed Thursday by Post-Crescent Media.

The girlfriend informed police a week after the incident that Erdmann told her he hit someone and needed to hurry so police would not get involved.

Appleton police said Erdmann, who was arrested Wednesday, was identified from video surveillance footage of a man who was filling up his red truck at a gas station shortly after bicyclist Robert Joosten, 61, of Little Chute, was struck near Wisconsin Avenue and Ballard Road in Appleton. Joosten had a faint pulse when officers arrived, but died shortly after he was taken to a hospital, authorities said.

Erdmann is charged with hit-and-run involving a death, which carries a maximum of 25 years in prison. He is scheduled to appear Jan. 13 in Outagamie County court. For now, he’s being held in jail on a $100,000 warrant.

Joosten died of blunt force trauma to his head, neck, torso and other parts of the body, the Fond du Lac Medical Examiner’s Office said.

Police found debris from the bicycle, including reflectors and a battery-operated flasher, and the rear tire was torn off.

Investigators pieced the story together after reviewing surveillance footage from traffic cameras and local businesses. The camera at a Marathon gas station across the street from where Joosten was found recorded him riding his bike with his rear flashing light visible. A red pickup truck — equipped with upper cab lights and additional lights in the rear well area — was spotted in the same area at the time of the crash.

Police followed the truck’s trail through Appleton and into Little Chute, where it stopped at Moasis Truck Stop near County N and U.S. 41. There, the driver was seen purchasing gasoline, and the in-store camera footage was circulated through the community. As a result, multiple people identified Erdmann as the driver, police said.

When officers spoke with Erdmann on Nov. 15, he said he was driving in the area at the time of the crash to pick up his girlfriend and confirmed he was driving his father’s truck. Police then spoke with Erdmann’s girlfriend, who said Erdmann told her on the phone that he had struck a person, but didn’t see him.

When Erdmann arrived at his girlfriend’s Little Chute residence, he told her the man was still moving as he drove away. He said they needed to hurry to his Poy Sippi residence because he didn’t want the police to become involved.

After the Nov. 15 interview, police obtained Erdmann’s cellphone records and confirmed he had a lengthy call with his girlfriend and was in the area at the time of the crash.

Appleton Sgt. Dave Lund told Post-Crescent Media that investigators were preparing to issue an arrest warrant last week, but a fatal shooting Dec. 8 at Luna Lounge hindered the progress. Police also were waiting for test results from the State Crime Lab.

— Ariel Cheung: 920-993-1000, ext. 430, or acheung@postcrescent.com; on Twitter @arielfab

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