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Testimony resumes for a second day today in the LaCrosse, Wisconsin murder trial of Todd Kendhammer. Prosecutors allege he killed his wife, Barbara, then made up a story about a freak car accident to explain his wife’s severe injuries. The defendant told authorities that a pipe fell off a truck, crashed through the windshield of the car he was driving, and that his wife, who was in the passenger seat, was injured. A medical examiner is poised to testify that the wife’s injuries could not have been caused by the pipe, according to a criminal complaint.
Prosecutors called four witnesses on Tuesday, December 5th, the first day of the trial. Officer Lance Loeffelholez of the West Salem, Wisconsin Police Department was the witness first to testify. He arrived after emergency medical personnel responded but was the first law enforcement officer on the scene. Loeffelholez played dashcam video from his police cruiser for the jury. The recording captured Loeffelholez’s interactions with the defendant. When Loeffelholz arrived, the first medical responder asked him to take the defendant away from his wife, who was by then being treated by the first responders. The defendant frantically and emotionally told Loeffelholez that he was taking his wife to work at a local school and was going to pick up a windshield. He said that while he was driving and while his wife was in the passenger seat, a pipe came out of a truck, crashed through the windshield, and that he tried to catch it, deflect it, or block it. The pipe hit the defendant’s wife in the head, she started flailing, and eventually started spitting blood out of her mouth, the defendant said. The defendant said he pulled the pipe out of the windshield. The defendant told Loeffelholez the pipe came off of the flatbed of an older truck which was driving southbound on County Road M.
Throughout the conversation, the defendant asked Loeffelholez if he could see his wife or ride to the hospital with his wife. The EMS crews on the scene wouldn’t allow it because there wasn’t room in the ambulance, so the police told the defendant they’d take him to the hospital. They reminded him that he’d just be in the emergency room waiting for the doctors and nurses to do their work, anyway. At one point early on in the conversation, the defendant started to hyperventilate, so Loeffelholez walked him through breathing exercises. At one point during the wife’s treatment, one officer, believed to be Loeffelholez, said “she’s not making it.”
Loeffelholez introduced photos of the defendant which showed blood or cuts on the knuckles of both of the defendant’s hands. The defendant’s car windshield had a hole in the passenger side windshield with blood around it and an area in the center of the vehicle’s windshield that appeared to have been punched out from the inside. The criminal complaint in the case said the punched area of the windshield “would correlate with Todd [the defendant] saying he tried to stop the pipe.”
On cross-examination, Loeffelholez admitted that at one point he saw a truck across the road with no tailgate. Loeffelholez did not talk to anyone about calling in a plate number or otherwise investigating that truck. Loeffelholez said a county deputy called in the truck. Loeffelholez agreed that the defendant was “emotional and distraught” and that the defendant either asked about his wife or asked to be with his wife 21 times during the portion of Loeffelholez’s dashcam recording which was presented to the jury.
Brandon Hauser, a volunteer first responder, was the second witness to testify. He was the first person on the scene and was there to provide medical attention to the victim. He initially went past the scene because he misinterpreted the dispatcher’s page. When he arrived, the defendant was not performing CPR on his wife. Hauser testified that Kendhammer helped him move the victim out of a ditch area because it was difficult to perform CPR on her there. On cross-examination, the defense established that Kendhammer was not performing CPR on his wife because Hauser had driven past the scene at first and that Kendhammer was trying to flag him down. Hauser did not notice whether there were shards of glass on the victim’s clothing because he was focused on removing it for medical treatment. He also testified on cross-examination that Kendhammer appeared concerned for his wife’s condition.
Adam Wickland, who worked with the LaCrosse County Sheriff’s Department at the time of the accident, was the third witness to testify. He said Kendhammer appeared “nervous” and “upset.” Kendhammer had blood on his shirt and blood or scratches on his knuckles, Wickland testified. Wickland put Kendhammer in his squad car to continue the conversation. It was recorded at that point.
In the recording from Wickland’s squad car, Kendhammer was worried that no one would be present at the hospital to be therefor his wife. “She won’t know anybody. I’m always with her, though,” he said. Kendhammer also said, “I almost passed out doing CPR.” In an emotional voice, Kendhammer remained concerned that paramedics wouldn’t let him ride in the ambulance and that he should have called 911 sooner. (Kendhammer attempted CPR on this own, which he said he was taught to do, and called 911 a few minutes later.) Kendhammer asked if his wife would be okay and if he could confirm whether his wife had arrived at the hospital. Wickland didn’t know. At various points, Kendhammer asked for water, said he was hot, asked about air conditioning, and said he felt he needed to get out of the squad car. On cross-examination, Wickland said the defendant was shaken, surprised, upset, and unsteady on his feet. Wickland confirmed that Kendhammer was cooperative the entire time and that he was concerned about getting his daughter and his son to the hospital.
Capt. John Zimmerman of the LaCrosse County Sheriff’s Department was the fourth witness to testify. He presented a series of photos of the scene, including a later aerial drone photo, to the jury. He also presented to jurors the 53” pipe recovered from behind the car on the passenger side. It weighed 10 pounds, 5 ounces, and jurors were allowed to handle it while it was sheathed in a paper bag to get a sense of its diameter, weight, and length. One end of the pipe was dirty. The other end had a threaded fitting and had glass shards on it. Zimmerman testified there were no bumps or sharp turns in the road which would have caused a truck to lose a pipe.
He also testified that there was glass and sand on the front seat of Kendhammer’s car. Blood and the victim’s right shoe were on the floor. The victim’s purse was in the back seat. The victim’s other shoe was in the grass. Blood was visible on the rear passenger tire. A piece of blue plastic, which officers think broke off of the victim’s coffee Thermos, was also on the windshield.
Zimmerman was on the stand when prosecutors played Kendhammer’s 911 call. Operators told him how to do CPR on his wife. The recording also confirmed Kendhammer told operators to get the first responders back to the scene after they accidentally drove past, presumably on a neighboring road.
Zimmerman testified that officers reviewed footage from four security cameras in the vicinity. Officers could only download and save video from three of them, however. Testimony Tuesday focused on one of those cameras, which was positioned at Wild Winds Horse Ranch on County Highway M about a mile south of the crash site. (The drive between the ranch and the scene would have taken about one minute twenty-eight seconds, Zimmerman said.) The road was visible in a tiny sliver of the available video frame. Officers think the Kendhammer vehicle passed the camera heading northbound at 7:57:13 a.m. A truck traveling southbound passed at about 7:47 a.m., but it did not appear to be a flatbed truck.
On cross-examination, the defense questioned whether officers “misinterpreted” where the pipe hit the car, since the defendant’s description of the location might not have been precise.
The defense also questioned how the vehicle was towed from the accident scene to the local police lot, a journey of 12 to 14 miles, and from the local police lot to the state crime lab, which was an additional three hours away. Prosecutors have theorized that because broken glass was visible on the passenger seat that the defendant’s wife could not have been sitting it in when the glass shattered. That would destroy the defendant’s version of the story. The defense seemed to theorize that glass could have fallen from the broken windshield onto various locations inside the car during the lengthy journey to the state crime lab.
When cross-examined about the video from Wild Winds Horse Ranch, Zimmerman testified initially that his department didn’t do anything to confirm the ranch owner’s claim that the time stamp on the surveillance video was twelve hours off. Later, though, they said they did try to confirm it using their cell phones. The defense pointed out that electronic devices were oftentimes out of sync and produced both a cell phone and a tablet with different times. The defense finally pointed out what appeared to have been a second truck in the surveillance footage which appeared to have a white cab and a homemade bed. The officer testified that the vehicle was northbound and didn’t concern him as much as vehicle heading southbound. There seemed to be confusion as to what Kendhammer meant by a truck which was “passing” him.
On re-direct, Zimmerman said he examined footage from approximately 15 to 20 minutes before and 15 to 20 minutes after the assumed time of the accident when matched up to the 12-hours-off surveillance video timestamp. They did see first responders going to the scene of the accident tin the video, which helped them pinpoint the time, Zimmerman said. Zimmerman said he did touch various items in the car, including the key and the driver’s side window, and did not attempt to secure items such as the victim’s shoe or purse inside the car to ensure they wouldn’t move around. He said he didn’t secure the items because he didn’t want to tamper with evidence.
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