A man with three convictions for drunken-driving has been found guilty of hitting and killing a cycling grandfather in Waushara County.
Eric Banaszak, 42, of Redgranite, pleaded no contest to hit-and-run causing death in Waushara County Circuit Court and will be sentenced by Circuit Judge Guy Dutcher on Oct. 2. The felony charge carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.
According to court records, Banaszak crashed into James Shafer, 56, while the owner of Lambeau Lanes bicycled near his home about 3 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 14. Shafer regularly commuted by bicycle and was killed on Highway EE, near his home in the Town of Leon.
Banaszak told authorities that he drove around a corner and suddenly saw something bright and orange in front of him. He tried to slam on his brakes, but hit Shafer, panicked and drove home. He turned himself into police about 15 hours later.
His girlfriend reported to detectives that she and Banaszak had been drinking in area taverns from 6:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., 30 minutes before the crash.
Drunken driving would not have been a new experience for Banaszak. He compiled three prior convictions for operating while intoxicated. The latest was in 2006, when he police in Berlin arrested him. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. His license was revoked for 30 months.
He kept driving.
Police in Ripon stopped Banaszak and cited him for driving after revocation on Sept. 7, 2008. On Dec. 1 of that year he was sentenced to spend five days in the Waushara County Jail.
A day later, police caught him driving again, in Redgranite, and cited him. He paid a $200 fine.
When Banszak killed Shafer, the cycling enthusiast had owned Lambeau Lanes for seven years and enjoyed bowling, hunting, and fishing. He loved music and played the guitar.
“Most of all, Jim loved his family,” his obituary said.
Shafer was the first of the eight cyclists killed by motorists on Wisconsin roads this year. His death highlights the need for drivers to focus first on driving while behind the wheel, and also the impact of alcohol on the road.
According to the Department of Transportation, Wisconsin has the highest rate of drunken driving in the nation and roughly 33,000 people are convicted of drunken driving each year. More than 26 percent of Wisconsin adults who were surveyed admitted that they had driven under the influence of alcohol in the previous year, according to a nationwide study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Here’s how you can avoid an arrest or killing someone.
- Choose a sober designated driver before you start drinking.
- If you’re feeling buzzed, you likely are over the 0.08 limit and should not drive.
- Take mass transit, a taxicab or ask a sober friend to drive you home.