Wisconsin Democrat kills mother and child in car crash

Janet Bewley

A Wisconsin state senator and party leader may face calls to resign, but not much more, after being involved in a fatal traffic accident.

Janet Bewley (photo, left; bio here), 70, who represents rural counties bordering Lake Superior, pulled out of a parking lot into highway traffic while talking on the phone with a reporter, and just one day after she had eye surgery to remove a cataract, and hit another car.

The collision pushed the other car across the highway, where it was hit by another car. The occupants, a 27-year-old woman and her 5-year-old daughter, were killed in the second impact. (See photo below and story here.)

Awful as this accident is, it’s hard to see criminal charges resulting. In Wisconsin, it’s legal to talk on a cellphone while driving, and the fines for distracted driving are puny (details here). What do you expect? The legislature, which makes the laws, is controlled by Republicans.

People who’ve had cataract removal surgery typically wear an eye patch for about a week, but driving with one eye is legal in all 50 states (details here). So unless she’d been drinking, and news reports don’t say that, it may be tough for police and prosecutors to put together a criminal case against her.

That doesn’t mean she should stay in the legislature. This case bears similarities to that of ex-South Dakota Jason Ravnsborg, with the exception that she didn’t leave the scene and report hitting a deer (details here). There are a lot of deer where Bewley lives, and if you hit something on a highway there, it’s far more likely a deer than a pedestrian.

I think she should resign. It’ll be hard to properly represent her district after this. She’ll be distracted by the investigation and inevitable wrongful death lawsuit, even if (as seems likely) there are no criminal charges. And her constituents likely won’t see her in the same light anymore, especially as a child was one of the fatalities. She shouldn’t wait to be asked or told; she should do it now.

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