Subscribe for 33¢ / day

A jury could decide Wednesday whether a self-employed exterminator whose truck struck and killed a bicyclist on Highway 14 in 2016 is guilty of negligent homicide.

Rollen J. Fries, 71, of Mazomanie, “wasn’t watching where he was going” when he struck Cynthia A. Arsnow, 62, as she headed to work in Cross Plains the morning of July 15, 2016, Deputy District Attorney Matthew Moeser told the jury during opening statements Tuesday. Fries looked away from the road only for a few seconds, but long enough to hit Arsnow, Moeser said.

Driving at high speed, Moeser said, drivers have to watch where they’re going.

“Mr. Fries made the decision not to do that, and that’s what killed Ms. Arsnow,” Moeser said.

But Fries’ lawyer, Mark Eisenberg, said that while Fries admits that he was distracted while he was driving, that distraction doesn’t rise above ordinary negligence to criminal negligence, which the jury must find in order for Fries to be convicted of homicide by negligent driving.

“Accidents happen,” Eisenberg said. “And a mistake alone doesn’t mean he was criminally negligent in the operation of his vehicle.”

The trial, before Circuit Judge Nicholas McNamara, is expected to last into Wednesday before going to the jury. Fries has not yet said whether he will testify in his defense. The homicide charge carries up to 10 years of combined prison and extended supervision if Fries is convicted.

Witnesses who were driving behind Fries testified Tuesday that they saw Fries’ truck swerve within the westbound lane of Highway 14, a couple of times kicking up gravel as it crossed over the fog line toward the shoulder. Both witnesses said that although Arsnow carried several plastic shopping bags that dangled from her handlebars, they never saw her bicycle cross the fog line into the lane of traffic before she was struck by Fries’ truck.

‘Swerving motions’

Sarah Kerl, a nurse who was headed home after working overnight, testified that the movements of Fries’ truck were “exaggerated swerving motions,” as though he was reading something.

Kerl, along with Matthew Christensen, who was driving immediately behind Fries, testified that they saw Arsnow on her bicycle and worried that she would be struck by Fries because of the way that Fries’ truck was swerving. Christensen said he could see the driver of the truck bending to reach toward something on the passenger side of the truck.

Christensen testified he saw the truck “veer,” and then, “I saw it hit the woman on the bike.”

Deputy Brian Mrochek, who interviewed Fries at the scene, said Fries told him that he was reaching for a sheet of paper, a blank invoice, and was distracted at the moment he struck Arsnow. He said he didn’t see her in the road until just before the crash, Mrochek said. He said that Fries was cooperative, but was very upset after the crash, and asked several times about Arsnow’s condition.

Though the crash happened in July 2016, Fries was not charged with causing her death until April 2017.

Arsnow rode her bicycle to work at HSA Home Warranty in Cross Plains nearly every day from Madison’s East Side, even in the winter, a co-worker told the Wisconsin State Journal after her death.

Ed Treleven is the courts reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.