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Details of death emerge with release of criminal complaint

Becky Strabel | Staff writer
Tara Appleton (left) and Preston Decorah. - Photos provided
BURNETT COUNTY - An initial appearance was held Wednesday, April 15, in Burnett County Circuit Court in front of Judge Melissia Mogen. Tara Appleton, 31, Webster, appeared in custody via teleconference from the Burnett County Jail.
Appleton faces charges of first-degree reckless homicide causing death under circumstances which showed utter disregard for human life, a class B felony, and upon conviction may be imprisoned up to 60 years.
In addition, she is charged with second-degree reckless homicide causing death, a class D felony, and upon conviction may be fined up to $100,000 and or imprisoned up to 25 years.
The third count is homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle causing death, by the operating a vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant, a class D felony, and upon conviction may be fined up to $100,000 and or imprisoned up to 25 years. Plus, revocation of her driver’s license for 5 years and a bifurcated sentence with at least five years in prison. There is an exception to the term of confinement if the court finds a compelling reason and places its reason on the record.
Count four, hit and run resulting in death, charges Appleton for operating a vehicle involved in an accident that resulted in death and failed to reasonably investigate what was struck and if the operator knew or had reason to know that the accident resulted in injury or death of a person or in damage to a vehicle that is driven or attended by a person, and failed to stop the vehicle she was operating as close to the scene of the accident as possible and remain at the scene of the accident until she did the all of the following: give her name, address and the registration number of the vehicle she or she was operating to the operator or occupant of or person attending any vehicle collided with and, upon request and if available, exhibit her operator's license to the operator or occupant of or person attending any vehicle collided with and render reasonable assistance to any person injured in the accident, including transporting, or making arrangements to transport the person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent that medical or surgical treatment is necessary or if requested by the injured person, a class D felony, and upon conviction may be fined up to $100,000 and or imprisoned up to 25 years. Plus, revocation of her driver’s license for 5 years.
Her charges were read along with the maximum penalty for each. She requested a preliminary hearing to be held within time limits at the suggestion of her Attorney Bruce P. Anderson. It was set for Tuesday, April 28, at 9:30 a.m. Anderson allowed the additional three days beyond state statutes to ensure that a full hour was reserved for the hearing.
A motion for a bail modification was also heard. Anderson asked that due to her modest prior record and for being a life-long resident of the community and living at least 8 years at the same address that her bail be reduced to $2,500 with additions conditions as the court sees fit. He also suggested that the criminal complaint isn’t as strong as the district attorney believes it to be.
DA Rennicke argued the seriousness of the charges and the disregard for life, failure to seek help and the length of time that Decorah was left outside.
“It was many hours later. A timely call and Decorah’s death could have been avoided. He also stated that Appleton also has two prior OWIs and faces at least five years in prison.
The court denied the request and reminded the parties that one of the charges comes with up to 60 years in prison. Mogen is open to reviewing bond after the preliminary hearing is held.
Criminal complaint
On Monday, March 30, at approximately 9:15 a.m., Burnett County dispatch received a call from Jolene Bildeau stating that Preston Decorah, 27, Webster, was intoxicated, unresponsive and laying in her driveway on Eagle Feather Drive in the Town of Sand Lake.
North Ambulance and St. Croix/Hertel First Responders were dispatched. The first responders arrived on the scene. They requested that the ambulance step up their response because they believed Decorah had head trauma. EMS called for Air Care to meet them at the Spooner Hospital.
Burnett County Deputy Mitchell Olson spoke with Bildeau who told Olson she wasn’t sure what had happened, but that Decorah had been at her house drinking the night before. Then he had left with Appleton and Nathaniel Reynolds, 30, Webster. Bildeau said she got up at 8:35 a.m. and went to her dad’s. Upon her return, she saw Preston lying in her driveway.
Detective Mikal Anton was contacted, and he went to the Spooner Hospital around 11 a.m. to gather information. He met with first responders who were requested by EMS to assist with care during the drive to the Spooner Hospital. The St. Croix/Hertel First Responders told Anton they had responded to the medical call around 9:17 a.m.
When they first arrived, there was a female sitting next to Decorah in the driveway. There was another female walking from the house towards Decorah. He was on the side of the driveway between the house and the road and covered in blankets. Three or four others were standing nearby.
The first responders said that Decorah had very shallow breathing, dried blood around his mouth and appeared to have a bruise around his right eye.
Anton took some preliminary pictures of Decorah in the emergency room and was told that the family requested Decorah be transferred via helicopter to Regions Hospital in St. Paul.
Anton spoke with family members who had received voice messages from Decorah the evening before. One of the messages was delivered just after 11 p.m. They contained background noise with music and female voices. During one of the messages, Decorah is asking to borrow $30.
Back at the scene, Olson and Captain Julie Mead spoke with another first responder. He told them the location of Decorah, vehicles that were at the site and that Appleton had been at the scene.
Deputy Krupa was asked to speak with Appleton at her residence. She arrived around 11:14 a.m. Krupa asked what had happened and Appleton stated that Decorah did not get beat up, which was being rumored. Appleton states she left her place around 11:30 p.m., on Sunday, March 29, and went with Reynolds to Siren to get a bottle of liquor. Then they went to Bildeau’s where Decorah was drinking and they joined the party.
Appleton estimates they were there for about three hours. Then she was going to go back to Siren with Decorah and Reynolds. Appleton stated that when they got to the stop sign at Eagle Feather Road and St. Croix Street, Decorah must have crawled out the window as she was slowing down. Then he got on top of the truck. When Appleton started to accelerate, she saw Decorah sliding down the front of the truck and he rolled off onto the ground. Appleton states he was all bloody but laughing, but he would not get up.
Appleton stated they were all "freaked out" and drunk. She told Reynolds to take the truck while she stayed with Decorah. Reynolds did not come back and Appleton estimates that they were there on the road for at least an hour. Decorah did not want to get up, walk or anything but was still communicating.
Appleton then told Decorah that she was going to walk back to Bildeau’s. When she arrived there, she received a phone call from Elijah Benjamin, 21, Webster. Benjamin told her that he helped Reynolds put Decorah in the truck. Appleton told him to bring Decorah to Bildeau’s. They were going to take Decorah into the house but he ‘flopped back down’ on the ground.
Appleton told the deputy that it was bothering her to leave him. She said she told Decorah she was going to leave him as she was already in the wrong by sneaking out of the house.
Deputy Krupa asked Appleton what time she thought she got back to her house and thought it was around 3:30 to 4 a.m. but then stated it was probably closer to around 5 a.m. and everyone in the house was still sleeping.
Investigator Trevor Thiex arrived at Appleton’s home and asked her if she had been in the black truck that was in the driveway. She stated she was and that she was driving under the influence of alcohol.
Appleton retold the story of what had happened to Thiex and added that Decorah slid down the front window and then off the passenger side of the truck. When asked, Appleton said she had not had anything more to drink after the incident and that Decorah was in the cab of the truck when he was brought back to Bildeau’s.
Appleton was placed under arrest and transported to Burnett Medical Center for a legal blood draw. Appleton received a citation for OWI causing injury. Decorah was still alive at that time.
Appleton was then transported to jail and booked by staff and the deputy returned to Eagle Feather Drive to assist.
Decorah was deceased before the blood kit was sent to the state crime lab, so the statute number for the offense on the kit was amended before being sent certified mail to Madison for analysis.
Additional parties charged 
Reynolds and Benjamin could each be fined $500 and 30 days in jail for not aiding Decorah or reporting Appleton, which is a class C misdemeanor. Their initial appearances are scheduled for Wednesday, May 20.
Reader Comments
Kay Daniels[email protected]
APR 17  •  The parents of all of the young adults involved in this situation will suffer for the rest of their lives. It is so unfortunate young people can't seem to grasp that their choices with drugs and alcohol and decisions made while under the influence can ruin not only their own lives but cause so much pain for all the ones that love them. As a parent I know you can talk and talk about what can happen its just sad it takes an awful situation to happen before they give thought to what their actions can do and now its to late.

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