Felony 'negligent fire' charges filed in August 2014 fatal crash near Kenneth

Felony charges were filed last week in connection with a crash last summer that took the life of a young woman.

Mark Richard Zebe, 43, Adrian, was charged in Rock County District Court Friday with negligent fire.

The charges stem from a waterway fire Zebe started south of Kenneth on Aug. 4, 2014. Court documents state that Zebe’s fire got out of control, causing the crash that killed 26-year-old Ashley (Brands) Von Holtum.

According to the complaint, a burn permit had been issued for the waterway fire, but no one was present to monitor the blaze.

Fire and smoke approached County Road 3 from the east, eventually limiting visibility for motorists.

Shortly after noon on Aug. 4, the Sheriff’s Office was alerted of the hazard, and Deputy Glen Reisdorfer was dispatched to the area.

He spoke with landowner Brad Scott, who said he would call Mark Zebe, the land renter who started the burn to make sure it would be monitored.

Reisdorfer was dispatched an hour later to the same location, this time for a crash caused by the smoke.

A semi with a side-dump and another vehicle had been involved in a crash and were stopped south of the fire.

While Reisdorfer drove closer to the fire, he noticed it was not yet monitored, and two semis slowly drove through the smoke at that time with their lights flashing.

At that point Reisdorfer called dispatch to get a squad with lights on the south end of the fire because there was zero visibility in the smoke.

About this time he noticed a yellow crew cab pickup with severe front-end damage in the northbound lane.

Reisdorfer ran to check for occupants and got no response from the driver, Von Holtum. He ended up breaking a window with his flashlight and found Von Holtum to be breathing, but bleeding from the head and face area.

Reisdorfer radioed dispatch for a helicopter and attempted to stabilize Von Holtum, who later died from her injuries.

After the helicopter left, Reisdorfer and Sgt. Jeff Wieneke met with the semi driver, Gary Akkerman, who said he had slowed down to enter the smoke with his lights flashing.

He said he couldn’t see a vehicle that hit him from behind, but he knew someone or something had struck him, so he drove a safe distance out of the smoke to call for help.

Wieneke also spoke with Scott, who said Zebe’s brother, Paul, had called him that morning to say they would be burning that day. At first the smoke was straight up, but then later it shifted to drift across the road.

Scott and other witnesses said they had seen Zebe several times throughout the day in the area monitoring the fire. Those witnesses said they noticed compromised visibility, but not totally blocked.

On Aug. 8 Wieneke interviewed Zebe, who said he was monitoring the fire and remembers the wind switching to the northeast around 1 p.m. He said he watched vehicles travel through the smoke, but he would never lose sight of them.

He said he hadn’t seen the first accident happen, but that he’d gotten a call to give a motorist involved in that incident a ride home, which he did.

At that point, he said, he saw law enforcement and the fire department on the scene and there was nothing more he could do.

Zebe is scheduled to appear in Rock County District Court on June 1 to answer to the charges in the complaint.

The maximum penalty for felony level negligent burning is five years in jail, a $10,000 fine or both.

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