Tim Ryan firstname.lastname@example.org
(Editor’s note: This is the second of a four-part series looking back at the unsolved hit-and-run that took the life six years ago of Timothy J. Meade. Details of the investigation have been culled from the Shawano County Sheriff’s Department’s 144-page case file.)
Shawano County authorities have closed the case because the statute of limitations on any potential criminal charges expired on June 28 of this year.
Meade, 22, of Stephenson, Michigan, was found about 2:30 a.m. June 28, 2013, in the eastbound lane of traffic on County Road M at the state Highway 29 overpass.
Meade had been with his cousin, Danny Anderson, at the Country USA music festival in Oshkosh prior to coming to Shawano where Anderson dropped him off to see a female friend.
Meade spent the rest of the day with her and that night they visited The Shack tavern, W7601 Poplar Road in the town of Richmond.
After a few hours, his friend wanted to leave, but Meade insisted on staying.
According to detectives’ interviews with patrons at the bar, several people offered Meade a ride and the bartender asked if he wanted a cab, but Meade declined, saying his girlfriend was picking him up and he didn’t have far to go.
Meade left The Shack between 1:30 a.m. and 1:45 a.m. He apparently made a cell phone call to a female friend at 2:05 a.m., according to the case file. The call eventually went silent and was ended at 2:08 a.m.
At 2:28 a.m., the sheriff’s dispatch center received a 911 call from a woman who had been westbound on County Road M and passed what appeared to be a person lying in the road. She turned around to check on the person, who appeared to have been struck and was deceased.
Detectives determined Meade was struck by an SUV or large vehicle that would have been headed east on County Road M.
Detective Sgt. Gordon Kowaleski, who heads the department’s investigative team, was the first to suggest that type of vehicle, adding it probably had a lot of metal on its front, according to dispatch radio logs in the hours after the hit-and-run.
“That’s just a first impression of what I see on the scene based on the injuries to the body, (whether there are) vehicle parts left behind and so on,” Kowaleski said. “If it was a small car with a plastic front end, I would expect to see a lot of broken pieces of plastic there. If there’s no car parts there or readily visible, I’m thinking truck, SUV, something with a little more metal on it.”
Kowaleski said that first impression is not set in stone.
“It doesn’t mean we get tunnel-vision and that that’s all we’re looking for,” he said. “But if I have to have a first impression of what’s more likely, what’s less likely, that would be why I would say something like that.”
It also appeared Meade might have been dragged by the vehicle that struck him, according to the case file. There were no vehicle paint transfers or vehicle parts seen.
Autopsy results indicate Meade was lying down in the road at the time he was struck. Toxicology reports indicate he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.25 percent. That would be three times higher than the 0.08 percent that would be legally too drunk to drive.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, sheriff’s detectives interviewed friends and acquaintances of Meade’s as well as persons who might have seen him at The Shack that evening; checked for possible surveillance video at businesses in the area; and checked with area gas stations and car washes regarding any vehicles that had used their facilities that night.
Detectives also inspected several vehicles, including vehicles owned by the original 911 caller and a second driver who stopped at the scene and who had seen Meade earlier at The Shack and unsuccessfully offered him a ride. Detectives also inspected the vehicles of two other Shack patrons.
Authorities also conducted interviews with bartenders at taverns in Gresham, Leopolis, Thornton, Lyndhurst and Red River to determine whether there might have been patrons who were headed into Shawano around the time of the crash.
Investigators also made a check of area body shops to determine whether there had been any suspicious requests for work on a vehicle.
In July 2013, the sheriff’s department also obtained records from a “tower dump.”
A tower dump is information gathered via search warrant from cell phone providers that identifies names and phone numbers of people who had made cell phone calls within the vicinity of the accident scene on the night it occurred.
The search warrants, which went to several cell phone providers, requested information on calls placed and received between 2:08 a.m. and 2:33 a.m. for any and all towers covering an area about one mile west of Shawano on County Road M.
The case file shows a list of 23 names and phone numbers compiled from the tower dump that were passed along to the lead detective on the case at the time, Wade Wudtke.
The file does not indicate what was done with that information.
Sheriff Adam Bieber said that information would not have been useful without other corroborating evidence.
“There were many names and numbers available due to the tower dump,” he said. “However, a tower dump does not give specific location of the user, but you can be assured that they are in a certain region which is quite large. The information provided by the informant is just verified and gives more credence with the information from the tower. One without the other does not hold as much meaning as far as evidence.”
Though the case file includes all of the substantive investigation efforts the sheriff’s department took while working this case, it does not include countless hours of work that did not result in the filing of any reports, Kowaleski said.
“If you wrote down every thing we do, you’d be writing ‘War and Peace,’” he said. “For instance, on any hit-and-run like that, we’ll send officers out to that area, say over a three- or four-hour block for the next week, two weeks, month, and just look at the traffic and who’s driving through and see if we can spot a vehicle that drives through every day.”
Kowaleski said if that effort doesn’t turn anything up, there’s no report written.
“There are a lot of little things we do that take up time, that are time-consuming, and they just don’t pan out,” he said.
The last entry in the case file from Wudtke, dated Nov. 17, 2014, states that because there had been no new information since 2013, the case would be considered closed unless new information is received.
Wudtke left the department in March 2015. Detective Jesse Sperberg was later assigned.
Sperberg’s first entry in the case file is dated May 30, 2015, and involved a possible suspect vehicle, which was unrelated to the suspect authorities would learn about later. The vehicle was ruled out as having been involved.
In October 2017, Sperberg followed up on an anonymous letter suggesting authorities speak to another potential person of interest. That person was also ruled out as a suspect.
Authorities also checked out two other names that came to their attention at that time, but they determined there was no correlation to the hit-and-run.
In the meantime, authorities also put the word out to the general public in the hope that someone would come forward and, over the next several years, the family and the department arranged memorials on the anniversary of Meade’s death in an attempt to keep public attention focused on the case.
In a balloon-launch ceremony on the first anniversary of Meade’s death in 2014, then-sheriff Randy Wright said the department had no firm leads and implored the driver of the vehicle or anyone with information to come forward for the sake of the family.
“As with anyone who loses a loved one, they want closure to what happened and why it happened,” he said in an interview with the Shawano Leader.
On the second anniversary, Shawano County Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Gordon Kowaleski told the Leader extensive time and investigation had gone into the case over the last two years.
“It’s still an open case, but it’s gone cold,” he said.
Those statements remained true for the next several years and next several anniversaries.
That unexpectedly changed in 2018.