Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Man charged for Waukesha parade crash made 1st court appearance


People in Waukesha, Wis., are mourning the victims of Sunday's deadly rampage at a Christmas parade. The driver, accused of killing six people and injuring dozens of others, made his first appearance in court late this afternoon. NPR's Cheryl Corley is covering the story from Waukesha.

And, Cheryl, let's begin with that court appearance for Darrell Brooks, the man charged in the attack. What happened today?

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Well, Ari, this was just an extraordinary hearing. Darrell Brooks came into court wearing what's called a suicide vest. You know, authorities announced earlier that they were charging Brooks with five counts of intentional homicide. And today was the formal process of doing just that, which is the typical procedure in criminal cases. And that criminal complaint stated that Darrell Brooks intentionally caused the deaths of five victims and could face life in prison on each of those counts. It also gave a very detailed accounting of what the state's attorney said occurred last Sunday - that Brooks drove his SUV into people participating in Waukesha's Christmas parade, killing five and injuring many more, which the complaint says is now more than 60 people, an increase of the previous number given. And the state's attorney said there was now a sixth victim, a child, and that there would be another count of intentional homicide filed either by this Friday or early next week. The court generally sets bail for a defendant during this first appearance. And the state's attorney asked for that bail to be set at $5 million cash bail, and the judge agreed.

SHAPIRO: Let's turn now to the victims. We mentioned that six people died, and four of those were associated with the group the Dancing Grannies. Tell us about them.

CORLEY: Well, you know, the Dancing Grannies started as a jazz exercise group nearly 40 years ago and just expanded to become this really beloved dancing group. And they performed across Wisconsin. Earlier this summer, in a report on a local television station, WDJT, two of the women who died Sunday were profiled - 79-year-old Virginia Sorenson, often called Ginny by the group. She was the choreographer for nearly two decades and was considered really the heart and soul of the Dancing Grannies. She said she had to stop dancing herself because of some surgery, so being able to be an instructor was just a really important part of her life.


VIRGINIA SORENSON: And I love it. And I love the ladies. And they're my family. They're my friends.

CORLEY: And, you know, that really close-knit feeling just seems to be a part of the group. Seventy-one-year-old LeAnna Owen, who also died, was an apartment building manager. And she said it was just nice getting to know the other grannies.


LEANNA OWEN: And when one does retire or quits or whatever, it's not only them - it's their family that goes. A lot of the husbands help in the parades. And so you miss them too.

SHAPIRO: And, Cheryl, one of those who died was a husband who volunteered with the group. Is that right?

CORLEY: Yeah, that's right. He was Wilhelm Hospel, an 81-year-old man whose wife performed with the group. Fifty-two-year-old Tamara Durand, a former teacher, was the youngest member. She was making her debut with the Dancing Grannies. The fifth victim, Jane Coolidge, a bank employee, was among the marchers who was walking with a float right behind the Grannies.

SHAPIRO: And you mentioned the group has been a fixture at parades all throughout Wisconsin, so I imagine people in other cities are talking about what this means for them, for their holiday celebrations and their memories of this group.

CORLEY: Yeah, absolutely. I spoke with Pam King. She was the executive - or is the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce in Grafton, Wis., a town north of Milwaukee. She said that the Grannies always performed there, were expected to perform this Saturday when Grafton holds its Christmas Day parade. So she said it was hard to know that people you've seen and loved and look forward to being a part of what you do have been struck so hard by such a devastating event.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Cheryl Corley in Waukesha, Wis.

Thank you.

CORLEY: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLAIRO SONG, "ALEWIFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.