Lake Winnebago boater convicted in deaths of two women loses appeal

Cassie and Lauren Laabs (photo provided)
Cassie and Lauren Laabs (photo provided)(WBAY)
Published: Mar. 8, 2023 at 12:55 PM CST
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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - An appellate court has rejected an appeal by a Neenah man who collided with another boat on Lake Winnebago, killing two sisters.

Man convicted in fatal boating crash on Lake Winnebago
Man convicted in fatal boating crash on Lake Winnebago(DOC)

Brian Sullivan was convicted in the deaths of Lauren and Cassandra Laabs, who were thrown into the water by the collision near Payne’s Point and drowned. A jury found him guilty of two counts each of Homicide by Intoxicated Use of a Vehicle and Homicide by Use of a Vehicle with a Prohibited Alcohol Content.

Sullivan was sentenced in December 2020 to 3 years in prison plus 3 years of extended supervision for each woman’s death, with the sentences being served concurrently -- that is, at the same time.

Sullivan challenged whether the evidence supported his convictions and if the circuit court abused its discretion in deciding his sentence. The court rejected his arguments on both.

The court judges wrote that when a defendant challenges whether evidence is sufficient, the appellate court will defer to the jury’s determination -- unless the court finds the evidence so lacking that no reasonable jury should have reached a decision the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, it did not find the evidence lacking. Specifically, Sullivan’s complains about a prosecution expert who said Sullivan’s blood-alcohol was above the legal limit. In its ruling, the court points out his defense did not object to the expert’s testimony and the defense presented its own expert as a counterweight.

The appellate court also said it rejects Sullivan’s claim that the collision “was simply an unavoidable accident.” It says the judge was not wrong to consider that two young women lost their lives in the collision when Sullivan was asking for a probationary sentence instead of prison.