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Ashland man accused of vehicular homicide in woman’s death

Authorities accuse a 43-year-old Ashland man of being under the influence of controlled substances when he crashed his car along U.S. Highway 2 in Douglas County in August, killing his 18-year-old passenger.

Derek L. Nelis, 43, was charged Friday in Douglas County Circuit Court with vehicular homicide in the Aug. 16 death of Gabrielle Bresette in the town of Maple.

Blood testing revealed that Nelis had methamphetamine and amphetamine in his system when he crashed his 2008 Ford Focus, according to the criminal complaint.

Nelis was driving west on the highway about 5:15 a.m. when his car fully crossed the centerline into eastbound traffic, where it was struck by a logging truck. The vehicles’ passenger sides collided in an "offset head-on fashion," the complaint said.

Nelis allegedly told investigators that his car had started to wobble, jerk and make noises. He said that just before the crash, the car "shimmied" and "jerked hard," taking him into the oncoming lane. Nelis denied consuming any drugs or alcohol, and voluntarily gave a blood draw.

However, when investigators executed a search warrant on the car drug paraphernalia was found, according to the complaint.

The truck driver, Antoine Dalbec, told police that Nelis’ car came straight at him and never swerved or made any evasive maneuvers. The truck left skid marks over 100 feet long up to the point of impact, according to the complaint.

The Wisconsin State Patrol reviewed the car’s airbag control module, which indicated that Nelis increased his speed about 4 mph in the seconds leading up to the collision and never applied the brakes. The State Patrol also examined the car, determining there was "nothing present that would indicate mechanical defects played a role in the crash."

An autopsy showed that Bresette died of multiple blunt force injuries. Methamphetamine also was detected in her system. She was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the collision.

A warrant was issued for Nelis’ arrest on Friday, according to court records.

A search of online court records indicates Nelis has an extensive criminal history dating back to the mid-1990s. His convictions include fourth-degree sexual assault, false imprisonment, substantial battery, damage to property, theft and bail jumping.