What harm is a simple no? Gerald Foltz buried a son. He can take no. He can live with no.
It’s the damn silence that grates.
“That’s what’s kind of strange, too,” Foltz, father of former Nebraska punter Sam Foltz, told Land of 10. “We had passed word on to them that if they put up a rail, or maybe a flashing light and a rail, we’d be over and done with it.”
It isn’t about the money. Or retribution. It’s past vengeance, beyond spite. It’s about making sure that no parent ever again gets the call that Gerald and Karen Sadler took two summers ago. It’s about Beaver Lake Road in Merton, Wis., and the sweeping right turn that changed their lives forever.
“I can’t understand why local government doesn’t take the initiative to install a guardrail for the protection of its own people and others who travel on Beaver Lake Road,” Sadler, the mother of former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler, the driver of the one-car accident that took his life and the life of Sam Foltz on July 23, 2016, told Land of 10 in a statement.
“It’s a matter of public policy. It’s a matter of doing the right thing to serve the people. It’s a matter of protecting kids and grandkids today and in 40 years from now.
“We are two families who will never have our boys back. Our families will never be the same. One curve ended two incredible lives. We beg the town to install a guardrail to protect other innocent drivers from losing their lives and families from losing loved ones.”
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It’s the damn silence that burns. That particular stretch of Beaver Lake — 30 miles west of Milwaukee and 60-odd miles east of Madison — is narrow, hilly, winding and, when tackled at night, not brightly lit. Familiarity helps. So does good weather.
Mike Sadler had neither, which explains why the black Mercedes-Benz he was driving westbound on Beaver Lake during a wet Saturday summer evening missed a right turn, then careened off the rain-slicked road and into a steep ravine roughly 10 feet from the curb.
A Merton city report released a few months after the accident said the car went airborne, struck a tree, landed on the driver’s side and burst into flame. One passenger, then-LSU punter Colby Delahoussaye, a friend and fellow counselor at the Kohl’s Kicking Camps in nearby Wales, Wis., survived. The bodies of Mike and Sam were found after the fire was extinguished.
The three were on their way to the home of Drew Meyer, the former Wisconsin punter and a fellow counselor at the Kohl’s camp, when the accident occurred. Drew’s mother Amy said Waukesha County records show at least three reported incidents along that section of Beaver Lake Road during the last seven years, but that the Foltz/Sadler crash was the only one with fatalities.
“It’s just kind of crazy,” Gerald Foltz said. “Like [Karen] said, all the people living around there, they’ve wanted [a guardrail]. And there have been other wrecks there.
“It’s worse for the people living there. It’s going to happen again, from the way it looks.”
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It’s the damn silence that puzzles. Gerald didn’t file notice of a wrongful death claim against Merton, but Karen Sadler did. Such claims are required in Wisconsin as a precursor to any lawsuit against a government entity, a placeholder should a party eventually seek legal damages.
Those claims have a three-year limit, though — which means the one the Sadler estate has on file expires in the summer of 2019.
“We could sue them tomorrow if we wanted,” said Tim Casper, an attorney for the Sadler estate. “We’re [more] interested in a common-sense resolution to this.
“Frankly, we’re just trying to get to the bottom of this guardrail thing. That’s where we really want to be.”
Karen told Land of 10 that she would “withdraw the notice in a heartbeat if they’d install a guardrail there. That’s all we want.”
That and a dialogue. Sadler says she has tried repeatedly to engage city officials, either over the phone or in person, without a reply.
Tim Klink, chairman for the town board of Merton, declined comment to Land of 10 and deferred any statements to city attorney Bill Chapman. Chapman had not returned multiple phone messages seeking comment as of Wednesday morning.
“I guess I’m a little bit surprised,” Casper said. “Their reasoning behind it is that this notice of claim has been filed, and [so] they don’t want to say anything on the record.
“I’m a little bit surprised that they’re not being more communicative on this because there are some things we can do to just make the notice of claim go away.”
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It’s the damn silence that lingers. The bottom of the ravine where Mike Sadler’s car landed is roughly a 35-foot drop, off a precipitous slope that begins only a few yards from the road. The speed limit for the stretch between Beaver Lake Road and Irene Lane, where the incident occurred, is 20 miles per hour, as indicated by a yellow sign just east of the crash site.
Yet the sign remains the only warning of significance, almost two years later, even after Merton conducted a safety review of that stretch of Beaver Lake in the fall of 2016.
So Karen and Gerald plan to keep chipping away at that blasted rock until it breaks. Chapman said he’d received an email from an attorney representing Merton last week indicating that the town had researched estimates on the cost of a guardrail along the south side of Beaver Lake.
While Chapman can’t share the bottom line yet, it’s progress. A baby step, a trickle, but progress.
“Would we have preferred that this move along faster? Absolutely,” Chapman said. “I think we’re starting to get to the point where hopefully something can get done. I’m at least encouraged that we’re moving in the right direction now.”
Amy Meyer, meanwhile, has picked up the flag locally with the blessings of the Foltz and Sadler families. The hope to prod — respectfully — elected town officials into action by drumming up grassroots support within the community.
Meyer recently drew up a petition asking for a guardrail of 180 feet along the south side of Beaver Lake Road, even setting up a table at Arrowhead High School graduation a few weeks back to solicit signatures. While the petition has signatures by the dozens now, Meyer’s goal is to get it in the several hundreds.
“I’m grateful that citizens of Merton have begun a petition to get the guardrail installed,” Karen said in a statement.
“Hopefully it will ignite responsible, long overdue action by local elected officials. After two years, the nation continues to mourn the loss of Mike Sadler and Sam Foltz. It’s time to stop stalling and start building.”
The Meyers continue to petition neighbors, even if a few push back. One respondent said they wouldn’t sign out of fear that it might hike local taxes. Another declined because he’s part of a group of motorbike enthusiasts and worried that a guardrail would present an even greater safety risk to cyclists.
Amy canvasses anyway, when and where she can. After all, what harm is a simple no?
“You would hope the people up [in Merton] would vote for different people in that office, for one thing,” Foltz said. “I guess if we knew what the dollar amount was, we’d probably get some money and do it ourselves if we had to.
“It would just be nice if somebody would say something, yes or no, somewhere. But like I said: They don’t talk to us. It’s almost like it never took place.”