A California man found driving a vehicle carrying his mother’s body has become a “party of interest” in the woman’s death investigation.
Tosten Walsh Lommen, 30, is being held at the Pennington County Jail in lieu of a $2.5 million bond on charges including aggravated eluding and driving under the influence. South Dakota police arrested him on New Year’s Day following a high-speed chase on Interstate 90, and discovered a woman’s body in the back of the SUV.
The woman was identified as Walsh Lommen’s mother, 58-year-old Michelle Walsh of Palm Springs, Calif. South Dakota authorities announced Monday that her death involved foul play.
“Preliminary autopsy results indicate blunt trauma injury to her head and hemorrhage anterior neck musculature,” state attorney general Marty Jackley said in a release. “This confirms this is a homicide.”
The Palm Springs Police Department, which is involved in the death investigation, said it’s looking into Walsh Lommen’s possible role in his mother’s death.
“I don’t know whether they deem him a suspect in this case yet or not," Sgt. William Hutchinson, the police department spokesman, said in an interview Monday. "But I can definitely tell you he’s certainly a party of interest.” Palm Springs police are currently not looking into other suspects, he said.
California law enforcement officers are now trying to determine whether Walsh's death happened in Palm Springs, and whether her son should be criminally charged. His address is listed as Santa Cruz, Calif.
If the answer to both questions is yes, Palm Springs authorities "will assume control of this investigation," Hutchinson said, adding that they would then seek Walsh Lommen's extradition from South Dakota.
The South Dakota Attorney General’s Office said as of Monday, no additional charges have been brought against Walsh Lommen.
According to Pennington County court documents, Walsh Lommen caught the state Highway Patrol’s attention around noon Jan. 1, when a trooper saw him heading east on I-90, in Lawrence County, “at speeds in excess of 100 mph.” The trooper failed to get him to stop.
Somewhere in Meade County, another trooper registered Walsh Lommen’s SUV traveling at 118 mph. The highway patrol and Rapid City police laid out spike strips, which deflated the vehicle’s front tires, bringing it to a stop in a ditch along I-90 within Rapid City.
Walsh Lommen reportedly ran from the vehicle, but two troopers grabbed him as he was trying to go over a chain-link fence. A search of the SUV revealed “a female body in the rear of the vehicle wrapped in a blanket,” reads a patrol trooper’s statement.
Troopers also located prescription medication for Walsh Lommen, as well as credit cards belonging to Walsh, whose name also appears on the vehicle’s registration.
A preliminary breath test on Walsh Lommen showed he had a blood alcohol content of .142, according to the statement. That is almost twice the threshold for drunken driving in South Dakota, which is .08 BAC.
Aggravated eluding is a felony punishable by up to two years in prison. Walsh Lommen’s three other charges are misdemeanors, each carrying a maximum penalty of a year in county jail.
He is scheduled to return to court for a preliminary hearing on Jan. 17
PIERRE | How does Dennis Daugaard feel about his eighth, and final, State of the State address he’ll deliver this afternoon as the governor of South Dakota?
“It is something a person thinks about in this job,” he said.
The speech will be a mix, according to Daugaard. He wants to look back at what’s happened in the seven years he’s been governor and review current conditions.
He also plans to outline what he still hopes South Dakota can accomplish before next January when this second, and final, term as governor ends for him and his wife, Linda. Covering those bases might run beyond the hour or so he’s spoken to lawmakers in past years.
“I’ll try to not be too windy,” Daugaard said light-heartedly.
The event is an opportunity for the couple’s two daughters and son, along with spouses and grandchildren, to gather again in Pierre. Laura and Jay Mitchell, and Chris and Emily Daugaard, are coming back to Pierre. Sara and Tony Venhuizen, who is Daugaard’s chief of staff, live in Pierre.
Other family members also plan to be in town for the occasion.
“That’s gratifying,” Daugaard said.
His time with them, however, looks somewhat limited. Today, after the speech and a briefing for news reporters, there is a social gathering for legislators that governors have traditionally attended.
In the interview, Daugaard said he’s assembling a file of important matters to pass along to the next governor.
Daugaard said the list covers topics such as workforce development, what he described as "money traps" and "bonuses" that might be ahead, and programs his administration has underway.
A Republican, he said the file is available for the next governor to be able to make “a conscious decision.”
Four Republicans have filed organizational paperwork to be candidates for their party’s nomination in the June primary election. They are U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, Attorney General Marty Jackley, former legislator Lora Hubbel and Terry LaFleur.
Senate Democratic leader Billie Sutton is running for his party’s nomination.
Daugaard was a state senator when Mike Rounds, a former Senate leader, won the 2002 June primary election for the Republican nomination for governor. Later that month, Rounds asked Daugaard to be his running mate as the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.
The Rounds-Daugaard ticket won the 2002 general election. They were re-elected in 2006.
As lieutenant governor, Daugaard presided over the Senate most days of the eight winters of the Legislature’s regular sessions and the special sessions in 2003 and 2005.
Daugaard said Rounds provided answers that helped him be “an effective candidate” when Daugaard ran for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010. Daugaard won the June primary and the November general election.
His victory in the governor’s race made Daugaard the first lieutenant governor elected to another major office in South Dakota since Jim Abdnor won a U.S. House of Representatives seat in 1972.
Nearly every lieutenant governor since then — Bill Dougherty in 1974, Harvey Wollman in 1978, Lowell Hansen in 1986, Walter Dale Miller in 1994, Carole Hillard in 1998 and Steve Kirby in 2002 — has run for governor or U.S. House. None made it past his or her primary.
The current lieutenant governor, Republican former legislator Matt Michels, doesn’t appear to be running for any office this year. When Daugaard ran for re-election as governor in 2014, he turned aside a primary challenge from Hubbel and won a second term that November.
Daugaard said the background from Rounds during the 2010 campaign flowed naturally in part because Daugaard was already in the administration.
Now Daugaard is offering the same opportunity to those who want to know more about what’s happening, both in the governor’s second-floor office at the Capitol and throughout the two dozen state departments and bureaus.
“We’ve tried to do that for candidates who’ve asked us,” he said.
The governor said he and his staff have tried to help potential successors work through legislative proposals, whether or not his administration supported or opposed the plans.
“If we can’t win it on our merits, we aren’t going to let a technicality win the day,” Daugaard said.
The governor acknowledged the year remaining is “a little bittersweet.” He mentioned it’s sometimes meant passing up activities that he and Linda might otherwise enjoy. During the recent holiday season, brothers and sisters of Linda arranged for what he described as "a party bus."
Daugaard said he and Linda decided against joining them because he was governor. “It just creates the wrong impression,” he said. “You have to be cautious when you’re out and about.”
The two turn 65 later this year. Daugaard said he plans to take at least a part-time job for a few years after his time as governor is done.
He said he and Linda are especially looking forward to spending more time with their kids and grandkids.
"It’ll be good to be out of the fish bowl,” Daugaard said.
A new nonstop flight linking Rapid City and the Black Hills to major metropolitan destinations in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states will start at Rapid City Regional Airport this summer.
United Airlines, through its regional carrier Republic Airways, will offer a weekly flight to and from Newark, New Jersey's Liberty International Airport starting on June 23 and continuing through Sept. 8, Patrick Dame, airport executive director, announced Monday.
The seasonal, Saturday flight will bring northeast travelers to tourist destinations in the Black Hills and also provide a direct link for residents of western South Dakota, northwest Nebraska and eastern Wyoming to New York and Philadelphia and other destinations on the East Coast.
Liberty International Airport is United Airlines’ third-largest hub, and is located 15 miles southwest of New York City and 60 miles northeast of Philadelphia.
“This will be a good buildable service that we’ve got coming here,” Dame said at a news conference announcing the airport’s newest and 11th nonstop flight destination. “This will link the Statue of Liberty with Mount Rushmore."
Republic will operate a 76-passenger, Embraer 175 regional jet offering both economy and first-class seating, Dame said.
Newark joins Chicago, Atlanta and Charlotte with seasonal nonstop service from Rapid City. Regular year-round flights also link the Black Hills to Denver, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Phoenix (Mesa), Las Vegas, Houston and Dallas.
“We’re extremely proud to continue building air service here in Rapid City,” Dame said.
Airport officials meet with air carriers regularly to explore new options for nonstop regional flights. Their focus, Dame said, is usually on more western destinations. He stopped short of calling the addition of the Newark-Rapid City connection a surprise.
A United Airlines official made a flight to Rapid City last summer and was impressed with the tourism options within a 60-mile radius of the airport, Dame said.
“This is one (route) we were not necessarily seeking in an aggressive manner, but getting it is going to be a big bonus for us,” he said.
Tickets for the flights went on sale on Sunday. Accounting for the two-hour time zone difference, the flight time between Rapid City and Newark is about four hours.
The flight will leave Newark at 10 a.m. (Eastern) and arrive in Rapid City at 12:05 p.m. (Mountain). The return trip departs Rapid City at 12:45 p.m., with arrival in Newark at 6:47 p.m.
If passenger numbers warrant, the route may see more scheduled flights added, Dame said.
Many of Rapid City’s existing nonstop routes began as weekly or seasonal service and expanded to meet additional passenger demand, he said.
“If we get a real good strong push this year, not only will we continue this next year, but we’ll have the ability to potentially grow this beyond weekly to almost daily service," Dame said. "So this is really everybody’s opportunity to show that we can build this market."