A worker was driving home from her job in Baldwin when a man rose up in her back seat, held a gun to her head and draped a noose around her neck.
St. Croix County prosecutors say that was the preamble to an hours-long episode early Thursday that didn’t end until the woman bolted free, catching the attention of police officers at a gas station in Menomonie.
Police arrested the suspect, New Richmond resident Daniel J. O’Keefe, at a Kwik Trip on 3M Drive in Menomonie.
The woman told police she didn’t know until more than two hours into the ordeal that the man she believed had set out to kill her was her ex-boyfriend, O’Keefe.
O’Keefe was charged Friday with one count of kidnapping involving the use of a dangerous weapon, one count of false imprisonment involving a dangerous weapon, two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety, one count of attempted strangulation and one count of possession of a firearm silencer. He is also charged with two misdemeanors -- pointing a firearm at another and disorderly conduct.
St. Croix County Circuit Court Commissioner Tim Heckman held O’Keefe on $75,000 cash bail during his initial court appearance Friday.
According to a criminal complaint: The woman got off her shift at New Richmond-based Nolato Contour, Inc., at about 11:30 p.m. June 3, left work, stopped at a gas station in Baldwin and headed east on Interstate 94 toward her Menomonie home when a man “popped up” in the back seat.
The woman slammed the brakes, though the man -- unknown to her and disguising his voice -- told her to keep driving.
After feeling a metal object tapping her on the shoulder, the woman looked to see a handgun pointed at her head. She pleaded with the man to let her go. He then placed a rope around her neck, pressed the gun to her head, tightened the rope and told her to keep driving.
The man instructed her to exit the freeway and drive to a place with storage units, where they stopped. The man had her get back on the road and instructed her to take rural gravel roads and field driveways.
The man periodically tightened the rope and pressed the gun to the woman’s head.
After about two- and a-half hours of driving, the woman determined the voice belonged to O’Keefe, a man she once dated and lived with.
The woman told police O’Keefe had made a copy of her car key without her knowledge.
Telling O’Keefe she needed to use the bathroom and eat, he had her stop at the Menomonie Kwik Trip.
They entered the store together, though the woman -- who noticed two police officers standing outside the gas station -- got free by telling him she had forgotten her money in her car. She went to the officers, who later arrested O’Keefe.
Assistant St. Croix County District Attorney Matthew Hartung said the woman’s decision to alert police at the gas station made all the difference.
“My guess is this could have ended quite differently,” he said during Friday’s initial appearance.
In interviews with police, the woman said she believed O’Keefe intended to kill her.
Police found a duffel bag stashed in the woman’s car. It contained two fully loaded Glock handguns and what officers determined to be a homemade gun silencer fashioned from a long tube wrapped with a washcloth.
Also found in the duffel bag: latex gloves, zip ties, a rope, shears, black plastic bags and black clothing.
O’Keefe told police he used to work with the woman, who broke off their relationship in March. O’Keefe said he attempted to communicate with the woman, but she did not reciprocate.
The complaint states he “devised a plan to make (the woman) talk with him” on June 1. O’Keefe told police he collected the rope, the handguns and zip-ties, which he placed in the bag.
He told police he drove to the woman’s workplace, and using the spare key he had made himself, slipped into her backseat with the duffel bag in tow.
O’Keefe told police he lay motionless under a blanket for more than an hour.
He admitted to emerging from the position near Exit 28 on I-94 and pointing the gun at the woman’s ribs. He also admitted to putting a noose or “choker loop” around her neck. He said he tied the other end of the rope to his bicep to prevent her from running away.
O’Keefe also admitted to constructing and test-firing the makeshift silencer, which he learned to construct through the Internet.
During the interview, police noticed O’Keefe was wearing two pairs of pants.
O’Keefe told police he was only trying to frighten the woman and admitted his actions were “stupid.”
He said he attempted to discuss their failed relationship with the woman once she discovered who he was.
O’Keefe’s former employer, Nolato Contour Inc., on June 4 filed a temporary restraining order against him. In the order, the victim said O’Keefe had been stalking her for about a month.
According to a statement in the order, O’Keefe would arrive at the workplace in advance of the victim, where he would wait to talk to her.
He left the woman voice messages and indicated he was very upset with someone in the company’s human resources department because he wasn’t allowed to return to work.
The victim said O’Keefe placed money in her bank account, which she told him to stop, according to the order.
The order states O’Keefe told the victim he “didn’t want this to happen,” instead focusing on “going to take out the ones that were hurting her” at work.