A 48-year-old man is dead following a fight in a downtown Rhinelander tavern early Wednesday morning.
According to the Rhinelander Police Department, James R. Tanner died in an ambulance outside of Sackett's Bar following "an altercation" involving two other men at approximately 12:23 a.m. Jan. 1.
Rhinelander Police Chief Michael Steffes said Thursday officials don't yet know the cause of Tanner's death. An autopsy was scheduled for Thursday and it could be as long as a week before results come back, he told local media during a press conference.
"We're not sure what the autopsy is going to show," he added. "It could be obvious trauma or it could be a longer determination (to know the exact cause of death)."
Steffes said witnesses to the altercation told police that Tanner and John A. Klucarich, 62, were having a conversation when Tanner punched Klucarich in the face, sending him to the ground. Gregory C. Dryden, 59, who was working that night as the karaoke deejay at Sackett's, intervened.
"He took hold of Mr. Tanner and drove him into the bar area. Glasses and drinks on the bar fell to the floor. He then directed Mr. Tanner to the ground," Steffes said.
Officers and medics responded to the scene. Steffes said Tanner was taken to an ambulance but died before he could be transported to the hospital. Klucarich was treated at the hospital for a head injury and released.
"He received stitches to the top of his head. Probably secondary injuries from falling (after being punched)," Steffes said.
Without autopsy results Steffes said it's difficult to classify the extent of Tanner's injuries. In talking with witnesses, he said there are varying accounts of how hard Tanner was pushed into the bar.
"That's really the only major question remaining," he said.
Steffes did clarify that there is no indication that anyone was struck with a beer bottle, as broadcast media reported following the incident.
"The only thing that was used was a fist. There are no reports of anybody getting struck with any bottle or glass," he said.
It is unclear what caused the altercation. Steffes said Klucarich classified the conversation he was having with Tanner as "very friendly."
Steffes said Oneida County District Attorney Mike Schiek was contacted and did a walk-through of Sackett's the night of the incident, but there have not been any further discussions about possible criminal charges.
"Once we get the autopsy results back we will forward everything to the DA, as well as any additional follow-up with witnesses, for a charging determination," he said.
Steffes said investigators have already interviewed several witnesses who were at Sackett's, but they are still collecting information.
"We're trying to gather as much information as possible," he said. "If there's anyone who has information but hasn't been interviewed yet, we want to talk to them."
The Rhinelander Police Department can be contacted at (715) 365-5300.
Wednesday's incident is not having any effect on the operation of Sackett's. The business remains open and the meat raffle scheduled for Saturday night is still on, according to organizer Denny Swanson.
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Kyle Rogers may be reached at email@example.com.
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