A Sparta man was hit with criminal charges Wednesday after authorities said he tried to steal a tractor-trailer from a West Salem business and then vandalized the rig.

According to court documents, the investigation began June 6, when Jason Lindvig discovered someone had smashed a window in the tractor and ripped the ignition mechanism from the dashboard. Lindvig said he suspected Michael Witwer, who used to drive for him.

The next week, Witwer called police saying Lindvig had “tried to beat him up,” a claim they were unable to substantiate. A witness told police Witwer said he was going to “repossess” the semi.

Police later interviewed Witwer in the Trempealeau County jail, where he was being held on a probation violation. According to a criminal complaint, Witwer told an officer that Lindvig owed him $1,500 for delivering a load to Texas and admitted breaking into the truck.

Witwer said that when he couldn’t get the Freightliner started with a key he tried to hot-wire it and even called the manufacturer for advice on how to start it.

Witwer said he intended to drive the semi to the police station to report the situation. Frustrated, he removed the ignition bolt, which he planned to keep until he got his money. The 37-year-old said he would “beat” the charges and told officers he had enlisted in the Marines and wanted to settle it before leaving Aug. 1.

Lindvig told police it would cost about $500 to repair the damaged truck.

Witwer was charged Wednesday in La Crosse County Circuit Court with attempted operating a motor vehicle without owner’s consent, criminal damage to property, misdemeanor theft and obstructing an officer.

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