It was a crash that devastated a family and their small Wisconsin hometown of Centuria, just across the Minnesota border.
Three young girls, all cousins, were killed.
Investigators blamed the mother behind the wheel, Kari Jo Milberg for causing the December 2013 crash, charging her with three counts of homicide by negligent operation of a motor vehicle as well a single misdemeanor count of reckless driving.
Two-and-a-half years later, on the eve of Milberg’s scheduled trial, her defense attorney is arguing that the now 35-year-old suffers from amnesia and is unfit for trial.
Milberg suffered a traumatic brain injury from the crash and barely survived.
She was in a coma afterwards.
The three yong cousins, all died in the cxrash
Medical experts agree she suffers from amnesia and cannot remember anything about what happened or the events leading up to the crash.
Pierce County circuit court judge Joseph Boles must decide if Milberg is competent to stand trial.
Prosecutors are arguing Milberg was distracted using the Facebook messaging app on her phone moments before she lost control of her Saturn, crossed the center line, and was struck by a truck on Highway 35 in the Oak Grove Township.
The defense counters that it could have been her 11-year old daughter, lydia using the phone instead.
Tragically, the young girl was one of three killed.
“Ms. Milberg can’t receive a fair trial because that is the issue,” Millberg’s defense attorney Aaron Nelson told the judge at a hearing Wednesday. “Who was using the phone? No one in the car can testify as to who was using the phone.”Attorney: Wis. mom can’t remember 2013 fatal crash, not fit to stand trial
The case has divided Milberg’s extended family including her one-time brother-in-law, Mike Pavek. Pavek’s daughter, Clara, died in the crash. Wednesday afternoon, Pavek sat in the back of the courtroom with a large framed photo of Clara.
The picture was right in Boles’ sightline and he ordered Pavek to turn the frame away.
A confrontation that left Pavek so upset, he left the courthouse and did not return during the more than 90-minute hearing.
Boles is expected to rule on Milberg’s competency in the coming days. Her trial is scheduled to begin on Friday, June 24.
Milberg had her head in her hands and was sobbing as Pierce County District Attorney Sean Froelich asked investigator Doug Ducklow how each of the three young ladies perished. He pointed to the specific injuries noted by the medical examiner reports, acknowledging how each child died, and where they were sitting.
Milberg was apparently not wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the car, suffering serious injuries, leaving her in a coma and without memory of the crash. Her 3-year-old son, Easton, also survived the crash.
Parents of the victims also sobbed as Froelich and Ducklow recalled details of the crash scene, including how Laynie had survived until two days after the crash before dying of a closed head injury. Sobbing was also heard from the gallery as Ducklow detailed the injuries that claimed the other two victims, either on the scene or at the hospital a short time later.
“She (Milberg) indicated she did not remember anything from the crash,” Ducklow said.While early reports and the criminal complaint had pointed to several possible contributing factors for the tragic crash, from supposedly over-worn tires and possible narcotic levels in Milberg’s blood, Froelich only asked about details behind one factor that the three investigators had investigated, specifically time stamps on Milberg’s phone, allegedly showing that she may have been sending instant messages to an unnamed person on the social media site, Facebook.
Investigators pointed to evidence of time stamps on Milberg’s iPhone, discovered near the scene over five months after the crash by former sheriff’s investigator Aaron Hanson, who obtained a search warrant for the iPhone, which still had the charger attached, but had a burned out backlight.
Hanson detailed the process by which he was able to eventually obtain a printout by Facebook showing the texts of conversations between someone using Milberg’s phone and another person, for a period of time between 3:05 and 3:39 p.m., which was just two minutes prior to the crash being called in to 911 from the scene by a witness in the car behind Milberg’s Saturn.
Hanson said the content of the conversation was “back and forth,” and confirmed that the last message sent to Milberg’s phone was opened at 3:39:37, although it was unclear if it was actually seen buy her or was just received.
“They seemed to be setting up some kind of meeting for lunch,” Hanson said.