(MADISON, Wis.) — A jury acquitted a mother from Wisconsin of charges that she used her cellphone seconds before a fatal car crash involving three children.
Kari Jo Milberg was charged with three counts of felony homicide by negligent operation of a motor vehicle, as well as a misdemeanor count of reckless driving. The crash occurred on Wisconsin Highway 35 in December 2013.
The 35-year-old mother was driving her car when she drove into the path of a truck, resulting in a crash that killed her 11-year-old daughter, Lydia, as well as 5-year-old Clara, the daughter of her sister, Kati, and 4 1/2-year-old Laynie, the daughter of Milberg’s other sister, Kassi. Milberg’s then 3-year-old son survived the crash.
Milberg claimed she lost control of the car because of slippery snow-covered roads and unsafe tires. The prosecution alleged Milberg was on her cellphone using Facebook messaging moments before the fatal collision.
In court, prosecutors said they found Facebook messages on Milberg’s phone between her and a childhood friend about meeting for lunch. The phone was found by investigator Aaron Hansen four months after the crash.
Prosecutors presented a string of messages between Milberg and Jason McKenzie. The final exchange between the two friends was: “Takes a lot to get me nervous,” McKenzie wrote. Milberg replied, “I am 2! Kinda bad!”
Prosecutors asserted Milberg’s message was sent less than 30 seconds before the crash.
Hansen testified that he discovered a Facebook message typed but not sent when he examined Milberg’s phone. “It appeared something was written in the composition line, but I couldn’t make out what it was,” he told the court.
McKenzie also took the stand and claimed he did not remember texting with Milberg on the day of the crash.
Milberg claimed in court she lost all memory of the accident and defense attorney Aaron Nelson reiterated her claims during cross examination that the snowy conditions and unsafe tires were to blame for Milberg’s losing control of the car.
After nearly two hours of deliberations, the jury acquitted Milberg of all charges.
Milberg did not speak publicly after the jury’s decision. Her sister, Kati Marie Milberg-Pavek, who lost her daughter in the crash, told ABC News she was “relieved.”
“I’m relived, I’m breathing full breaths of air again. I love Clara, Lydia and Laynie with every fiber in my body,” she said in a statement.
Pierce County District Attorney Sean Froelich said after the decision: “I respect the jury’s verdict in this particular case. Regardless of the outcome it doesn’t change the fact that three children lost their lives in this crash.”
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