CENTURIA, Minn. (KMSP) - 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.
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.”
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.