ELLSWORTH, Wis. (KMSP) - Distracted driving is taking center stage in a Pierce County, Wisconsin courtroom, where a mother is on trial for her alleged actions moments before a fatal crash. Prosecutors allege Kari Milberg was using the Facebook Messenger app when the car she was driving crashed, killing her daughter and two nieces.
Monday, the jury heard two very different versions of what happened and why it happened on Dec. 12, 2013. Prosecutors have charged Milberg with negligent murder for using Facebook behind the wheel on a dangerous stretch of highway. The defense counters this wasn’t distracted driving, but a combination of bad winter conditions and a horrible set of tires.
On the stand, truck driver Jose Mendoza recalled the deadly collision on Wisconsin Highway 35. Kari Milberg’s SUV was spinning out of control, right into his lane of traffic.
“It was fast…really, really fast,” Mendoza said. “I hit brakes and that’s it.”
Mendoza said there was nothing he could do. The three children in Milberg’s vehicle -- her 11-year old daughter and two young nieces -- were killed.
Milberg’s sister, Kati, a mother to one of the victims, took the stand in the afternoon..
“The road was blocked off at QQ," she said. “I saw it was a car accident. I instantly put the timing together. I asked if there were kids in the car. They said yes.”
Prosecutors argue Milberg is to blame for the crash. They say she was Facebook messaging with a friend when she lost control on the hilly and windy highway.
“The last message that went to Ms. Milberg’s phone was less than a minute between the time of the 911 call is made,” Pierce County District Attorney Sean Froelich said.
Defense attorney Aaron Nelson sees the case much differently. He calls it a tragic accident that’s the result of bad tires and wintry conditions. He has hinted that it was Milberg’s daughter Lydia using the phone. Furthermore, Nelson says his client has amnesia after suffering a traumatic brain injury after being ejected from her vehicle.
“So there won’t be anyone from the car who can tell us, this is what was happening in the car,” Nelson said. “So the state is going to piece it together with speculation and maybes.”