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Van crash defendant free on bond


By Mike DuPre'/Gazette Staff

Choan Lane and his itinerant magazine-selling company exploited the youth of Wisconsin in what amounted to a "modern sweatshop on wheels," a prosecutor said Monday.

Lane, an Iowa resident, is the operator of YES, the company whose van crashed north of Janesville on Interstate 90 in March 1999. The accident killed seven young people and seriously injured five others.

A preliminary hearing was scheduled and personal recognizance bond ordered Monday afternoon when Lane appeared in Rock County intake court.

YES and Lane must be brought to justice, Assistant Attorney General Bill Hanrahan said in response to reporters' questions after the hearing.

Van driver Jeremy Holmes was sentenced to seven years in jail after pleading guilty to 12 felonies, including seven counts of homicide by negligent use of a motor vehicle.

Wisconsin Attorney General Jim Doyle has charged YES with 13 felonies and four misdemeanors, and he charged Lane with two felonies and a misdemeanor.

The felony charges against YES are seven counts of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle, two counts of physical child abuse, three counts of reckless injury and one count of recklessly endangering safety.

Because YES is a corporation, the maximum penalty that can be imposed on each felony conviction is a fine of $10,000.

Represented by Milwaukee attorney Bridget Boyle, Lane stood mute when Court Commissioner Charles Holznecht asked for pleas to the charges against YES. Holznecht entered not guilty pleas for the business.

The state, represented by Hanrahan and Judith Schultz, assistant attorneys general, contends that because Lane was listed on state forms as the owner, agent and day-to-day operator of YES, he should be the person standing for the company in court.

"He was running the crew. ... He essentially is responsible for recruiting them, for employing them, for paying them, and also for putting Jeremy Holmes in the driver's seat," Schultz said. "He directed that Jeremy Holmes drive."

But Boyle countered that Lane does not own a majority of the stock in YES and that the issue of ownership is unclear.

Most of the stock is owned by Karleen Hillery, also known as Kay. She is Lane's former wife and owns Subscriptions Plus, which processes the subscriptions sold door to door by YES crews.

The state does not have evidence that rises to the level of probable cause that indicates another owner or that someone else could be charged, Hanrahan said after the hearing.

Lane is personally charged with two felonies--delivery of marijuana to a minor and contributing to the delinquency of minor--and the misdemeanor of conspiracy to obstruct an investigation.

If convicted on all counts, he faces 11 years, nine months in prison and $70,000 in fines.

Holznecht scheduled a preliminary hearing for 10 a.m. Thursday, May 18, on the charges against Lane. Lane did not enter pleas to the charges Monday.

Holznecht granted Hanrahan's request for a $50,000 signature bond for Lane. Boyle did not object to the bond or any of its conditions, including that:

--Lane have no contact with any of the accident victims or peo ple mentioned in the criminal complaint.

--He refrain from doing business in Wisconsin, including any recruiting or training of magazine peddlers.

--He not leave the country or seek a passport without the court's permission.

--He furnish the court with his current address.

Holznecht referred to the last condition when he said he has been contacted by many attorneys seeking to serve Lane with subpoenas relating to the many civil suits filed or intended to be filed against YES and Lane.

And Boyle's only objection--though not a formal one to the court--came when lawyer Mike Fitzpatrick of the local Brennan, Steil, Basting & MacDougall firm dropped on the defense table a subpoena for Lane to be deposed in a civil case.

During the hearing, Boyle mentioned Fitzpatrick's action and said she didn't think it was proper. After the hearing, she called it the "most despicable thing I've ever seen" and said she thought she would contest Fitzpatrick's serving the subpoena.

After the hearing, Fitzpatrick was advised of Boyle's comments. He responded:

"All the parties in the civil action have tried for months to serve subpoenas on Lane. We do not know his address, and we cannot mail papers to him.

"I have great respect for Court Commissioner Holznecht and spoke to him previously about the service. I, in no way, meant to disrupt the proceedings."

The accident and its fatalities "extremely upset" Lane, Boyle said after the hearing. "It has taken a toll mentally and physically."

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