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Lawsuit settled against company involved in van crash

9/25/01

By Sid Schwartz/Gazette Staff

The Wisconsin Department of Justice has settled out of court with two of the remaining three defendants sued after a 1999 van crash that killed seven young magazine sellers near Janesville.

Under the settlement, Subscriptions Plus of Rock Island, Ill., and Karleen Hillery of Coal Valley, Ill., are prohibited from ever again operating in Wisconsin. Hillery and her company also must pay $25,000 in fines, according to the department.

Part of the settlement money will be disbursed to survivors of the van crash or to the estates of those who died.

In addition to the seven killed, five young people were seriously injured in the crash on Interstate 90 a few miles north of Janesville.

All the victims were members of a traveling sales crew peddling magazine subscriptions door-to-door. They all worked for Y.E.S., a company owned and managed by Choan Lane of Long Grove, Iowa. Hillery and her company processed the magazine orders taken by Lane and Y.E.S., according to a department news release.

The van crashed after the driver, Jeremy Holmes, tried to switch places with the front-seat passenger while traveling at more than 80 mph, prosecutors said.

The department earlier secured a default judgment for more than $530,000 against Y.E.S. as part of the lawsuit filed in Dane County Court. The August 2000 judgment also restrains Y.E.S. from op erating in Wisconsin.

The state's case against Lane is continuing.

The lawsuit claimed the four defendants violated state laws governing child labor, wage rates and other labor standards. The complaint also accused Lane and Y.E.S. of not carrying mandatory workers compensation insurance and of violating state rules regulating direct marketing and consumer protection.

The department also prosecuted Y.E.S. and Lane in criminal court.

Lane was convicted in August of interfering with child custody, My sweet angel, I call her."

Forgues survived the crash. As a cold wind whipped the wreaths and flowers Sunday, the 18-year-old from Madison sat impassively in the wheelchair she must use every day. The crash paralyzed her from the waist down, limited the use of her arms and created other chronic health problems.

"Kinda sad," she said when asked how she felt. "I will come every year; I come to show my respect. I think about it every day."

The Robertses drove three hours from Grand Mound, Iowa. Their son and brother, Marshall Lee Roberts, died in the wreck.

"Every day, birthdays, holidays, this day," Albert said, his voice breaking, tears welling. "It will never be over for us.

"I woke up at midnight the night the tragedy happened. I didn't know why. I heard about it on the radio, driving the next day. They say when you wake up out of sleep like that, you're supposed to say a prayer. Now I do.

"The 22nd is also a rough day for Dee and I. That's the last day Marshall called home."

Ellenbecker lost his daughter, Malinda Turvey, in the crash. He organizes the anniversary memorials and keeps the other families in touch.

Ellenbecker continues his crusade to put traveling magazine sale crews out of business or under such tight regulations that they are safe. An itinerate crew recruited Malinda and the other teens.

The two men who headed the crew--the driver and the company owner--are in prison. The driver, a habitual traffic offender, tried to switch spots with a passenger when a police car pulled out behind the van as it sped down the highway at 80 mph.

Lawsuits have been settled, and more lawsuits are pending. Legislation to regulate traveling sales crews has died as the tragedies recede into time.

But the crews continue to re cruit young people, especially now in the spring, Ellenbecker said, and the tragedies continue.

In October, a van carrying a magazine sales crew rear-ended a car transporting a family southwest of Minneapolis. A 20-year-old crew member was killed; 10 people were injured.

Ellenbecker repeated the warning he has issued each March for the last three years: "It's springtime. The crews are out again. They're recruiting our kids. We've got to stop them."



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