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Judge dismisses several defendants in federal lawsuit over van crash


By Gazette Xtra

MADISON--A judge dealt a legal blow Wednesday to the parents of a man who died with six other young magazine sellers in a Wisconsin van crash, ruling they can't sue one of the companies involved for negligence.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb dismissed Subscriptions Plus and its owner, Karleen Hillery, from the lawsuit brought by Donald and Diana Wild of Lacombe, La.

Their 21-year-old son Joseph was killed in the March 1999 accident.

Crabb ruled that Subscriptions Plus could not be found negligent in the accident.

The company Y.E.S., which was contracted by Subscriptions Plus to sell magazine subscriptions and then send them to Oklahoma to be processed, is still a defendant in the case that is scheduled for a jury trial in January, according to the ruling.

"It is clear that defendant Subscriptions Plus did not assume through its contract with defendant Y.E.S./Lane a duty to provide safe transportation, to insure the hiring of competent drivers or to supervise the drivers of the van," Crabb wrote.

The van carrying 14 magazine salespeople ages 15 to 25 crashed on Interstate 90 near Janesville. In addition to the seven killed, five were seriously injured.

The driver, Jeremy Holmes, 21, of South Clinton, Iowa, is serving a t YES, two felony charges--delivery of marijuana and contributing to the delinquency of a minor--and a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to obstruct an investigation against YES crew leader Choan A. Lane of Long Grove, Iowa.

The attorney general's office also filed a civil suit in Dane County Court against YES; Lane; Subscriptions Plus, the company that processed the subscriptions sold by YES; and Subscriptions Plus owner Karleen Hillery.

Hillery is also known as Kay, and while previous stories reported that Hillery and Subscriptions Plus were based in Oklahoma, Doyle's office listed the business location as Rock Island, Ill., and Hillery as a resident of Coal Valley, Ill.

Doyle also announced a "broad initiative to prevent illegal practices by itinerant magazine sales crews."

The felony charges filed against YES are:

--Seven counts of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle.

--Two counts of physical abuse of a child.

--Three counts of reckless injury.

--One count of recklessly endangering safety.

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

Lane faces a maximum prison sentence of six years and a fine of up to $50,000 if he is convicted of delivering marijuana to a minor. He faces five years in prison and a $10,000 fine if he is convicted of contributing to a minor's delinquency. The maximum penalty on the obstructing charge is nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine.

On March 25, 1999, a speeding YES van driven by Jeremy Holmes overturned on Interstate 90 north of Janesville when he saw a police car and tried to change places with a passenger. Seven of 14 young magazine peddlers were killed; six were injured, five seriously.

Holmes pleaded guilty to 12 felonies, including seven counts of homicide by negligent use of a vehicle, and he is serving a seven-year prison sentence.

Lane and Holmes had talked about Holmes' many previous traffic tickets, and they agreed that if Holmes was pulled over, he and crew member Crystal McDaniels would swap seats so it would appear McDaniels was driving, the complaint alleges.

"The survivors of last year's accident and the families and friends of the young people who lost their lives will never forget the nightmares produced by that awful night," Doyle said. "The criminal charges and lawsuit we have filed today are fully justified.

"However, no legal action will ever bring back the victims of this tragedy."

His office has investigated the van crash and the operations of YES and Subscriptions Plus since the accident, Doyle said.

Regarding the drug and contributing to delinquency charges against Lane, Doyle said Lane gave a 15-year-old sales agent marijuana in a motel room last March and that the juvenile magazine peddlers smoked pot daily. They also were trained on sales incentive programs known as "points for joints" and "cash for hash" in which they were rewarded for bringing back marijuana and hashish at the end of a sales day, Doyle said.

The civil suit seeks penalties and unpaid wages of more than $45,000 for alleged violations of state laws on child labor and wage rates and payments.

The suit seeks additional penalties of $30,000 against YES and Lane and reimbursement of more than $400,000 for claims made against the state fund that provides benefits for workers whose employers fail to carry required worker's compensation insurance.

YES did not have the required insurance, Doyle said.

The suit seeks a permanent injunction to prevent YES and Lane from doing any more business in Wisconsin.

The initiative to prevent illegal practices by itinerant magazine sales crews includes a state response team to work with local law enforcement agencies when out-of-state businesses bring young people to peddle subscriptions door to door, Doyle said.

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