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Milton officer first on fatal accident scene

By Mary Thompson
Milton Couier - Milton Wisconsin
April 1, 1999

Volume 119, No. 13

City of Milton Police officer John Conger was working his second job as a part time Milton Township police officer Thursday, morning, March 25. He had situated himself in a turn around lane in the median strip of I-90, near Manogue Rd. - close to the rest stop just three miles north of Janesville - his radar gun pointing at the southbound lane of traffic.

At approximately 12:30 a.m., an oversized, late model passenger van, without license plates, blew by him and his radar gun lit up showing 81 miles per hour. He "shot" the van again, and came up with 78 miles per hour.
"I pulled out - without my colored lights - and started to follow him. In five or six seconds I saw the van veer off the highway," Conger explained. He was about a quarter of a mile behind the van when it began to tumble, throwing 12 people through the broken windows and onto the unforgiving concrete of the highway.

The van had been filled with 14 young people, ages 15 to 25. Twelve of the passengers flew out through the broken windows of the van as it "barrel rolled". Although later investigation would reveal that the van had adequate seat belts, none of the passengers had been wearing them.

Some of the passengers were interviewed and the preliminary investigation indicates the driver, 20 year old Jeremy A. Holmes of Clinton, Iowa, attempted to switch places with another person after having seen Conger's squad car in the median. The person he allegedly attempted to switch seats with did not survive the crash.

Conger has been a police officer for eight years. He said, "When I saw it, I thought, 'how the Hell did that happen?"

Conger said things at the accident scene seemed wrong to him.
"I stood there for a split second and thought 'My God, where did all these people come from?' It just didn't add up, "but later it began to make sense when Conger became aware that Holmes and another person were attempting to change places when the accident occurred.

As soon as he got out of his squad car, Conger immediately began calling in help - ambulances, the State Patrol, emergency vehicles. "My biggest tool is the radio," he emphasized. As emergency personnel began to arrive at the scene a sense of organization began to emerge. "Overall it couldn't have been handled any better... It was controlled chaos, but it was very well handled. "Everyone was on the same page, Conger said. The arrival of the emergency equipment seemed rapid to Conger. "Generally it seems to take forever - this time it seemed almost Instantaneous."

The scene soon swarmed with fire department, emergency vehicles and ambulances from Milton, Edgerton and Janesvi11e. State patrol and county sheriff officers arrived. Five helicopters from Rock county airport, Milwaukee and Madison joined the rescue effort.

Seven Killed in I-90 van crash

Milton Volunteer Fireman, Chris Lukas said, "Basically when we got there, there were quite a few units on the scene. When we got the initial call, we thought it was in Edgerton's jurisdiction, but it was ours so Edgerton and Janesville were already on scene when we got there. They had done a triage of most of the people that were involved."

"We took care of three patients. One was actually taken out of our ambulance and put into one of the helicopters and the other two were taken to Mercy;"

In the hours following the accident, State Patrol Sergeant, Brad Altman, told a crowd of media people at a press conference at Mercy Hospital's Mercy Center in Janesville that it had "been very difficult to identify the deceased," even with picture IDs, because of the severe injuries they had suffered.

Holmes and his passengers, worked for Subscriptions Plus, Inc., an Oklahoma based company that hires young people to travel around the country selling magazine subscriptions.

Since the accident the company, and a companion company, Youth Employment Services (Y.E.S.), have come under heavy scrutiny. Karleen Hillery, owner of Subscriptions Plus, contends her company takes care of the young people it hires. Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau disagrees and told reporters Saturday - March 27 that practices at Subscriptions Plus have caused concern in her agency; She contends the company has illegally hired under age teens as independent contractors, the workers are paid in cash, no taxes are deducted from their earnings, and their wages are based on commissions from the magazine subscriptions they sell.

The story took a surreal twist when it came to light that Y.E.S. is owned by Choan Lane, Hillery's ex-husband. Hillery claims Lane was responsible for hiring Holmes. The Department of Workforce Development is working to determine who was responsible for hiring the salespeople. Monday, Oklahoma issued eight citations alleging the company and seven subsidiaries Violated Oklahoma's workers' compensation act, detailing 123 violations.

Holmes is charged with seven counts of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle and five counts of causing great bodily harm by negligent operation of a vehicle.

Altman said that "Holmes' driver's license 'status' in Wisconsin is not valid." He went on to say that Holmes is considered an habitual traffic offender and his driving privileges in Wisconsin have been suspended. He could not confirm or deny whether Holmes had ever had a Wisconsin license, but did say "If a person who is a resident of another state comes into Wisconsin and accumulates a number of speeding tickets or citations he achieves a "status".

The young people had been based at Motel 6 in Janesville for approximately two weeks, canvassing the area, selling magazine subscriptions. Holmes was a recruiter for Y.E.S. They were returning from Appleton when the accident occurred.

Dead are Amber Lettman, 16, of Oregon, Wis., Malinda Turvey, 18, of Verona, Wis., Marshall Lee Roberts, 16, of DeWitt, Iowa, Joseph Wild, 21,of Lacombe, La., Corey Hanson, 22, of Wichita, Kan., Crystal McDaniel, 25, of Princeton, W.Va. and Peter Christman, 18,of Tulsa, Okla., who died Friday in a Rockford Hospital.

Injured were Nicole McDougal, 16, of Fitchburg, Wis., Monica Forgues, 15, Madison, Wis., Stacy Beck, 22, Fort Collins, Colo., Craig Fechter, 22, Belvue, Kan., Shawn Kelly, 20, home state unknown, Gillock and Holmes.

This was the largest multi-injury accident in Wisconsin since Sept. 12, 1997 when 23 people were injured in Racine County. There were no fatalities in that accident.

Permission to post by: By Mary Thompson - Milton Couier
Milton Wisconsin.

Text copied from newspaper article archived at the Milton Public Library.

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