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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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
Text copied from newspaper article archived at the Milton Public Library.
No original URL.
No website link.
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