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Magazine company found guilty of charges in van crash

6/5/00

By Sid Schwartz/Gazette Staff

A Rock County judge this morning found YES, a traveling magazine-sales company, guilty in a March 1999 van crash that killed seven people near Janesville.

No attorney has ever appeared in court to represent the company since YES and Choan Lane, the man prosecutors say was in charge of the magazine sales crew, were charged in March by the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

In court this morning, Lane, 31, Iowa, pleaded innocent to two felonies--delivery of marijuana to a minor and contributing to the delinquency of a minor--plus a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to obstruct an investigation.

He is charged separately from the corporation.

"Mr. Lane is not responsible for answering for the corporation," said Lane's attorney, Bridget Boyle of Milwaukee.

In Wisconsin, prosecutors have the ability to charge a corporation with crimes committed by an employee.

"The employee clearly responsible here is Jeremy Holmes," Assistant Attorney General William Hanrahan said.

Holmes was the driver of the van. He lost control of the vehicle on Interstate 90 while trying to swap seats at 81 mph with the front-seat passenger because Holmes didn't have a valid driver's license. Holmes pleaded guilty to 12 felonies and was sentenced in June 1999 to seven years in prison.

Lane is listed in the Iowa incorporation papers for YES as an agent of the company, but the incorporation documents give no indication who the principals of the company are, Hanrahan said.

Rock County Judge Richard Werner found YES guilty by signing a written order prepared by Hanrahan. Werner's signature caps a May 18 finding by Rock County Court Commissioner James Van De Bogart, who ruled that the charges against YES are true and found that the company was in default because nobody appeared to represent it.

With his signature, Werner found YES guilty of:

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

--Two counts of physical abuse of a child.

--Three counts of reckless injury.

--One count of recklessly endangering safety.

--Four counts of contributing to truancy.

The order also fines YES $132,000, the maximum possible.

"I think the maximum fines are appropriate for deterrent effect," Werner said while signing the order.

Any fine not paid will lapse into a civil judgment against the company collectible for 10 years.

The order signed by Werner also instructs YES to pay restitution to the van crash victims, their families and the state of Wisconsin for past and future expenses. The amount of restitution will be determined at a 2 p.m. hearing on Monday, July 10.

"The figures are going to be quite high. I'm sure of it," Hanrahan said.

YES has not been dissolved, Hanrahan said, but he is not sure if the company has any assets. The civil division in the Wisconsin Department of Justice will be investigating the company's financial standing, he said.

The Department of Justice also has filed a civil suit against YES and Lane along with Subscriptions Plus and Karleen Hillery of Illinois. Hillery owned Subscriptions Plus, which processed the orders sold by YES. Lane and Hillery once were married.

The suit seeks more than $475,000 for a variety of alleged violations of child labor and wage laws and for reimbursement to the state fund that provides benefits for workers whose employers fail to offer the required worker's comp insurance. YES did not have the required insurance, according to the suit.

Families of the van crash victims also have filed lawsuits.

Lane is free pending his next court appearance on the criminal case at 2 p.m. Monday, July 10. If convicted on all counts, he faces 11 years and nine months in prison and a $70,000 fine.



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