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Van crash suspect misses court


By Sid Schwartz/Gazette Staff

Albert and DeAnna Roberts drove three hours Monday from Iowa to Janesville to watch the court hearing for Choan Lane, the man accused in the death of their 16-year-old son.

But Lane didn't show, and the hearing was done in 10 minutes.

"It was confusion on the date," Lane's attorney, Bridget Boyle, said later. "He was in transit, but it would have been very late by the time he made it to court."

Albert Roberts was surprised.

"I wanted him to plead guilty so we can move forward," he said.

Lane, 31, is charged in the March 1999 van crash that killed seven young people near Janesville.

"If this involved Gov. Tommy Thompson's son or daughter, this guy would have been in jail by now," said Phil Ellenbecker, of Verona. His daughter, Malinda Turvey, 18, was killed in the wreck.

"This has gone on too long," he added. "That's all I've got to say. I'm getting mad."

Lane pleaded innocent in June to two felonies--delivery of marijuana to a minor and contributing to the delinquency of minor--plus a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to obstruct an investigation.

He is charged separately from YES, a traveling magazine-sales company in DeWitt, Iowa. In June, the company was found guilty of criminal charges and fined $132,000 after nobody showed up in court to represent the company.

Monday's court hearing had originally been scheduled to check the status of Lane's case and to determine how much restitution YES should pay to compensate the survivors and families of van crash victims.

The restitution total is expected to be huge.

But before Monday, it was decided that the restitution hearing should be delayed so the families and victims won't have to testify more than once. Instead, the hearing on restitution will be combined with Lane's sentencing if he is convicted or held after Lane's case is resolved if he is found not guilty.

Boyle said she needs more time to read hundreds of pages of investigative reports before she can advise Lane whether he should change his plea or request a jury trial.

Werner issued a bench warrant for Lane's arrest, but the warrant won't become active unless Lane fails to show up at his next court appearance, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 11.

Boyle said she was concerned that Lane's non-appearance would give the wrong impression.

"He is one of the most in-contact clients I have ever had," Boyle said. "This is not a man who would abscond. He has been to every court appearance prior to this and has been early." Albert and DeAnna Roberts planned to drive back to Iowa on Monday evening.

"We aren't taking any vacations," Albert said. "Our vacations are these court hearings."

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