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Milberg trial: Facebook activity, inspections scrutinized on Tuesday

ELLSWORTH -- Kari Milberg’s alleged use of the Facebook messaging app on the day her daughter and two nieces were killed in a car crash led to extensive testimony on Day 2 of testimony at the Centuria woman’s trial.

Witnesses on Tuesday included Pierce County sheriff’s deputy Aaron Hansen, who testified that Milberg, 35, was sending messages over the app on Dec. 12, 2013, to her friend Jason McKenzie. Under cross examination, however, Hansen told defense attorney Aaron Nelson that he couldn’t necessarily say whether Milberg was the writer or recipient of messages allegedly sent moments before the crash -- or if it was someone else in her SUV.

Pierce County District Attorney Sean Froelich called McKenzie to the stand. He testified that he didn’t recall whether or not he messaged Milberg that day. A transcript of the chat log was shown to the jury.

McKenzie told Froelich that it wouldn’t help jog his memory if he were shown the log.

Milberg is charged with three counts of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle stemming from the two-vehicle crash on Highway 35 in the town Oak Grove that killed the three children.

Other witnesses on Tuesday  included:

-- Wisconsin State Patrol inspector Brandon Friederick: His testimony included the first appearance of his report from the inspection -- including interview notes with the driver of the vehicle struck by Milberg’s SUV, as well as a statement by that driver about the roadway being slippery. Both Nelson and Froelich said they never saw the report before, prompting Nelson to move for the case to be dismissed. Froelich rejected Nelson’s suggestion that the report was kept “hidden,” saying “I think this officer would be more sophisticated” than to wait until trial and produce it in an open courtroom. Pierce County Circuit Court Judge Joe Boles rejected the request for dismissal, but did tell the jury that the report “should have been disclosed” in advance of the trial.

-- Wisconsin State Patrol inspector Richard Krischer: He testified that an inspection of Milberg’s SUV revealed no mechanical problems that would have led to the crash. Tires on the vehicle -- especially one -- had worn tread, but all were within legal limits, he said. Krischer conceded under cross-examination, however, that the tires could have played a role in the crash if the roadway was slippery, though the trooper said his inspection was limited to the vehicle, and not the road surface at the time of the crash.

-- Wisconsin State Patrol inspector Derrek Hanson: He described how he analyzed the SUV’s internal monitoring system that records data in the seconds leading up to a crash. Hanson told the jury that the kind of impact sustained in the crash did not trigger deployment of the vehicle’s airbags. Nelson had Hanson perform math equations on the stand to determine the approximate distance the vehicle traveled in the five seconds leading up to the crash. After a request by Nelson to solve another formula for deceleration rates, he came up with a figure that Nelson said is consistent with deceleration on a snow-covered road.

-- HealthPartners Dr. Brian Peterson, who treated Milberg’s son Easton at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

-- Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Butch Huston with the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office. He performed autopsies on the three girls.

Prosecution was expected to rest its case Wednesday before defense begins calling its witnesses. The case could go to the jury by Friday.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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