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Driver Found Not Guilty In Fatal Wis. Distracted Driving Case

ELLSWORTH, Wis. (WCCO) -- Twelve jurors took less than two hours to find a woman not guilty in a 2013 fatal crash.

Kari Jo Milberg was found not guilty Wednesday of three felony counts of criminal negligence.

Milberg lost control of her car and crashed into a truck back in December of 2013. The crash killed Milberg's 11-year-old daughter and two young nieces.

Shortly after learning she was free to resume her life carry Milberg was escorted out of the courthouse and into and awaiting car. She refused to answer reporters questions and was rushed away.

Closing statements came Wednesday after defense attorneys for Kari Jo Milberg called no witnesses and Milberg waived her right to testify.

The state charged her with negligent homicide, saying she was on a cell phone messaging back and forth with a friend.

Jurors in the trial heard first from a reconstruction expert. Trooper Trent Betley said weather didn't cause the crash, as Milberg's defense claims.

Prescott Fatal 2
(credit: Pierce County Sheriff's Dept.)

"It did not appear that environmental factors would have been a contributing factor in this crash," Betley said.

But on cross examination, Betley agreed that photos of the scene showed a snowy roadway.

Deputy Cassandra Anderson took the 911 call from the crash. Records of the call were played in court.

Another 911 call came in just 19 seconds after the last Facebook message between Milberg and friend, Jason McKenzie.

In closing arguments, district attorney Sean Froelich said Milberg was messaging while driving along a dangerous, winding road, with four kids in the car.

According to Froelich, she sent the final message 52 seconds before calling 911.

Aaron Nelson, Milberg's attorney, told jurors the simple cause of the crash was slippery roads and badly worn tires.

"A single mom, raising two kids, doing everything she can, and she didn't get new tires when she should have," Nelson said. "That ain't a crime."

After the verdict was read, Fraelich said texting while driving is a serious crime, especially when it is fatal. He says cases such as this one must be prosecuted.

"Texting and driving is on the rise, and we have to look at all of these particular incidents where it's something we have to focus on -- and I respect the jury's verdict," he said.

The father of 5-year-old Clara Pavek, who died in the crash, says he's outraged. He'll likely speak to the media tomorrow about the jury's decision.

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