A fatal car accident more than a year ago on a slippery highway in western Wisconsin was a tragedy for an extended family. Three young girls – all cousins – were killed and another cousin, a 3-year-old boy, suffered serious injuries.
The driver, who is the mother of two of the children and aunt to two others, was also badly injured.
Now, she faces criminal charges which accuse her of causing the accident.
Prosecutors in Pierce County, Wis., last week filed three counts of homicide by negligent operation of a motor vehicle against Kari Jo Milberg, 34, of Centuria, Wis.
The charges claim Milberg was actively chatting on Facebook via her cellphone for several minutes leading up to the time of the crash, KARE 11 reports.
The accident occurred about 3:40 p.m. on Dec. 12, 2013, on Highway 35 just south of Prescott, Wis.
Milberg was driving a small SUV with the four children inside when she lost control of her vehicle on a curve, crossed over into the oncoming lane and collided with a truck.
According to KARE 11, witnesses told police that Milberg's SUV suddenly veered onto the shoulder of the highway and then made an abrupt U-turn right in front of the oncoming truck. The impact of the collision slammed Milberg's vehicle into the guard rail.
The three children killed in the accident were Milberg's 11-year-old daughter Lydia and two 5-year-old nieces, Laynie Jo Amos and Clara Pavek (the girls' mothers are Milberg's sisters).
Milberg and her son Easton – who was 3 at the time – survived but were seriously injured. They have since recovered.
The driver of the truck and his two passengers were not injured.
Police didn't find Milberg's iPhone until several months later because it had been buried in deep snow near the location of the crash, according to the Pierce County Herald.
Milberg's Facebook account information showed that she was in the process of writing a chat message when the accident occurred, according to the criminal complaint.
Milberg also had the painkiller oxycodone and a sedative known as Midazolam in her system at the time of the crash, police say. The tires on her vehicle were also badly worn, and may have been a factor in her losing control on the snowy shoulder of the highway, the Herald reports.
Milberg's first court appearance is scheduled for March 16, according to KSTP. Each felony count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.