JANESVILLE — More waiting. That’s what the families of the three victims of a January of 2018 fatal crash on Interstate 43 will have to endure after the Rock County Public Defender’s Office announced a conflict of interest was missed in the case, preventing a trial from starting the first week of August.
The case, which didn’t see felony charges filed until June of 2019 following a lengthy Wisconsin State Patrol investigation, was set for trial on Aug. 2. But during a final pre-trial hearing on Wednesday, defense attorney Kelly Mattingly told Branch 6 Judge John Wood he could no longer handle the case after an unspecified conflict was discovered which slipped past authorities.
Mattingly was representing Kiyoko M. Becker, 29, who is charged with three counts of homicide by use of a vehicle with a prohibited alcohol content and three counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety stemming from the Jan. 21, 2018 interstate crash near Clinton that resulted in the deaths of three 26-year-old Beloit men.
“I apologize to the court, counsel and the families of the victims that the conflict was not discovered until it was,” Mattingly said. “Our office recently instituted an enhanced conflict screening system. Had that been in place when this case had first been opened, it would have been discovered. This case would not have been open to me in the first place.”
After Mattingly’s comments, Wood admonished the public defender’s office for not identifying the conflict sooner, lamenting the fact that the case would need to be handed over to a new attorney—only prolonging the process for the families of the victims—Hesham M. Abdelrahim, Delandis J. McKinney and Cecilio Rodriguez.
“It’s extremely unfortunate and very disappointing to the court,” Wood said. “Obviously I am somewhat irritated that this case has been pending for as long as it has been. This conflict of interest could have been discovered about two years ago. We essentially lost all of this time and the victim’s families have been put through this delay only to have the rug pulled out from under them on the eve of trial.”
During Wednesday’s hearing, an unidentified family member of one of the three victims addressed the court.
“This has been going on way too long,” the woman said to the court, who did not appear by video conference and only through audio. “Let us rest from this. It has been too long. I can’t take this any more.”
Wood encouraged the public defender’s office to “facilitate the swift transition” of all necessary case records to the new attorney.
Had the conflict not been identified, Mattingly confirmed the case would have been ready to go to trial on Aug. 2.
A court date has been set for Aug. 11 to determine a path forward.
As previously reported by the Beloit Daily News:
Becker and two other women were heading home after drinking at a strip club in the Town of Darien. Court records show one of the women with Becker said she should not drive because she was intoxicated. Becker said she had to drive the SUV since she had borrowed it.
During the drive, one of the women with Becker said she was distracted and on her phone while driving. In the drive back to Beloit, Becker stopped the SUV partially on the shoulder of I-43 and the right lane near mile marker 6 in Clinton Township. A semi-truck attempted to swerve around the SUV, but hit the vehicle and the truck tipped over and blocked the interstate.
A pickup truck then crashed into the semi truck. All three men in the vehicle suffered fatal injuries
The three women in the SUV were treated for minor to severe injuries, with one passenger sustained a skull fracture and had a collapsed lung.
Police responded to the crash at around 3 a.m. Later, a blood sample was taken at 4:15 a.m. and showed Becker had a blood alcohol content level of 0.14, above the legal limit of 0.8.