That’s what the families of the three victims of a January 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.
A trial in the case, which didn’t see felony charges filed until June 2019 after a lengthy Wisconsin State Patrol investigation, was scheduled to begin Aug. 2. But during a final pretrial hearing Wednesday, defense attorney Kelly Mattingly told Judge John Wood he could no longer handle the case after an unspecified conflict was discovered.
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, which will prolong the process for the families of the victims, Hesham M. Abdelrahim, Delandis J. McKinney and Cecilio Rodriguez.
“This conflict of interest could have been discovered about two years ago,” Wood said. “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, who did not appear by video conference and only through audio, said. “Let us rest from this. It has been too long. I can’t take this anymore.”
Wood encouraged the public defender’s office to “facilitate the swift transition” of all necessary case records to a new attorney.
Had the conflict not been identified, Mattingly confirmed the case would have been ready to go to trial Aug. 2. A court date has been set for Aug. 11 to determine a path forward.
According to authorities, 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 because she had borrowed it.
During the drive, one of the women with Becker said she was distracted and on her phone while driving. On the way back to Beloit, Becker stopped the SUV partially on the shoulder and in the right lane of I-43 near mile marker 6 in the town of Clinton. A semitrailer truck attempted to swerve around the SUV but hit the vehicle. The truck tipped over and blocked the Interstate.
A pickup truck then crashed into the semi. All three men in the pickup suffered fatal injuries.
The three women in the SUV were treated for minor to severe injuries, with one passenger suffering a skull fracture and a collapsed lung.
Police responded to the crash at around 3 a.m. A blood sample was taken at 4:15 a.m. and showed Becker had a blood-alcohol content of 0.14, above the legal limit of 0.08.