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Co-workers tell their version of tragic day’s events

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HARTINGTON – David Phillips Jr. routinely wore a semi-automatic handgun in his waistband or kept it in a backpack at worksites, according to witness testimony at his second-degree murder trial in Cedar County District Court Wednesday afternoon. 

In the third day of court proceedings, Tyler Yow, one of Phillips’ co-workers at BULT Wireless, testified he saw Phillips put the handgun in the bed of a pickup truck after the shooting at a tower worksite north of Hartington March 1, 2023. 

Israel Matos-Colon, 31, Fowlerville, Mich., died and Phillips, 22, Kenner, La., was arrested at the scene. Phillips is also charged with use of a firearm to commit a felony and possession of a stolen firearm. 

Yow said he reported Phillips carrying a gun on the job prior to the shooting to a BULT Wireless company official but he was unaware of any response by the company. Previous testimony indicated weapons - other than utility knives used in the field - were not allowed per company policy. 

Phillips would not have been able to perform his work climbing a tower with the handgun in his waistband or in a pant leg, Yow said. 

Yow, and another BULT crew member, Nathan Anderson, detailed two verbal arguments between Phillips and Matos-Colon shortly after work started March 1, 2023, with the second argument ending in multiple gunshots fired in rapid succession. 

Both Yow and Anderson said it wasn’t until the second argument they learned Matos-Colon and Phillips were arguing about their climbing duties that day. 

Anderson said both Phillips and Matos-Colon were face to face with chests “puffed out,” ready to fight physically after being separated. It was at this time, Anderson heard Matos-Colon using the phrase, “yo mamma,” in response to everything Phillips said. Anderson said the response was meant as a taunt, or was said in an antagonizing way. 

Yow described Matos-Colon as fun, happy and “good to be around.” The two had worked together a handful of times before March 1, 2023. Yow had worked with Phillips for a few months. There were not any personal issues or threats made by either Matos-Colon or Phillips prior to the shooting, Yow said. 

There was sometimes bickering or teasing between co-workers on a job site but it was considered “normal” interaction and nothing of concern, Yow said. 

Neither witness actually saw the gun being fired. 

After the shooting, Anderson saw Phillips upset and pacing by a vehicle. He saw a gun on the ground nearby.

At one point, Yow said Phillips was standing over him as he was performing CPR on Matos-Colon and said, “Stay with us, Izzy.” 

Anderson and another co-worker, Kevin Warner, went to a vehicle to look for a first aid kit when Phillips approached and said, “He talked about my momma, that (racial slur) had to die.” 

Defense Attorney Todd Lancaster questioned the accuracy of that statement as Anderson didn’t divulge that specific language when interviewed after the shooting by Tyler Mann, Nebraska State Patrol investigator. 

Anderson said he may have still been shocked by the day’s event when being interviewed by the investigator and he was 98 percent sure now of the exact and specific language Phillips used in the statement.

After making the racial slur, Phillips asked for help in getting away from the scene, specifically wanting to go to New Orleans.

Anderson agreed to give him a ride. 

“I recalled seeing the gun on the ground, and I thought if I got him out of the compound, away from everybody, no one else would get hurt. I could tell he was kind of getting worked up,” Anderson said. 

Phillips asked if Anderson or Warner had turned him in and they said no. 

Feeling uneasy, both men left the scene, but Phillips didn’t get in the vehicle. 

Anderson and Warner traveled off the worksite and met up with crew foreman Josh Curiel, who had fled on foot. 

They met law enforcement where a rural road intersects with Highway 57 so they could lead first responders to the worksite, described as being in a cattle yard. 

After Nebraska State Patrol investigators arrived on scene, Anderson and others working that day were taken from the scene and interviewed separately. 

Mann and Cedar County Sheriff Larry Koranda also took to the witness stand Wednesday and detailed their actions at the crime scene which included photographing, documenting and processing evidence which included areas of bullet ricochet off of a “guardrail cattle panel,” and multiple shell casings.

Phillips’ lawyer asked several questions regarding the securing of the scene and whether or not gates on the property were open at certain times. 

Koranda said cattle were wandering through the crime scene but did not disturb any evidence.

“They probably don’t pay attention to the yellow tape you put around it,” Lancaster said. 

Prosecutors with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office indicated they planned to put five more witnesses on the stand Thursday and rest their case. It’s unknown if Lancaster plans to present any evidence.