|Kelli (left) & Jessica Uhl (right)|
So on this Good Friday as many of us make plans to gather together with family this weekend for the Easter and Passover holidays, let's take a few moments to remember the lives of eighteen year-old Jessica Uhl and her thirteen year-old sister Kelli (pictured left); two members of our collective human family who lost their lives needlessly because of the overt negligence of a former Illinois State Trooper named Matthew Mitchell.
On the day after Thanksgiving back on November 23, 2007, Jessica and Kelli were on their way home from visiting their father and stepmother driving along Interstate 64 in their mother's white Mazda near O'Fallon, Illinois. The heavy I-64 traffic was packed with drivers traveling home from the holiday, as well as shoppers getting the jump on Black Friday sales.
In the opposite lanes of I-64 Trooper Matthew Mitchell was on duty in his marked Chevy Impala Illinois State Police cruiser doing a 126 mph. Now many of you reading this have likely been on an American highway on the day after Thanksgiving, so I want you to picture someone doing 126 mph in that kind of traffic.
Records show that Mitchell, who'd had SEVEN previous car crashes on-duty during his six-year tenure as a State Trooper, was on a cell phone talking with his girlfriend about a bike she'd purchased AND he was also using the computer mounted on the dashboard of his cruiser to send and receive non-work related e-mails moments before he became distracted, lost control of his vehicle, crossed the median strip of I-64 and slammed head-on into Jessica and Kelli's vehicle.
The impact killed both of the Uhl sisters, injured a pregnant woman and her husband in another vehicle and severely damaged Mitchell's legs. In the aftermath of the accident, Mitchell claimed to have been speeding because he was headed to the scene of an accident 22 miles away in Lebanon.
But records show that at least six minutes before the accident, a police radio dispatcher had already reported that local emergency services units close to Lebanon had already responded to the scene of the accident Mitchell claimed to have been speeding to - so he wasn't even needed there.
Mitchell was found guilty of two felony counts of reckless homicide and two counts of aggravated reckless driving and was forced to resign from the Illinois State Police. According to Kim Schlau, the mother of Jessica and Kelli, Mitchell has never shown remorse for the accident and even tried to file a workman's compensation claim with the state to compensate him at the taxpayer's expense for the leg injuries he suffered as a result of his own negligence.
Mitchell's license was revoked for 24 months after his convictions, and at each subsequent hearing, Jessica and Kelli's mom Kim, their father Brian and their younger sister Maddy show up to testify to prevent Matthew Mitchell from ever having his driving license reinstated. If you've ever been behind one of those drivers going too slow on the road or weaving slightly (how about the morons who don't move when the light turns because they're texting?) you know what a distraction it can be.
It proved deadly to Jessica and Kelli and according to data from the CDC, nine drivers a day are killed in the US as a result of someone being distracted by a cell phone in a vehicle.
So I hope you will take a couple minutes to click this link and visit the Change.org Website and add your signature to a petition calling on the Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to deny Matthew Mitchell the chance to get his drivers license back.
Kim Schlau blogs at Parachuting Without a Net and she also travels around the country to speak to police officers about the dangers and impact of distracted driving. She's also established a college scholarship fund in her daughter's names, the Jessica & Kelli Uhl Memorial Foundation, that's helped eight high school students attend college, follow this link for more information on the foundation.
Matthew Mitchell may not show remorse over what he did and we can't change what happened, but we can make sure he never gets behind the wheel again. If he hadn't been an Illinois State Trooper he'd be in jail right now.