30 Months Probation
Illinois State Police trooper, Matt Mitchell, denied he was speeding at 126 mph using a laptop and talking on his cell phone when he crashed his patrol car head-on into a car driven by two teenage sisters three years ago.
Mitchell says he was using reasonable care while responding to an emergency call.
He could have gone to prison for 16 years. Instead, Mitchell will be on probation for 30 months.
In an agreement with the St. Clair State’s Attorney, Mitchell entered guilty pleas on two felony counts of reckless homicide and two felony counts of reckless driving for the November 23, 2007 crash that killed Collinsville teens, Jessica Uhl, 18, and her sister Kelli, 13 on Interstate 64 near Shiloh, Illinois.
The girls died instantly.
Last week he was put on probation for 30 months on each count with the sentences to run concurrently.
Under the plea agreement, Mitchell can never serve as a police officer again.
After the sentencing Kim Schlau, mother of the girls, read from a statement, “We are hopeful that this conviction sends a message not only to all first responders and law enforcement officers, but to all drivers, please slow down, pay attention, put down the phone and drive safely.”
Schlau tells IB News that her goal was that he not be a police officer again and not hurt anyone else.
“This was the first conviction of a police officer in Illinois and he received the maximum probation for a Class 3 felony of reckless homicide. His driver’s license was suspended for two years and he will have to petition to receive it back. My ex-husband and I can write to the secretary of state and voice our displeasure he receive his license.”
The nonprofit organization, PursuitSAFETY, calculates that 4 to 5 innocent civilians are killed every week by first responders or from police pursuits, including members of law enforcement.
Candy Priano, PursuitSafety founder tells IB News, that a mandatory reporting system is necessary to get a handle on the problem.
“NHTSA's tracking system, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (I cannot even call it a report) gathers limited information from law enforcement, but there is no accountability even when it comes to this voluntary collection of data. NHTSA's numbers are often cited as if they are the actual number of deaths of innocent bystanders, but these numbers fall short--way short.”
Pursuit Safety encourages a nationwide mandatory reporting system as well as a preventing "chase at all cost” pursuit policies. The group believes chases should only be conducted for occupants in a fleeing vehicle known to have committed a violent crime.
It’s not over for Mitchell.
At a Tuesday hearing on a civil case filed by Kimberly Schlau and Brian Uhl, the parents of the teens, former Illinois State Police director Larry Trent testified that he pushed for the prosecution of Mitchell calling his actions “irresponsible” and “indefensible.”
Trent said there is no condition under which a trooper should be driving a triple digit speeds, using a dash-mounted laptop computer to send emails and talking on a call phone reports the Belleville News Democrat.
The acting police director has filed a complaint seeking Mitchell’s termination and to have him removed from suspended with pay to without pay. After the November 23, 2007 accident Mitchell was suspended with pay and earned more than $68,000 a year.
The Uhl family rested its civil case Tuesday, April 20. The state will present its defense May 3. The crash resulted in a $1.7 million judgment against the Illinois state police. Previously, a crash involving Mitchell resulted in a $17 million civil judgment.
The family is seeking $24 million in damages including $12 million for Jessica who was a freshman at Southern Illinois University, and $12 million for Kelli, an eighth grade cheerleader. #