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Jessica Uhl (18) and Kelli Uhl (13) died when a patrol car struck their vehicle at 126 MPH
Published: May 16, 2008 @ 11:10 PM
Jessica Uhl (18)
Nov 23, 2007
Cause of Death:
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Kelli Uhl (13)
Nov 23, 2007
Cause of Death:
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An Illinois state trooper''s cruiser was traveling 126 mph moments before it veered out of control, crossed an interstate median and killed two teenage sisters, a coroner''s jury was told Wednesday.
The jury ruled the deaths a "reckless homicide."
Robert Haida, the St. Clair County state''s attorney, said state police filed for a reckless homicide charge and an arrest warrant for Trooper Matt Mitchell on Wednesday morning - before the inquest. A ruling in an inquest doesn''t always lead to a criminal case. Rather, an inquest is held to determine the cause of any violent or mysterious death.
Haida estimated it could be weeks before his office takes any action, if at all.
The sisters, Jessica and Kelli Uhl, were headed home on Interstate 64 from a holiday photo shoot Nov. 23 when the trooper, en route to another accident, lost control of his cruiser. The Uhls'' car was struck by the cruiser and engulfed in a raging fire. Both sisters, Jessica, 18, and Kelli, 13, died at the scene.
The Illinois State Police, meanwhile, issued a brief statement saying that the case has been turned over to the St. Clair County state''s attorney''s office for "prosecutorial review." State police will continue to investigate the case "as deemed necessary" by Haida''s office.
The Illinois State Police Merit Board, which handles discipline of state troopers, said Mitchell is not currently up for discipline. But officials there said that could change as the state police investigation continues.
Jessica Uhl, a graduate of Collinsville High School, was attending Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Kelli Uhl was an eighth-grader at Collinsville Middle School. Both lived in Collinsville.
The girls'' parents could not be reached for comment.
Tom Keefe Jr., a Belleville lawyer who represents the parents, was at the inquest on Wednesday morning and peppered state police investigators with questions. He said that he was allowed to ask "just enough" questions to help push jurors to find that the girls'' deaths were not accidental. Keefe said that his clients have been denied any answers from police or the coroner''s office as to what happened in the moments leading up to the crash.
"I feel badly for the trooper; he feels terrible," Keefe said in an interview. "I''m just upset at the Illinois State Police. They owe my clients the truth."
State police officials in Springfield would not answer questions Wednesday, including about Mitchell''s job status or the agency''s policy on speeding by troopers to accident scenes.
A woman who answered the door at Mitchell''s home in Huey, Ill., said Mitchell did not want to talk to a reporter. Huey is a town of 200 near Carlyle Lake.
Mitchell was injured in the crash and required several surgeries.
He was involved in two previous crashes in his six-year state police career. One of them resulted in a $1.7 million judgment against the state.
In response to questions from Keefe, Illinois State Police accident reconstruction investigator Chris Gebke testified that it was the trooper''s high rate of speed - 126 mph - that caused him to lose control of the car.
The trooper''s speed upon impact was 102 mph, Keefe said that Gebke testified. The sisters'' car was traveling about 65 mph, going the opposite direction.
"The state police knew that one day after the accident and never told the girls'' parents," Keefe said. "All they''ve wanted all along were some answers. Why don''t the police just tell them these things instead of stonewalling?"
The case was handed over to the internal investigations arm of the Illinois State Police, therefore making the accident report unavailable to the public.
Keefe said he learned for the first time at Wednesday''s hearing that the impact of the crash was so severe that Mitchell''s police cruiser literally "drove through" the sisters'' car. The impact had pushed their car''s engine several hundred feet past where the sisters'' car came to rest, he said.
After prodding from Keefe, Gebke told the jury that Mitchell had "failed to keep his car under proper control" because of his high speed, Keefe said.
In addition, Gebke told Keefe from the witness stand that Mascoutah police and emergency workers already had the car accident that Mitchell was headed to under control, before Mitchell began his rush to the scene. When Mitchell got the call to go to that accident scene, he drove two miles to the nearest exit, got off, turned around and drove back on the interstate, all at high speeds, Keefe said.
"What was the big deal for the trooper to get to the scene of the Mascoutah accident 22 miles away when it was already secured?" Keefe said. "He couldn''t render first aid."
In the days following the crash, state police internal investigators found that Mitchell may have turned off his in-car videotaping system before the crash. There''s no video of the moments leading up to the crash. That''s when state police say a car cut Mitchell off, causing him to drive into the Interstate 64 median and into oncoming traffic.
Officials stressed that Mitchell wasn''t required to have the video recorder on.
State police require video to run only during so-called "enforcement action," during an arrest or traffic stop.
Investigators said more than half of the 70 people interviewed after the crash said they saw lights and heard a siren.
Trooper in fatal crash was going 126 mph
2 killed in crash identified as sisters
Illinois Trooper''s Driving History Suspect in Uhl Sisters'' Wrongful Death
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