Today my daughter Maddy and I, as well as Jessica and Kelli’s father, Brian, gave statements in opposition to the ex-trooper receiving his driver’s license. I also took with me many letters and comments left on our Facebook pages by those who also feel that he should not have his license reinstated. I take comfort in those letters and comments because it reminds me that I’m not alone in this fight.
Below is the text of the statements given by me and Maddy.
In April of 2010, a few weeks before the defendant’s felony criminal trial was to begin, Brian and I were contacted by the St. Clair County Assistant State’s Attorney, Jim Piper. He told us that he had been approached by the defendant’s counsel requesting a plea deal — in exchange for 30 months of probation and a 24-month suspension of his driver’s license, the defendant would plead guilty to the four felony charges – two counts of reckless homicide and two counts of aggravated reckless driving. At first we said no deal. Jessica and Kelli had been killed in November 2007, and during those prior 2 ½ years, we had learned the facts of the crash and those facts – driving 126mph to a secure scene while on a personal cell phone call — supported our wish that the defendant serve jail time.
However, after much discussion, debate and prayer, we decided that we did not want to risk a trial where there was a chance, albeit slim, that the defendant would be acquitted of the charges. We wanted to make sure that he did not continue to operate a motor vehicle in the manner that he had prior to killing Jessica and Kelli. Driving 126mph to a call, after being told that it was already secured by other departments, while talking on his personal cell phone to his girlfriend about a bike she bought, showed his blatant disregard for the safety of the public, which he had sworn an oath to protect, as well as his continued careless operation of the state-owned vehicle entrusted to him. The fatal crash of November 23, 2007 was his eighth crash during his 6-year tenure as a trooper. Eight crashes in six years showed that by his own decisions, he chose not to learn from his previous crashes, ignored his driving training and the basic rules of the road, and repeatedly endangered himself and others, resulting in deadly consequences.
We, the family of Jessica and Kelli, agreed to the plea deal only because our ultimate hope was that he not be allowed to injure or possibly kill anyone else with his erratic driving. We feared that if a jury acquitted him, he would go back to being a law enforcement officer and he would continue the pattern of reckless driving and disregard for the safety of others. Once he pleaded guilty to those felonies, he could not be a law enforcement officer anymore. That was our only reason for allowing the plea deal to be finalized.
I have been on the inside of a door, looking out at two Illinois State Troopers, a chaplain and a coroner coming up my sidewalk on a dark cold November night when I was frantic with worry because I hadn’t heard from my daughters in over 7 hours. I know what it is like to be asked if I owned a white Mazda, because it was virtually unrecognizable after being slammed into by another vehicle at over 100 mph. I know what it is like to be asked by the troopers who was in that car, because my children were injured so brutally that they were unrecognizable. I know what it is like to be told that your children are dead because of the actions of someone sworn to protect them. I know what it is like to tell an 8-year old child that her sisters aren’t coming home because a police officer killed them. I know what it is like to hold the hand of that 8-year old little girl and walk behind two white caskets with pink silk lining being carried up the aisle of a church by twelve grown men who are weeping openly, who graciously accepted the job of bearing my daughters to their final resting places.
Knowing all that, we didn’t want another family to have to experience the loss, grief, heartache, anger, disbelief and deep perpetual sorrow that we will have the rest of our lives because of the actions of a thoughtless, careless driver.
We have a life sentence of being denied our children. In the five and half years since their deaths, we have tried to mine some good from their deaths. We have raised money for scholarship funds that have helped seven students attend college so far. We have hosted blood drives and food drives. We distribute magnets, bracelets and t-shirts with Jessica and Kelli’s names on them to help drivers remember to stay focused on driving and avoid hurting themselves or others. I travel extensively around the country addressing law enforcement officers and police academy cadets in hopes that when they hear about how Jessica and Kelli were killed, it will change how they drive and hopefully save lives. Jessica and Kelli’s photos and story have been used in nationwide distracted driving campaigns as well as law enforcement training programs promoted by Below 100 and Calibre Press.
Since July 2012, two applications for reinstatement have been made and have been denied, and the third appeal is now under consideration. If this appeal is denied, it stands to reason that another appeal would be filed shortly thereafter. The hasty filing of these petitions within weeks of refusal seems to demonstrate that the defendant sees these hearings as merely a formality and believes that just because the suspension period has expired, his license and therefore his privilege to drive should immediately be given back. It seems as if he’s only going through the motions without showing the court any concrete evidence that his behavior has indeed changed.
I would respectfully request that the defendant’s appeal be denied. I would respectfully submit letters, emails and statements left on our Foundation Facebook page by the public who also request that his appeal be denied.
My name is Madelyn Blair. I am the sister of Kelli and Jessica Uhl. I was eight years old when my sisters were killed.
I remember when I was little that my mom would tell me and my sisters if we were ever in trouble or lost that we should look for a police officer. They were there to help us. I looked up to the police, and thought they were heroes. Then my mom told me a police officer killed my sisters because he was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing. He was driving too fast and talking on his phone while speeding to a call that was already being handled. If a regular person had driven like he had that day he killed them, they would have gotten a ticket and probably gone to jail. It didn’t seem fair that he felt like he could break the rules because he was a police officer.
I think his actions were selfish, because he should have realized that speeding when he didn’t need to and being distracted was dangerous and ultimately deadly. He knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, but he did it anyway because he was a police officer, and he could get away with it.
He had seven crashes before he killed Jessica and Kelli. He had a lot of chances to change the way he drove, and he never did. That shows a lack of respect for the privilege of driving a car.
I will be getting my driver’s license next year, and my mom has said that driving is a privilege and not a right. The privilege has to be earned by showing good judgment and responsibility. Matt Mitchell has not shown that he has good judgment or responsibility.
Thank you for taking my opinion into consideration when deciding if he should drive again.