Probation for trooper who crashed, killing Collinsville sisters

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From left, sisters Jessica Uhl, 18, and Kelli Uhl, 13, of Collinsville. They were killed on Nov. 23, 2007, in a crash when Illinois State Police trooper Matt Mitchell lost control of his patrol car while driving 126 mph in heavy after-Thanksgiving Day traffic. He had also been on his cell phone and using his laptop computer in the moments before the crash. - Provided/BND
BELLEVILLE - Illinois State Trooper Matt Mitchell pleaded guilty Friday to recklessly driving his squad car at 126 mph until he lost control and collided with a car occupied by sisters Jessica Uhl, 18, and Kelli Uhl, 13, who were killed instantly.

Mitchell, 31, received a sentence of 30 months of probation, a plea agreement negotiated over weeks by prosecutors and Mitchell's defense attorney John O'Gara with the approval of the Uhl family and the occupants of a third vehicle who were injured. He will be allowed to serve the probation in Clinton County where he resides. The crash occurred the day after Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23, 2007, on Interstate 64 near O'Fallon.

St. Clair County State's Attorney Robert Haida said that the concerns of the families were paramount in his office agreeing not to forge ahead with a trial or seek jail time. By this, he said, he meant civil lawsuits that could have been endangered if Mitchell went to trial and was acquitted. Mitchell is the first state police officer in Illinois to plead guilty to reckless homicide in a case where alcohol was not involved.

"The outcome today is something that has been difficult for all of us to work through," Haida said, adding that a major concern of the families of the dead and injured was that Mitchell can never again work as a law enforcement officer.

The same plea deal was offered on March 23, but was withdrawn because of concern with civil lawsuits connected to the crash.

In a brief statement that he read, Mitchell apologized to the Uhls and to Kelly Marler and his then pregnant wife Christine Marler, who were injured when the squad car ricocheted off the Uhl vehicle and struck them.

Mitchell said he has, "...Heartfelt sympathy for the Uhls and the Marlers," and concluded that during his six years as a trooper, "Anyone I came into contact with was treated with respect and fairness."

Haida said Mitchell may also lose his driver's license. Mitchell, who was suspended from the State Police, continued to be paid his salary although Haida said that may have ended Friday. Haida said he is confident Mitchell will be removed as a trooper and will not be able to be a cop anywhere else.

The Illinois State Police issued the following statement following Mitchell's guilty plea, "Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families of those who were victims of this tragic accident. Now that the criminal proceedings have concluded, the Illinois State Police will move forward with the internal administrative process as expeditiously as possible, and will take the appropriate action that is warranted."

Kim Schlau, the mother of the Uhl sisters, read a statement after the sentencing asking first responders and all drivers to, "Please slow down, pay attention and stay off the phone." Earlier, Assistant State's Attorney Jim Piper told Circuit Judge Jan Fiss during the hearing that if the case had gone to trial he would be able to prove that 2.5 seconds before the crash Mitchell was driving at 126 mph and was sending and receiving e-mails on his squad car's computer. Piper also stated that a crash scene that Mitchell was responding to on Illinois 4 had already been covered by police and fire department officers and there was no need to speed to the location.

O'Gara said afterward that the messages that his client had received and sent while driving concerned his work as a police officer and were not personal.

Mitchell's past driving record included two crashes including a slow speed collision near Peoria while he was in his squad car. That resulted in a lawsuit and a $1.7 million decision against the State Police. Court records from that case show that Mitchell was on a computer in his patrol vehicle and communicating with another trooper when he rear ended a passenger car stopped for a traffic light.

Tom Keefe, the lawyer who represents the Uhl sisters' parents in their civil case, said the lawsuit is set to be heard by the Illinois Court of Claims on Monday at the St. Clair County Building.

Editors note: Comments have been removed from this story due to the nature of the content and because of numerous inappropriate comments by readers.

[ Administrator's note: I have to say first that I am sorry to Jessica and Kelli Uhl. Secondly I am very sorry to their parents and all of the other people who knew and loved them.

Shame on the attorney representing these victims. This whole thing smells of a ginormous shit sandwich cover up to get a cop off and I think the attorney that was supposed to be representing the victims here did just the opposite and conspired with the cops to help the cops. To imply that an acquittal would have jeopardized a civil proceeding is absolutely absurd. If this was the advice of their attorney then it is my opinion that their attorney lied to them.

If you or I did this we would spend 30 years to life in prison. I can't speak for you but I am better than any cop. Using a cell phone while driving and screwing around with a computer yields the same results as being drunk. There is no other logic or legal way of looking at what happened here.

Note also that the news agency that printed this story has suppressed all comment on this story. That adds up to a 100% violent reaction from the public. The judge should be removed from the bench as well as the prosecutor and the chief of police and probably the entire management staff of this police department.

I believe there was a conspiracy here to get a cop off.]
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  Filed Under: Abuse of authority, Accountability, Conspiracy/cover up, Cops covering for cops/friends, Dereliction of Duty, Good 'ol Boys network, High speed/crash/death, In Jail!/fired Cop, mis-conduct Administrative, mis-conduct Judicial/former, mis-conduct POLICE/Sheriff/FED, mis-conduct Prosecutorial, Murder/attempt/conspiracy/homicide
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St. Louis Today 02/18/2011 Illinois ex-trooper denied workers' comp in deadly crash
The State Journal-Register 02/09/2011 Secrecy sought in Illinois trooper crash case
Fox StLouis 01/19/2011 Uhl Family Gets $8 Million in Daughters Deaths
ABC News 09/27/2010 No Shame? Killer Cop Wants Workers' Comp
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