O’FALLON, Ill. (KMOX) – Signs are up now in St. Clair County marking a stretch of Interstate 64 between Hwy. 158 and Rte. 4 as the “Jessica and Kelli Uhl Memorial Highway”.
18-year-old Jessica and her 13-year-old sister Kelli were killed in November 2007 when an Illinois State Highway patrol car shot across the median at high speed and smashed into their vehicle.
That trooper, Matt Mitchell, was convicted of reckless homicide and sentenced to probation.
He now resides in Texas.
State senator Bill Haine (D-Alton) said he realizes a roadside sign won’t bring the girls back, but rather it’s a symbol of what he called the state’s grief over the tragedy set in motion by Mitchell on that fateful day.
“This officer, who was terminated, is an aberration…a rogue,” Haine said during the dedication ceremony. “(He) was travelling at an estimated speed of 126 miles per hour, reportedly using his on-board computer and cellular phone when he lost control of the vehicle.”
Haine was joined by the House sponsor of the measure (SJR 40) that was passed to rename the highway in honor of the Uhl sisters, State Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon).
“Ultimately I hope this memorial helps to prevent future accidents so other families will be spared the loss and pain that was cruelly inflicted upon the Uhl family,” Kay said.
Members of the girls’ family were on hand for the brief cerremony at the Regency Conference Center in O’Fallon.
Kim Schlau, the mother of Jessica and Kelli, quit her job after the loss of her daughters and now spearheads efforts to spread the word about the dangers of distracted driving, speaking before police training classes and civic organizations.
KMOX News asked her if she feels distracted driving is more, or less, of a problem than it was five years ago.
“It’s hard to say,” she answered. “I think that there’s more awareness about it. Now whether you do that behind the wheel when noone’s looking, that’s another thing.”
Has she ever forgiven Matt Mitchell, the former state trooper who touched off the fatal crash?
“I don’t know that I’ve really ever thought about it,” Schlau said, adding that Mitchell never appeared to own up to the pain and suffering that he caused her and her entire family. “It’s been five years and if (an apology from Mitchell) was going to happen, I think it would have happened by now. So we just move on and keep trying to turn anger into advocacy and make sure that no other family has to go through this.”