As a southern Illinois car accident lawyer, I took note of a recent news item in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch concerning an Illinois state trooper who pleaded guilty to two counts each of reckless homicide and aggravated reckless driving. Matt Mitchell, 31, was responding to a call when he lost control of his patrol car while driving at 126 mph. Mitchell was also sending and receiving emails 2.5 seconds before the crash, and had been talking on his cell phone prior to that. Jessica Uhl, 18, and Kelli Uhl, 13, of Collinsville, were driving home from a photo shoot when Mitchell’s patrol car plowed into them and set their car ablaze. The young women died at the scene. Christine Marler, who was pregnant at the time, and Kelly Marler, both of Fayetteville, Ark., were injured in a third car.
Mitchell was on duty at the time of the crash, and is now the first Missouri state trooper ever to be convicted of reckless homicide for an on-duty wreck. By pleading guilty, Mitchell avoided a trial that could have gotten him up to five years of prison time for the four charges. Instead, Mitchell will be on probation for 30 months. The Illinois State Police put Mitchell on paid leave during the case and will likely fire him. The agency has also set new policies to rein in the speed at which officers can drive, require them to use hands-free phones, and keep the patrol car’s video recorder on whenever the car’s emergency lights are in use. The Uhl family is pursuing a separate wrongful death lawsuit against both Mitchell and the state of Illinois. A detail of that case nearly held up Mitchell’s plea deal, but has since been smoothed out. A hearing in the civil case was scheduled for April 19.
As a St. Louis car crash lawyer, I am glad that the State Police is making changes to ensure public safety. Police officers are given greater privileges than other drivers — the right to speed and break some other traffic laws — in order to respond to emergencies. But those privileges come with greater responsibility to drive carefully. Mitchell’s driving was clearly careless and reckless, even if he was responding to an emergency. His speed may or may not have been appropriate for the situation, but it’s unlikely that he needed to use his phone or email while responding. And even people who don’t support restrictions on cell phone use while driving can probably agree that it is not safe to use a phone at 127 mph. As a result of that recklessness, two young women are dead and Mitchell’s career as a law enforcement officer is likely over.
Missouri auto accident attorneys at the Lowe Law Firm work with families like the Uhls, who have lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence. We help them legally recover compensation for their emotional and financial losses, so they can focus on rebuilding their lives without worrying about how they’ll pay for medical bills or funerals. In cases where a breadwinner was wrongfully killed, we can also help families recover a lifetime of lost financial support for family members left behind. And in all cases, we can claim damages for the family’s loss of the loved one’s care, support and love. State laws in both Illinois and Missouri allow families to recover these and other damages from people whose negligence or intentional actions caused a premature and avoidable death.
If you have lost someone you love in an accident like this, please call the Lowe Law Firm for a free consultation to learn about your legal rights. You can call us at 1-877-678-3400, or send us a message online.