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Former state trooper who caused fatal crash halts effort to get driving privileges restored

Former state trooper who caused fatal crash halts effort to get driving privileges restored

Matt Mitchell may refile request for a formal hearing in 90 days

By BETH HUNDSDORFER
Capitol News Illinois
bhundsdorfer@capitolnewsillinois.com

The former Illinois State Trooper who pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter of two sisters in 2007 has abandoned his efforts to have a hearing into the restoration of his driving privileges – for now. 

Matt Mitchell, 45, requested at least two delays in the hearing after he failed to complete a legally required medical evaluation documenting his alcohol use and a mental health evaluation.

At the April hearing, Mitchell’s attorney acknowledged that his client still had not completed the required evaluations. When the secretary of state’s office indicated it would dismiss the case, Mitchell’s attorney withdrew the formal hearing request, according to a spokesperson for Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias. 

Mitchell was behind the wheel of his Illinois State Police squad car, traveling in heavy Black Friday traffic on Interstate 64 near St. Clair Square Mall in St. Clair County while responding to a call in 2007. Mitchell told investigators that a white car cut him off and he lost control, sending his car across the median and airborne into oncoming traffic. He slammed into a car driven by Jessica Uhl, causing the vehicle to catch fire. Uhl, 18, and her sister Kelli Uhl, 13, who was a passenger in the car, were pronounced dead at the scene.

Further investigation revealed Mitchell was traveling at 126 mph while talking on the phone with his girlfriend and using his in-dash computer. The investigation further found that emergency personnel were already on the scene of the call where Mitchell was responding. Witnesses denied seeing any car cut Michell off. 

Although Mitchell withdrew his request for a hearing, he can file another request within 90 days. 

“I’m happy that the constant continuations are over for now. But the chance is still there for him to start the process again. So, as usual, it’s not really over,” said Kim Schlau, mother of Kelli and Jessica Uhl.

J. Israel Slone, Mitchell’s attorney, did not respond to a reporter’s requests for comment.  

Tom Daley, a retired Belleville criminal defense attorney who for 25 years specialized in handling DUIs and drivers’ license reinstatements, said he’s never seen an instance where a client had to submit to a mental evaluation for reinstatement purposes. 

But a Giannoulias spokesperson said that in cases where a crash caused by the driver has resulted in a death, it is common to require the petitioner to provide a mental evaluation and prove that they can safely operate a vehicle.

Former Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White had previously blocked Mitchell’s attempts to have his license reinstated, overturning recommendations by his own hearing officer.

White left office in January, and Mitchell renewed his efforts at reinstatement toward Giannoulias.

Though Mitchell could not be reached for comment, in September 2023, a petition drive was launched on change.org asking people to support Mitchell’s request to Giannoulias to have his license restored. In support of that petition, there is a statement attributed to Mitchell.

“I ask that we keep these families in our prayers, and I ask that you pray that these families find it in their hearts to one day forgive me for the mistakes I made on (that) date,” Mitchell wrote in the petition. “I take full responsibility for my actions. I am not perfect, nor have I ever claimed to be. I am simply asking for a chance to prove that I can and will be a responsible driver. Please support me in this journey for reinstatement of my driving privileges.”

Nearly 450 people have signed the petition.

Last year, the secretary of state scheduled 11,574 license reinstatement hearings. The secretary’s office reached a decision in 9,060 cases, the spokesperson said. Of those, about 85 percent were cases driving under the influence related. The resulting decisions reinstated 2,972 licenses, granted 3,670 permits, and denied 2,418 of those requests. The remaining cases were withdrawn or pending. In all these cases, the secretary has the ultimate authority in determining if driving privileges are restored.

Mitchell, who was seriously injured in the crash, underwent three surgeries on his legs, according to his testimony at the time. Despite his injuries and the fact that he received them during his employment, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission denied his attempts to receive benefits. 

During his workers’ compensation hearing, he said he was driving 25 to 35 mph slower than the investigation detailed. He further stated that he pleaded guilty to reckless homicide and reckless driving charges because “he couldn’t get a fair trial” in St. Clair County.

Mitchell resigned from the Illinois State Police in 2010. 

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

 

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Beth Hundsdorfer

Beth HundsdorferBeth Hundsdorfer

Beth has worked in journalism for 25 years starting out as an intern at KMOX radio. In 2023, Beth won her second Robert F. Kennedy journalism award with her reporting partner, Molly Parker, who joined the CNI team earlier this year for their reporting on abuse at the state-run Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in Anna.

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