COLLINSVILLE, Ill. - This Thanksgiving marks the 10-year anniversary of a tragedy that took the lives two young Metro East girls.
It was a preventable accident that took the life of two of Kim Schlau's three beautiful daughters. And while it’s been 10 years, Schlau said the pain remains as she fights to make sure accidents like this don't happen again.
It was November 23, 2007 when sisters Jessica and Kelli Uhl were headed home on I-64 near Highway 158 from a family photoshoot. An Illinois State trooper, traveling to the scene of another accident, lost control of his cruiser and hit the girls’ vehicle head-on, killing both of them.
The state trooper was traveling 126 miles per hour, talking to his girlfriend on a cellphone, and typing on the patrol car’s computer when he crossed the median.
“Some days it doesn't feel like 10 years. Some days it seems like 20 years. Some days it seems like 10 minutes. It’s still very surreal,” Schlau said.
Jessica was 18 and Kelli 13 years of age when they died. Schlau’s youngest daughter, Madelyn, was just eight years-old when she lost her big sisters and best friends.
“There will always be a hole in my heart, hole in my life, hole in my world,” Schlau said.
The trooper involved the crash, Matt Mitchell, pleaded guilty to reckless homicide and aggravated reckless driving. He was sentenced to 30 months’ probation and fired from his job on the force. He still doesn't have a driver’s license; but Schlau, her husband, and Madelyn were given a life sentence.
“I could have curled up in a corner and never done anything,” Schlau said. “I had a daughter I had to be strong for. I had to get out of bed. I had to do something.”
That something began eight years ago, when she spoke to St. Louis County police recruits about the dangers of distracted driving, providing Jessica and Kelli a voice.
Schlau's talk was so impactful that she now travels the country as a public speaker and advocate for safe driving. Madelyn, now a college freshman, also speaks with her mom.
“The signs are on the highway for them. And I'm proud of the work I do. I love my job. I just hate why I have to do it,” Schlau said.
For more information on all the fundraisers and charity work being done in honor of Jessica and Kelli, visit www.jessicaandkelliuhl.com.