'I am not a monster': Ex-trooper Mitchell tries again to get driving privileges

News-DemocratJuly 23, 2013 

Matt Mitchell is surrounded by news reporters after leaving the court hearing Tuesday.

GEORGE PAWLACZYK/BND

— Former Illinois State Police Trooper Matt Mitchell, whose reckless driving caused the death of two sisters from Collinsville, told a hearing officer Tuesday he needs a driver's license in order to get a job, but promised to never again drive or reside in Illinois.

Mitchell attended a hearing in Mount Vernon, conducted by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White's office, on whether his driving privileges should be restored. The hearing officer will issue a decision within 90 days.

Mitchell crashed his squad car in 2007 while driving 126 mph on Interstate 64 near O'Fallon. He was using his cellphone and in-dash computer at the time of the crash that claimed the lives of Jessica Uhl, 18, and her sister, 13-year-old Kelli Uhl.

The Uhls' mother, Kim Schlau, read an emotional statement during the hearing, in opposition to Mitchell ever having his driving privileges restored.

Schlau recalled how two state troopers, a chaplain and a coroner, came to her home, after she hadn't heard from her daughters for seven hours. She said the girls' injuries were so severe, authorities were uncertain who was in the car at the time of the crash.

"I know what it is like to be asked by the troopers, who was in that car, because my children were injured so brutally that they were unrecognizable," Schlau said. "I know what it is like to be told that your children are dead because of the actions of someone sworn to protect them."

Mitchell, formerly of the Carlyle area, now resides in Texas. Getting his driver's license restored in Illinois would allow him to get a driver's license in Texas.

Mitchell gave mostly terse answers to questions posed by his attorney, J. Israel Slone, of Belleville. Mitchell said the cause of the crash was the speed at which he was driving.

Mitchell, when asked if he takes full responsibility for the crash, replied: "Yes, I was driving at an unsafe speed."

Mitchell was responding to a crash, but rescue workers were already on the scene. He said if he could do it over again, he'd "let my phone go to voicemail."

Mitchell stuck with his previous assertions that a white car cut him off, even though investigators were never able to confirm any involvement by a white car.

When asked if he could be trusted on the roads again, Mitchell replied: "I'm not a 29-year-old kid. I'm 35, I've got a daughter to support."

He added: "I've never driven 100 mph in my personal vehicle."

Mitchell said he's residing in Texas with a sister's family. His 10-year-old daughter resides with him. He said he's tried unsuccessfully to get jobs driving a truck or mowing grass.

"I am not a risk-taker. I am not irresponsible," he said. "I am not a monster."

Mitchell said he's had a problem with alcohol in the past, but now is only a "social drinker." He said the last time he drank alcohol was on the Fourth of July, when he had three beers. "I hardly ever drink anymore," he said.

He also read a prepared statement, apologizing to the family of the Uhls.

"I'm sorry for your loss of Kelli and Jessica," he said.

Mitchell was sentenced to 30 months of probation after pleading guilty in 2010 to reckless driving.

After the hearing, Schlau said she accepts the possibility that Mitchell might someday be allowed to drive again.

"I really would like to see him not drive again, but I know that might be naive," she said.

The parents of the Uhl sisters were awarded $8 million in damages by the Illinois Court of Claims.

The hearing Tuesday was Mitchell's third attempt to have the secretary of state's office restore his license. A hearing officer denied his two previous attempts: one last year and one in April.

Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at gpawlaczyk@bnd.com or 618-239-2625.

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