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State police announce sweeping changes
Associated Press
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Published: 11/23/2008 12:02 AM

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BELLEVILLE -- Illinois State Police say the high-speed crash of a trooper's cruiser that killed two Collinsville sisters last year has prompted dramatic policy changes.

State Police Director Larry Trent announced Friday troopers must follow a four-tiered response system that limits how fast they can drive.

Under the first level, called a "code one," troopers are limited to following traffic laws. Officers operating under codes two and three can drive faster than the speed limit, but must call a supervisor before exceeding 20 miles over the speed limit.

And only supervisors can issue a "code red," directing troopers to drive as fast as necessary, with no limit, State Police Lt. Scott Compton said. Those cases will later be reviewed by a committee, he said.

The agency said Illinois is only the second state in the nation to restrict trooper speeds.

Troopers also will be required to use a handsfree device with cell phones. And state police policy now specifies that they cannot turn in-car video cameras off while responding to emergency calls.

The changes are a direct result of a car crash on Interstate 64 last November, Trent said. Trooper Matt Mitchell lost control of his cruiser while driving 126 mph, crossing the median and hitting head on a car carrying 18-year-old Jessica Uhl and her 13-year-old sister Kelli.

"I am convinced that emergency response driving, whether it is police, fire, or ambulance, must change," Trent said. "The long-standing culture of response at all costs is no longer acceptable within the Illinois State Police."

Before the public announcement Friday, Trent told the Uhls' mother, Kim Dorsey, of the changes during a meeting with her lawyer, Thomas Q. Keefe.

"If these new policies save lives, then Jessica and Kelli died so that lives could saved," Dorsey said. "Well, that's a great tribute to their lives."

Dorsey has filed a $24 million lawsuit against the state and state police in the Illinois Court of Claims.

A second lawsuit was filed last week against Mitchell by a Fayetteville couple who say they suffered leg injuries in the multiple pileup caused by the trooper's crash with the Uhls' car.

State police have relieved 29-year-old Mitchell of duty and he isn't receiving worker's compensation. He's scheduled to stand trial early next year on two charges of reckless homicide in St. Clair County Circuit Court. He has pleaded not guilty.