11/24/2007

Two fatally injured after Ill. trooper loses control of squad car

By Nicholas J.C. Pistor and Leah Thorsen
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

O'Fallon, Ill. — Illinois State Police on Friday night were investigating how a state trooper lost control of his cruiser and crossed an interstate median, causing a four-car crash in which two people were killed.

At an evening press briefing, police said a witness told them that another car had cut in front of the police cruiser, causing the officer to lose control.

The trooper was identified as Matt Mitchell, 29, a six-year veteran. Mitchell was responding, with lights and siren turned on, to a report of an injury crash with people trapped inside at 12:02 p.m. State Police Cmdr. Jay Keeven said another car cut in front of Mitchell in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 64, near milepost 19 at Illinois Route 158.

Mitchell's car crossed the median and went into the westbound traffic, hitting at least one other car.

The two people killed were riding in a white Mazda sedan that caught fire. Police were withholding their names Friday evening.

Mitchell was airlifted to a St. Louis hospital, where he was in serious but stable condition.

Two other people were injured in the crash, one with a broken wrist and the other with leg injuries. Their names also were not reported.

Police on Friday night said the crash Mitchell was responding to occurred on Illinois Route 4 south of I-64. No further information about that crash was available.

I-64 was shut down in both directions near Scott Air Force Base. The highway remained closed until late afternoon, causing traffic slowdowns for shoppers headed to retail outlets in nearby Fairview Heights.

The police cruiser, with its front end smashed, remained on the side of the westbound lane — pointed east — while accident reconstruction teams worked the scene Friday afternoon.

Investigators also were analyzing videotape taken from Mitchell's dashboard camera to learn more about what caused the crash and to identify the car that had cut in front of him.

Keeven said Mitchell is engaged to Jacquelin Jones and that the couple have a young daughter named Pyper Mitchell.

Copyright 2007 The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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