DECATUR — An Illinois State Police trooper has been charged with reckless homicide, a Class 3 felony, in the high-speed collision that killed a Decatur woman more than two years ago.
Kelly E. Wilson, 26, the mother of daughters ages 7 and 2, suffered fatal injuries on the night of May 7, 2016, when her van was struck by an unmarked squad car driven by Master Sgt. Jeff Denning. Wilson was pronounced dead just after 1 a.m. May 8.
Denning survived the crash with fractures to his pelvis and one foot and also suffered multiple lacerations. In charges filed Tuesday in Macon County Circuit Court, special prosecutor Edwin Parkinson said Denning had been traveling over 100 miles per hour at the time of the crash, well above the 35 mile-per-hour speed limit in that area of Oakland Avenue near Harrison Street.
Further, Parkinson said, there was a "lack of an immediate need for excessive speed when he was responding to an emergency over 40 miles away in Mahomet," and Denning had not been using his siren in constant mode.
Tim Shay, a Decatur-based attorney who represents Leo and Kathrine Wilson, Kelly Wilson's parents and the administrators of her estate, said he spoke with Wilson's family about the charge Tuesday afternoon and they were all "very pleased" with Parkinson's decision.
"The family has been waiting for a very long time for criminal charges and accountability for Master Sgt. Denning for driving his vehicle over 100 mph in the city of Decatur for a call over 40 miles away," he said.
A spokesperson for the Illinois State Police declined to comment on the case Tuesday, citing pending litigation. However, in a Facebook post from May 31, state police said Denning had retired from service on that day.
Denning could not immediately be reached for comment. James Elmore, a Springfield-based attorney who represented Denning after Wilson's parents filed a lawsuit in August 2016 in the case, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment. That litigation is still pending.
At the time of the crash, Denning had been driving toward Interstate 72 to respond to an incident in which a police officer was shot in Mahomet about 10:45 p.m. that night, according to previous testimony at an inquest held in Wilson's death.
The suspect in the shooting, Dracy “Clint” Pendleton, was thought to be fleeing on Interstate 72. If he was headed west, Denning's mission would have been to intercept him, said Master Sgt. Shad Edwards in his June 2016 testimony.
Edwards, who was detailed to the scene of the crash shortly after it occurred, told a coroner's jury that Denning had said he was driving north, watching for vehicles to his right, when the van pulled out in front of him at the last second.
Edwards described witnesses who said Kelly Wilson had halted at the stop sign at the Harrison Street and Oakland Avenues. “She looked in both directions and then proceeded directly out in front of Master Sgt. Denning's car,” Edwards said at the time.
He described Denning as saying he yanked his vehicle to the left in evasive action and was standing on the brake pedal when the collision occurred. Edwards had said information from the squad car's “airbag control module” indicated it was traveling at 108 mph 2½ seconds before impact. He said the speed a half second before the crash had dropped to 85 mph.
The coroner's jury also was told that Wilson had a blood-alcohol content of 0.094 percent, over the legal limit of 0.080 for driving in Illinois. There were also traces of the active ingredient of marijuana in her blood, but the jury heard these traces could have lingered for days or even weeks before the fatal crash.
The jury ultimately found that Wilson's death was accidental.
Pendleton, the suspect in the Mahomet officer shooting, was found by police and died in a shootout with officers May 15 in Shawnee National Forest.