Shattered Lives: Deadly crash survivor questions progress in court case

Shattered Lives
Updated: May. 3, 2018 at 2:59 PM CDT
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Clark's Tahoe following fatal crash (courtesy: KFVS)
Clark's Tahoe following fatal crash (courtesy: KFVS)
Jeremy Mc Gee following his arrest (courtesy: Williamson Co. Sheriff's Office)
Jeremy Mc Gee following his arrest (courtesy: Williamson Co. Sheriff's Office)

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - "If I would have died that day or my son would have died that day would there have been more of a public outcry?"

That's the question Keri Clark struggles to ask out loud.

Nearly three years after surviving a deadly wreck, the driver police say was responsible and under the influence still hasn't had his day in court.

Clark feels they all deserve justice, regardless of the outcome.

"It was a traumatic experience for the two of us," Clark said of her and her young son. "There was a lot of loss on both sides."

It's taken Clark a long time to be able to speak publicly about the moment that changed her life.

"I say to everyone, it felt like or it looked like the hand of God had taken a toy car and dropped it in front of my truck. It was that quick."

On July 22, 2015, at 12:12 p.m., Clark was driving eastbound on Route 13 just outside Carterville in her black Chevy Tahoe, her then two-year-old son Cillian securely in his car seat.

As she came to the intersection at Samuel Road, police say the driver of a white Chevy Impala rolled the stop sign and pulled out right in front of her.

"When I struck the car, I spun. And we landed. And Cillian....I remember, sort of in a moviesque way, like coming out of the fog. You know how you see that in the movies? And he was screaming."

A man from a nearby business ran over to help.

"He pulled my door open. And I said get my baby. Get my baby. Get my baby."

Clark managed to call her husband and soon found herself surrounded by police and others who stopped to help.

"And a state police officer, who felt to me like a giant because I was on the ground, with a big hat stood over me. And I felt like they were protecting me from something."

That something, Clark soon learned from her own son, would be the devastating impact of the crash they survived.

"And Cillian was saying there's a baby in the grass, Momma. There's a baby in the grass."

That three-month-old baby, the son of driver Jeremy Mc Gee, would later die at an area hospital. Mc Gee's passenger, David Lyerla, was pronounced dead at the scene.

"They told me it wasn't my fault, at the scene. Because I kept saying, I didn't see him. I didn't see him. I was in shock so I was repeating things a lot. And he said it's ok, it wasn't your fault."

Cillian suffered bumps and bruises. The crash left Clark with injuries to the right side of her body that put this former marathon runner on bed rest and through weeks of physical therapy.

But she also carried emotional scars.

"Mentally it was tough on her because there was a child that died," her husband Heath said. "It was thankful that our son was ok, but from one mother to another it was very mentally hard on her."

"It weighs heavy," Clark admitted. "It's a heavy burden for me."

A burden made worse, she said, by social media posts that appeared to blame her for the crash.

"So they hit. They landed their mark when they did that with me."

By late September 2015, Clark had a copy of the Illinois State Police crash report that concluded Jeremy Mc Gee failed to yield at that intersection and had marijuana in his system prohibited by Illinois law in any quantity while operating a motor vehicle.

Troopers also found what they believed to be a bag of pot in his pocket.

"I thought if I sat back and I allowed the process to work it would work. And it didn't."

Clark would soon learn the man troopers held responsible for this deadly crash, was not in custody. In fact, as court records of two citations in 2016 and early 2017 show, he was still driving without insurance.

"The system broke down somewhere. I don't know where it broke down. But I know there was a long year period where nothing happened."

Court records show Jeremy Mc Gee pleaded guilty four months after the deadly crash to a misdemeanor traffic citation of driving without insurance and causing bodily harm.

"Everybody has a right to their day in court, including Jeremy Mc Gee. But, we do too as victims in the accident. So, for me, the anger is about the process and what's happened."

As Clark battled her own insurance company to get her medical bills paid she searched Mc Gee's name on the state's judicial website. There, she saw Mc Gee's guilty plea to the misdemeanor citation and that other tickets issued against him that day had been dropped.

"For me, I was like well wait a minute. Why are we dropping some of these things? What's happening? There are two people who died from this accident.  I'm injured. And what's going on."

So, Clark wrote a letter to Williamson County State's Attorney Brandon Zanotti.

"I said hey, you know, this is what happened that day. And it has changed me. And it has changed my son. And I want to know what we're doing about it."

Clark's letter prompted a call from Zanotti's office seeking information about the wreck and copies of her and her son's medical records.

Clark sat through a state police interview. She was assigned a victim's advocate, the first of three she's had.

"And then, nothing happened."

"You're hoping that the lawyers or the state's attorney or assistant state's attorney that they're going to put as much effort into this case as any other case," Clark's husband added. "And at the end of the day we're not sure what has been done and what hasn't been done."

It would be 11 months between Clark's letter, and formal charges filed against Jeremy Mc Gee; two counts of aggravated DUI resulting in death, one of Aggravated DUI resulting in great bodily harm.

State's Attorney Brandon Zanotti said while it took longer to file charges, this is a complicated case, specifically, he said with two fatalities involved and the alleged use of marijuana, and not alcohol.

Clark said she felt relief and felt hopeful the case would now move quickly through the courts.

"It really is important to me, in my life, to be done with it."

But in early April 2017, Clark and her husband Heath went in to meet with the state's attorney.

"And they let us know that there were some issues with the evidence."

The evidence at issue, according to the Clarks, is two vials of Mc Gee's blood, collected and sent to a toxicology lab in Indiana. Those test results showed marijuana in Mc Gee's system. The two vials are listed as evidence prosecutors intended to use at trial.

"All I know is they said is it doesn't exist. It disappeared I think is the word they used."

"As much as this has drug on, it just wasn't surprising that there was a problem," Heath said.

"And because of that, they were going to offer him a plea deal. That's what they told us."

Handwritten court records contained in Mc Gee's file at the Williamson County Circuit Clerk's Office show prosecutors refer to an "evidentiary issue" that leads to Mc Gee getting out of jail.

Court records then list court date after court date. Clark would call to ask about that plea deal, but learn nothing had happened.

"I had not shown my face in the courtroom throughout the whole process."

She decided that would change on March 5, 2018. She sat in court as yet another pre-trial hearing was set to May 7. She had had enough.

"I didn't do anything wrong that day. I didn't. I drove down the road with my baby in the car on a beautiful July day like anybody else would. And expected that the law would do its job. And on March 5th I realized no one was doing their job."

She wrote Brandon Zanotti a second letter, and then reached out to me.

"It saddens me a little bit that I had to go as far as to calling you. But, to get in contact with a public forum to say somebody answer me, because obviously marching alone is not helping me. I need somebody to hear me."

A big update on this case since we began work on this story.

At State's Attorney Brandon Zanotti's request a week before, the judge signed an order calling for a special prosecutor to take over the case against Jeremy Mc Gee.

We talked to David Robinson with the state's Appellate Prosecutor's office.

He said his office will pick up prosecution in this case and will appear at the next court date May 7 as prosecuting attorney.

Keri Clark said the move has her confused.

"If the complexities of the case warranted the expertise of a special prosecutor, then why wasn't one appointed years or even months ago, or when the evidentiary issues came about?" She wondered. "Obviously, this development leaves me with more questions than answers. I hope they can be answered more quickly with the help of the special prosecutor."

We will continue following this case and let you know what happens.

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