Eyewitness News Investigates: Distracted Deputies Pt. III


WTVO/WQRF - We've told you about the problem: distractions behind the wheel causing dozens of police officers to crash each year. Now, what's the solution? How do you take technology out of the situation when officers need it to do their jobs?  Eyewitness News Reporter Steve Staeger has the third, and final, installment of his investigation.

If anyone has a reason to hate police, it's Kim Schlau. So, it may surprise you to see this grieving mother in front of a room full of officers.

"I have a lot of them that come up to me afterwards and say, 'I knew about your story before and it changed my driving habits.'"

Kim's daughters, Jessica and Kelly, were killed in a crash with a state trooper, the day after Thanksgiving 2007. The trooper was driving 126 mph on his way to a call. He was using his in-car computer and talking to his girlfriend on a cellphone when his car crossed the median.

"It just floors you when you put all of those things together. That, how could he not have killed somebody up to that point doing all those things?"

You'd think she'd want nothing to do with police after all that. Instead, she's trying to help them.

"I've had police officers tell me this is our culture and we need to change it."

Kim travels the country, sharing her story with police officers, usually as part of their training.

"When death is involved, we have a serious problem."

Keith Wenzel uses that story in his training class. Now retired from the Dallas PD, he helps training officers around the country.

"We talk about officers' safety to the umpteenth degree. That's one of the most important things to the officers' safety. Yet, we have a device in the car that we know is causing a majority of police crashes."

Our investigation found 40 crashes statewide over the last three years, caused by officers distracted behind the wheel. Most were minor fender-benders caused by officers taking their eyes off the road.

"It's going to get worse if we don't do something about it now."

Wenzel says there's technology which can cut off an in-car computer at certain speeds. He believes all departments should implement it, but most police brass disagree.

"Police chiefs don't want to restrict what their officers can do in the field with that computer."

The price is also a factor. It could cost already-strapped departments hundreds of dollars per unit to install the software. Technology or not, Wenzel says police departments need to do something to deter distractions.

"The public knows that they can't do it. What makes them think that the police can do it? It's not a trainable issue."

Even after all Kim has gone through, she sticks up for police on this one.

"I understand there's budgets and things like that, but just telling your officers, 'Don't be distracted,' that goes a long way."

She's trying to get that message out to all officers. A lesson for them, an opportunity for her to heal.

"This is an opportunity that I get to introduce my kids. I don't have that opportunity any more, except through this."

Kim's family got an $8 million settlement from the state as part of the case. Some of the money was invested into a foundation to remember Jessica and Kelly.

The trooper had his drivers license stripped and has tried to get it back several times, but the judge won't allow it. He also tried to get workers compensation from Illinois for his injuries in that crash, but the state passed a law so he couldn't.

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