Mattoon man charged with reckless homicide in fatal I-57 crash

Mattoon man charged with reckless homicide in fatal I-57 crash

URBANA — The Champaign County state's attorney has filed criminal charges against a Mattoon man whose distracted driving near an interstate construction zone in June led to the death of a Camargo child.

State's Attorney Julia Rietz said Wednesday she charged Steven Kruse, 37, with reckless homicide, aggravated reckless driving and aggravated unlawful use of an electronic communication device in connection with the June 8 crash that claimed the life of Caitlin Conner, 10.

Caitlin was a passenger in a car driven by her grandmother, Debra Conner, 58, of Mattoon.

Conner's Chevrolet Cobalt was slowed or stopped in southbound traffic on Interstate 57, just south of the Mattis Avenue overpass west of Champaign, about 4 p.m. that Thursday when it was hit from behind by Kruse's Jeep.

The impact of the collision shoved Conner's car into the rear of a semitrailer driven by John Scholes, 20, of Charleston.

Debra Conner and Caitlin's 13-year-old sister, who was in the front seat of Conner's car, were also injured. Caitlin Conner was in the back seat and was pronounced dead at the scene.

At the time, Kruse was issued tickets for unlawful use of electronic device and failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, both petty-fine-only offenses for which he's been appearing in traffic court monthly since August.

Rietz said she decided to file the criminal charges against Kruse after receiving the report of an Illinois State Police crash-reconstuction specialist on Jan. 8 as well as reports concerning the activity on Kruse's cellphone.

That trooper's report took months to complete, she said, because he is the only reconstruction specialist for 36 counties in this part of Illinois.

"He does his crash reconstuctions as they occur chronologically. It took a while to complete," she said, adding that Caitlin Conner's family had been kept apprised of the progress.

Rietz said she met with the family twice, including one meeting that the reconstruction specialist attended.

The reckless-homicide charge alleges that Kruse, "while acting in a reckless manner, operated a motor vehicle on I-57 at a high rate of speed approaching a construction zone where vehicles were stopped due to traffic and looked away from the road and picked up his cellphone in response to an audible sound from the device, resulting in his being unable to stop his vehicle in time to avoid a collision, thereby causing the death of Caitlin Conner."

The counts of aggravated reckless driving involve the same allegations but address the great bodily harm suffered by Debra Conner and Caitlin's sister.

The charge of aggravated unlawful use of an electronic device alleges that Kruse drove while using an electronic communication device and was involved in an accident which caused death or great bodily harm.

All are felonies for which probation is an option if he is convicted.

Reckless homicide is a Class 3 felony with a potential prison term of between two and five years. All the other charges are Class 4 felonies with potential prison sentences of one to three years.

Kruse is represented by Champaign attorney Matt Lee.

Rietz said he is being sent a summons to appear in court Jan. 31 for arraignment on the criminal charges.

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annabellissimo wrote on January 17, 2018 at 4:01 pm

What a sad story; that precious, sweet face on that little girl, it's just heartbreaking and one feels such sadness for her family. I am encouraged at the charge against the driver of "reckless homicide," although a murder charge in such cases seems most appropriate, even if not allowed in the law. The penalties and punishments for this kind of behavior need laws that are harsh and widely known. Billboards and PSAs clearly are not doing the job of stopping such unbelievably self-absorbed behavior, attending to ANYTHING at all but the road! Anyone who travels the roadways at all sees people with devices at their ear, devices in hand they are are looking at, active video screens, dogs in laps, their body leaning low towards the passenger side (adjusting devices?) - and any of that precludes paying attention to the road ahead. I have come to fear the rear-end attack even more than other bad drivers because it is increasing, seems to be in the news quite often and is clearly the direct result of selfish, self-important drivers who think whatever thing is buzzing or shining or speaking at them is more important than the lives of the people around them! Mr. Kruse is probably sorry now. Sorry later is always too late and it doesn't matter. Yet another failing of America's education system is the number of really, really bad drivers all over the streets and highways of this country. I wish car-makers or whoever else might be suitable would come up with a way to PREVENT the use of any device except to call 911 when in a car. This is a very sad story and I feel so sorry for this family's terrible loss.

GLG wrote on January 17, 2018 at 6:01 pm

The technology to disable wireless devices exsists, No one in springfield is interested in getting a law on the books. Several years ago an Illinois State Trooper who was driving over a hundered miles an hour while texting with his girlfriend crossed the median on I 64 east of St. Louis struck and killed two woman,He was injured in the crash and the lawsuit against the state cost several million dollars.  These kinds of crashes occur every day in our state.  When are the insurance companies going to force the wireless carriers to impliment the changes to the devices? How many citations have been written in Champaign County for driving while using wireless device? How many are sucessfully prosecuted and how many are pled out?  I'm sure someone from Ms. Reitz office reads these comments  and might like to post the numbers.

jparks wrote on January 17, 2018 at 11:01 pm

On June 28 of 2017 Illinois State Trooper Ryan Albin was killed in Farmer City IL while on the exit ramp of Interstate 74.  He failed to reduce speed and drove underneath the back end of a stopped semi tractor trailer.  This occured on an exit ramp.  I haven't heard the ISP disclose any cell phone records for this accident but I bet they would have if it had been me, or you.

But on the other hand how can we be surprised when the last word we heard about the "disapearance" of Estaban Tomas was about six months ago.  If you don't remember, January 1, 2017 Tomas was driving intoxicated the wrong way on Interstate 74 and killed an innocent motorist as she drove home from work.  The State Police released him from the hospital without taking him into custody and they have hardly mentioned a word about it since.

If a trooper had pulled a child from a burning school bus there wouldn't be enough microphones in Springfield to accomodate all the supervisors who wanted to speak.

"Transparency" was one of the many buzz words of 2017.  Apparently the ISP didn't get that memo.

jparks wrote on January 17, 2018 at 11:01 pm

For those who read any of my posts you know I am a former police officer who doesn't think the judicial system is effective.

This one seems a little harsh to me.  The driver wasn't under the influence of anything.

Think about the things you have done while driving your vehicle.  Ever drop mustard on your shirt and look down at the mess?  Ever spill hot coffee in your lap?  Ever look over your shoulder to scold a child for misbehaving in the back seat?  Like almost all of us I have done all of these.

"There But For The Grace Of God Go I."


GLG wrote on January 18, 2018 at 8:01 am

This will be another "2-4 years probation, loose his license for 3 years, 30 days in the county jail, large fine and court costs"  What about the ISP investigation into the two incidents you mentioned? We were told there were new procedures for DUI injury cases, What are they? The once highly respected Illinois State Police has been reduced to an agency run by political hacks who never were the real police. Go out on patrol write your 7 or 8 tickets or warnings everyday and get a few DUI's off the road every month, climb the lader up and get a gold badge and retire. The ratio of supervisors in the ISP has to be about 1 for every 5"road dogs" Drive by the HQ in Springfield or Chicago and there are a lot more cars parked than on the road. Don't bother requesting a FOIA about the Estban Tomas case. This happened over a year ago and the investigation is pending, A way to keep these off the news.  There is NO transparency at ISP.  I know there are ISP people that read these comments, Please one of you come on here and confirm what has been said.