Woman who called 911 on Illini staffer describes scene

Woman who called 911 on Illini staffer describes scene

FRANKLIN — Marin Lowder felt like she was watching a "bad thriller movie."

She was driving right behind a pickup truck that was beside a sport utility vehicle on Interstate 74 in eastern Champaign County late Saturday afternoon when she saw something she had never seen before in real life.

The driver of the truck was pointing a gun at the SUV to his left.

"I heard my mom say from the back, 'Oh my God. He's going to shoot him.' His arm is fully extended out his window with a very large handgun pointed directly at the driver of the SUV," Lowder recounted in an interview with The News-Gazette on Tuesday.

"It was the scariest thing I've ever witnessed in my entire life," said the 24-year-old woman from Franklin.

Even retelling the tale three days later had Lowder's voice trembling and her nose running as she choked back tears.

Lowder was the woman who called 911 about 4 p.m. Saturday after seeing the driver of the pickup, a member of the University of Illinois football staff, point the gun at the SUV.

Matthew Sinclair, 31, of Savoy, the pickup driver, later told Urbana police that he was just joking with co-workers who were in the SUV next to him.

The incident resulted in felony weapons charges — and late Tuesday, the former Illini linebacker being placed on administrative leave from his $80,000-a-year position as the team's assistant director of player personnel and relations.

Sinclair and his colleagues were headed back to Champaign from West Lafayette, Ind., after Illinois ended its 20-game Big Ten losing skid by beating Purdue on Saturday.

Lowder and her passengers were not entertained.

"I slammed on my brakes and said 'I have to call 911,' and that's what I did. You don't know, if he does shoot, what are we going to do? Everything is running through your mind," she said.

Foremost in her mind was gratitude that her 3-year-old son was not in the car.

Her day had started many hours earlier, when she and her 56-year-old mother left their Morgan County hometown southwest of Springfield headed for Lafayette, Ind., a trip of about four hours. They met up with Lowder's 41-year-old cousin in Lafayette, and after attending a gymnastics meet, the trio headed back to Franklin to start the Thanksgiving holiday early.

Having departed Lafayette about 90 minutes earlier, Lowder said she wasn't exactly sure where she was when the women noticed the pickup and the SUV in what appeared to be an interstate game of cat and mouse.

All three of the vehicles were headed west, and Lowder said they were the only ones in the vicinity at that time.

As she passed the dark-colored SUV, her mother commented that it looked like a government vehicle because of its license plates. Inside was at least one man in a suit.

"Not 10 minutes later from the back seat, Mom said, 'Marin, be careful because these cars are acting really odd,'" she said.

The pickup was close enough for her to see duct tape on its right side. The driver, a front-seat passenger and a back-seat passenger were all men.

The mother pressed the daughter to slow down.

"These guys are doing odd things, like a little bit of road rage," Lowder said.

The pickup was in the lane ahead of her when the SUV passed her and then squeezed in between her car and the truck.

The two vehicles went back and forth across the lanes for what Lowder estimated was a mile before meeting up next to each other.

That's when the gun came out, producing what Lowder thought was an odd reaction on the part of the SUV driver.

"They didn't slam on brakes, they didn't swerve and they continued to cruise along the side of the truck as far as we could see," she said, explaining that due to her flagging speed and being on the phone, she didn't have the best view.

"I was so shaken. My leg was shaking uncontrollably. It was really difficult for me to drive. It was so traumatic. I was trying to do the right thing and answer the questions for the dispatcher while staying calm," she said.

Lowder said she kept on driving but had yet another surprise when the SUV driver took the same exit (Lincoln Avenue in Urbana) as the driver of the pickup who had just pointed the gun.

"I'm thinking, 'Why is he exiting after a man pointed a gun at him?'" she said.

Lowder said she has played the experience over and over in her head many times since Saturday afternoon. She estimated that 30 seconds may have elapsed from the time she saw the gun come out of the window to the time it went back in the truck.

She also guessed that she was on the phone with the police dispatcher for about 5 miles, for "a good five minutes."

"It wasn't like I even thought I was doing the right thing. I called the police because I thought I was going to witness a murder," she said.

Lowder, a saleswoman whose car serves as her office, said in the immediate aftermath of what she saw, she was afraid to even stop for gas.

"Who would think that in broad daylight on the interstate, a nice-looking vehicle passes you and to think they're armed and willing to point a gun at someone? In my job, I travel as a pharmaceutical representative. It's put a whole new aspect on driving and making sure I'm aware of my surroundings," she said.

She took Monday off to compose herself before hitting the road again for work.

Lowder said she could barely comprehend that the men might have been joking.

"Especially in today's world, that is no excuse. There are so many tragedies, that it is sickening that they were joking. I wish I had peace of mind. This has played back in my mind, my cousin's and my mom's, even this morning. We're together for the holiday. At a time when you only want to enjoy one another, it's a whole different story.

"Something to be thankful for is that we're alive," she said.

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fbenmlih wrote on November 27, 2013 at 8:11 am

"Foremost in her mind was gratitude that her 3-year-old son was not in the car"

and the news-gazette wants to get paid for this?

Local Yocal wrote on November 27, 2013 at 9:11 am
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Well, who needs a fair trial when we can have "the trial" beforehand in the media? Sinclair's lawyer should move this out of county just to teach The News-Gazette a lesson. (What happened to the menacing booking photo of Sinclair? He looks a lot more guilty in that one.) Then again, this presentation of evidence before a trial may force a plea deal a lot faster. For all the witness' emotion, (not in dispute), how is Ms. Lowder going to feel when the other driver testifies "I knew Sinclair was joking and that's why I got off the same exit ramp as he did," and then comes the light tap on the wrist at sentencing time. How will Lowder feel then? Perhaps Mary Schenk would like to include a recommended sentence while Schenk is playing lead detective/attorney/and jury. Or,....how about some "balance" while we're at it? Quick Mary, go get the counter-statement from the SUV driver. You cops and lawyers can take the day off, Mary Crime Dog Schenk is on the case...

trysomethingnew wrote on November 27, 2013 at 9:11 am

The fact that someone has pulled a gun on me in my personal space and I have called the police along, with witnesses calling the police, and the Champaign Police Department did NOTHING, but someone called from the highway and this man was charged with a felony??? Yet I see so many young men standing on Bradley Avenue with guns in their waist and Champaign Police do nothing. They ship packages of drugs to each other and the police here DO NOTHING.   I feel sorry for this poor man because there are real criminals in Champaign County trafficking drugs and guns and nothing is done about it, but someone makes one 911 call and they turn a law abiding citizens life upside down, the entire law enforcement community in this county is a joke.  Especially the State's Attorney.  She charges this man, but not her husband who was a police officer at the time, who left his service weapon, loaded on top of his car near Barkstall Elementary School and near her own children's home.  Yeah the law enforcement in this community really care so much about the passengers in that SUV, but not about the citizens of Champaign County, unless they are white of course.  What a joke.

UIUCHoopFan wrote on November 27, 2013 at 9:11 am

Champaign County Sheriff nor Champaign Police Department had jurisdiction in this case.  The incident occured on I-74.  If you care to throw the Illinois State Police under the bus as well this is your opportunity.

trysomethingnew wrote on November 27, 2013 at 10:11 am

I said Champaign County.  Anything in this place is tainted, can't trust none of them.   YES, the Illinois State Police are just as dumb as the local police.  That better? They can't control the drug and gun trafficking up and down I-55 and I-74, I didn't want to leave out specifics since you care so much.

UIUCHoopFan wrote on November 27, 2013 at 9:11 am

So where are the comments of support from the co-workers with whom he was joking regarding this incident?  If he was on official University business why hasn't he been terminated for bringing a weapon to work? 

Here's a guy making extremely bad decisions for himself in a position of influence over 18-22 year old college students who sometimes make poor choices themselves.  Role model?  I think not!  Someone I would want in the company of my recruit son or daughter?  I know not!


Joe American wrote on November 27, 2013 at 9:11 am

Calling the police is one thing.

Going public with your name after calling the police is beyond me.  I guess the fact that she's only a wet-behind-the-ear 24 year old speaks volumes on that.

trysomethingnew wrote on November 27, 2013 at 10:11 am

Probably because she doesn't live around here so her name in the papers probably doesn't bother as much as it would down in Morgan County.

sweet caroline wrote on November 27, 2013 at 12:11 pm

She'll have her 15 minutes of fame.

Saylahvee wrote on November 27, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Seriously, a frightened 24-year old tries to do the right thing and you guys are criticizing HER and not the 30-something guy with the gun (ammunition and brass knuckles in the side pocket) pointed at another vehicle while driving on an interstate highway? Her name becomes public record when she reports it to police - no fame sought. So the Gazette writer gives us a shallow piece, the U of I professional employee carries a gun and does something exceedingly stupid, lets talk about that.

sweet caroline wrote on November 27, 2013 at 12:11 pm

I should have added that I think she did the right thing.  I would have called 9-1-1, too.  And I think this guy needs to get the full sentence because this "joke" was NOT funny at all.  In this day and age of rampant gun violence, why would anyone think "oh, they're just joking around." 

But I wouldn't have let the police give out my name.  No, the police do not have to give the names of witnesses if they ask not to be identified.  She must not have cared if her name was published, or maybe she actually wanted it published.  And for that she has her 15 minutes of fame.  That's what I meant. 

Saylahvee wrote on November 27, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Thanks for clarifying


Joe American wrote on November 27, 2013 at 1:11 pm

You're wrong.  Reports are commonly made anonymously.

Local Yocal wrote on November 27, 2013 at 1:11 pm
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See earlier article, U of I football official facing gun charges for a thorough thrashing of Sinclair's behavior. Just try to count how many times the word, idiot, is used.

While Mary Schenk would have gotten the name of the witness from her sources, the police and/or prosecutor, or from attending the arraignment of Sinclair, we will not know who approached who to do the story. What is plain is the witness' willingness to cooperate with the story and The News-Gazette to publish it before a trial.

centurion45 wrote on November 27, 2013 at 1:11 pm
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Trysomethingnew......yeah you should. Ignorance is bliss apparently. Sign up for the next Police examination and start walking the beat if you can do better. It's not TV son, people play for keeps out there. But of course you continue to sleep well at night while my colleagues and I do the job. Service with a smile :).


How would you feel if a gun was pointed at you, regardless if your buddy is the pointer. People need to realize something, sometimes the bad guy actually IS guilty. I know that might be hard to imagine, but when you have witnesses, they know what was done because they were there. Not to mention the arrestee admitting to "joking around". A trial is a formality at this point. I have testified after seeing individuals perform a criminal act and the men and women of the juries dismiss my observations and allow the criminal to walk. But you good folks wouldn't know about that. Cops aren't people at all, just wired machines that prey on the weak. Amazing society we live in, people refuse to provide information to police and the victims are the ones who pay. Oh you don't want to snitch huh? Snitch this.

trysomethingnew wrote on November 27, 2013 at 2:11 pm

I know you and all your law enforcement buddies and every single cop in this area is a RACIST so you will do nothing to change my mind. I live here and I see what happens in this community and if your friends of cops ask them why majority of them live in the surrounding small white towns and not in champaign or Urbana, heck Savoy?  I'm sorry but if the lady who called wasn't a frightened white woman no one would think twice about that call. Your buddies watch people sell drugs at the Blue Star 2 but don't arrest anyone but hey why would they do real police work when they are pursuing people off highways???! Again your wrong. Many people call the police and the police do nothing so they don't tell them anything. Why should we make their jobs easier, when you do need them they aren't there????  At least I know where the real police work goes.... I don't care what district it involves. Illinois law enforcement is corrupt. The guy who pulled the gun yes it was a stupid move and any good defense lawyer will get his friends to testify and no one will care. The only reason this is getting blown up is because he works at the football program. That's where you are mistaken.  No one really cares about this actual incident. They care about how it makes the football program look. 

high road wrote on November 27, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Love how you all chastise the innocent while condoning the idiocy of an employee of a football program that is spinning out of control. But what do you expect when the head coach chews tobacco on national television!

fortherecord wrote on November 27, 2013 at 8:11 pm

What does that have to do with anything? Are you profiling? Generalizing? I'm having a hard time linking an idiot waving a gun out of the window to a BIG10 football coach chewing tobacco.. Are you saying that if you chew tobacco that you'll have a road full of idiots ahead? That chewing tobacoo makes carrying an illegal firearm acceptable? What is the connection? 

Local Yocal wrote on November 27, 2013 at 2:11 pm
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@centurion45: The assumptions that I think Sinclair is innocent is incorrect. Go check the earlier article. The gun folks can better articulate all that is wrong with Sinclair's handling of his weapon, but what I find revealing is he carries a set of brass knuckles as if he's still in the fighting game, when his job description is "ambassador for new U of I recruits" or some such nonsense. (It's a little offensive Sinclair makes as much as you do a year.)

But now,.... I can't be called to be on his jury. I'd have to disqualify myself since I've seen some of the evidence beforehand and have made an assumption to his guilt.

Do you think we should just forego trials then, since as you say, "the bad guys are guilty?" Perhaps the police can just mete out justice at the scene and save us all the trouble; and not risk a jury disregarding your testimony? Is it in your experience, trials are a sham and too often the guilty go free?

My point in this thread is that The News-Gazette is jeopardizing all the legitimately good work officers may have done securing the evidence in this case by publishing it before a trial. It might feel good to expose this as the public's right to know, (which it is not at this stage of the investigation), but now the defendant can whine he can't be afforded an impartial jury.

ChiefIlliniFan wrote on November 27, 2013 at 3:11 pm

The article was so drama filled that could not even finish it. Wow! Thankfully not married to either of these drama queens.

Just a very irresponsible article by the paper, sad really, they have sunk to a new low.

Jsmith68 wrote on November 27, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Everyone take a breath. Ok, first of all maybe these people are drama queens. But everyone reacts to serious situations like this different. Perhaps it is the 5 minutes of fame thing, or perhaps they are just expressing their feelings.  Secondly, just a few months ago two guys chased another guy over here from Danville on I-74 and started shooting at him. Then after trying to be stopped by the cops hit a pole and fled on foot.  So don't know about anyone here but if I saw someone pointing a gun, regardless in jest or not, out of a car door I am going to think it is a serious situation. Finally. Yes there is crime in Champaign and Urbana. The number of good cops far outways the bad ones.  Each day they operate within the laws decided upon by the citizens they not only protect, but also the ones that people want arrested.  They have rules they must follow or otherwise be held accountable. If you want to solve the crime problem in your area it is easy to do. When you see that drug deal happening at Blue Star call the police. Wait unitl they get there and point out and identify those involved. Go testify in court and be a stand up citizen.  Hiding your fear behind law enforcement is a excuse my pun, a copout.  Crime is not solved by the police.  Crime is solved by the citizens who are willing to stand up in the community  

C-U Townie wrote on November 29, 2013 at 5:11 am

This is difficult situation. She did the right thing in calling the police. She didn't know who any of the passengers were in either vehicle. She had no idea if both vehicles were in possession of guns. Calling the police was the responsible thing to do. 

That said, I'm not sure why she did the story or that so much (emotinonal) editorializing was needed. That's why she's being painted as a drama queen. I think a very brief synopsis of her emotinoal state would have sufficed. We didn't need a blow by blow. 

If the N-G running this article is in some way interfering with the prosecuting of this case then the State's Attorney should take that up with the N-G. Otherwise, this is typical journalism. I don't think it's any secret the inequity of attention N-G allots to certain types of stories, certain topics, certain types of characters, and even specific individuals who've had their 15 minutes. 

If any of the above posters are so offended in this story stop visiting the N-G website, write the editor... don't complain in the comments section. That doesn't change anything. Same for the State's Attorney. Don't like her? There are political routes to take to deal with that, too. 

Boss Hog wrote on November 29, 2013 at 7:11 am

Nice to see we have such sports "heros" here.