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Family’s grief prompts bill to require emergency lights

February 8, 2018

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — On May 5, 2017, Kaelin Kersh walked across the stage in Humphrey Coliseum on Mississippi State University’s campus to receive her bachelor’s degree.

Little did her family know, that would be Kaelin’s final accomplishment.

“I still see her standing there like ‘What’s taking you so long?’,” Toni Kersh recalls graduation night, the last time she saw her daughter’s smile. The 22-year-old, like many college graduates, was anxious to say goodbye to family and celebrate her kinesiology degree with friends.

“We were talking. And the one thing that echoes in my mind is, she said ‘You know you’ll be glad when I come home’,” Kersh said.

Kaelin, a Mississippi State track athlete, would not make it home.

On Sunday, May 7, around 1:20 a.m., Highway Patrolman Kyle Lee sped east on Highway 182. The details of that night are laid out in a traffic report WJTV obtained from the Kersh’s family attorney.

“It had been reported to him that there was someone who appeared to be a drunk driver, whose car had left the road. But that that person was hiding in the woods trying to avoid receiving a DUI. And so it wasn’t a life or death situation,” Attorney Trent Walk said about Lee’s destination.

Trooper Lee’s rush to get to that scene would cost Kaelin’s life.

She was in the back of her friend’s Toyota Corolla, when they pulled out of a Shell gas station. Seconds later, Lee’s patrol car crashed into the back seat.

Kaelin was the only one who didn’t survive.

The accident report filed by the Mississippi Highway Patrol says he was going 68 mph hour in the 45 speed limit zone.

“I was mad because I felt like ... well, I knew at the time that they were being dishonest. And when I say they, I’m talking about the Highway Patrol officers in that area,” Kersh said about the crash report.

The dash cam recorded Lee at 100 mph right before the impact, contradicting the report.

According to the dash camera system, even when the car’s headlights entered the highway, Trooper Lee didn’t brake; and he never warned other drivers of his speed with lights nor a siren.

Less than two weeks after burying her only daughter, Toni Kersh got to work on “The Kaelin Kersh Act,” or House Bill 1202 . It requires emergency vehicles, including law enforcement, to use their lights when going 30 miles over the speed limit.

“My issue is not with law enforcement. My issue is with the officer. Because he made a conscious decision that night, to get in his car, to buckle his seat belt, to start it up, and to put his foot on that pedal, and push it to go 100,” Kersh said.

A 2014 memo on speeding says troopers are expected to use caution on the roadways. “Even when responding to an emergency, they have to drive with due regard to the safety of others. And they should sound the signal, bell, siren or exhaust whistle,” Walker recited from the memo.

Republican Rep. Gary Chism of Columbus wrote House Bill 1202, which passed the House on Wednesday and moves to the Senate for more work.

“They ought to be I think cognizant of the fact that a wreck happened that might could’ve been avoided if lights were flashing,” Chism said about the Highway Patrol. He spoke to leaders in the law enforcement agency about the bill. Here’s how he said they responded, “They’ve really said that might be something that they in the future might make a regulation. But we’re going to encourage it along.”

WJTV reached out to the Highway Patrol to talk about the bill, the crash, and Trooper Lee’s employment and did not receive an immediate response.

The Kersh family and the family of Tanequa Alexander, who was the front seat passenger, have filed a lawsuit against the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

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Information from: WJTV-TV, http://www.wjtv.com

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