February 10, 2018 10:02:29 PM
Alex Holloway - [email protected]
A piece of legislation crafted in the memory of former Mississippi State University track and field athlete Kaelin Kersh is aiming to prevent the type of accidents with law enforcement vehicles that took her life.
House Bill 1202, titled the "Kaelin Kersh Act," passed through the Mississippi House of Representatives on a 117-0 vote, with four representatives absent.
The bill, authored by District 38 Rep. Gary Chism, makes it law that emergency responders have to turn on flashing lights when going more than 30 miles per hour faster than the speed limit.
"What this bill strives to do is indicate for any emergency vehicle to at least have some lights flashing," Chism said. "You don't have to have the sirens or the blue lights or all that, but if nothing else just your flashers to make somebody aware that this is something different than normal."
Kersh, 22, died in an early morning car accident on May 7, 2017. The crash happened shortly before 1:30 a.m. at the intersection of Mayhew Road and Highway 182. The car Kersh was a passenger in, a 2002 Toyota Corolla, was hit by an eastbound Mississippi Highway Patrol cruiser while attempting to turn onto the road. Kyle Lee, the MHP trooper that collided with the Corolla, was responding to a car that left the road.
Kersh's death came shortly after she graduated from MSU with a degree in Kinesiology, on May 5.
HB 1202 has been sent to the Senate for consideration.
The accident has since spawned a lawsuit. Trent Walker, a Jackson attorney representing the Kersh family, said an attorney representing Tanequa Alexander, a passenger in the front seat of the Corolla, filed a lawsuit against the Department of Public Safety. The lawsuit seeks $500,000, Walker said, which would be split between three claimants -- Alexander, the estate of Kaelin Kersh and Noel Collier, the driver of the Corolla. The lawsuit claims Lee acted recklessly leading up to the crash.
Kersh was the crash's only fatality.
Walker said the lawsuit was originally filed in Hinds County but has since been moved to Oktibbeha County Circuit Court. The Department of Public Safety has filed a counter suit, he said.
There's some dispute as to how fast Lee was going when the crash happened. Walker said the official accident report claims Lee was going 68 miles per hour in the 45 mile per hour zone. However, he said he had evidence -- a dash cam video from Lee's car -- that proves the officer was going 100 miles per hour at the time of the crash.
"He did not have any lights and was not operating a siren," Walker said. "We'll be able to show he was not responding to an emergency -- in fact, he was trying to apprehend a drunk driver whose car had left the road and was no longer operable. In short, traveling at that rate of speed for that reason was unnecessary and is indeed reckless."
'It won't bring Kaelin back'
Walker said he's only been involved with the family in representing them on the lawsuit. Kersh's mother led the charge in pushing for the bill and has done so relentlessly, he said.
"She's really been a force to be reckoned with," Walker said.
Chism said he spoke to Kersh's mother about the bill before writing it.
"She talked to me about this," Chism said. "It won't bring Kaelin back and we know that, and she knows that. She's not trying to really be harsh on the highway patrol or any other law enforcement. It's just common sense. But it's just reasonable to, if you're going to be going that fast, put some kind of flashing lights on.
"When you pull up to that intersection, you can't guesstimate that somebody's going 100 miles per hour," he added. "You felt like you had time to get out and across the road, but you didn't."
MHP Director of Public Affairs Capt. Johnny Poulos and Troop G Sgt. Criss Turnipseed did not return calls for comment by press time.