Shelley Timmermeier’s 2010 Chevrolet Impala after a Feb. 13 head-on collision with a vehicle whose driver police say was using a cellphone.
ALTON — Shelley Timmermeier remembers the crash.
She didn’t, at first. Her boyfriend, Mark Schlottner, still doesn’t, nearly six months later. The impact was so great that both were knocked out, left without a memory of the moments immediately following an accident that turned their whole world upside down.
But her memory has started to come back, slowly. Now, with the hope that perhaps she can save just one person from the terror she felt, Timmermeier refuses to forget.
“I remember being hit,” Timmermeier said. “And believe me, it’s terrifying.”
Timmermeier has become a proponent for tougher laws regarding cellphone usage while driving after the Feb. 13 crash that she says was a result of a driver paying more attention to his phone than the road.
Timmermeier and Schlottner were driving north on Fosterburg Road in Alton when an oncoming vehicle drifted into their lane. The driver later told Illinois State Police authorities he was reaching for a napkin and “never saw” their car; Timmermeier and at least one witness say he was actually using a cellphone when he hit Timmermeier’s 2010 Chevrolet Impala head-on.
“He was in our lane,” Timmermeier said. “He wasn’t just weaving when he hit us. He was driving in our lane, the wrong way. We tried to get off the road. When I remembered parts of it, I remember screaming at Mark that he was in our lane and he was going to hit us. Then that’s all I remember.”
What followed was a series of tense moments as both Timmermeier and Schlottner had to be extricated from the vehicle and airlifted to St. Louis hospitals. Timmermeier was in and out of critical care and spent eight days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU); Schlottner spent six days in ICU as well. It was in the ICU that Timmermeier turned 60 years old.
The Macoupin County couple spent a few weeks in the hospital and a month rehabilitating at a nursing home. Their two dogs, which were in the car with them at the time of the crash, also suffered injuries, but both are OK.
All told, Timmermeier suffered three broken toes on her left foot, a shattered left hip, six broken ribs, a fractured sternum and two or three fractured vertebrae. Schlottner has had three surgeries on his legs in the months since the accident and suffered eight broken ribs, among other issues.
“We were in pain we never knew was possible,” Timmermeier said.
It’s the toll, physically, emotionally and financially — Timmermeier said the medical bills have left them “tons and tons of money” in debt — that has her on a crusade for tougher punishments for using a cellphone while driving.
Illinois is among the states that have banned hand-held cellphone use by drivers. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime in this case, though, says Timmermeier — the other driver was cited for improper lane usage and illegal use of a cellphone while driving, which she classified as “a slap on the hand.
“I think they ought to lose their license for a while,” Timmermeier said of individuals who use cellphones while driving. “If they ain’t got brains enough not to do that, they should not have a license.
“There is no reason in this world; there is no phone call worth someone’s life.”
Wood River Deputy Police Chief Dan Bunt said drivers rarely admit to being on a cellphone but said his department has had several incidents where they believed cellphones to be involved. The department has been fortunate in that there hasn’t been a serious enough case to warrant seizure and forensic testing to be done, he said.
“There’s been a lot of stops and warnings and some citations issued,” Bunt said.
Timmermeier has taken up a letter-writing campaign to raise awareness of the issue, if nothing else. St. Louis television station KSDK NewsChannel 5 recently featured the couple in a segment about texting and driving, and the Brighton Police Department used their story to make a public safety announcement on its Facebook page.
“I have been writing anybody I could think of,” Timmermeier said. “I’ve been writing police stations, I’ve been writing congressmen, mayors, senators.
“If I can save just one person’s life, or (prevent it from) being turned upside down like our life has been — things have got to change. It’s dangerous.”