Illinois State Police Trooper Gerald “Jerry” Ellis, 36, was one of three soldiers killed in the line of duty in 2019. He is a graduate of Western Illinois University.
CHICAGO — Illinois is stepping up efforts to bring more awareness to the Illinois movement on the law known as Scott’s Law following several trooper deaths on the road.
Illinois State Police (ISP) Private Gerald “Jerry” Ellis was one of three soldiers killed in the line of duty in 2019.
“He was so kind and loving and hardworking,” said his wife Stacy Ellis, 35.
Stacy spoke to News 8 during her first TV interview since the death of Private Ellis on March 30, 2019.
“He always wanted to be a police officer,” Stacy said.
Ellis was killed by a drunk driver, and the other two incidents were the direct result of Scott’s violations of law.
“Jerry didn’t do anything but drive down the road,” Stacy said.
The incident happened on I-94 in Lake County, just outside of Chicago. Private Ellis was on duty driving home when he spotted a driver heading in the wrong direction on the freeway and Ellis decided to hit the driver head-on. Officials said Ellis’ split-second decision saved a family in a vehicle traveling behind him.
“His reputation was that of someone who just had a brilliant disposition, who was a positive presence,” said ISP director Brendan Kelly.
According to ISP, 2019 was its deadliest year for soldiers killed. Three of the four deaths were accidents. The other was a shooting incident.
“It’s frustrating,” Kelly said. “It sometimes makes you very angry.”
Fallen soldiers Christopher Lambert and Brooke Jones-Story were the other two FAI soldiers involved in the 2019 fatal crashes.
“We have Scott’s Law all the time,” one soldier told News 8. “It’s getting more and more.”
Scott’s Law requires drivers to move and slow down for stopped or broken down vehicles on the side of the road. Also now in law it says that drivers who cannot change lanes must at least slow down.
ISP has launched interactive maps that show the number of accidents involving Scott’s Law. As of April 6, ISP has reported 72 Scott’s Law-related crashes from 2019 to 2022.
“There are too many officers, but today, after this law was enacted, who are still being hit,” Illinois State Rep. Daniel Swanson said.
Illinois lawmakers have tightened the consequences drivers can face for violating Scott’s Law.
“What goes through my mind is, ‘What was going through the head of the person who hit that car?'” Swanson said.
The first offense for violation of Scott’s Law is $250 and a second offense is $750 of $10,000.
“It’s not a complicated law, it’s a very simple and straightforward law,” Kelly said.
Damaging another vehicle due to a violation of Scott’s Law is a misdemeanor, which includes up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. An accident that kills or injures someone is a crime and can lead to almost 30 years behind bars.
“There’s no excuse,” Swanson said. “There is no excuse for hitting this car.”
In an effort to prevent impaired driving, the newly enacted federal infrastructure bill will require all new passenger vehicles to be equipped with technologies such as lane monitoring and assist cameras by 2027.
“It’s not worth drinking your life or anyone else’s,” Stacy said.
“We’re much closer to eliminating drunk driving as we know it,” Kelly said.
“Law enforcement that’s on the side of the road is somebody’s father, somebody’s brother, somebody’s mother, etc,” said Lucy Kuelper, daughter of a ISP soldier who raises awareness of Scott’s Law.
Lucy is 15 years old from Knox County. His father has been an Illinois soldier for almost 20 years. After the deaths of soldiers in 2019, Lucy continued her mission on social media by starting the “Move Over Project”. Since then, she has gained thousands of followers. She is also credited with being part of efforts to urge lawmakers to strengthen penalties for Scott’s Law.
Lucy has traveled the state speaking at schools and at public events. She now hopes to work with national lawmakers to raise awareness across the country.
“On my Facebook page, I received text messages every day,” Kuelper said. “‘I saw this happen, I saw this happen. My loved one was killed because of this violation.’
Lucy’s efforts also helped pass legislation that teaches Scott’s Law in driver education classes.
The Illinois legislature has approved an “early warning system task force” that includes first responders and telecommunications workers. The group is in charge of developing an application like Silver Warning or Amber Alert that would inform drivers of road hazards at a certain distance.
“The technology is there, it’s just about developing that particular technology so that we can apply it to this scenario,” Kelly said.
The talks come as Illinois celebrates its 100th year of service. The agency is about to hire 300 new soldiers with its biggest budget in history.
“If they choose to break this law, we’re going to enforce it and we’re going to hold them accountable,” Kelly said.
Private Ellis was 36 years old. He served 11 years with Illinois State Police District 15 in Downers Grove. He was also a US Army veteran and graduated from Western Illinois University. Ellis was from the Macomb area. He leaves behind his wife of 10 years and his two young daughters Zoe, 8, and Kayle, 10.
“The girls always know they can talk to him and see his pictures. They’re just like him. They remind me a lot of him,” Stacy said.
Police say the 44-year-old driver, who killed Private Ellis, also died in the crash with a blood alcohol level of 0.169, more than double the legal limit. Police say the man has not had insurance or a valid driver’s license since 1996 and has had DUIs before.