PONTIAC (MCT) - A 33-year-old South Carolina man was charged Friday with drunken driving and reckless homicide in connection with an accident that killed a Pontiac police officer and his police dog Wednesday on Interstate 55.
Jason C. Collins of West Columbia was charged Friday with one count of reckless homicide, two counts of aggravated driving under the influence and two counts of DUI related to the death of Officer Casey Kohlmeier, 29, and his K-9 partner, Draco. According to his obituary, Kohlmeier had family in Grundy County.
As preparations continued Friday for Kohlmeier's funeral at noon Saturday at Pontiac Township High School, expressions of mourning continued throughout Central Illinois.
"He was just a fine young man. He was always very positive with the smile on his face," said Jim Drengwitz, a retired principal at PTHS, where Kohlmeier graduated in 2002.
According to charges filed Friday by Livingston County State's Attorney Seth Uphoff, Collins was northbound on Interstate 55 at milepost 201 when he veered off the roadway and struck the police sport utility vehicle, which was stationary in a turn-around access in the median just north of Illinois 23.
The accident was reported to state police at 9:38 p.m., according to the prosecutor's probable-cause statement in court. State troopers arrived to find Kohlmeier, who was unconscious, being tended by officers from Pontiac police and the Livingston County Pro-Active Unit.
The northbound pickup truck still was connected to the passenger side of the SUV, which was facing east, prosecutors said.
Kohlmeier and Collins were taken to OSF Saint James-John W. Albrecht Medical Center, Pontiac, where the officer died at 10:46 p.m. Wednesday, authorities said. Collins was transferred to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, Peoria, where he was released Thursday night and arrested by state police, authorities said.
Draco died at the scene, authorities said.
Collins told police he had been drinking at a Bloomington bar before the crash, and video surveillance footage from the bar showed Collins was there for five hours, prosecutors said. His blood alcohol level exceeded the legal driving limit of 0.08 percent, authorities said.
"The defendant claimed he fell asleep while driving north on Interstate 55 and awoke just before the crash occurred," the prosecutor's statement said.
Collins was jailed Friday in lieu of posting $100,000, which is 10 percent of his bond. Prosecutors asked that he post $20,000, but Judge Jennifer Bauknecht set the higher amount.
Under Illinois law, Collins is eligible for up to 14 years on the aggravated DUI charge, the most serious of the charges. Uphoff said he would be required to serve 85 percent of his sentence if he is convict of any of the felony counts.
Having Kohlmeier's funeral service at the PTHS auditorium is an "honor," said Principal Jon Kilgore. Kohlmeier was a drum major, on the student council, played tennis and worked on the student newspaper, but Drengwitz on Friday best remembered him as a peer student for students with cognitive impairments.
"That says a lot about his character - to help students not nearly as gifted as he was," said Drengwitz, a member of the Pontiac police and fire commission.
Mourning at BJHS
Among the many calls of support Kilgore received was one from Superintendent Barry Reilly of Bloomington District 87, whose junior high school also experienced loss.
"Everything you've heard about Casey is true - he was an amazing man," said BJHS Principal Sherri Thomas, a friend of Leslie Alappattu, Kohlmeier's girlfriend and BJHS' associate principal-athletic director.
"Leslie is focused on being with her and Casey's friends and family to grieve and prepare for his funeral services," said Thomas, adding BJHS staff "immediately jumped into action" to cover her duties while performing "random act of goodness," such as providing food and lodging for friends and family as they arrived for Kohlmeier's funeral.
"Our staff wanted to help and they've determined really effective ways to do so," said Thomas, who considered herself "blessed to be able to support Leslie and honor Casey's memory."
Across town, at Image Air, Libby Nussbaum asked, "Why does something like this happen to someone so incredible and so young?"
Nussbaum is customer service manager at Image Air where Kohlmeier got his private pilot's license in May 2012.
"We all knew him as a really awesome, great guy. We are all really shocked ... that his would happen," she said.
Kohlmeier's picture hangs on the wall at Image Air along with all those who earned licenses there.
Nussbaum said the staff was aware of Kohlmeier's efforts toward qualifying for the FBI, and they were looking forward to hearing when he got the call for training. "He had such a huge, bright future," she said.
"It's such a huge loss, I can't even express it," said Jack Bristo who first met Kohlmeier when he was a high school student and Bristo was a Pontiac police officer. After Kohlmeier became a cop, Bristo welcomed the younger man, and his canine friend, to talk to the students.
"They loved him. He's the real deal - a classic all-American kid, articulate and had a big heart," said Bristo. "We're all better for knowing him."
(c)2013 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.) Distributed by MCT Information Services