COAL CITY – Casey Kohlmeier, who walked the halls of Coal City Middle School and Pontiac High School, graduated from the U.S. Air Force and protected the streets of his hometown of Pontiac, no longer has a physical presence in his community, but his story has become a reminder of the impact one person can have on another’s life.
After he received a conditional offer for his dream job with the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), Kohlmeier’s SUV was struck by a drunk driver in a truck and was killed along with his K-9 partner, Draco. Kohlmeier was 29 years old.
His mother, Keri Jo Schmidt, has now made it her mission to educate those on the dangers of impaired driving and to inspire people to be driven like her son, to never give up on dreams.
“In junior high, Casey knew he wanted to be a police officer, which was a big goal in life because he was kind of a little guy,” Schmidt said. “He set a goal to be in the FBI and knew he needed four years in the military, four years of schooling and four years on a police department. He set a goal and got it. I always knew he would do it.”
On April 26, Schmidt spoke to GAVC (Grundy Area Vocational Center) criminal justice students and driver’s education students at Coal City High School. Criminal justice instructor Jeff Hanley invited Schmidt with a goal to show the validity to the criminal justice program as well as the reality of the hazards of drunken driving.
“She has a powerful message,” Hanley said.
Schmidt opened each session with a background of her son and how she had him at a young age, so they two grew up together. The mother-son duo seemed inseparable and she said she always taught him to set a goal and find a way to accomplish that goal.
She did not want to just talk, but to show the human side of her son and ran a video of him as he grew up, then the 911 tapes of the night he was hit. One of the last calls asked for the number of Kohlmeier’s mother.
As tears welled up in Schmidt’s eyes, she kept the video rolling to show the vehicles from the accident, a pin drop could be heard in the classroom due to the silence.
“At 10:42 on October 30, 2013, my son was pronounced dead. My world crashed. I had to plan the funeral, pick a casket for my 29-year-old son who had more life in him than anyone I ever knew, all because of one drunk driver,” Schmidt said. “My mission is to make sure no family goes through what I went through.”
Schmidt talked the students about the dangers of drunken driving and how it was their job to stop someone if they were at a party or even their parents were drinking.
“Drunk driving kills. It does. And it could be you or somebody else. You can make a difference,” she told the students. “As law enforcement students, make a difference. I can’t do it by myself. Half of my life is gone. He was like my twin. If you allow somebody to get in a car drunk, you are enabling them.”
“You hear people talk about not drinking and driving, but never from someone it’s happened to – it’s pretty impactful,” criminal justice student Brandon Kelley said.
Schmidt began the Casey Kohlmeier Memorial Foundation to help her support local charities such as Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, Boys and Girls Club and Special Olympics, as well as local charities and scholarships.
She has spoken to the Chicago Bears Rookie Class of 2016 on behalf of MADD, at the Jesse White Secretary of State Candlelight Vigil, to Illinois State University student athletes, and various high schools, colleges and universities and the list has continued to grow.
All expenses have been out of pocket, so in order to help spread the word, Schmidt plans to host a 5K in October near the anniversary of her son’s death.
To learn about the Casey Kohlmeier Memorial Foundation, visit www.CaseyKFoundation.com. For information or to request a speaker, contact Keri Jo Schmidt at CaseyKFoundation@gmail.com.