Collision Course

In 2005, a young woman bent on self-destruction intentionally drove her car into the back of another. She lived. Three musicians on their lunch break died. This year, as her prison sentence comes to its end, the case remains a tragedy without closure or explanation.

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The scene of the crime: multiple exposures of the intersection of Dempster Street and Niles Center road in Skokie

 

Three years after the crash that killed her husband and two friends, Rebecca Crawford was working at a record store in Lake View. She was keeping busy, trying to feel a part of the real world again. “It was time to get my life in order,” she says.

Then came a sunny afternoon when the store wasn’t busy, and Crawford was alone. A young man who had come in to sell some used CDs handed her his driver’s license, following a house rule that helps deter potential sellers of stolen merchandise. At first glance, Crawford thought the man looked familiar. Then she saw the last name on the license: “Sliwinski.” It was the same last name as the woman, Jeanette Sliwinski, who had made her a widow.

Crawford thought she might pass out. She flashed back to July 14, 2005, the day her husband, John Glick, age 35, and his friends Michael Dahlquist, 39, and Doug Meis, 29, had been killed in a horrific car crash that was initially deemed a murder. Now everything came rushing back at Crawford, prompted by a casually dressed man looking to sell a few CDs. “I know that he didn’t kill my husband and my friends,” she says. “But it was the brother of the person who did. It was like having her in front of me.”

Crawford looked around, trying to find someone else who could help the man. No one else was near the register. So Crawford gave him several dollars for his old music, avoiding eye contact all the while. Then she turned away, walked into the backroom, and cried. Maybe it wasn’t the brother, she told herself. But did it really matter? Jeanette Sliwinski would soon be up for parole. She would be free to walk around Chicago again.

* * *


Jeanette Sliwinski’s official Department of Corrections mug shot

In the days after the crash, many theories surfaced as to why Sliwinski, 23, had floored her accelerator, reached a speed of nearly 90 mph, and rammed full-speed into a car at a red light, killing three strangers inside. She was suicidal. She was insane. She was under the influence of a cocktail of antidepressants and club drugs. Back then, the why almost didn’t matter: A crime had been committed, Sliwinski didn’t deny causing it, and the victims’ families and friends believed they would see justice served. “In the very early stages it just seemed so logical,” recalls Scott Meis, Doug Meis’s youngest brother. “How could it not work out?"  

But then last October the trial began. Inside a small second-floor room in the Skokie Criminal Courthouse, a room with green carpeting and gallery seats like church pews, testimony centered on Sliwinski’s state of mind at the time of the crash. Dozens of answers and theories were batted back and forth in front of a judge. Two weeks later, Sliwinski—who faced three counts of murder—was deemed mentally ill and her charges were knocked down to reckless homicide. A potential life imprisonment turned into a sentence of less than four years. If Sliwinski stays out of trouble, she could be home shortly before Thanksgiving.

“Justice is not going to happen. Closure isn’t, either,” says Rebecca Crawford. “At the very least, you try to figure out a way to let some of the pain go.”

Three years after the crash, there’s no resolution for Jeanette Sliwinski’s family either. Speaking publicly for the first time, her parents admit that they’re not sure what happened that day. “We’re just taking it day by day,” says Ursula Sliwinski, Jeanette’s mother. “That is all we can do.”

* * *

Photography: (Glick) Courtesy of Rebecca Crawford, (Sliwinski) The Illinois Department of Corrections

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comments
6 years ago
Posted by anon82

Thank you for this piece. People should never forget the amazing souls that were Doug, John, and Mike. I'm glad you were able to capture a piece of how much they meant to us all.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Why does your fragile mental state entitle you to another chance to do this again? Clearly, if she just wasn't in control of herself due to psychiatric problems and prescription drugs, then there is no reason why she wouldn't just hop in another car and kill more people in the future. Either she can control herself or she can't.

I knew John in high school. Everything written here about his character is true - he was always laughing, always making other people laugh, creative, talented, vibrant, magnetic, dynamic, in love, absolutely head over heels in love with music...

But some judge bent over backwards to make excuses for her. He should remember that when she gets her license back, it could be his family sitting there at the red light.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

I saw this on "Snapped" last night (not so pretty without the hair dye and all that make-up, is she? Empty eyes, no soul behind them whatsover.)

Why was she allowed to get away with three murders?

Why were those three men's lives held so cheaply?

And she's going to be allowed to drive again? That's outrageous.

That judge should be removed from the bench immediately.


Terry Callen
Gloucester City, NJ

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

I cannot believe this woman is being set free. They say she is mentally ill, so she apparently needs mental help. She is sick, and the thought of death didn't stop her from this crime, so why should jail? I say revoke her license and get her the help she needs.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

What is wrong with the justice system in this country????? Very very sad. My prayers are with the families of the victims.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

A sad event yes, but all too often we say 'justice was not served' and blame the system when we confuse justice with vengeance. What would Rebecca call adequate closure in this situation? Who would decide weather that punishment was just?

6 years ago
Posted by chongo shaun

There are only a couple of methods of justice I can think of in this case. Life imprisonment (which I would gladly put my tax money into) or banishment. I do not always believe in eye for an eye so I can't wish her death, but this is a travesty of justice.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

I went to school with Jeanette for 15 years, she is a great person who has gone through a lot the last few years. Everyone in our towns feel for the 3 guys that were killed, but we also feel for Jeanette who is seriously ill and needs help. She wanted to kill herself, not someone else. Its just sad that it all happened differently. Whats done is done. Everyone should pray for her return to health, and for the health of the victims families.

6 years ago
Posted by bodeie

I live in Columbus, Ohio where just a few days ago a guy was sentenced to 34 years in prison for killing three asian students in a 'similar fashion'. His SUV hit another car and went airborne causing a 9 car accident. His excuse was he got mad at a driver on a cell phone and the fast food restaurant didn't prepare his sandwiches right. Difference here is he killed 2 people in another accident that he got jail time for (believe 10 years) www.wbns10tv.com (for the story). Jason Skaggs was his name. I remember a woman on trial for killing a mother and her 2 (maybe 3) daughter's. Was aired on CourtTV (live) a few years back. Alcohol 'involved'. She got 60 years. Was her 4th OMVI and not sure if other accidents involved deaths. This doesn't surprise me at all. Electing a new president won't change anything. We need a 'clean sweep' of our people in D.C. People killed by drunk drivers is nothing more than an accepted form of 'population control' or our laws would be more severe. Every night people drink in millions of bars in this country and drive home. You never read about the guy who was killed by the driver smoking pot. Forgive me for bringing this up but the penalties are harsher for marijuanna related offenses. Speaking from experience you can only get so 'high' yet we can drink until we blackout and not remember anything the next day (speaking from experience there too). Rapists get more jail time than murderers. How does that make sense. Andrew Luster got more than 100 years and he didn't kill anybody. Why should murderers get less time and often if they are young enough (like Sliwinski) still have a lot of their life ahead of them. The people running our government is is the problem otherwise we would be finding alternative fuels but then the oil companies would lose money and the government doesn't want that. Think about the guy paying .63 cents a gallon in Utah for propane in his Honda GX.

6 years ago
Posted by bodeie

Left one thing out. The woman who got 60 years dog was in her car at the time of the accident and her first concer (she asked the officer at the scene) how her dog was instead of inquiring into the 'carnage' she was responsible for.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Not sure that I agree with comment about the rapist getting too much time. He could have killed people, maybe not physically, but ending their lives completely in other ways.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

I went to grade school with Jeanette and we even carpooled together. She is not someone who was out to kill other people. She was always popular in school. Someone who was outgoing, pretty, nice and smart. Everyone deserves a second chance and I am glad she is getting hers. Before you judge someone else, put yourself in her shoes and imagine at 23...killing 3 people, making your family go through hell and having a record. I wish Jeanette the best and my prayers are with her family.

BMV

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Whether Jeanette was popular, outgoing, nice, pretty or smart is besides the point, isn't it? The fact of the matter is that three people are dead from her actions. There are consequences for one's actions. Let's not be led to believe that this was an accident... she intentionally wrecklessly drove her car and killed three people. She need to be held accountable for her actions. I too am sorry for her family, but more importantly for the families of the persons that she KILLED - yes -- she KILLED them. She didn't just slap them but KILLED them. Does everyone deserve a second chance? The definition of deserve is to merit or be worthy of. Why don't the 3 dead people get a second chance? They are worthy of it having done nothing to this person.

I would be happy to petition, etc. if somone could point me in that direction.

6 years ago
Posted by kitkat

I think it is ridiculous that the judge accepted her statement that she wasn't trying to hurt anyone else, just herself. If you deliberately drive your car into someone else's car at 90mph, what do you think will happen? If she didn't expect the people in the car she hit to die, then she wasn't mentally ill... she's mentally disabled. Even a child could figure out the consequences of such an action.

I'm sorry for her family and I'm sorry she was so obviously out of her mind that she decided to act the way she did. In doing so, she affected so many people in such a terrible way. Perhaps it was the drugs or a defect in her brain. Either way, she should be serving a life sentence in a mental institution until "cured" at which time she could serve the rest of it at the state facility.

And I think a petition to get her drivers license reinstated is perhaps the final, disgusting straw of the whole situation. Do they allow convicted murders who gun down their victims to have a gun license after they get paroled? She used her car as a weapon, and as such, she should never be allowed access to that kind of weapon again.

6 years ago
Posted by TRex

What's done is done. Let her be. God bless all involved and may the families of all find peace.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

God bless all involved.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Thank you to the writer and Chicago Magazine for publishing an honest story that embraces the complexity of the situation. I only wish that this story never had to be written.

Having known John and spent time with him and Becky and their wonderful family of friends, I can only say that the world was a better place with him here. I imagine Doug and Michael's friends and family feel the same. My heart goes out to them.

Sharing our stories, I believe, is the only way we can grow and make sense out of this tragedy. I remember seeing an exhibit for this organization years ago (see link below) and thought I'd share it with all of you. Maybe it will help.

http://www.theforgivenessproject.com/stories/DebbieMcLeland

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

THis is unbelieveable...I worked with this girl...shared a hotel room with her, slept in the bed next to her...what if she "lost her mind " that night and decided to stab me to death...how scary...and they let this animal out in the world. Jeanette...I worked with you on some of the swimsuit shots in Chicago, and yo thought you were hot shit. You weren't then and you FOR SURE aren't now. I hope you ask for forgiveness when you go to bed everynight for the horrible thing you have done to those 3 men and their families...I hope you never sleep another peaceful night.
YO B

5 years ago
Posted by ssmith2526

Bodeie - you are incorrect on the amount of time Skaggs got for his first 2 murders, he served 5, yes FIVE, months for killing two innocent people in 1994. He got out early because he wrote to the judge and told him that he wanted to get married and that jail was making that impossible for him. BOO HOO. He killed them the same way he killed the next 3, using his car. He has MURDERED 5 people in total. Jesus, this just makes me sick. And he doesn't care at all. His only comments to the media were that while he's sorry they died but that there wasn't anything he could do about it now and that he was just a regular guy trying to live a regular life. Yeah, lots of regular guys murder 5 people. Happens all the time...

5 years ago
Posted by ssmith2526

To the people who think that everyone should just "move on" and let people, like Jeannette, live their lives, you are all dillusional. Will you be willing to do the time for her the next time she kills someone with her car?

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