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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.

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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.”

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

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