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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Somewhere near the Skokie Swift commuter station, Sliwinski ran three red lights and accelerated. Her speed was nearly 90 miles per hour when, before the intersection of Dempster and Niles Center Road, she veered into the left lane, directly behind Dahlquist’s black Honda. Dahlquist was driving; Meis was beside him, and Glick was in the back seat. In those moments, Sliwinski never touched her brakes. Days later, detectives cited her car’s concave gas pedal as evidence that she had floored the accelerator at the time of impact. “I’d never seen anything like that in my 31 years of police work,” said Brent Fowler, a former commander of the Skokie Police Department. “It was, literally, bent around her foot.”

At full speed, Sliwinski’s car blasted through the back of the Honda so forcefully that its trunk crumpled and folded into the back seat. The Honda shot into the car ahead—a green Ford Crown Victoria, which slid 100 feet into the intersection. The force drove both Sliwinski’s Mustang and Dahlquist’s Honda ten feet into the air.

Broken glass and car parts flew like shrapnel and blew out the window of a truck in the right-hand lane. The Honda rolled 47 feet from the initial impact and landed on its roof. Glick was thrown from the back seat, through the front windshield, and into the intersection. All three men were killed instantly.

Sliwinski’s Mustang rolled in the air, landed on its roof, and slid 20 feet down the street. Witnesses could hear her screaming inside. Drivers jumped from their cars and customers ran out of the nearby stores to see if they could help. One man, who worked at the mattress store on the corner, brought a pillow. Witnesses reported a warlike scene, telling police that when they saw the men, they knew immediately that there was nothing they could do. They hovered around the Mustang to comfort Sliwinski, telling her that help was on the way. “Oh, my God,” Sliwinski yelled, over and over. “Get me out of here!”

One witness, Jeanne Gourguechon, saw John Glick go through the windshield of the Honda. He landed in front of her car, his face staring toward the blue sky. In the minutes before the ambulances arrived, Gourguechon knelt beside him and held Glick’s hand. She noticed his torn red polo shirt, the fact that he didn’t have a pulse. He looked to be about the age of Gourguechon’s own son. “I just thought I ought to be there,” Gourguechon recalls. “These were his last moments and, if it was my son, I would have wanted somebody to be there, too.” Gourguechon stayed with Glick until paramedics took his body away.

* * *


Ursula and Ted Sliwinski arrive at their daughter Jeanette’s trail in October 2007.

Several minutes after the crash, Brent Fowler received a call from the department’s watch commander. As the head of the detective section, Fowler had to assess the situation, identify witnesses, and make sure the officers on the scene gathered details. Fowler rushed to the scene, where the men’s bodies were being loaded into ambulances and where emergency crews were working to extract Sliwinski from her car. “At that time, all I saw was an accident,” Fowler says. It wasn’t until he reached St. Francis Hospital, in Evanston, where Sliwinski was being treated for a broken ankle, that his view of the crash began to change dramatically.

Fowler’s conversation with Sliwinski would become a crucial part of the case against the young woman. He recognized her from his job as a part-time security guard at Niles West High School (he is now retired from the force and works there as director of security). First, he reminded Sliwinski of where she used to sit in the school cafeteria. He purposely got it wrong to see if Sliwinski was lucid enough to correct him. He says she did.

When Fowler asked the young woman why she had been driving so fast, Sliwinski told him that she had argued with her family. He recalls that she said she wanted to get away, find some railroad tracks, and kill herself. “Ms. Sliwinski went on to say that she was looking for the tracks, but she couldn’t find them,” Fowler wrote in his July 19, 2005, police report. “I asked Ms. Sliwinski at this point how was she feeling, [to] which she responded by saying that she was angry and frustrated and all she wanted to do today was to end it. Ms. Sliwinski went on to say that she saw the cars stopped in front of her and she decided to kill herself so she put her ‘foot to the floor’ and ran into the back end of a car that was stopped at the stoplight. Ms. Sliwinski further stated that she ‘didn’t want to hurt anybody else, just hurt myself.’”

In their interview with Chicago magazine, the Sliwinski family said that they decided to break their long silence because they wanted to publicly challenge what their daughter allegedly said to Fowler and other authorities. They also wanted to share their belief that Jeanette’s actions were the result of a drug-induced fog caused by the prescription pills her doctors told her to take, and they challenge the idea that she was suicidal. “Jeanette is very sorry, obviously, for what happened,” says Randle, the family spokesperson. “She has taken responsibility for her actions; her family is sorry—all of us are sorry. We don’t have any reason to lie to you because this case is over.”

Throughout the 80-minute interview at Bakers Square, their daughter’s conversation with Detective Fowler came up often. The family members say that after the crash, they waited outside Jeanette’s hospital room for several hours but were told they would not be allowed to see her; all they knew was that Jeanette had been in an accident. That night, the family returned home and turned on the TV looking for some sort of late evening news.  What they heard, of course, was roughly the same as what Fowler wrote in his police report: that their daughter had fought with her parents and wanted to kill herself. Ursula Sliwinski says she fainted. “We have no fight,” she said, tears welling in her eyes. “This is honestly truth.”

Ted Sliwinski believes that his daughter spoke to Fowler when she was in a haze brought on by her multiple prescriptions, the trauma of the accident, and the fact that she had been given morphine for her pain. Most of all, her parents ask, why would a woman who had been trying for months to get help suddenly decide to stop trying and end her life? Instead, they believe she had left home intending to keep a 3 p.m. appointment with a therapist at Turning Point, an outpatient mental health center about three miles from their home. “All of this sensationalism came from that little time frame” in the hospital, says her brother, Robbie Sliwinski. “That’s why it was framed as a suicide.”

* * *

 

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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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