Schmidt issues public apology in '11 fatal crash
Parents of victims in fatal crash say apology rings hollow, question motivation behind her words
SYCAMORE – A week after she was acquitted of reckless homicide, Patricia Schmidt apologized to the families of the 21-year-olds killed in the February 2011 crash in a letter to the Daily Chronicle.
Schmidt, 49, of Sycamore, said she prayed daily for Tim Getzelman and Lexi Weber, who died after Schmidt’s truck blew a red light at Route 23 and Peace Road and smashed into the Pontiac Grand Am that Getzelman was driving. She said her defense attorney instructed her not to talk with the couple’s families.
“Starting the evening of Monday, Feb. 21, 2011, I cried for the two young people who died in the accident, whose names I did not yet know,” Schmidt wrote. “I asked my attorney repeatedly if I could talk to someone in the young people’s families. Each time I was told: ‘absolutely not!’
“Please understand that in all my years, I have never had anything even close to this happen.”
Getzelman’s and Weber’s families acknowledged her letter, including her promise not to drive again, and said they would continue working to change state laws on driving with a seizure disorder.
Tamara Getzelman, Tim’s mother, and Dawn Weber, Lexi’s mother, prepared a written statement together Friday.
“We will continue to honor our children’s memory by changing the laws,” the families’ statement read. “Perhaps when the time is appropriate, Patricia Schmidt will agree to testify in support of the ‘Tim & Lexi Law,’ thus making all families safer in the state of Illinois.”
Trial testimony revealed that Schmidt likely had a seizure just before the crash. Andrew Ta, a board-certified neurologist at Midwest Neurology in DeKalb, diagnosed her with a seizure condition in April 2007 and was comfortable with her driving, a factor DeKalb County Judge Robbin Stuckert said factored heavily in her not guilty verdict after a trial that spanned months.
Most states require those with seizure conditions to have a seizure-free period before they are allowed to drive, and some also require doctors to report epilepsy conditions. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, Illinois does neither.
In her letter, Schmidt said she had started many letters to the families during the three years the criminal case was pending, but never sent them.
“I know the pain of losing dear friends, friends’ children and my own parents, but I can’t imagine the anguish of losing a child you have loved and raised,” Schmidt wrote. “When you saw me sitting silently at the courthouse, it was not because I did not want to come apologize to you, but because of my attorney’s instruction. I tried to stay calm and pay attention, but I felt I was being cold and rude, not the way I was raised to behave.”
She acknowledged that Tim Getzelman, a Sycamore High School graduate, and Lexi Weber, a Kaneland High School graduate, had promising futures.
Weber wanted to become a teacher and supported Feed’em Soup, a nonprofit organization that has a children’s section called Lexi’s Corner in her honor. Getzelman had earned his basic EMT license and was hired as an intern by the Sycamore Fire Department in September 2008.
For the Weber and Getzelman families, though, the public apology rang hollow. They said Schmidt still wasn’t taking personal responsibility for her actions by citing her attorney.
“It has taken 1,146 days for Patricia Schmidt to issue an apology for causing the deaths of our children,” the families’ statement read. “From the evening of Feb. 21, 2011, never once has she reached out to our families to express her sympathy or remorse. Instead, she chose to issue a public apology, thus drawing attention to herself.”
Defense attorney Matthew Haiduk, who has offices in Crystal Lake and Geneva, said attorneys commonly advise their clients not to talk with victims’ families or apologize because prosecutors could use their words against them. Prosecutors could say an apology is a sign that one knows they are guilty.
“If you’re sorry about something, it’s because you know you caused harm,” Haiduk said. “... The reality is that most of the time they are horribly remorseful, but strategically it’s a bad idea to say anything.”