For Eddie Schmidt, July 24, 2017, may have seemed like just another regular day. It certainly began pretty benignly, with his pregnant wife Lindsey shuttling all three of their young sons into her car in order to take them to Bible camp. And after Lindsey had gone through the routine of getting them ready for the journey, she finally hopped into the driver’s seat.
The mom-to-be’s drive through rural Illinois passed sweeping cornfields and brought the young family to intersections quiet enough to run on stop signs alone – no stoplights needed. These clear roadways may have been the last place in which Lindsey had thought she’d lose her life.
But by 8:30 a.m. on that Monday, Lindsey, her unborn child and her 18-month-old son would be dead. Meanwhile, her two eldest sons, aged four and six, would be left gravely ill in the hospital. And Ed Schmidt would be left to wonder what had happened to the perfect family that he had been building with the love of his life.
Eddie and Lindsey Schmidt had married in 2008, and although they had swiftly jumped into parenthood, they still seemed to be very much in love. Indeed, in 2016 Lindsey wrote a Facebook post to this effect on the day of the couple’s wedding anniversary. It said, “I couldn’t have dreamed of a better partner to spend the rest of my life with. I love this man more and more everyday!”
And the Schmidts also shared their affection with three little ones: Owen, born October 8, 2010; Weston, born March 22, 2013; and Kaleb, who came into the world on December 2, 2015. In the summer of 2017, moreover, Lindsey was four months pregnant with the couple’s fourth child.
And Scott Sievert, the principal at Owen’s elementary school, could only sing the Schmidts’ praises. “They were a wonderful, loving family,” he told the Chicago Tribune in July 2017. “They were very active in the church and here at school. Lindsey was always looking for an opportunity to serve,” he added.
And serve she did: the 29-year-old had dedicated herself to her church, leading a group there to bring together other moms of young kids. She even volunteered as a room parent at her son’s school, Illinois Lutheran Elementary. “Lindsey not only trusted Jesus but wanted others to do the same,” Reverend Frank Italiano would say in a service dedicated to the Schmidts at Trinity Lutheran Church.
Meanwhile, Sievert remembered Owen, the eldest of the Schmidt children, as a hard-working kindergartener. “Owen always had a smile on his face,” the principal revealed to the Chicago Tribune. That upcoming school year would have seen Owen begin first grade; second-born Weston, meanwhile, was due to start preschool at Illinois Lutheran Elementary.
But none of that would come to pass. On that Monday morning in July, Lindsey and her kids piled into their 2014 Subaru Outback on the way to Bible camp. Then their early-morning commute took them northbound on Yates Avenue and toward an intersection with Corning in their small-town home of Beecher, Illinois. And, tragically, it would be there that another driver would make a fatal mistake that would cost so many young lives.
Sean Woulfe, a 25-year-old who also hailed from Beecher, blew through a stop sign in his 2002 Chevy S10 pick-up truck. As a consequence, he smashed into the driver’s side of Lindsey’s Subaru. And the impact of the crash was so great that her vehicle was sent careening from the road and into the peaceful, picturesque cornfields.
By the time authorities arrived on the scene, moreover, they discovered the unimaginable: the pregnant 29-year-old wife and mother was dead. So too was her youngest son, Kaleb, just four months shy of his second birthday. Owen and Weston, meanwhile, were barely clinging to life.
On July 26, however, Weston died at the hospital – he was only four years old. And while Weston’s elder brother was on life support at the time of his passing, Owen would only hang on for a few more hours after that. At 2:39 a.m. on July 27, he, too, passed away.
Upon hearing the horrible news, the Beecher community immediately sprang into action, holding candlelight vigils, creating a roadside memorial and raising money for the bereaved widower. “It’s like nothing I ever experienced,” said Reverend Italiano of the support that Eddie and his relatives received. However, neither Eddie nor any of his family members attended the public events in memory of Lindsey and the kids. “The family is hurting,” Italiano said, by way of explaining their absence.
Making matters worse, Woulfe, the driver who had struck the Schmidts, walked away from the scene nearly unscathed. And although he did suffer a laceration to his arm that required surgery, that was obviously nothing compared to what had happened to Lindsey, Owen, Weston and Kaleb.
On top of that, the 25-year-old who drove the pickup truck was only given a citation on the day of the fatal crash. Authorities issued the ticket for Woulfe’s failure to stop at a stop sign, but no further charges were immediately filed. On August 2, moreover, all charges against him were dropped.
Yet while that may seem outrageous, it was actually a strategic move by investigators and prosecutors in the case. If they went ahead with the initial citation’s charges, they could have been at risk of a double jeopardy situation if they discovered that Woulfe was guilty of a more serious offense. Double jeopardy bars authorities from trying a suspect twice for the same alleged crime.
But the county sheriff kept the investigation open in order to look further into Woulfe’s state at the time of the crash. And just 20 days after authorities had let Woulfe off the hook, they uncovered startling new evidence. That led to Woulfe being called in to face new charges.
Specifically, police announced on August 22 that Woulfe had been speeding 20 miles over the 55-mile-an-hour limit enforced on the stretch of road where he hit the Schmidts. His speed may have been part of the reason he missed the stop sign, in fact.
The police also said that Woulfe had been cleared of any drug or alcohol use. They were unable to comment, however, on whether he had been texting behind the wheel. Even so, they still had enough evidence to charge Woulfe with 16 counts of reckless homicide in the crash. And if he is found guilty on all counts, he’ll spend up to ten years in jail.
For Eddie Schmidt, though, these charges are no substitute for the family he lost so swiftly and unexpectedly. But he may nevertheless have received some comfort from Reverend Italiano, who addressed Eddie personally at the family’s funeral service. Specifically, Italiano attempted to help the young widower to work through his unimaginable grief with these words. “Eddie,” said the reverend, pausing as he became overwhelmed with emotion, “you told me that you were blessed to have Lindsey in your life. You were blessed to have these children. And you know what, Eddie? You were a blessing to them too.”