It seemed like any other Tuesday as Melinda Cullen drove home from work in Joliet, Illinois – but that would all change in an instant. It turned out that the 38-year-old was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And no one could have predicted the heartbreaking events that were about to occur.
Melinda Cullen was born in January 1980 to parents Roberto and Teresa Cortez. She grew up in Coal City, Illinois, and graduated from the local high school in 1998. Cullen then attended Carbondale’s Southern Illinois University, where she gained a communications degree.
As a child, Cullen loved basketball and was also on the math team. She would take part in singing contests and later developed a passion for cooking, as well as being part of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church in her hometown.
She finished university in 2003 and found a job at Commscope Technologies, a communications company in Joliet, Illinois, before moving on to a post at infrastructure manufacturer Panduit. And in October 2015 she married David Cullen.
The couple then had a daughter together named Katrina Quinn. Cullen was already the mother to two older daughters, eight-year-old Arianna Paige and five-year-old Olivia Delaney, from a previous relationship with Jeff Mierzwa. And she was preparing to welcome her fourth child into the world.
Cullen seemed to adore her husband and children and regularly shared photos of them on her Facebook page. She is described and kind and caring – and someone who always put her family first. But her loved ones were left devastated by an unimaginable tragedy.
Cullen was driving on Interstate 80 in Joliet on March 6, 2018. Illinois State Police reported that the mom-of-three was traveling westbound, while a truck driver was heading east. And at 2:18 p.m., they both became involved a freak accident.
A wheel hub on the truck’s rear tractor axle came loose. It detached from the vehicle and the 100-pound brake drum flew over the median into the interstate’s westbound lanes. And, tragically, that was when it smashed into the windshield of the SUV that Cullen was driving.
Cullen was taken to the hospital, but it was too late. She had been killed in her car and was pronounced dead on arrival. And although Cullen was just ten days away from her due date, her unborn son could not be saved, either.
According to her obituary, Cullen and her husband had chosen the name Jaxson Cash Cullen for their little boy. “She was just a sweet girl,” her mother-in-law Peggy Bingham told ABC 7 Chicago. “I can’t believe that she is gone. That baby, I was hoping that baby would make it. It would have meant a lot.”
A witness named Rob Bishop described the horror at the scene of the fatal accident. “First thing I thought of was that could happen to anyone at any time. And that poor person in that vehicle probably never saw it coming,” he told ABC 7. “There was two state police officers next to it, and there was a pretty big gaping hole in the windshield right in front of where the driver’s face would have been.”
The truck driver was identified as Antanas Sereiva, 59, from Bolingbrook. State police said that he was driving a Volvo Truck tractor with a Hyundai semi-trailer when the incident occurred. Authorities then confirmed that Serieva has been charged with a federal motor carrier safety act violation due to “unsafe equipment,” according to KTLA.
And this apparently wasn’t his first brush with the law. According to Joliet Patch, Serieva had been arrested in Alabama two years earlier on a DUI charge involving controlled substances. In addition, Sereiva had also previously faced charges of domestic battery.
Police had received a disturbance call to Sereiva’s home in 2014, and he had subsequently been charged with two counts of domestic battery for allegedly kicking and pushing a relative. He’d also faced a charge of resisting arrest. Sereiva had later been found guilty of one of the charges and entered a plea that saw him receive a fine, 100 hours of community service and one year on probation.
Sereiva works for EDJ Trucking Inc., which claimed that the vehicle in question had been worked on shortly before the incident that caused Cullen’s death. “The truck was in the shop the day before the accident,” an unnamed man told CBS. “We are investigating the work that was done.” According to KTLA, an official investigation into the incident is also now underway.
Cullen was laid to rest at Braceville Gardner Cemetery on March 10, 2018, four days after her death. A funeral took place at the Catholic church that she’d been a member of, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial. The previous day, friends and family members had recited the rosary.
Cullen is remembered as “a woman of strong will” with “a smile that could lighten up any room,” according to the funeral home that arranged her burial, Reeves and Baskerville. Her obituary stated, “She also made special time for her family or anyone in need. Family was of utmost importance to her, and she will most be remembered as a devoted mother that leaves behind a beautiful family that will miss her very much.”
Tributes have been flooding in for Cullen and her unborn child in the days since the heart-rending tragedy, including one from her two eldest daughters and their father. “Dearest Mom (Melinda), We will always love, cherish, and remember you for all of our lives,” they wrote in the touching message. “You will always be the most amazing mom.”
A statement released by her family to KTLA described Cullen as “a devoted mother of three precious daughters” and thanked people for their kind words and thoughts. “The family of Melinda Cullen is grateful for the outpouring of support and love that they are receiving during this difficult time,” Cullen’s loved ones wrote. “The family requests for prayers and support as they process the loss of Melinda and her son Jaxson.”
Cullen’s parents-in-law last saw her just two days before she died and said they’ve been struggling to accept that she’s gone. “Melinda was such a wonderful woman, and her and my son were like they were made for each other,” her father-in-law Charles Cullen told ABC 7. Her mother-in-law added, “I don’t think anybody would have anything bad to say about Melinda. She was a sweetheart, a good mother. I am going to miss her.”