A bill forcing emergency vehicles to use flashing lights when going more than 30 mph above the speed limit passed unanimously in the Mississippi House of Representatives Thursday.
The bill, called the Kaelin Kersh Act, was inspired by the tragic death of a Mississippi State University track star. Kersh was killed last year on May 7, when a speeding state trooper crashed into the car she was riding in.
The accident occurred after Kersh and her friends went to Cowbells Sports Grill to celebrate their recent graduation. Only one night earlier, Kersh received a degree in kinesiology.
State trooper Kyle Lee was reportedly going 100 mph in a 45 mph zone when designated driver Noel Collier pulled into the highway. At the time, Lee did not have any flashing lights turned on.
Kaelin Kersh’s mother, Toni Kersh, claims the lights would have made a difference in the death of her daughter.
“If the light’s would have been on that night, then surely I don’t think we’d be having this conversation,” Toni Kersh said. “[The Act’s purpose is] to save other lives. Just let us know you’re coming, that’s all we’re asking.”
According to Mississippi’s current law, emergency vehicles are not required to have any lights flashing as they respond to emergencies. The Kaelin Kersh Act aims to amend that section “to require that any operator of an emergency vehicle authorized to be marked with blinking, rotating or oscillating lights shall use blinking, rotating or oscillating lights when operating the emergency vehicle at a speed in excess of 30 miles per hour over the posted speed limit.”
Rep. Gary Chism, who represents Lowndes, Clay and Oktibbeha Counties, is the primary author of the bill and called Kaelin Kersh’s accident a “tragic death.” Both Chism and Toni said the bill’s purpose is to enforce something that, to them, is common sense.
“[Toni] doesn’t have an ax to grind; she is just asking for something I think is reasonable,” Chism said.
Even though it is not a state law, MSU Police Chief Vance Rice said his department’s policy is for officers to have both lights and a siren on whenever they are exceeding the speed limit. Rice said he is “fine” with the bill, but he does not take a stance on either side of the situation.
“Our job is to enforce and follow,” Vance said.
When the bill passed unanimously in the House, Toni said that no one opposed the bill was important to her. She said her family felt joyous when they heard the news.
Even Chism said the bill holds a particularly special place in his heart.
“I’ve had bills pass with my name as a co-author many, many times, but this one was special,” Chism said. “I know I’m not as excited about a bill as the mother and dad of Kaelin, but I just am glad that we might be able—if the Senate passes it and the governor signs it—to remember her in a special way.”
Now the bill awaits its future in the Mississippi Senate, and if passed, will go to the governor to be signed. Chism said it will be about three weeks until it is reviewed by the Senate.