A bill honoring the death of Mississippi State University track star and graduate Kaelin Kersh is scheduled to be signed by Gov. Phil Bryant Friday.
The Kaelin Kersh Act, or HB 1202, will force emergency vehicles to use flashing lights when they exceed 30 mph over the speed limit.
The bill was created because of Kersh’s death, which happened almost a year ago. On May 7, a speeding state trooper crashed into the car Kersh 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 had received a degree in kinesiology.
The Mississippi 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.
Under the state’s current law, emergency vehicles are not required to have any lights flashing when they respond to emergencies, but if the governor signs the Kaelin Kersh Act this week as planned, this will change.
The new act will “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 thirty miles per hour over the posted speed limit.”
Getting the bill to the governor’s office was not easy, said Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, who is the bill’s primary author.
After the bill passed unanimously in the House in February, it was sent to the Senate, where it stayed for a couple of weeks.
The Senate wanted to change the bill’s speed limit excess requirement from 30 mph to 1 mph. Rep. Chism said it was “too restrictive.”
“The Senate had changed it to 1 mile an hour over the speed limit instead of 30, and we thought that that was really, really going to be cumbersome for emergency vehicles,” Chism said.
Then the Senate rescinded the amendment, and the bill went through a conference report March 27, where it was passed unanimously.
Chism said the atmosphere of the conference report meeting was full of sentiment.
“It was emotional when we took up conference report on the House,” Chism said. “All the members of the House stood up and looked to the North gallery where they were standing, and that meant the House had passed the conference report and now the Senate had to pass it to make it to the governor. It was an emotional time for them then and for us just to get it on the way to the governor."
Kaelin Kersh’s mom, Toni Kersh said during the conference report, she wore a necklace with a photo of her and her daughter. In fact, the photo was taken on May 5 after graduation and is the last picture the two took together.
However, Toni Kersh plans to wear a different necklace Friday, a selfie of only Kaelin, which shows her smiling brightly at the camera.
Toni said the governor’s invitation to see the bill signed next week means a lot to her family.
“For me and for my family, it just means that from the governor of the state of Mississippi all the way to the legislature, all thought that this bill should be in place,” Toni Kersh said.
In addition, Toni Kersh praised Chism for his diligence in the whole legislative process.
“Representative Chism was the drum major for this the whole time,” Toni Kersh said. “He was educating me as the bill went through the process and he kept me informed. He went beyond my expectations. It was as if Kaelin was working through him. So, he will always be close to my heart and he became an honorary member of the Kersh family from October when I first talked to him.”
If signed as planned, the new bill will take effect on July 1.
Toni Kersh said the act, while it honors her daughter and is significant legislation, is still tinged with sadness.
“For me, it’s monumental because Kaelin’s legacy will live on,” Toni said. “Everybody thought that what happened to her was senseless and could have been avoided. So, it just makes this law kind of bittersweet. On one hand, this won’t bring her back, but on the other hand, it has the possibility to save thousands of lives.”