"It didn't work. I want to die. You don't understand. I want to be dead."
Those were words allegedly spoken to paramedics by Jeanette Sliwinski, the 23-year-old Chicago model who two years ago drove her red Mustang convertible at almost 90 miles an hour into the back of a Honda Civic, killing three Chicago musicians on their way to lunch. Sliwinski's trial began this week and it's not an underreported story, at least not around here. The papers are giving it prime space. The blogs are all over it. The local television stations have reporters at the Skokie courthouse. Even the national networks have nosed into the proceedings because of the bizarre nature of the charges and also, undoubtedly, because the defendant is as easy on the eyes as she is hard to stomach. There really shouldn't be much for me to add.
Except that Jeanette Sliwinski murdered my friend.
We have a tendency to sentimentalize the character of the unfairly and prematurely dead, but I could produce a hundred witnesses to tell you that Doug Meis wasn't a guy you even had to know well before you grew to love him. You only had to watch him play the drums. He always had this incredible look, this incredible, transparent look of undiluted joy on his face. His elbows moved around his hands in these wild and joyous, concentric and eccentric orbits. Whenever I brought someone to see the band Exo play for the first time, they always said the same thing to me during the rare silence--God, I can't take my eyes off that drummer! It was impossible to watch Doug play and not know how much fun he was having. And it was impossible to be around him and not have that much fun.
On the morning of July 14, 2005, Jeanette Sliwinski got into a fight with her mother and climbed into her sports car with a bottle of gin and the intention to kill herself. But she wasn't only going to kill herself. She was going to do it in a way that would punish her mother and everyone else that had made her life so unbearably unhappy. Her suicide was going to be a spectacular one. She would kill herself violently. She would kill other people in the process. It would be on the television. In the newspapers. And the long list of people who had wronged Jeanette Sliwinski would have to live with all that blood and destruction forever on their consciences.
Her first thought was to drive into a train, but when she got to the tracks there was no train there. Angry and determined, she pushed the accelerator to the floor. She ran through one red light. A second. A third. Her life would end when something, and hopefully someone, stopped her car.
Michael Dahlquist, John Glick, and Doug Meis had just left the offices of Shure Microphones to get a bite for lunch. They were stopped at a red light on Dempster, waiting to make a left hand turn toward Wendy's.
Sliwinski spotted the rear of their car, retargeted her eight-cylinder missile, and gunned it.
According to Sliwinski's interpretation of the vague, unwritten laws in her head, maybe she thought this couldn't be a homicide. At the moment Sliwinski decided she would never again press the brake of her car, she had never seen Michael Dahlquist, John Glick, or Doug Meis. In the tiny universe with Jeanette Sliwinski at its center, these individuals didn't exist any more than a city in China she'd never heard of. How could she kill someone who wasn't alive? This was the brilliance of her plan. At the very moment these men would enter the plane of her existence, Jeanette Sliwinski would leave it. Her mother and all her other enemies would feel the anguish of the dead she would leave behind, but Jeanette never would.
She would be out of there.
Sliwinski's lawyers are going to try to spin her pathological narcissism as insanity. They've asked for a bench trial, probably deciding that between the testimony of appalled witnesses and the grief of the victims' families and the inevitable slide show of the defendant's glamour shots, she would never get a moment's sympathy from a midwestern jury. Instead they will put five psychologists on a full court press, trying to hang their hopes on a judge's interpretation of insanity law.
But Jeanette was not temporarily delusional, as her lawyers will claim. In fact her plan unfolded almost exactly as she imagined it would. There was violence. Blood. Death. Destruction. Headlines. Her mother was shocked, shamed, humbled, and humiliated. The only part of her scheme that didn't come together perfectly is that she wasn't crushed to death. In accordance with one of God's favorite jokes, she only fractured her ankle. The impact had injected the endless, incurable pain and sorrow of other people's suffering into her own soul, not somebody else's. And now she has forever to think about how good her life used to be.
After hearing the deafening crash, the manager of a nearby mattress store ran out into the street, a demonstration pillow still in his hands. He saw Sliwinski's overturned car, with the model's slightly injured foot sticking out the window. The lifeless body of one of her victims was splayed on the nearby concrete.
"Get me out of here!" he heard Sliwinski demand.
No, Jeanette. You're stuck here with the grieving rest of us.
UPDATE: Jeanette Sliwinski was found guilty, but mentally ill, of three counts of reckless homicide and one count of aggravated battery, lesser charges than the three counts of first-degree murder sought by the prosecution. Sentencing will be November 26. Channel 7 says she faces a maximum of ten years. The Associated Press says a maximum of five.