Original article no longer available
The Indianapolis Star
By Rob Schneider
Last updated 01:00 AM, EST, Saturday, April 22, 2000
Lawyer for Judy Kirby says it will be an issue at murder trial in highway deaths of 7 people.
The state-of-mind of a woman suffering from depression before a deadly head-on collision in Morgan County will “absolutely” be an issue in her murder trial, her lawyer said Friday.
Judy Kirby’s mental state was mentioned in a court document when a doctor revealed the reason that Kirby had been hospitalized at St. Francis Hospital three weeks before the March 25 accident, which killed seven people. Kirby was hyperventilating when she appeared at the hospital and was experiencing “emotional trauma,” the probable cause affidavit in her arrest stated.
Kirby — who has cared for 10 children, including eight of her own — had become depressed during her most recent pregnancy and then deteriorated after the birth of that child in October 1999, her family said.
A doctor told police that Kirby had experienced a “major depressive episode with postpartum onset, with psychotic features resolved.” Officials at St. Francis would not discuss Kirby’s case.
Such a diagnosis usually means the patient is suffering from hallucinations and delusions besides depression, said Dr. Alan Schmetzer, assistant chair for education in the psychiatry department at Indiana University’s School of Medicine. The word “resolved” is generally used to indicate the symptoms have improved to the point that one can no longer tell the person is still depressed, Schmetzer said. Schmetzer was not involved in treating Kirby.
St. Francis officials wanted to keep Kirby hospitalized, but she checked herself out after three days.
Facing murder charges
Kirby of Indianapolis was charged with murder in connection with the crash on Ind. 67 near Martinsville. Police say that Kirby drove north in the southbound lanes of the highway for nearly two miles. Carrying four of her children, her car passed numerous “wrong way” signs along the way.
A police accident reconstructionist estimated she was traveling at least 60 mph to 65 mph when she struck a van, killing the children in her car and three members of a Martinsville family in the van. A teen-age friend of the Martinsville family was injured.
The extent of Kirby’s ailments go far beyond what the prosecutor has examined, said David R. Hennessy, Kirby’s lawyer.
“This prosecution is a sign of the times,” Hennessy said. “We’ve become a society that whenever there is an inexplicable tragedy of great proportions, we have to criminalize it.”
“When I grew up, society responded to these kind of tragedies with much more of a Christian heart,” he added.
Morgan County Prosecutor Steven P. Sonnega was not surprised by the notion that Kirby’ metal state might become an issue.
But, he called Hennessy’s remarks “very offensive.” “I think the system we have is a system of respect for human life,” Sonnega said.
Hennessy also contends that his client is being deprived her medication and medical treatment, but the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department denied the allegation.
While not able to discuss Kirby’s case, St. Francis Hospital did make available Dr. Stephen Dunlop, medical director of behavioral health services at the hospital.
Women suffering from postpartum depression could face a wide range of symptoms depending upon the severity of the problem, he noted. Those range from feeling tearful and sad to incoherence and bizarre hallucinations in extreme cases.
“The assumption is the postpartum period (after a birth) represents a trigger that, in a vulnerable individual, sets off an episode that they probably also carried programming for in some sense of the word,” he said.
About 18 percent to 21 percent of women in the United States suffer from postpartum depression, said Annette Smick, a psychiatrist in Winona, Minn., who specializes in postpartum depression.
But postpartum psychosis is much more severe and represents a psychiatric emergency that requires hospitalization.
Such a condition occurs in one to two births in 1,000. In such cases symptoms range from disorganized thought, disorientation, agitation and hallucinations, where a patient might hear voices commanding them to do things. Records do not indicate specifically which symptoms Kirby was suffering.
Infanticide is a risk in mothers with postpartum psychosis, Smick said. In the United States there are about 80 to 120 cases of mothers killing their children a year attributed to the malady.
While severe, postpartum psychosis, as with other categories of postpartum problems, can be treated.
Typically, a patient receives a combination of medication and counseling. In some cases, shock therapy is used.
“Depressions can get better,” Schmetzer said. The average length of time for depressions is about eight months; but with treatment, the time period where patients pose a danger of hurting themselves or others can be shortened by a considerable margin.
Kirby’s mother, Helen Walker, said after her daughter left St. Francis she was given a “paper” to take to a community mental health center. But, Walker said, she did not know if Kirby ever visited the center.
Around this time, Kirby received a prescription for Zoloft, an anti-depressant.
Cause for concern
Kirby’s family has said that, after she left the hospital, they kept watch over her.
Recovery can be a risky time, Schmetzer noted. “One of the dangerous times with a depression is when people begin to improve because they get enough energy now to do things, but all their symptoms aren’t gone yet.”
“They can look normal on the outside because they are closing in on their old selves, but they are not yet their old selves,” he said.
Kirby’s family continues to portray her as a loving mother, who lived for her children and home. Witnesses to the crash, though told police of a woman who was seemingly was able to function. One witness described Kirby as driving with both hands on the wheel and expressionless.
“The thing about (depression) is people can do things purposefully and yet it’s not really them,” Schmetzer said.
“Depression is an illness, and, just like if I had a broken leg, it would affect my ability to walk. A depression really affects a person’s ability to think accurately and clearly and to feel the way they would ordinarily feel about situations,” he said.
The question, he said, becomes:, “Was this the person or a disease that caused them to do this?”
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Retro Indy: Judy Kirby, wrong-way driver kills seven
The Indianapolis Star
Kirby, with four children in her 1989 Pontiac Firebird, entered Ind. 67 on March 25, 2000, going in the wrong direction. Witnesses said Kirby appeared to make no attempt to stop or turn around after she ran southbound motorists off the highway.
Other drivers scattered, but after nearly two miles Kirby’s car ran head-on into a van driven by Thomas Reel of Martinsville.
The impact of the two vehicles on a divided highway was horrific. Emergency workers said later they had nightmares about the scene.
Killed in Kirby’s car were three of her children — Jacob, 5, Joney, 9, Jordan, 12 — and Kirby’s nephew, Jeremy Young, 10. The driver of the van, Thomas Reel, 40, died, as did his son Bradley, 13, and daughter, Jesica, 14.
Family members said Kirby had been suffering from depression, particularly since the birth of a child five months before the accident. On March 2, she was admitted to a hospital for treatment, but Kirby chose to leave before the scheduled three-day stay was over.
On March 6, 2001, Morgan Superior Court Judge Jane Spencer Craney ruled that the prosecution would not be allowed to present evidence that Kirby may have been involved in interstate drug trafficking. She did however allow the use of information about Kirby’s hospitalization for depression.
The jury selection process for Kirby’s murder trial began March 16 in Dearborn County. The trial began April 23, with Morgan Superior 3 Judge Jane Spencer Craney presiding. Jurors were taken to view the site where the crash occurred.
During the trial witnesses described the carnage they saw at the scene. Even rescue workers were stunned by the extent of damage to the victims.
Kirby’s attorney, Jennifer Auger of Franklin, told jurors Kirby suffered from an undiagnosed thyroid problem that made her lose touch with reality.
But Kirby’s ex-husband testified that she had told one of their sons she was going to commit suicide. Prosecutors told the jury Kirby was suicidal over a failing relationship with her ex-husband’s brother. Other witnesses testified that Kirby feared being arrested on drug dealing charges. Prosecutors also brought in a medical expert who testified that Kirby’s strange behavior before the crash would not have been the result of a thyroid disorder.
In his closing argument May 9, defense attorney Tom Jones described Kirby as a very sick woman who was misdiagnosed and improperly treated. He argued that Kirby loved her children and would never have intentionally harmed them.
In his own summation, Prosecutor Terry Iacoli used a dramatic pause lasting 87 seconds to illustrate how much time Kirby had to pull over after turning the wrong way. The case went to the jury, which deliberated ten hours that evening and the next morning before coming to a verdict of murder on all seven counts.
Events on the day of the crash:
Investigators, through interviews with family members and others who encountered Judy Kirby on March 25, 2000, pieced together her activities leading to the wreck on Ind. 67 that killed seven people:
11:30 a.m. — Kirby, accompanied by nephew Jeremy Young, celebrating his 10th birthday, leaves her Southside Indianapolis home for her sister’s home in Acton to pick up children Joney Kirby, 9, Jacob Kirby, 5, and Jordan Kirby, 12.
Noon — Arrives at the home of sister Jeannetta Scott. Leaves about 2 p.m. with all four children. Scott follows as they drive to Toys R Us in Greenwood to buy a present for Jeremy’s birthday.
2:30 p.m. — Scott loses track of Kirby when Kirby stops in traffic on Southport Road. Scott turns around to go back, thinking Kirby has car trouble, but is unable to find her.
3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. — A man working in his yard on Ralston Road, west of Mann Road, sees Kirby when she stops her car in front of his house. He reports that Kirby stared at him for a few minutes, then left.
3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. — Two women see Kirby’s car stop in traffic at High School and Thompson roads. They approach her, ask if there is a problem and loan Kirby a cell phone. Kirby drives off and returns about two minutes later with the phone. She leaves, driving on High School Road toward Kentucky Avenue.
4 p.m. — Kirby shows up at a baby shower in the clubhouse at Valley Brook Mobile Home Park on High School Road just west of Kentucky Avenue. Kirby and the children enter the clubhouse, where no one knows her. Witnesses say Kirby stated, “I need help.” When asked what type of help, she replied, “I need a birthday party.” People at the shower think Kirby might be looking for a gathering at the park’s other clubhouse and give directions to that site.
4:10 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. — No reported sightings as Kirby drives 21.5 miles to Martinsville.
4:45 p.m. — Kirby arrives at a Speedway gas station on the edge of Martinsville. Store security video shows Kirby and four children enter the station, pay for $3 in gasoline and buy candy bars. An attendant reports that Kirby, who sits in the car for several minutes before going inside to pay, is unable to activate the gas pump, and he assists her.
4:55 p.m. — Witnesses begin reporting a white car, which entered southbound lanes of Ind. 67 at the exit ramp on Pumpkinvine Hill Road, driving the wrong way on the highway. The car is reported traveling at a high speed, with estimates varying between 55 mph and 100 mph. One witness describes seeing “a small boy in the front seat who looked to be on his knees, his hands outstretched to the dash as if he was holding on, and the driver’s blond hair was blowing in the wind.” Others report Kirby does not appear to slow or take evasive action as she meets oncoming vehicles.
4:57 p.m. — Kirby’s car collides head-on with a van driven by Thomas Reel, 40, of Martinsville. The collision, described by witnesses as a “horrific, spectacular explosion,” kills all four children riding with Kirby. Also killed are Reel and two of his children, Bradley Reel, 13, and Jesica Reel, 14. Kirby and another passenger in the Reel van, Richard Miller, 13, are taken to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
Thomas Reel, 40, Martinsville.
Driver of van struck by car driven wrong way in southbound lanes of divided highway by Judy Kirby, 32, Indianapolis. Truck driver for R.L. Carter Trucking, based in Clayton. Also co-founder of Seedline Christian Ministries, a Bible-printing and distribution mission. Returning from church youth event when crash occurred. Survived by wife, Louise, and daughter, Christine, 11.
Bradley Reel, 13,son of Thomas and Louise Reel. Eighth-grade student at Tabernacle Christian School in Martinsville, where he participated in basketball and choir.
Jesica Reel, 14, daughter of Thomas and Louise Reel. Ninth-grade student at Tabernacle Christian School in Martinsville, where she was a cheerleader.
Jacob Kirby, 5,son of Judy Kirby and ex-husband, Victor Kirby. Would have started kindergarten in fall of 2000.
Joney Kirby, 9, daughter of Judy and Victor Kirby. Third-grade student at School 87 in Indianapolis.
Jordan Kirby, 12, son of Judy and Victor Kirby. Sixth-grade student at Douglass Middle School in Indianapolis.
Jeremy Young, 10, child of Judy Kirby’s sister, Linda Walker, being raised by Kirby. Fourth-grade student at School 21 in Indianapolis. Celebrating 10th birthday on day of crash