NEW KENT — "Before too long, more time will have passed than my daughter was alive.”
As every year goes by, grieving mother Chris McIlwee, of Tappahannock, struggles with this thought.
McIlwee's daughter, Sara Anne Bruehl, was 18 years old when she was killed in a drive-by shooting on Interstate 64 in New Kent County.
This Friday marks the 15th anniversary of her death.
The case remains unsolved.
“It's hard for me to refer to her killer as “him” or “he” because I don't feel like anyone who would do that is completely human,” McIlwee said.
Bruehl's death left the family not only with a void in their hearts, but a looming question in their minds: Who shot her, and why did they do it?
“The world is a poorer place without her in it,” McIlwee said.
The night that changed everything
For Bruehl's family and friends, Aug. 8, 1999, will always be the date when everything changed.
According to McIlwee, the day started out like a typical lazy summer day with a trip to the beach.
“Sara loved the beach,” McIlwee said. “She would go to the beach any time that she could.”
The day and evening had been pretty uneventful, with Bruehl enjoying the waves and sunshine with two of her best friends and fellow Atlee High School graduates, aged 17 and 18.
The day had been perfect until that night when the Mechanicsville teens were headed home on I-64 west, with Sara at the wheel.
“She was supposed to be home by 11 p.m., and I think she would have made it,” McIlwee said.
According to McIlwee, the girls noticed a small red car with tinted windows, a white license plate and halogen lights, following Sara's rented 1999 Nissan Altima, somewhere around Exit 227 in the West Point area.
Police believe that the two cars became involved in a high-speed skirmish that lasted more than 20 miles.
The incident may have begun as an innocent cat-and-mouse game that quickly spiraled out of control, police said.
Police believe that, during the skirmish, the two cars exceeded the speed limit, flashed their high beams, and tailgated one another. Police confirmed that moments before Sara was shot she tapped her breaks as the suspect was following close behind her car.
“The girls that were in the car told me that the guy would speed up and then slow down in front of her, prompting her to pass him,” McIlwee said.