Utah's Advocate for Mentally Ill Killed in Crash

Utah's Advocate for Mentally Ill Killed in Crash

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John Daley Reporting"The fact that she worked so hard to break down that stigma is perhaps her greatest legacy."

Utah has lost one of its best-known, most widely respected advocates. She worked tirelessly to help the mentally ill in Utah, but the life of one of Utah's most dedicated citizens was cut short.

Vicki Cottrell, a longtime defender of the mentally ill, died in a car accident yesterday afternoon in Sardine Canyon. Friends and colleagues say they are simply devastated by the news.

For years Vicki Cottrell fought on behalf of the mentally ill, bringing a passion and humanity, which will not be easily replaced. In the corridors of power Vicki Cottrell was a powerful voice for the powerless. She fought for state funding for the mentally ill and she created programs like Hope for Tomorrow, the Crisis Intervention Team and Family to Family.

When mental illness made news in the cases of accused Triad killer DQ Dieu, accused Elizabeth Smart kidnappers Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, or, in the case of woman charged in the murder of her stillborn child, she asked society to think and be compassionate.

Vicki Cottrell, NAMI Utah, March 2004: “We can't afford to treat them up front, but we can afford to put them in jail, to charge them with murder and house them at the prison."

Heading to a meeting in Logan Cottrell was driving in slushy weather on a straight away in Sardine Canyon. A little after 5:00 p.m. Wednesday her Jeep Cherokee spun out of control and collided with a car going the other direction. She died from her injuries.

Today in her office the phones are ringing off the hook. Colleagues surrounded by photos Cottrell had taken say they're heartbroken.

Sherri Wittwer, Nami Utah: "Vicki always focused on recovery and hope. That's what was so great about her. Anger was not a motivator for her. She was always positive in her message and people listened to that."

Over at the state's Division of Mental Health Janina Chilton shows Crisis Intervention Team certificates awaiting Cottrell's signature.

Janina Chilton, Division of Mental Health: "It's really tragic when these things happen to people who have such a huge impact."

Judge Bill Bohling, with whom Cottrell founded the Mental Health Court, describes the community's loss as "immense."

Judge Bill Bohling: "I've been told all my life that there's no irreplaceable human being. But Vicki Cottrell comes about as close to that as one can come. I mean that very sincerely. She was an incredible resource for this state."

Services are planned for next week. Cottrell is survived by a large family, including six children and a number of grandchildren.

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