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Mom remembers teen daughter killed in 20-year-old cold case: ‘Her life mattered’

RICHMOND, Va. -- It’s been 20 years since a Mechanicsville teenager was shot to death while driving with friends on Interstate 64 in New Kent County.

Now designated as a cold case, Virginia State Police are still pursuing leads that can help them solve the case and bring closure to the victim’s family.

On August 8, 1999, Sara Bruehl, 18, and two friends were returning home from a trip to Virginia Beach when a gunman fired several rounds into a 1999 Nissan Altima rental car.

The recent Atlee High School graduate was killed prior to her vehicle crashing off the right side of the interstate near Exit 205 for Bottoms Bridge.

Her 18-year-old female front-seat passenger was also shot but survived her injuries. The 17-year-old female backseat passenger survived injuries resulting from the vehicle crash.

Sara Bruehl

Virginia State Police is still working to identify the male suspect who pulled the trigger in what is believed to be a road rage killing.

"It’s been 20 years and that’s longer than she was alive,” said Bruehl’s mother, Chris McIlwee, who added that fact is a hard one to think about. “Especially with 20 years of not knowing who did it.”

“We know there are people out there today, even 20 years later, who know who was responsible for taking this young girl’s life and injuring her friends,” said Captain Tim Ring, VSP BCI Richmond Field Office Commander. “State police is still committed to identifying this individual and bringing him to justice.”

A 20-year-old sketch shows the suspect, described as a light-skinned African-American or Hispanic male, with dark eyes and a goatee.

Police say the man was driving a small, red car with tinted windows and halogen lights.

Based on witness statements and an investigation, police believe that Sara and the driver of the red car had engaged in a “cat-and-mouse” game of speeding up, slowing down and changing lanes over about a 20-mile stretch of I-64.

While traveling eastbound, the male suspect rolled down his tinted driver’s side window and fired four shots into the Nissan Bruehl was driving.

The suspect sped away in the eastbound lanes of I-64.

“We owe it to Sara and her family to solve this case once and for all,” said Ring. “That’s why we are still pursuing leads and still asking for people to come forward with any information they may have to share on this drive-by shooting.”

Bruehl’s mother said while she continues to push for tips to solve her daughter’s case, she also works to keep Bruehl’s memory alive.

Chris McIlwee

“Her life mattered and I want people to understand that and to know her,” said McIlwee, who added that included visit’s to Bruehl’s gravesite where she tries her best at arranging the flowers at her a grave. She said it is a way of honoring Bruehl’s passion for floral design, adding that Bruehl was supposed to start college and study floral design two weeks after she was killed. “She’s watching over me and helping me out and no matter what it looks like I know she loves it.”

McIlwee said she also cared for Bruehl’s cat, Rascal. She said Bruehl had adopted him only three months before her death.

“He was like a part of her that I could keep with me and it was very difficult when we lost him,” she said.

McIlwee said she hopes someone will come forward to help close this case and not just for her family’s sake.

“It’s just difficult to know that he’s probably still out there and how many other people he’s killed and how many lives he’s destroyed,” added McIlwee. “It would be nice to know that they have been stopped while they’re here on earth, so that they can’t hurt anybody else and destroy any other families.

Anyone with information related to this case is encouraged to contact the Virginia State Police at #77 on a cell phone or 1-800-552-9965 or by email to questions@vsp.virginia.gov.

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