Heil: A timeline of events


Sarah Michels

Over three years after 4-year-old Marco Shemwell’s death, former UK student Jacob Heil has been acquitted of reckless homicide in connection to the incident. During the interim, details concerning the events leading up to the incident came to light and measures were taken against those involved. 

Early on Sept. 15, 2018, hours before Heil’s car hit Shemwell, the then-freshman Alpha Tau Omega pledge was at an off-campus tailgate party hosted by the fraternity. He told police he drank two beers at this gathering, around 9:30 a.m. Later that afternoon, Heil was responsible for driving ATO members home. It was then, at approximately 2 p.m., when Heil’s car struck Shemwell near the intersection of Cooper Drive and Scoville Road. 

Upon arriving on scene, police arrested Heil, took him to jail and subjected him to field sobriety tests and a blood-alcohol test — the reading was 0.051. He was released eight hours later. 


Shemwell was taken to Kentucky Children’s Hospital, where he died two days later, on Sept. 17, 2018, due to head and neck trauma. 

After Shemwell’s death, UK president Eli Capilouto sent a campus-wide email outlining steps the university was taking. The steps included suspending Heil and conducting meetings between administrators, Greek life leaders and Student Government representatives about better enforcement of the Student Code of Conduct and implementation of safety measures in the future. The email also stated that UK Police were working alongside Lexington Police to investigate the incident. 

Heil’s attorney, Chris Spedding, filed a not guilty plea on his behalf in Fayette District Court the following day regarding a misdemeanor DUI charge. Spedding told the Lexington Herald-Leader that misinformation about the incident was spreading regarding Heil’s blood-alcohol level. Spedding said the test given on the scene was not admissible in court, and that the real BAC would not be known until later. 

Also on Sept. 18, 2018, UK’s Alpha Tau Omega chapter was placed on interim suspension, meaning that all fraternity activities were cancelled, but members could still live in the house. A university employee moved into the ATO residence, and UK began working with the national ATO organization in their investigation.

In a letter from UK to ATO, they stated that before the off-campus tailgate party at 240 Waller Avenue, the fraternity collected money from members. Every pledge had to attend the tailgate and serve alcohol to other ATO members. 

Upon receipt of this letter and an internal investigation, National Fraternity Alpha Tau Omega announced the closure of UK’s MU Iota chapter for at least 15 years as of Sept. 19, 2018. 

Shemwell’s funeral visitation and services were held Sept. 23 and Sept. 24, respectively, at Calvary Christian Church. UKPD officers, UK healthcare workers, first responders and members of the UK football team were named honorary pallbearers. 

Originally, Heil’s pre-trial conference was scheduled for Oct. 26, 2018, but was postponed to allow more time for evidence to come in. At this point, Heil was only being charged with a DUI, a misdemeanor. 

However, on Feb. 20, 2019, a reckless homicide charge was added to the DUI charge by a grand jury. On Feb. 22, Heil pleaded not guilty in Fayette County Circuit Court. His pre-trial and status hearing dates were set for March 7, 2019, and March 22, 2019, respectively. His trial date was eventually set for April 6-9, 2020, before COVID-19 postponements.

On Sept. 12, 2019, the Kernel wrote an article stating that Shemwell’s parents were filing a lawsuit against the national ATO chapter as well as UK ATO leadership officers, in addition to the ongoing lawsuit. 

Heil’s trial finally began on Oct. 11, 2021. Jurors heard from witnesses, Shemwell’s family, ATO members and police officers, among others, according to Herald-Leader coverage. 

After deliberation, the jury found Heil not guilty of reckless homicide but convicted him of a DUI. He now is subject to either a fine or community service.