A 33-year-old pickup driver died and a police officer was seriously injured in a head-on crash Thursday morning that closed Illinois 111 in Madison County near New Poag Road.
Daniel Bell’s death was the sixth fatality from a crash in 2018, Illinois State Police says. Spokesman Calvin Dye Jr. reports the crash was the 205th of the year in the five counties that make up ISP District 11. By 4 p.m., there would be another three crashes with injuries in Madison County.
Bell’s fatal crash at about 8:15 a.m. Thursday with a Pontoon Beach police car was on Illinois 111 about half a mile south of New Poag Road, police said.
A witness told police that the white Ford Ranger, driven by Bell, crossed into the oncoming lane as the road crested an overpass and collided with the Pontoon Beach officer’s car. The truck became engulfed in flames, police said.
While Bell, from South Roxana, was pronounced dead at the scene, the 45-year-old officer was flown to a St. Louis hospital with serious injuries.
South Roxana Police Chief Bob Coles was not immediately releasing the identity of the officer.
“I will say this officer is an outstanding person both in and out of the uniform,” Coles wrote in an email. “I pray for his family and for a healthy recovery.”
Illinois State Police Trooper Calvin Dye Jr. said a witness, who had been passed by the pickup and was following it before the crash, said the pickup driver “suddenly and without warning” swerved into the oncoming lane. The truck rolled over, the witness told police, and was immediately engulfed in flames.
The officer has been with Pontoon Beach for a year and served with South Roxana for five years. He was conscious and talking after the crash, police said, and is at a St. Louis area hospital in serious condition with broken bones in his legs and other injuries. His family is with him, Dye said.
Illinois 111 was closed for several hours as crews cleaned up and officers investigated.
Kelsie Howard spoke with the BND shortly after the accident. She is engaged to Bell’s wife’s cousin, Chris Rogers, and knows Bell, living next door to him and his wife.
“From what I know, he is a loving, caring husband,” she said of Bell.
Howard said Bell had been busy lately working to support his family.
“So it really breaks my heart that this is one of the things that had to happen,” Howard added.
The South Roxana woman said Bell and his wife have five kids between the two of them, the oldest being in middle school.
Howard also noted that Bell was friends with the officer involved in the crash, having met while the officer worked in South Roxana.
“I was really shocked, honestly,” Howard said. “... Finding out that they both know each other and this terrible accident happened and could possibly cost both of their lives is a scary thought to sit here and think about — it’s a scary thought to sit here and think about.”
Dye said Bell was not likely to have seen the southbound police car approaching because the crash occurred on an overpass. A witness told police there was no animal or other recognizable reason as to why the truck swerved.
“These two-lane highways — this is where we have the worst crashes and the most fatals,” Dye said.
These two-lane highways – this is where we have the worst crashes and the most fatals.
Illinois State Police Trooper Calvin Dye Jr.
Aerial images from KMOV showed a black Dodge Charger police cruiser and a badly-damaged white vehicle. The Charger was lodged against a guardrail, with police lights flashing.
Illinois State Police troopers were investigating the crash and did not immediately release additional information.
Illinois 111 was closed as far south as Gateway Commerce Center Drive on Thursday morning because of the accident. Illinois Department of Transportation workers also blocked access to Illinois 111 at New Poag Road.
Coles noted that in the past two weeks, the village of South Roxana has had three residents involved in three separate fatal traffic crashes.
“I urge people to use some restraint when driving whether it be due to speed, phone distraction, or general lack of awareness,” Coles wrote in the email. “These incidents can not be undone and families are changed forever within a blink of an eye.”
Madison County Board member Helen Hawkins said she travels along Illinois 111 regularly. She said drivers often speed or try to pass in the area that sees heavy traffic and trucks from the warehouses.
“It’s always been a rather dangerous stretch,” she said after the accident Thursday. “They speed through there and try to go around. There’s no room to go around.”