Metro-East News

Young man who died in crash remembered as helpful, hard-working

Friends and family of Christopher Craig, one of three victims who died Friday in a car crash in Belleville, say they will remember him for being the kind of guy who would do anything to help someone in need.

“He was always there whenever we needed him to help with something. If you had a flat tire, he’d come to the rescue,” said Christina Ervin, former partner of Craig’s brother, Andrew, who also died in a car crash last year.

Craig, 24, died in a head-on crash Friday afternoon on Illinois 158. His grandmother, Jerilyn Hess, 74, and the driver of the other vehicle, Alejandro Salen, 48, also died in that crash. Craig’s grandfather, Donald Hess, 74, is in critical but stable condition at St. Louis University Hospital.

Craig and his grandparents were on their way to the memorial service of Craig’s other grandfather, Philip R. Craig, who passed away on Dec. 4, Ervin said. They were going to make one quick stop before going, however. Craig needed to finalize some paperwork on the home in Dupo he had recently purchased, his first home, Ervin said. They never made it to the service.

The young man had just started fixing up the house, and the family had celebrated Thanksgiving there, Ervin said.

In addition to his handy-man skills, Craig was known as a talented car repairman. Laura Heeg, whose sons went to Columbia High School with Craig, said her family grew close to Craig through the hours he spent at their home helping the boys fix up their old Chrysler Cordoba. They grew so close, in fact, that the Heeg ended up giving the Cordoba to Craig.

“He was the sweetest, most kind-hearted, loveable person. I called him my Teddy bear friend,” Heeg said. “He was a jokester, wise-cracking, but he would do anything for you. He was always there for people.”

Craig was known as “Uncle Cookie” to Ervin’s son, Abel, who called Donald and Jerilyn Hess “Grandma and Grandpa Turtle” because they had a pet turtle, Sam, who is more than 50 years old, Ervin said.

Funeral arrangements for Craig and Jerilyn Hess have not yet been finalized, Ervin said.

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