Metro-East News

Two killed in crash near Smithton, including an off-duty police officer

Two people were killed and two others were injured in a three-car crash that occurred late Thursday night on Illinois 159 south of Smithton.

Among those who died were James M. Ellis, 49, of Hecker, an off-duty St. Louis County Police officer, Illinois State Police confirmed Friday morning. A passenger in another vehicle, Ariah Claybrone, 24, of Memphis, Tennessee, also died in the wreck, according to St. Clair County Coroner Calvin Dye Sr.

According to Illinois State Police, a Hyundai driven by Dale L. Claybrone of Chicago, attempted to pass a tractor-trailer and struck Ellis’ Dodge Caravan mini-van head on. The Hyundai spun back into the northbound lane and was hit again by the tractor-trailer.

Ellis and Ariah Claybrone were pronounced dead at the scene. Dale Claybrone was transported by ambulance to an area hospital with serious injuries, said Illinois State Police Trooper Joshua Korando.

The driver of the semi, Jude A. Greco, 50, of Caseyville, refused medical attention.

Ellis joined the St. Louis County Police, where he was a patrol officer in the city of Jennings precinct, in 2011. He previously served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1992 to 1996 and in the Marine Corps Reserves from 2001 to 2005. He was deployed to Iraq as a squad leader from January to November of 2011, according to a news release from St. Louis County Police.

Ellis is survived by a wife and five children.

“On behalf of the entire Department, I wish to express our sorrow and sympathy over the tragic death of Officer Mitch Ellis.,” said St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar in the news release. “Our hearts and deepest condolences go out to his family and friends. Officer Ellis was a dedicated police officer, loyal friend and devoted family man. We are greatly honored to have worked with him and have him as part of our family.”

The crash occurred on Illinois 159, 600 feet south of Brick School Road in St.Clair County south of Smithton. Illinois State Police continue to investigate, Korando said.

It is the same stretch of road where Zlatko Kireta, 47, of Smithton and Luke P. Marcum, 21, of Belleville were involved in a two-car crash on July 29. Both were seriously injured.