Staunton sisters killed in I-55 wreck
HAMEL (Nov. 30, 2017) – A pair of young sisters from Staunton were two of the three fatalities resulting from a multi-vehicle accident that occurred Tuesday evening, Nov. 21, on Interstate 55 at milepost 27.5 near Hamel in Madison County.
According to information released by Illinois State Trooper Calvin Dye Jr., preliminary investigations indicate a 53-year-old male driver of a truck-tractor semitrailer was traveling southbound on interstate at a high rate of speed. Traffic was slowed due to construction just south of the area, and the truck driver struck the rear of a 2010 Kia Forte, throwing it off the roadway to the right, fatally injuring Hailey J. Bertels, 20, and Madisen N. Bertels, 17; a third passenger, Tori Carroll, also of Staunton, was taken to a St. Louis-area hospital in critical condition. After striking the Kia, the truck continued south, striking six other slowed/stopped vehicles, causing injuries. It is not yet known why the driver did not slow down or stop.
A total of 12 people were injured in the crash and transported to multiple area hospitals by ambulance and helicopter; two of those sustained life-threatening injuries. One later succumbed to those injuries: Vivan Vu, a 19-year-old sophomore at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Mo., who was one of six students and a professor who were inside a 2016 Chevrolet Express van returning from a Model United Nations conference in Chicago. The truck driver was injured but expected to survive.
Madison County Coroner Stephen P. Nonn reported that M. Bertels was driving the vehicle and was pronounced dead by Coroner’s Investigator Diondra Horner at 8:19 p.m. H. Bertels, who was in the back seat, was pronounced dead at 8:18 p.m. by Horner. Both had been wearing their seat belts.
The interstate was shut down until early Wednesday morning while the scene was cleared. The crash remains under investigation by the Illinois State Police Zone 6 Investigations and the accident reconstruction team. As of press time, Dye said multiple people involved in the crash remained hospitalized.
Hamel Community Fire Protection District made a Facebook post thanking the agencies that assisted with the crash, including Worden, Edwardsville and Marine fire departments; MABAS 35 HazMat Team; Staunton Area Ambulance Service, Alton Memorial Ambulance, Troy Fire Department/EMS, ARCH Air Medical, Illinois State Police, Madison County Sheriff’s Department, Cross Towing, Petroff Towing, ADR Towing and Survival Flight. “Everyone’s efforts were absolutely amazing,” the post reads. “We are very grateful for each of you that contributed to that scene running as smoothly as possible. This was a true testament to the importance of working together and helping each other out.”
Staunton High School Principal Brett Allen said the school has initiated its crisis counseling protocol and has professionals available for students and staff. “The school community extends thoughts and prayers to the Bertels family as they cope with this devastating loss,” said Allen. “Both Madisen and her sister Hailey were model students who will be greatly missed by the school community. Both sisters were active participants in extracurricular activities and always exhibited 100 percent effort. They approached life with a positive outlook and had bright futures ahead.” All after-school activities at the high school were canceled Wednesday evening as a result of the tragedy.
Robert Davies, president of Murray State University, where H. Bertels was a junior, issued a statement notifying students and staff of her death. “We grieve the loss of Hailey,” the statement reads. “More importantly, we send our condolences and support to her family and friends as they are dealing with this heartbreaking situation involving multiple family members. We ask that each of us remember this family, as well as others who have experienced loss, during special events with our own family and friends.”
Obituaries for the Bertels sisters can be found on page 5 of this issue. Two GoFundMe accounts have been set up for the family: one to pay for funeral expenses, located at gofundme.com/madisen-hailey-bertles, had collected $4,895 as of press time; the other, to support the family, located at gofundme.com/x99b7-bertels-family-support, had raised $24,480 as of press time.
Though private funeral services were held on Wednesday, a public visitation will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 2, in the Staunton High School new gym; the family asks attendees to dress as Bertels would know them. In addition, a candlelight prayer vigil for the sisters and Carroll will be held from 7-8 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 30, at St. Paul United Church of Christ, located at 225 South Laurel Street in Staunton.