After an early Thanksgiving celebration in Hamilton County, Ill., six relatives went out Saturday night for what locals say is a common activity on a particular rural road: hill-jumping.
The roughly four-mile stretch of paved, two-lane road is known around Hamilton County as “thrill hills,” said Hamilton County Chief Deputy Jason Stewart.
“There’s about four hills that are close together, and if you’re driving very fast, it doesn’t take much for a vehicle to go airborne,” Stewart said.
Family members believe that’s what happened Saturday night, leading to a crash that left five people dead — four of them from Collinsville.
“Everybody does it,” said Sam Dorris, whose fiancée, Diana Wright, 23, of McLeansboro, Ill., was killed in the crash Saturday night. “I’ve done it. I’m good at it. But I won’t do it ever again.”
In addition to Wright, authorities and relatives identified those killed as Robert L. Parker, 49, Lori S. Parker, 42, and Tammy A. Delong, 35, all of Collinsville. Delong’s daughter, identified by relatives as 16-year-old Katelynn Fancher, also died from injuries she suffered in the crash. Katelynn attended Collinsville High School.
They were in a Chevrolet Trailblazer about 10:20 p.m. on Anderson School Road about a quarter-mile north of County Road 1000 North when the sport utility vehicle rolled several times. All but Robert Parker were ejected. He was wearing a seat belt and was trapped in the SUV.
Darrell G. Delong — the driver and only survivor — was flown by helicopter to a hospital in Evansville, Ind., where he was listed in serious condition Monday. Delong, 49, lives in Collinsville.
Relatives said Robert and Lori Parker were married, as were Tammy and Darrell Delong. Robert Parker was Darrell Delong’s nephew. Robert Parker had worked as an assistant starter at Fairmount Park racetrack.
Katelynn was Tammy and Darrell Delong’s daughter, relatives said. Wright was a niece of the Delongs and worked at a hog farm, Dorris said. She and Dorris had been together for about three years.
“When they walked out the door, they said, ‘We’ll be back in a little bit,’ and they never came back,” said Dorris, 22, of McLeansboro. “I guess they caught a little too much air going over that last hill and lost control at the bottom.”
Stewart, the chief deputy, said he didn’t think hill-jumping on the road was a major problem but said there have been several crashes — many involving deer — and that residents have often complained about speeders.
Hill-jumpers, Stewart said, are “putting the public in danger, especially if someone is coming over the hill in the opposite direction. It is definitely not safe.”
Hamilton County sheriff’s deputies say the weekend crash was among the worst in the county’s history. Another was in February 1987 when seven relatives were killed on Route 242 north of McLeansboro in a collision with a tractor-trailer.
Margaret Gillerman of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story misstated the relationship between Sam Dorris and Diana Wright based on information given by relatives. The story has been corrected.