EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. -- A fiery single-car crash killed a 28-year-old Edwardsville man early Saturday, the fourth such incident to strike the area in just over two weeks.
The victim was identified by Illinois State Police District 11 as Gabriel Patton of the 7500 block of Jerusalem Road. However, the Madison County Coroner's Office had not yet confirmed the identity, saying it was using dental records for comparative purposes. The office said it would also conduct an autopsy to determine the precise cause of death.
According to Master Sgt. Mike Hartmann, the crash occurred at 2:06 a.m. when Patton lost control of his vehicle on Illinois Route 157, just south of Quercus Grove Road in Hamel Township.
Patton was alone, driving a 1999 Volkswagen Jetta GLX northbound when, for an unknown reason, he left the road. The car went into the right ditch and traveled 228 feet before striking a culvert. The car became airborne, flipped and landed on its roof and side before igniting.
Hamel firefighters were called to the scene, where they found the car "fully engulfed," said Hamel Fire Chief Steve Haarmann. The victim had to be extricated from the vehicle and was pronounced dead at the scene at 3:04 a.m. by Madison County Coroner's Investigator Sakina T. Hall.
Illinois State Police continue to investigate the accident.
The rash of recent deaths involving vehicle fires has puzzled local law enforcement, with some telling The Telegraph they could not remember such a string of tragedies in such a short time.
Haarmann could recall only two or three instances over the course of his career when a car crashed and burned.
He said the frequency of the recent crashes "is pretty much a rarity. Usually it's one or the other, a car burns or a car crashes."
On Dec. 17, Joshua Headrick, 19, of Godfrey, was driving a 1998 Mitsubishi Eclipse when he slammed into a semi truck turning into a quarry at the edge of Alton.
Two days later, Matthew Kleemann, 27, of Highland, was driving a 2005 Saturn in Troy when he left the road. His vehicle struck a tree and burst into flames.
That incident occurred at 10 p.m. Less than five hours later, Chad and Nicole Thorp of Godfrey, driving a 2007 Ford Edge, left Humbert Road, struck a tree, overturned and caught fire. The couple, both 27, were trapped inside.
All of the incidents remain under investigation.