Monroe County man dies in head-on crash

Pictured is a distant view of the crash scene early Friday evening in Columbia. Inset is Dennis Fitzwilliam, who died as a result of the crash.

Several emergency agencies responded to a two-vehicle, head-on crash shortly after 5:45 p.m. Friday on Bluff Road near Sand Bank Road in Columbia that resulted in the death of a Monroe County man and left another person in critical condition.

According to police, a white work van with Missouri license plates driven by 31-year-old Zachary D. Sloan of Collinsville was traveling north on Bluff Road when it crossed into southbound traffic, colliding with a white truck driven by 68-year-old Dennis Fitzwilliam of rural Waterloo. 

Both drivers required extrication from their vehicles. 

The crash was witnessed by off-duty Valmeyer Police Chief Marty Seitz, who had called 911 while riding as a passenger in a friend’s vehicle just prior to the collision to report the van driving erratically. 

Seitz said the van swerved multiple times into the oncoming lane shortly before the crash, forcing southbound drivers off the roadway.

Sloan was airlifted by ARCH Air Medical Services helicopter to Saint Louis University Hospital and Fitzwilliam was rushed by Monroe County EMS ambulance to Mercy Hospital South in St. Louis County. 

Sloan remains in critical condition at last report. Fitzwilliam was pronounced deceased at the hospital.

That area of roadway was closed to traffic for accident reconstruction before reopening at 10 p.m.

Responding agencies included the Columbia Police Department, Columbia Fire Department and Columbia EMS. The Waterloo Fire Department stood by at Columbia’s fire station while Columbia firefighters worked the scene. 

Sloan will be cited for improper lane usage, police said, and possible other charges in connection to the crash are pending toxicology and other test results.

Sloan had just been charged in Monroe County Circuit Court on Feb. 6 for possession of a controlled substance (alprazolam). He posted $1,000 bond on that charge last week and has a Feb. 16 court date.

Arrangements for Fitzwilliam are being handled by Quernheim Funeral Home in Waterloo.

Fitzwilliam was a founding member and former board member of Clifftop, which is an organization focused on preserving and protecting area bluff lands.

“Dennis was an enthusiastic supporter of all the work Clifftop does – especially when it came to hill prairies,” Clifftop membership chair Joann Fricke told the Republic-Times

Fitzwilliam served as caretaker of the Eagle Cliff Prairie at Miles Cemetery for over 18 years and was instrumental in its dedication as a nature preserve in 2019, Fricke said.

“Dennis was always a friendly voice much interested in the prairies of Monroe County. I admire his contributions and his enthusiasm, ” Bill McClain, former commissioner with the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, said. 

Fricke added that Fitzwilliam participated in numerous prescribed burns conducted on Clifftop properties and other lands and, having recently retired from his landscaping business, asked to be placed on Clifftop’s volunteer list. 

“He was always available for consultation on various projects, from purchasing a fire suppression unit to the best way to eliminate invasive bush honeysuckle,” Fricke said. “Dennis will certainly be missed by all who work to improve our local natural areas.”

Clifftop board member Jim Hill agreed.

“Dennis was an incredible force for good in protecting and sustaining our natural environment. What a devastating loss to his family, friends – myself included – and the natural world,” Hill said. “He was a great person.” 

The Valmeyer school community was also saddened by the news of Fitzwilliam’s passing. 

He had sons who graduated from Valmeyer High School in 2014 and 2020, and he put his landscaping expertise to good use by volunteering for many years to keep the VHS softball and baseball fields looking sharp.

“Our hearts are broken with the loss of this great man,” VHS softball head coach Gayle McCarthy posted on Facebook. “Dennis was so generous with his time in keeping our outfield looking beautiful. We will miss him very much.”

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