Illinois State Police are investigating a three-vehicle crash involving a wrong-way driver on Interstate 294 that killed Chicago Ridge Police Officer Steven Smith, 27, early Sunday morning on Interstate 294 in Hillside.
The ISP said that about 3:45 a.m., someone called 911 to report a female motorist driving a car the wrong way near the Cermak Road Toll Plaza near Hillside. Her 1998 Toyota Camry was heading south in the northbound lanes when she struck the 2002 Dodge Neon head-on that Smith was in, police said. The Camry then spun around and struck a 2013 Chevrolet pickup truck.
Smith was off-duty and a passenger in the Neon driven by his cousin when the collision occurred. He was pronounced dead at the scene, according to police and the Cook County medical examiner's office.
The cousins were on their way to retrieve Smith’s car in Stone Park, where he had left it after a wedding the previous day.
Described by Police Chief Robert Pyznarski as “a tremendous asset to our department,” Smith was scheduled to work later on Sunday.
A graduate of Finley Junior High School in Chicago Ridge and Richards High School in Oak Lawn, Smith joined the Marines in July 2009 and served in Afghanistan before becoming an active reservist. He joined the Chicago Ridge Police Department as a part-time officer in 2010, and was promoted to full-time in February. Even before becoming a police officer, he was known for helping neighbors in the 6200 block of Birmingham Street, where he lived with his parents.
“He was just a delightful young man,” said Village Clerk George Schleyer, who swore Smith in as a full-time officer at a village board meeting in February.
“Being a Marine veteran, he was all about police work, and just a very respectful young man,” said Schleyer. Schleyer, a production manager for a bakery, said he often met Smith during his frequent visits to the police department bringing baked goods to the officers.
“We’re a close-knit community, so we all know each other. To have this happen is just devastating for his family and friends, the department and the whole village,” said the clerk.
“It hits home for me because I have a 27-year-old son. I can’t imagine getting that call,” he added.
According to police, the person in the pickup was not injured. The driver of the Camry was taken to Elmhurst Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, officials said. The crash remained under investigation, and charges may be filed against the driver of the Camry.
Smith, who was single, is survived by his parents and brother. Arrangements were pending on Tuesday, but Schleyer said big crowds are expected to attend his wake and funeral, which were tentatively planned for Friday and Saturday.