JOLIET TOWNSHIP – Leon Bilbrew was awake earlier than usual the morning of Dec. 7, watching television in his front room, when he heard a loud crash in his kitchen.
The driver of a Silverado truck had rammed through the south end of the 66-year-old’s one-story Joliet Township home, slamming into two gas meters before stopping – just short of hitting an interior wall – in the kitchen.
The unusually heavy fog that morning caused the driver – who was driving north on Brandon Road – to miss the stop sign at the curve and mistake Bilbrew’s driveway for an extension of Brandon Road.
“It sounded like an explosion. I was sitting [in the front room], and the next thing I know, there was a strange person in here. I didn’t know he hit my house yet,” Bilbrew said.
A month later, Bilbrew said he doesn’t necessarily blame the driver, who was cited with failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident and disregarding a stop sign.
Bilbrew blames the intersection. Brandon Road – where Bilbrew believes the issue lies – is under the county’s jurisdiction, while Patterson Road – with which Brandon Road intersects near Bilbrew’s home – is under Joliet Township’s jurisdiction.
Bilbrew also blames the county for not listening to his pleas over the years to improve safety there.
Will County Highway Engineer Bruce Gould argued Monday the circumstances surrounding the Dec. 7 crash – the heavy fog and the driver, who was familiar with the area, missing the stop sign – were unfortunate but “very unique.”
The incident doesn’t necessarily warrant additional safety measures, he said, and they wouldn’t have prevented it.
“It’s very unique what happened here. For us to go out and change everything [at this intersection] because of some driver’s inability to negotiate a curve in fog … we can’t do that,” Gould said.
“This driver drives down a driveway and doesn’t realize he’s on a gravel road? Where is his responsibility in all of this?” Gould added. “And now I’ve got to do something?”
Bilbrew said he’s not asking for much.
“I’d take anything. Anything. I’m not picky,” he said.
There is a stop sign for northbound traffic now, but Bilbrew said he’d like the county to install a stop sign with a flashing red light. Speed bumps or rumble strips also would keep drivers on alert, he said.
Gould said he sent a county highway engineer to Bilbrew’s property over the weekend to discuss the situation and to see what, if anything, should be done.
Also, Gould said, the county Highway Department is in talks with Commonwealth Edison to replace a streetlight that was hit some time ago. Replacing that light – which was not in working condition during the Dec. 7 crash – would help with visibility.
That streetlight has been out for a year or more, Bilbrew said, adding that he is frustrated it has taken this long for any action on the county’s part. He said he believes the only reason anyone is listening now is because he contacted local media and he has a giant hole on the side of his home.
Bilbrew said while the crash may have been bizarre, his life has been “turned upside down” since the incident, noting how he and his wife are living in a temporary home while repairs are completed. The glaring hole in his home is an unkind reminder that he tried unsuccessfully for years for his voice to be heard, he said.
Will County Executive Larry Walsh Sr. said Monday he has had conversations with Bilbrew about his concerns over the years. Now, the issue has moved to the “top of his list” of things to do, he said.
“I’m not looking for excuses, but when you have dense fog, and somebody who ran the stop sign and just kept on driving, that doesn’t happen too often,” Walsh Sr. said. “It was unique.”
Bilbrew said he also has no luck with getting Joliet Township officials to acknowledge the issues at Brandon and Patterson roads. When reached by phone, Joliet Township Supervisor Dan Vera said he’s never spoken to Bilbrew or knows who Bilbrew is. Bilbrew disputed that assertion.