Flood kills motorist in Fulton County

Michelle Martin

Torrential rains, flooded roads, a frantic phone call, and a 911 emergency call on Friday brought an Elmwood woman's familyer fate after her car was swept off the road by rapidly moving water that had flooded the roadway, as well as many more roads all over Fulton County.

A second vehicle and its driver was also listed as missing, just south of London Mills, after the driver made a 911 call to Fulton County Sheriff's Department on Saturday afternoon.

In London Mills, family members of Susan Hogue, 47 of Elmwood and a large crowd gathered and waited as divers, police and rescue personnel searched for Hogue's car about 70 yards from where the roadway should have been, just north of London Mills.

Hogue's body was discovered Sunday afternoon still in her vehicle, and was brought up a short time later by divers. Her vehicle was pulled from the river shortly after that.

According to witnesses and family members, Hogue was traveling home from her job in Maquon late Friday night, when she apparently drove into the water and her vehicle was swept from the road.

Two Farmington residents had stopped on the bridge late Friday night to see how high the river had risen.

"We saw taillights on the road in front of us and didn't think anything about it," Darren Delost said Sunday afternoon.

The two Spoon River College students saw the car lights veering to the left in front of them.

"I thought to myself that the road doesn't curve that early," added Zach Wright.

The pair pulled their vehicle up closer, saw water on the road, and the taillights of Hogue's vehicle up in the air as the car was sinking into the water. They tried hollering to the vehicle, but could not be heard. They called 911 as the taillights disappeared.

At the exact same time, Hogue was making an attempt to contact her boyfriend seeking help and telling him she was in the water and in trouble, according to family members. Then the call was lost.

A search began Friday evening and was halted shortly before 5 a.m. Saturday, as the river continued to rise to dangerous heights.

Search and sandbagging efforts continued throughout the weekend.

Family members are frustrated and questioning why there were no barricades blocking the road or signs warning about the water over the road.

Hogue's sister, Cathy Derrington of Florida was notified about her missing sister Saturday morning and arrived in London Mills about 8 a.m. Sunday. Unsure why her sister would be on that particular road when heading home from work, she figures she may have taken a detour because many other roads were closed due to flooding.

"There is a sign that warns 'Road closed when flooded,' but with the torrential downpour Friday night, and by the time Susan saw the sign, she was already in the water," Derrington stated Sunday. "It was too late."

The sign Derrington spoke of sits just a few feet from where the water was pouring over the road.

Another 911 call also brought on a search on County Road 20, just south of London Mills and west of Avon.

Deputies at the scene Sunday said that a dispatcher received the call from a motorist saying he was in water and couldn't get out. The driver and vehicle are still unaccounted for.

Divers from Copperas Creek were continued to search that particular section of the river overflow Sunday afternoon with no luck as of press time.

Details on that incident are still sketchy and no further information was available from the Fulton County Sheriff's Department.

Due to strong rains on Friday, Fulton County experienced flooding throughout the county, with rainfalls varying from four to six inches, said Fulton County Emergency Services and Disaster Agency Director Chris Helle.

County Road 2 near London Mills, Route 116 and numerous other roads were closed over the weekend.

Today, County Road 11 near Duncan Mills, County Road 14 near Bernadotte, County Road 17 near Ellisville, the Bernadotte/Lewistown blacktop, and Illinois Route 9 near Midway remain closed.

Efforts began Friday morning with updates going to county and local agencies, added Helle. He also said the National Weather Service and Fulton County ESDA were working with area schools and the Regional Superintendent Louise Bassett.

Helle reports that a levee  broke around some farm ground south of London Mills, relieving a lot of pressure and allowing some fall in the water tables. Several other levees broke around the county, mainly surrounding farmland areas.

"Thankfully it didn't get as high as planned," added Helle. Area fire departments were also notified about the flooding.

Helle reported that areas around Bernadotte will remain flooded until probably mid-week.

Volunteers from around the county were on hand to aid with the flooding issues. Fulton County Emergency Medical Association paramedics were called to assist in case of medical aid needed and the American Red Cross helped to feed a lot of people, and on short notice, Helle said.

"We'd also like to point out the excellent support from the Fulton County Highway Department and the Illinois Department of Transportation," added Helle.

Fulton County ESDA activated its emergency management agreements with IEMA Region 6 counties, according to Helle. Support and assistance came from Peoria County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), Peoria City EMA, Adams County ESDA, McDonough County ESDA, Hancock County ESDA, Knox County ESDA, and Russ Steil and Bob Flemming from IEMA Region 6.

"We'd really like to thank all those who helped. We had a tremendous response from all over the county and couldn't have gotten a better support team in place," said Helle.

Water levels should begin falling by mid-week throughout the county, according to Helle and then returning to non-flood stage levels.

Helle stated that the Illinois River will become the next area of concern, with high flood levels possible there. Residents in and along those areas should watch local media or NOAA Weather Alert radios. Operations this week will include aerial overviews and ATV vehicle surveys along the Spoon River, as well as cleanup.

Area residents are urged to avoid flooded roadways and to not drive around barricades.

"A roadway can be washed away and not be visible to the driver, and the driver may not know in time that the road is no longer there," said Helle. "Also, the current from the over-topped or washed away roads is incredibly strong. Drivers are encouraged to turn around and find alternative routes."

Canton Daily Ledger