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Geneva mourns death of electric superintendent

Geneva Mayor Burns: 'We are devastated'

Published: Friday, June 13, 2014 11:10 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:51 p.m. CDT

SUGAR GROVE – Officials said the death of Geneva electric superintendent Michael Buffington after a car crash Thursday night in Sugar Grove has devastated those who knew him as a quiet man and a well-respected professional.

"Mike's quiet manner endeared him to those he worked with and those he served," Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns wrote in a text.

Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke said Buffington was able to explain in layman's terms the issues involved in the volatile electric industry.

"He was always professional in his demeanor," Schielke said. "He had a strong understanding of the electric industry. His experience was a high value to us."

Buffington, 64, of Geneva, was driving a Ford Taurus and apparently rolled through a stop sign at the top of the Route 47 exit ramp from Interstate 88, turning left to head north, Sugar Grove Police Chief Patrick Rollins said. 

Buffington's car was struck on the driver's side by an oncoming Chevrolet Trailblazer, which did not have to stop. The intersection is not a four-way stop, Rollins said, but all vehicles must stop when they reach the top of the ramp.

The speed limit there is 55 mph, Rollins said, but he did not know how fast the Trailblazer was traveling, as the crash probe is continuing.

Three occupants of the Trailblazer, a 46-year-old Sugar Grove resident and two youths, age 12 and 14, were taken to a local hospital with nonlife-threatening injuries.

The crash occurred about 9 p.m., and Buffington was pronounced dead at the scene, Rollins said.

"We are devastated," Burns wrote in a text. "Mike's service was exemplary, and his commitment to the community evident in the pride he had in his work. Our thoughts are with his wife, Jaci, their children and grandchildren during this unimaginable time." 

Kane County Coroner Rob Russell said an autopsy for Buffington is scheduled for today at the DuPage County Coroner's office in Wheaton. 

"We don't know if he had some kind of event beforehand," Russell said, referring to the possibility that Buffington might have had a heart attack or other medical issue that may have caused his death before the crash.

"This was a tragic accident for all involved," Rollins said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families involved."

As electric superintendent for 10 years at Geneva, Buffington also served as president of the Northern Illinois Municipal Power Agency board of directors, officials said. NIMPA is made up of the electric utilities of Geneva, Batavia and Rochelle, all with contracts to buy power from the Prairie State Energy Campus near downstate Marissa.

The coal-fired electric generating plant was developed by Peabody Energy. It serves 30 member communities and is owned by the Prairie State Generating Company.

NIMPA general counsel Richard Heinemann said Buffington had been with the agency the longest, starting at the beginning of the Prairie State project.

"He was a big supporter of the project and had a deep understanding of it ... an intimate understanding of the project," Heinemann said. "He served as NIMPA's representative on the Prairie State managing board. He had a great deal of knowledge."

Heinemann said Buffington was returning from a meeting of the Prairie State managing board Thursday night.

Heinemann said the NIMPA board will hold an election to choose an interim president, starting with a special meeting Wednesday.

"In terms of the agency, we will carry forward," Heinemann said. "We are deeply saddened – devastated, actually."

Heinemann said Buffington was professionally respected and well-liked. 

Heinemann described Buffington as a serious person, an engineer by training, who spent much of his career serving on behalf of municipal utilities.

"I'm devastated," Heinemann said. "I really enjoyed working with him. I had a lot of respect for him. He was a very good person. He was very quiet, very pleasant and had a wonderful sense of humor. ... People respected Mike in the industry, and when he spoke, they listened."

Ashlie Kuehn, general counsel and spokeswoman for Prairie State wrote in an email statement that "the more than 600 employees at Prairie State Generating Company extend their deepest condolences to Mr. Buffington’s family and friends."

• Kane County Chronicle reporter Eric Schelkopf contributed to this report.

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