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Changes made to Huntley intersection after fatal crash in Sun City

H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com
John Arneson talks about his wife of 54 years Mary Arneson in their Huntley home. Mary, 75, died in April after a car crashed into their home in February. Arneson, moved to Sun City in 2005 and was a member of the Shepherd of the Prairie Lutheran Church in Huntley.
H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com John Arneson talks about his wife of 54 years Mary Arneson in their Huntley home. Mary, 75, died in April after a car crashed into their home in February. Arneson, moved to Sun City in 2005 and was a member of the Shepherd of the Prairie Lutheran Church in Huntley.

HUNTLEY – Mary Ann Arneson and her husband, John Arneson, moved to Huntley in 2005 to be closer to family, John Arneson said.

When a car crashed into their bedroom Feb. 4, the couple was sent to the hospital, and Mary Arneson died April 9 because of injuries suffered from the crash.

“I lost my best friend. I lost my lover. I lost my partner in everything we did,” John Arneson said. “She was everything to me, and I miss her so much.” 

About four months after the crash, work has been completed at the intersection of Del Webb Boulevard and Hemmer Road to make it harder for another vehicle to drive over the berm at the three-way stop, village officials said.

A day after work had been completed on the berm, John Arneson spoke to the Northwest Herald for the first time to tell his wife's story. He declined to talk about the night of the crash or the work being done at the intersection.

Mary Arneson was 75 years old. She grew up in Astoria, South Dakota, and attended Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she sang in the choir. 

Mary and John Arneson, 81, had been married for nearly 55 years. Mary Arneson had great patience, her husband said. She was an elementary school teacher for 28 years and substitute teacher for eight years. She also taught piano lessons for nine years. 

The couple retired to a lake house in Minnesota before moving to Huntley. 

Mary Arneson was active in the Sun City community and a social person, her husband said. She was a member of a book club, bunco club and card clubs. She also was an active member at Shepherd of the Prairie Lutheran Church, where she sang in the choir and volunteered. 

She loved music, traveling and crafts, her husband said. Mary Arneson is survived by two children – Michael and Michele – and four grandchildren. 

Photos of Mary Arneson are hung around the couple's home in the 13300 block of Honeysuckle Drive, where John Arneson still lives.

“When you lose them, you understand all they did for you,” John Arneson said at his home Wednesday.

Huntley police were called to the crash about 11:30 p.m. in the area of Del Webb Boulevard and Hemmer Road. At the scene, police found a 2005 Mercury Grand Marquis that had driven over a berm and crashed into the back of the Arneson's home.

The driver, Donald F. Helfer, 84, of 12388 Black Oak Trail, Huntley, was charged with two counts of aggravated driving under the influence, Class 4 felonies, and two counts of aggravated DUI, Class 2 felonies, court records show.

His most serious charges could result in up to 14 years in prison. He is due to appear in court June 16.

Helfer did not answer a call to his home on Wednesday. His attorney could not immediately be reached for comment. 

Several Sun City residents attended a Huntley Village Board meeting in February and asked the village to consider making improvements to the intersection the car drove through to prevent “another tragedy” from happening.

Tim Farrell, Huntley director of public works and engineering, said William Ruth Landscape was hired to make the improvements to the intersection for $6,800. 

Flat stones have been added to the berm, along with additional mulch and plantings, Farrell said. 

“Right now somebody could – obviously did – drive up and over the berm,” Farrell said before construction had been completed. “With the stones here, the vehicles would bottom out or have difficulty navigating through that.” 

Sunnie Ferro, a 15-year resident of Sun City and one of the residents who asked the village to change the intersection, lives next door to John Arneson.

The night of the crash, Ferro said she could feel her home shake. She looked outside and saw a car hanging out of her neighbor's home, and she went over to help and call 911.

“Mary was the angel of the neighborhood,” Ferro said. “This lady was loved by all, and deservedly so. She had such a good heart. We can’t afford to lose people like that – and it wasn’t necessary.”

Ferro said more should be done to stop cars from speeding through the intersection, but she is happy the village is making some improvements with the berm to protect herself and others in the neighborhood.

“If Mary’s dying means that other people will be protected, she will at least have felt vindicated," Ferro said. "It wouldn’t be dying for nothing, which right now it is, because it didn’t need to happen."

There are several traffic calming protocols in place at that intersection, Huntley Deputy Police Chief Mike Klunk said, and not enough serious crashes had occurred there before February to consider it dangerous. 

After the recent crash, however, the village felt it was necessary to take steps to mitigate any potential problems in the future, Klunk said. 

There have been two crashes at Del Webb Boulevard and Hemmer Road this year, Klunk said. Between 2012 and 2016, there were between zero and one crash a year at the intersection, he said. 

In 2004, a van drove into the berm at the intersection in a DUI crash, Klunk said, but it avoided hitting the homes on Honeysuckle Drive.

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