Benson, IL Two Car Collision Kills Eleven, May 1957



Benson, Ill., May 25 (AP) - Two couples and their seven small children were killed tonight when there auto collided and one burst into flames on a central Illinois highway.
Trapped and burned in the first car were the family of:
JAMES BLOCK, 27, of Streator, Ill.
It included his wife, VERNIE MAE, 24;
and children PEGGY, 4; GLORIA, 3; and DEBORAH, 2; and JIMMIE 3 months.
Killed in the other vehicle were:
DR. GEORGE C. VON STEENBERG, 37, a Bloomington dentist;
his wife, HELEN NANCY, 33;
and three children. Names of the children were not immediately learned.
Identification was made from personal papers, police said.
The crash occurred about 8:30 p.m. on Illinois Highway 116, 1 1/2 miles east of Benson.
Benson is six miles west of Route 51, and about 30 miles north of Bloomington.
Veteran state policemen and local investigators
agreed that it was one of the most violent crashes of two cars they had even seen. But they were unable to determine immediately how the crash occurred.
Francis Garrett, a state policeman directing the investigation, said the two cars appeared to be headed east.
Garrett speculated a third car may have been involved but he wasn't sure exactly how. He said it appeared the cars could have been forced into each other at a high rate of speed and then off the highway.
Two persons reported the crash but there were no witnesses, state police said.
John Wagner, a farmer who lives nearby, told police he was driving from his farm to the highway on a side road when he saw smoke curling up near his father's farm house. The crash occurred in front of the home of farmer Lloyd Wagner, who was not at home.
The burned car apparently slammed into a tree after the crash, investigators said, and the other car caromed off into a nearby pole. Evidence indicated both cars were traveling in the same direction but investigators did not discount the possibility that the autos may have collided head-on.
A resident of the area, Joe Vallow of Minonk, Ill., described the scene as a "mass of flaming wreckage and bodies."
Vallow said there were no witnesses to the collision. A motorist, Roger Tucker, Jr., also of Minonk, came upon the crash and reported it to police.
"There was much confusion when I arrived," Vallow said. "The smell of burning flesh was everywhere."
Vallow said the stretch of roadway where the two cars crashed is "straight as a string."
"There are no hills or curves," he said. "It happened in front of a farmhouse alongside the road," Vallow said, "but the family that lives there was not home at the time."
He said he didn't know how long the victims had lain by the roadside after the crash. "The road is well traveled between Peoria and eastern Illinois," Vallow said, "and I think Tucker came on the wreck soon after it happened."

Decatur Daily Review Illinois 1957-05-26