ST. LOUIS – An off-duty St. Louis County Police officer died after being involved in a three-vehicle accident Thursday night.
The crash happened around 11:00 p.m. on Route 159, north of Hecker, Illinois.
According to the Illinois State Police Department, a Hyundai Sonata was passing a semi-truck heading northbound when it collided with a Dodge Caravan head-on. The Hyundai then reportedly spun back into the northbound lanes and was hit by the semi-truck.
The off-duty officer was identified as 49-year-old James "Mitch" Ellis Jr. He was on his way home from work in the Jennings precinct when the crash happened.
Ellis, the driver of the Dodge, and 24-year-old Ariah Claybrone, the passenger in the Hyundai, both died in the crash. The driver of the Hyundai Sonata, 23-year-old Dale Claybrone Jr., was taken to the hospital with serious injuries. The driver of the semi-truck refused medical attention.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar and other officers from St. Louis County and the Illinois State Police were seen outside of Barnes Jewish Hospital on Friday morning just after 4 a.m. Ellis was pronounced dead after arriving at the hospital.
Belmar said Ellis' life was all about service.
"He will be remarkably, remarkably missed," Belmar said. "It's tough. It's tough for the police officers here that worked with Mitch, it's tough for the chief of police, the captain, whoever it may be. We don't want to lose our department family."
Ellis joined the St. Louis County Police department in 2011. Prior to that, he served in the US Marines Corps from 1992 until 1996.
Chief Belmar said Ellis felt a calling to return to the Marines after the September 11, 2001 terror attack. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves from 2001 until 2005 and deployed to Iraq as a squad leader in 2004.
"He was a valued member of the police department. And I guess, more than anything else, I would want you to know that, really, his life was emblematic of service," he said.
Ellis leaves behind a wife and five children.
"We will move heaven and earth to do everything we possibly can to continue to support Mitch's family," Belmar said.
Possible charges in the case are still being investigated.