A well-known area woman was killed and two family members were seriously injured in a single-vehicle traffic accident Saturday morning in northern Lawrence County, according to the Illinois State Police.
Killed in the 10:30 a.m. accident was Shannon M. Darnell, 35. Her husband, Jeremy, 37, and a son, Dillon, 10, were both airlifted to Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, via Air-Evac.
The ISP says Jeremy Darnell was driving a gray 1969 Jeep CJ-5 north on County Road 220 East, also known as the Chauncey Blacktop, four miles north of U.S. Route 50.
According the Illinois State Police report, the accident was the result of "an equipment malfunction." The vehicle lost the left rear tire, causing it to go out of control, leave the roadway down into a ditch embankment and overturn.
Reports are that all three vehicle occupants were wearing seat belts. All three were trapped under the Jeep, according to sources.
Reportedly the family was traveling to the Newton area, to take part in a ride with other Jeep owners. Other family members were traveling behind, also in a Jeep, and witnessed the accident.
Two helicopters were called to the scene to transport Jeremy and Dillon Darnell, reports say.
The accident is still under investigation, according to the Illinois State Police.
Darnell's friends say she was always willing to lend a helping hand.
"Shannon never met a stranger," said Kim Winningham, who says she and Darnell had been "best friends" for about the past 15 years. "Once she talked to you the first time, you were her friend forever."
Jodi Ayers, who used to work with Darnell at United Health Care, remembers her "sense of humor and wit."
"That's what we're all talking about and sharing right now on social media," Ayers said. "(At a time like this) it helps to go back and remember all the funny things she said and did."
Darnell is also being remembered as a devoted mother to her children, Emily, who will be a freshman at Lawrenceville High School in the fall, and Dillon, 10, who is recovering from injuries sustained in Saturday's wreck, as is her husband, Jeremy.
"What she cared about more than anything else in the world was her kids," Ayers said. "She always put them first, no matter what. Anybody who knew her would tell you that."
According to friends, both Jeremy and Dillon are expected to recover, although it will take some "healing time." Darnell's daughter, Emily, was not with the family at the time of the accident, friends say.
Darnell was involved in many charities, but is being best remembered for being the innovator of "The Great Lawrence County Scavenger Hunt."
It started as a simple idea in 2011 as a way for Shannon and Jeremy to celebrate their anniversary, according to Winningham. It was supposed to be something simple, but Darnell wouldn't let that happen.
"She started talking to people, and before you know it she'd turned it into this big thing," said Winningham. "She couldn't stop. She went into 'Shannon mode' and started planning and organizing and made it happen."
In a unique twist, winning teams were allowed to choose what charity the proceeds would go to. The Lawrence County Humane Society and the Lawrence County Wig Shop and Cancer Resource Center were often the benefactors.
Winningham says the seventh scavenger hunt will go on in August, as planned.
"We're discussing it, how the family wants to keep it going. It might turn into more of a benefit this year," Winningham said. "We'll try to keep it going as if she were the one who was planning it."
Darnell was a member of the Lawrence County sorority Delta Theta Tau. She was heavily involved in what was going on at the Lawrenceville Teen Center.
"She pretty much lived to make sure the youth around here had something to do," Winningham said. "She was constantly planning dances (at the teen center) that had themes to them. Just recently I saw that she'd posted that there was a need for video games and an air hockey table, and she was trying to raise funds."
Arrangements for Shannon Darnell are pending at the Emmons-Macey & Steffey Funeral Home in Lawrenceville.
Bill Richardson of the Daily Record staff in Lawrenceville contributed to this report.