By Bill Beard
For the Star-Gazette
A three-vehicle collision near Triopia Junior-Senior High School Saturday afternoon killed an Arenzville brother and sister. Peyton O’Neil, 17, died at the scene. His 15- year-old sister, Zoe, died at 6:42 p.m in Springfield’s St. John’s Hospital.
According to the Morgan County Sheriff's Department, Peyton O'Neil was headed northbound in a 2004 Pontiac Grand Am on the Concord-Arenzville Road with his sister, Zoe, at approximately 4:14 p.m., when he clipped the back bumper of a 2004 Chrysler minivan driven by Levi M. Blair, 28, of Literberry, as he tried to pass. It is unclear if the van was moving or was stopped and preparing to turn onto South Meadow Lane.
It put the O'Neil vehicle into a clockwise spin, and it swung around and met a southbound 2008 Chevrolet pickup truck driven by Cody A. Nergenah, 24, of Chapin.
Nergenah, who had his 3-year-old son, Carson, as a passenger, refused medical treatment. A private vehicle took Blair to Passavant Area Hospital, where he was treated and released.
Peyton and Zoe had been in Jacksonville participating in a golf fundraiser for the Jacksonville High School boys basketball team prior to the accident. According to the police report, everyone involved was wearing a seat belt.
The O'Neils were both athletes, and according to their superintendent, very friendly kids. Peyton, something of a prankster entering his senior year, played on the basketball, golf and track teams, while Zoe, a sophomore to be, played on the softball, golf and basketball teams. She was the quiet and reserved one, with a beautiful smile that could light up a room. Friends say the siblings were close and always in a good mood.
"Well-liked," Triopia C.U.S.D. #27 superintendent Steve Eisenhauer said of the siblings. "You know, again with Peyton, I'm sure he probably butted heads with some of our teachers, but again Zoe would be the type of student to just sit back and absorb everything. And then, when time was proper, she would voice her opinion on things as well.”
The O'Neil family, seeking to understand the enormity of losing their only children, have requested privacy, but said in a statement that they were grateful for the prayers.
The parents are educators in Jacksonville schools. Joe O’Neil is a special education teacher and chairman of the special education department at JHS. His wife, Holly, is associate principal at Turner Junior High School.
"You know, for us, as a community as a district made up of three small towns, they come together when things like this occur," Eisenhauer said. "And again, it's going to be a difficult couple of weeks; that's for sure. There's going to be a lot of emotions."
The school arranged for counselors to be available for students when they come to school on Tuesday.
Triopia’s senior and sophomore classes had used white crosses and artificial flowers to create a memorial by the school’s flagpole by Saturday night. They then held a candlelight ceremony.