Classmates and a teacher of Zachary Bingham, a 2012 Kaneland High School graduate killed in a crash last weekend when he was hit and killed by a woman driving a stolen car through Campton Hills, recalled him as being a dependable friend, volunteer and talented welder.
Bingham, 18, of Maple Park, was killed Saturday night after his car was hit head-on by a 30-year-old Madison, Wis., woman with a long criminal record who was driving a car reported stolen out of Wheaton.
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Bingham's friends, Erick Blanco and Nick Whitmore, both of Maple Park and 2012 Kaneland graduates, went to the crash site on Route 38 just east of Pouley Road on Monday. Bingham's mom, who lost her only child, was also there.
"All we could do was just hug his mom," said Blanco, who wants to work with others to weld a metal cross for the crash site in Bingham's memory. "He was like a brother to us. It's just a tragedy."
Whitmore said he had a long talk with Bingham two weeks ago.
"He seemed like he'd matured since high school. He knew what he was doing. He had his career path, a girlfriend, a dog, it was all good," Whitmore said.
Bingham also was very supportive when Whitmore's dad died two years ago.
"Words can't describe what kind of heart he had," Whitmore said of his friend. "He was always there for me, no matter what time."
Gene Heinsohn, a welding instructor at the Fox Valley Career Center, a vocational school that serves seven area high schools, including Kaneland, said Bingham took 2½ years of welding classes at the center and was taking more classes at Elgin Community College while pursuing his degree.
Heinsohn said Bingham would readily fix items like lawn mowers and snowblowers brought in by school officials, and he also volunteered to help students in a robotics program at Batavia High School weld aluminum pieces together for a project they were entering into a contest held by Caterpillar, Inc.
"Zach was the only one in my forty-something kids who was interested in helping," Heinsohn recalled. "He was a very happy kid, got along with everybody. He knew he was going into the trades. He liked working with his hands and building things."
Bingham completed 16 out of 16 certifications in Heinsohn's class one year even though only 12 were needed to for an "A."
"I think he would have preferred to stay in the welding shop all day long. He did an awesome job," Heinsohn said. "He was the kind of kid who would do whatever you asked him to do, whether it took five minutes or five days."
Visitation and funeral information for Bingham were not immediately available. Efforts to reach his parents were unsuccessful.
Bingham's dog "Lucy" was killed in the crash; his girlfriend, Erin Pazin, 19, of Elburn, was injured and taken to Delnor Hospital in Geneva.
Authorities on Monday were still investigating what the Wisconsin woman, Jennifer Liston, who also died in the crash, was doing in the suburbs, specifically Wheaton.
Wheaton Police Chief Mark Field said police initially responded to a call at 8:34 p.m. Saturday from a resident in the 1900 block of East Illinois who reported that a 2003 Nissan Altima had been stolen.
"The incident has been assigned to the Investigations Division and is currently being investigated. The reason(s) that Ms. Liston was at the residence is also a subject of that investigation," Field said in an email.
Campton Hills police said numerous witnesses reported the Altima going more than 100 mph before crashing into Bingham's 2002 Pontiac Grand AM and another vehicle, injuring Nadia Kull, 48, of Sugar Grove.
According to Wisconsin court records, Liston had a criminal history that included retail theft, drug possession and other offenses.