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Article updated: 10/25/2013 5:44 PM

No injuries but homes destroyed in Hainesville SUV crash, fire

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A 32-year-old man was hospitalized with hypothermia and placed under police guard for his suspected role in the fiery crash that began after an SUV slammed into a townhouse building early Friday in Hainesville.

All residents escaped safely and no injuries were reported after leaking natural gas ignited, destroying the vehicle, two townhouse units and damaging another on the 400 block of Patriot Drive. A woman and three children in the unit that was struck were among those who later found shelter with friends or relatives.

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"That's what woke us up," said Ryan Crothers, who lives with his wife and three children in a neighboring unit. He said he looked outside and saw flames around the side of the building.

"We grabbed our three young kids and got out of there as soon as possible," he said. "Everybody in the building was safe. Everybody got out."

Grayslake police said the SUV was heading south on Hainesville Road when it crossed into the northbound lane and left the road for about 500 feet. It traveled along the frontage of the Avon Township baseball complex before hitting the garage on the farthest western townhouse unit on Patriot Drive.

The speed limit there is 40 mph. Police did not speculate on what caused the crash.

The vehicle is owned by a woman in Kenosha, Wis., Grayslake Police Chief Phil Perlini said during a news conference. The driver, who has not been identified or charged, had some relationship to the vehicle's owner but he did not live in Kenosha, officials said.

The driver left the crash scene and was reported hiding nearby beneath a pickup truck about two hours later. He ran away but was caught a short time later in a marshy area about a half block from the crash site. He was taken to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville.

Perlini said he was uncertain if anyone else was in the vehicle. He said he did not know if the driver was injured in the crash.

Grayslake police officer Mario Balarin was on patrol down the block in Hainesville just after 4 a.m. when he heard a distinct noise.

"I wasn't sure if it was a gunshot or fireworks," the 11-year veteran said. Seconds later, he received a dispatch that a vehicle had hit a building.

Balarin found the vehicle smashed against the building and the wall of the garage on fire. After making sure residents were safe, he said he tried unsuccessfully to smash the vehicle's front passenger window while calling out to see if anyone was inside.

"No one responded. I couldn't see anything," Balarin said. It was hard to breathe, he said, but he was finally able to knock out a window before hearing a popping sound.

"Then it engulfed," Balarin said of the blaze. "I'm glad it didn't go (explode). I would have ended up across the street or somewhere else."

Perlini said police evacuated the entire block of townhouses on Patriot Drive while the fire was burning. The gas burned for about three hours until the main could be shut off, he said.

Building officials in Hainesville said two units in the six-unit building were essentially destroyed and another sustained significant damage. Aki Mishima, a village building inspector, said three other units were deemed inhabitable, but he had no timetable for when residents would be allowed in their homes. Water had been temporarily shut off to the building, he said.

Efforts are underway to help displaced families, including Lieka Racho and her three children, whose townhouse was destroyed.

Round Lake Beach resident Katie Krause, who has family members who work at the Grayslake Elementary District 46 school that two of Racho's older children attend, said essentials are being collected for the family. Krause said a crowdsourcing site is being set up for the Racho family, but donations of items and gift cards are being accepted at Frederick and Prairieview schools.

Krause said Racho had already come by Frederick Elementary School Friday afternoon and picked up donated clothes and toiletries. Krause said the family lost everything in the fire.

"Everything is gone," she said. "Every single thing is gone."

Nicor officials said workers were at the townhouse within 20 minutes of being notified about the fire but had to wait several hours for firefighters to extinguish the blaze before they could safely "cut the flow of gas" to the building. Spokesman Duane Bourne said no one in the neighborhood should experience an interruption of their gas service.

Hainesville Mayor Linda Soto said officials were grateful everyone escaped safely without injuries.

"The (emergency) response was immediate. It kept our residents safe," Soto said.

Traffic was detoured and Hainesville Road between Route 120 and Washington Street was closed for several hours.

• Daily Herald staff writers Jake Griffin and Marie Wilson and photo editor Paul Valade contributed to this report.

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