Dan Diotallevi had an unsettling feeling as he approached the smoldering wreckage of the sport utility vehicle that had just slammed into a neighbor’s towering birch tree in west suburban Naperville.
The 16-year-old Naperville Central High School student said he was getting ready for bed around 1 a.m. Saturday when he "heard a big boom" outside his family’s home on Bristlecone Court on Naperville’s far southeast side.
"I thought somebody was breaking in" to his family’s house, Diotallevi said. "I ran out there as soon as I could, and told my mom to call 911."
The SUV proved to be a white, 2006 Toyota Highlander, one Diotallevi said he recognized as belonging to the family of a friend, Thomas Gleason.
"I knew the car, because I’m friends with Tom," Diotallevi said. "Then I (recognized) the stickers on the back, and I got worried."
Thomas Gleason, 18, graduated only weeks ago from Naperville Central High School.
He was killed in the crash outside a house on the 1800 block of Golf Drive, on the border between the Hunters Woods and Signal Point neighborhoods. The Gleason family lives in the River Woods area about a mile to the south and west.
Paramedics rushed Gleason to Edward Hospital in Naperville, where he died of his injuries, according to a statement issued by Naperville police.
Police and neighbors said Gleason was traveling west on Canyon Run Road, which ends as a T-shaped intersection with Golf Drive and Bristlecone Court. The SUV apparently barreled through the intersection and over a lawn before smashing into the birch tree.
Diotallevi said he "tried to stay away from it" as firefighters and police began working at the scene. He noted "the windshield was cracked, and one of the tires was off the car."
Gleason was alone in the Highlander at the time. Police said he was not wearing a seat belt.
A white cross was erected Saturday on the parkway near the tree. It bore three images: a close-up of Gleason, one of him smiling with four other young people and one with him giving the "thumbs-up" sign as he stood at a kitchen counter behind a decorated, white-frosted, chocolate sheet cake.
Several adults and teenagers stood on the sidewalk early Saturday afternoon near the cross. They included Gleason’s mother.
A woman in the group relayed a message to Gleason’s mother, but she and the others left the area without speaking to a Naperville Sun reporter.
Eight young men and women arrived a few minutes later in several cars. They gathered around the cross with heads bowed in silent tribute to their friend.
"He was a great guy," said Johnny Gustin, a classmate from Naperville Central. "If I remember one thing about him, he always had a smile on his face. Always had a smile."
"He was the funniest kid I know," Gustin said of Gleason. "He was just a joke-and-a-half. He was hilarious."
Gustin said he met Gleason during their freshman year at Naperville Central, after the Gleason family had moved to Naperville from North Carolina.
Diotallevi said Gleason was “a big Notre Dame fan.” Gustin added Gleason “loved to play hockey,” and planned to attend Illinois State University this fall.
Beth Vitale, a mother of two teenage sons, lives on Canyon Run Road two doors east of the crash scene. She said she was working in an upstairs office in her home and looked out the window as the SUV sped down the street.
"The minute I saw it, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, he’s going so fast,’" Vitale said of the driver, later identified as Gleason. "As he passed, I noticed his brake lights were not on, and once you get to the end of the street, you have to slow down."
Vitale said she did not hear the impact because her air conditioning was on, "but I just knew there was no way he was going to be able to stop."
"So I ran outside as fast as I could" as other neighbors were arriving at the scene, Vitale said.
"No one really wanted to approach the car," which she said was giving off smoke.
"I went to the driver-side window and initially I couldn’t see him," Vitale said of Gleason, who was slumped over toward the front passenger-side of the SUV. "So I opened the passenger-side door," and after a neighbor identified Gleason, "I just tried to talk to him. We tried to call him by name."
"Basically, there wasn’t a lot we could do. We didn’t want to move him."
Another neighbor, Shirley Dempsey, said she had just fallen asleep when the crash occurred.
"I heard a very short amount of squealing tires," Dempsey said Saturday afternoon while doing yard work with her husband, Mike. "And then I heard the hit," or the sound of the SUV striking the tree, she said.
"I heard the hit. I felt the hit. I thought something had hit our house, and then I thought maybe I dreamed it."
Vitale and the Dempseys said vehicles routinely speed on Canyon Run Road. Speed limit signs of 25 mph are posted at several points in the neighborhood.
"I’ve always said I don’t know why they don’t have a yield sign there, because people come flying down here," Shirley Dempsey said of the intersection.
She also noted the stone-facade streetlight post at Golf Drive and Bristlecone Court — which Gleason narrowly avoided striking — does not have reflectors.
The Dempseys’ sentiments were shared by Diotallevi’s mother, Pam.
"The neighbors are concerned about safety at this corner," Pam Diotallevi said. "I’ve been here 23 years, and I’ve only witnessed a few accidents, but I’ve seen many near-misses."
She said the accident was a terrible tragedy.
"We want to give our deepest condolences to the (Gleason) family," she said.
Naperville police Cmdr. Ken Parcel late Saturday afternoon said police are continuing to investigate the crash. He asked that witnesses or others with information about it call the police Traffic Unit at 630-305-5285.
-- Naperville Sun