ST. CHARLES, Ill. — Eight feet in length, the white wooden cross with a red heart at the center stood out like a beacon among the roadside weeds and against the backdrop of a field thick with late summer corn.
It was along this rural patch of Kane County highway that a 31-year-old St. Charles mother lost her life in the early hours of July 4.
Kane County officials say the single-car rollover that killed Yoselyn Mondragon just a mile west of Elburn occurred around 2 a.m.
It was a cruel twist of fate.
Not quite two years earlier — on Aug. 6, 2016 — at almost the exact same time, the father of Mondragon’s young child was killed, also in a one-car rollover and also about a mile west of Elburn — but on Route 64.
According to the Kane County Sheriff’s Department, 35-year-old David Drewes was a front-seat passenger in the SUV that went off the road after failing to navigate a turn.
This summer’s accident on Route 38 was called in at 2:03 a.m., noted Kane County Chief Deputy Pat Gengler, and the Route 64 accident two years earlier was called in at 2:10 a.m.
No one is more aware of the tragic irony of a small child’s mother and father dying in one-car accidents at almost the same time on Elburn roads than Allen Drewes who, along with his wife, Carole, now has primary custody of their grandson — a beautiful 28-month-old toddler they call “Little D.”
The Drewes were, of course, still struggling to deal with the death of their son when “Josie” Mondragon was killed in such close proximity and at the almost exact time of day. But rather than dwell on this cruel coincidence, Drewes, a contractor who lives in St. Charles, said they prefer to look at the glass they have been handed as half full.
It was never their intention to become parents again at this stage of life, but “God would not have given us this child if we were not up to the task,” he said.
“It was horrible circumstances, but we are strong enough to stand up to it.”
Drewes insisted his grandson will be surrounded by large and loving families on both maternal and paternal sides who, even in their shared grief, are determined to work together, despite their significant “financial and cultural differences.”
Because the child’s maternal grandparents, who have frequent visitation, mostly speak Spanish, Drewes and his wife plan to learn the language themselves so they can be as involved in his life as possible.
While tragedy often has a way of creating harsh divides, it was Josie’s death, in fact, that has brought both sides closer together, he said. This small boy will really never know either parent except through pictures and stories shared with him in both households. And that makes their partnership more important than ever.
Every night before he goes to bed, Drewes said the little boy looks at a photo of his father hanging on the wall and “tells him goodnight.”
Their own son, he added, was “finally beginning to figure out his life” when he died, and Drewes attributes much of that turn-around to embracing his new role as a dad. While he and Josie had been split up at the time of his death, both “were working hard at co-parenting.”
All of which makes their deaths so much harder to accept.
As dusk descended and candles were lit at a recent vigil for Josie Mondragon, Angelo Valdes, founder of HELPS ministry in St. Charles, spoke to the dozens of mourners, most of them her friends, who braved the weeds and mosquitoes, not to mention the busy Route 38 traffic that was being monitored for safety purposes by a Kane County squad car parked nearby.
“I pray for the hurting hearts here,” said Valdes, “for the confusion and the doubt and the fear and the worry from the stress and the anxiety.”
Allen Drewes, who did not attend the vigil, says his focus from here on out is to make sure this small child who means so much to so many people will have the best shot at life. And when the time is right, he added, “we will gradually tell him” about the double tragedy that claimed his mother and father.
“We want to do everything we can for this child going forward,” he said. “He came to us under special circumstances … we want to help him grow to be a special person.”