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Preliminary autopsy shows nothing outside of crash in Buffington death

Geneva Mayor Burns: 'We are devastated'

Published: Friday, June 13, 2014 11:10 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, June 14, 2014 7:49 p.m. CDT

SUGAR GROVE – An autopsy for Geneva electric superintendent Michael Buffington, who died in a car crash late Thursday in Sugar Grove, did not show anything definitive outside of the trauma of the accident, Kane County Coroner Rob Russell said.

"He did not have a heart attack or a stroke," Russell said, something that precipitated the crash.

Russell said the coroner's office would wait for a preliminary toxicology report in two weeks and a complete report in four weeks after that to try to determine if there were other factors that led to the crash. The autopsy was done at DuPage County due to closure of the Kane morgue because of mold.

Geneva's city flag has been lowered to half-staff at all facilities in honor of Buffington.

In a statement released this weekend, city leaders and police have reached out to the Buffington family to provide any assistance during this time. No funeral arrangements have been determined, officials said.

The city also provided grief counselors for employees to help cope with the news of Buffington's death.

“With the sudden and unexpected loss of our co-worker and friend Mike Buffington, our hearts are heavy, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family,” City Administrator Mary McKittrick said in a statement.

“We are fortunate to have known and worked with him, and Geneva is a better place because of him," according to McKittrick's statement. "Mike was a gentle leader and one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. His loss will certainly be felt by our entire organization for a long time.”

Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke said Buffington was able to explain in layman's terms the issues involved in the volatile electric industry.

"He was always professional in his demeanor," Schielke said. "He had a strong understanding of the electric industry. His experience was a high value to us."

Buffington, 64, of Geneva, was driving a city-owned Ford Taurus and apparently rolled through a stop sign at the top of the Route 47 exit ramp from Interstate 88, turning left to head north, Sugar Grove Police Chief Patrick Rollins said.

Buffington's car was struck on the driver's side by an oncoming Chevrolet Trailblazer, which did not have to stop. The intersection is not a four-way stop, Rollins said, but all vehicles must stop when they reach the top of the ramp.

The speed limit there is 55 mph, Rollins said, but he did not know how fast the Trailblazer was traveling, as the crash probe is continuing.

Three occupants of the Trailblazer, a 46-year-old Sugar Grove resident and two youths, age 12 and 14, were taken to a local hospital with nonlife-threatening injuries.

The crash occurred about 9 p.m., and Buffington was pronounced dead at the scene, Rollins said.

"We are devastated," Geneva Mayor Burns wrote in a text. "Mike's service was exemplary, and his commitment to the community evident in the pride he had in his work. Our thoughts are with his wife, Jaci, their children and grandchildren during this unimaginable time."

Buffington was hired in 2004 as Geneva’s Electric Superintendent coming from Geneseo. He served as project manager of the Geneva Generation Facility, which came online in 2006.

Buffington followed the market and bid hourly on the city's electric purchase to insure the lowest available prices were obtained, officials said.

The generation facility is one component of Geneva’s power portfolio, which Buffington helped establish during his tenure.

Buffington also served as president of the Northern Illinois Municipal Power Agency board of directors, officials said. NIMPA is made up of the electric utilities of Geneva, Batavia and Rochelle, all with contracts to buy power from the Prairie State Energy Campus near downstate Marissa.

The coal-fired electric generating plant was developed by Peabody Energy. It serves 30 member communities and is owned by the Prairie State Generating Company.

NIMPA general counsel Richard Heinemann said Buffington had been with the agency the longest, starting at the beginning of the Prairie State project.

"He was a big supporter of the project and had a deep understanding of it ... an intimate understanding of the project," Heinemann said. "He served as NIMPA's representative on the Prairie State managing board. He had a great deal of knowledge."

Heinemann said Buffington was returning from a meeting of the Prairie State managing board Thursday night.

Heinemann said the NIMPA board will hold an election to choose an interim president, starting with a special meeting Wednesday.

"In terms of the agency, we will carry forward," Heinemann said. "We are deeply saddened – devastated, actually."

Heinemann said Buffington was professionally respected and well-liked.

Heinemann described Buffington as a serious person, an engineer by training, who spent much of his career serving on behalf of municipal utilities.

"I'm devastated," Heinemann said. "I really enjoyed working with him. I had a lot of respect for him. He was a very good person. He was very quiet, very pleasant and had a wonderful sense of humor. ... People respected Mike in the industry, and when he spoke, they listened."

Geneva officials said they expect to make a leadership announcement about the Public Works Electric Division next week.

• Kane County Chronicle reporter Eric Schelkopf contributed to this report.

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