A one-vehicle car crash in Rhinecliff claimed the life of Dillon Van Wagner, 21, of Rhinebeck, July 28 at around 6:45 pm.
According to a report from the Dutchess County Sheriff’s office, Van Wagner had been driving a 2013 Dodge Dart southbound on Rhinecliff Road when the car went off the right side of the road and struck a tree near Orchard Drive. Van Wagner, the sole occupant of the car, died at the scene, according to sheriff’s officers who responded.
The incident is still under investigation by the sheriff’s Crash Investigation Unit. But the sheriff’s report said, “Initial investigation reveals that speed and possible alcohol involvement are contributing factors in the crash.”
Van Wagner’s family told The Observer, however, that they take issue with the police reporting that alcohol may be a factor before toxicology reports have been confirmed. “It’s very hurtful and painful for us and makes it worse,” his mother, Nadine Menti-Van Wagner, of Elizaville, said.
His grandmother, Barbara Menti, of Red Hook, noted that, unfortunately, accidents like this one are not rare. “Youth is a dangerous time for all of us,” she said, adding, “[Dillon] was a good-hearted person, he didn’t have a malicious bone in his body. He was a love to his family.”
His sister, Ashley Van Wagner, said Van Wagner was a sensitive person who enjoyed poetry and music, and also enjoyed hunting with his dad, Harry, each year. “He reached out to people and liked to help them. He loved hunting and archery and excelled at it, it was something he prided himself on,” she said.
“He was so sweet, everybody loved him. He wrote amazing poems, he loved nature,” his mother added, noting that people have been visiting his grave at St. Joseph’s Chapel in Rhinecliff every day to leave mementos and gifts. “It’s just amazing, he touched so many lives,” she said.
According to news reports, Van Wagner was involved in another serious crash in June 2009. While driving his truck on Shookville Road in Milan, he lost control of the vehicle and struck a tree, and the truck turned on its side and caught fire, the news reports said. Van Wagner and his passenger, Caitlin Kelly, were trapped inside and then rescued by two local residents, Joseph Piacente and his father, Jerry, minutes before the truck’s gas tank exploded.
Van Wagner graduated from Stissing Mount High School in Pine Plains and had been working with his father, Harry Van Wagner Jr., of Hyde Park, in his sprayfoam insulation business and with his mother in her cleaning business. He is also survived by his paternal grandparents, Karen and Harry Van Wagner, Sr. of Rhinebeck; his maternal grandfather, John Menti of Red Hook, and his half-brother, Christopher Van Wagner.