Strange sightings of a massive, triangular object that stretched across the sky seven years ago have propelled St. Clair County into the heights of UFO lore.

"I can't explain what I saw," said Mark Lopinot, an O'Fallon police detective who watched as the object approached his city. "It was shocking."

Thanks in part to documentaries that get continued play on cable TV, the sightings by Lopinot and several other police officers have become legend, and St. Clair County has become an important place in the UFO debate. Local police departments often field calls about the 2000 incident and hear reports of new UFO sightings. The county has become a focus for the extra-terrestrial-minded.

Lopinot said he has even been approached by a local retired military officer who claimed to have been abducted by space aliens.

He said he is contacted by people from all over the area with their own stories. This week, he was fielding calls from a Japanese documentary team interested in UFOs.

Whatever it was that Lopinot and the other officers saw that night in January 2000 emitted a bright, colorful light. It flew in total silence.

The officers spotted the flying object above Lebanon, Shiloh, Dupo, O'Fallon and Millstadt. One officer reportedly hummed the "Twilight Zone" theme song over his radio as he watched.

Peter Davenport, the director of the National UFO Reporting Center in Washington state, called the sightings of January 2000 "astonishing."

He said the event is important because it was witnessed by a large number of law enforcement officials, who described the object as a "floating house with bright red and white lights."

"The events that occurred constitute one of the most interesting and well-documented incidents our center has ever seen," Davenport said. Davenport, a St. Louis native, talks to dozens of people every day who have seen things in the sky. He acts as a clearinghouse for thousands of eyewitness UFO reports every year.

A stream of UFO sightings have been reported from the Metro East since 2000. The most recent: A report filed in June involving a triangular flying object in Columbia.

Details involving that sighting - and thousands of others - are available at, Davenport's website.

The appearance here last year of so-called crop circles has also turned heads in the UFO community. Theories about such unexplained formations made by flattened crops often involve speculation about extraterrestrials.

Field investigators from the Colorado-based Mutual Unidentified Flying Object Network flew over Belleville to investigate the reported circles. They said that 13 circles, varying in size between 15 feet and 50 feet across, were visible among the soybean plants on a farm near Belleville.

But it's the January 2000 sky sighting that gets the most attention. The National Institute of Discovery Science, a privately financed research organization in Las Vegas devoted to UFOs and the paranormal, sent investigators to the area to learn more about the incident. Its website classifies the investigation as ongoing.

Officials at Scott Air Force Base in O'Fallon said nothing like what was sighted is based at the airfield. The military also does not fly any low-level training or testing routes in the area, a spokesman said.

To date, there is no explanation for what appeared above St. Clair County. Meanwhile, several documentaries involving the sighting run in heavy rotation on cable. (The Peter Jennings documentary, titled "UFOs: Seeing is Believing," is set to run again on Sunday afternoon on the National Geographic Channel.)

Ed Wilkerson, the chief of the Millstadt police, says his department receives countless telephone inquires about the incident - along with reports of other strange sightings.

"We get calls from people who have their own stories," Wilkerson said. "There is no official policy on handling UFO sightings. We just kind of look up into the sky and see if we can see anything."