Screaming for answers

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Brittany’s family and friends slam mayor and police
chief, as officials forced to stay quiet on teen’s death

Emotions boiled over at Tuesday’s Worth page-1-color-2-abd-a-half-col-top-right-photoWorth Mayor Mary Werner, speaking in bottom photo, and the village board listened for an hour as citizens. including Rebecca Tully, above, criticized them and the police in the handling of the cause of death of her daughter, Brittany Wawrzyniak, during Tuesday’s board meeting. Photos by Jeff Vorva.Page-1--Color-2-and-a-half-top-left-photoVillage Board meeting as friends and family of Brittany Wawrzyniak demanded answers from village officials about the five-month investigation into the 18-year-old girl’s death.
Worth Mayor Mary Werner took the brunt of the anger, accusations and name-calling from an angry crowd that grew more infuriated as the night wore on and the mayor repeatedly said she could not talk about the case.
“We need to know that you have confidence in your police department,” a supporter shouted. Others called Werner “a cold-hearted woman” “a heartless b----” and demanded that she and Police Chief Martin Knolmayer either quit or be fired.
More than 200 people packed the gym at the Christensen Terrace Centre, 115th Street and Beloit Avenue, which served as an alternate location for the meeting to accommodate the large crowd.
Supporters walked to the center from a nearby makeshift memorial dedicated to Wawrzyniak, located across the street from the center. When they entered the building, they were searched for weapons after a post on the RIP Brittney Facebook page threatened violence at the meeting.
Wawrzyniak’s mother, Rebecca Tully, and other supporters, said they understood that Worth police cannot not comment on details of the investigation. However, they do not believe the family has been treated during the investigation, she said. She also commented to the board that the members were rolling their eyes during Brittany’s supporters’ comments.
“We are upset about the way we have been treated,” said Pat Wawrzyniak, Brittany’s father.
Rebecca Lane, Wawrzyniak’s grandmother, also chastised the village board.
“To slam my granddaughter with the reputation as a drug user—shame on you. Shame on all of you,” Lane said. “Your reputation in Worth is worthless. That’s the reputation your police department has.”
Tully said she’s dissatisfied with the numerous unanswered questions surrounding her daughter’s death, which occurred Nov. 8 when she was ejected from a moving car near the Worth boat launch, 115th Street and Beloit Avenue.
“Was she pushed? If so, who pushed her? Was she pulled? If so, who pulled her? Did she jump out? If so, why?’’ Tully asked. “Why did the investigators wait four months to contact the people who called 911?
“Why have the investigators been treating us, her family, all along like we’ve done something wrong. Brittany is the victim not the criminal. We just want to know what happened,” Tully said. “There have yet to be any charges associated with the death of Brittany.”
Werner defended the police department, saying officers have spent hundreds of hours interviewing people and examining phone records and Facebook postings. Critics in the crowd shouted that it was hundreds of wasted hours.
“A thorough investigation does take a lot of time,” Werner said. “I cannot give you information. I cannot answer questions.”
Neither Police Chief Martin Knolmayer nor any of the village trustees commented during the portion of the meeting devoted to Wawrzyniak, which last about one hour.
Werner added that police have met on several occasions with Wawrzyniak’s mother and father to update them on the status of the investigation.
“I’m sure that everyone who has taken time to come here tonight would not want us to do anything that could possibly jeopardize either the criminal case of the criminal investigation,” Werner said.
She added that misinformation in the media and on Facebook has led to “a lot of the frustration for everybody that is involved in the situation.” She did not, however, attempt to clear up any perceived misinformation surrounding the case.
Werner said the case isn’t expected to be closed for eight to 10 months.
“It’s actually the state’s attorney’s office that brings charges. Our job is to investigate, to gather the evidence and the facts that will support any type of criminal charge,” Werner said.
Prosecutors say Wawrzyniak met Eric Steven Johnson at the boat launch, got into the back seat of his car and handed him $200 in exchange for 30 pills of Clonazepam.
They also said Wawrzyniak began counting the pills while still in the backseat as Johnson drove away. She opened the door of the moving car, was ejected and struck the pavement.
She was pronounced dead at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn less than one hour later.