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Oak Lawn man faces murder charges in mobile home fire

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Oak Lawn police announced on Sunday that Gerardo Alonzo, 30, had been charged with two counts of first-degree murder related to a fatal fire June 8 in the Airway mobile home park at 9001 S. Cicero Ave., where he had lived.

The two men who died in the fire were identified as David Danna, 47, and Randy Chabala, 59. Both men lived in Trailer 10D. The fire, reported at about 12:45 a.m., spread to a neighboring residence, 11D, where another man suffered minor injuries. Danna was pronounced dead at the scene, and Chabala died later the same day at Loyola Medical Center in Maywood. Alonzo allegedly set on fire after stabbing the men. Following autopsies, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office ruled that both men died of “sharp-force injuries” and injuries caused by the fire.

The fatal fire was the main topic of conversation at a neighborhood safety meeting that Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) hosted Saturday at the Oak Lawn Village Hall. About 40 residents of the mobile home park attended, along with Mayor Sandra Bury, Police Chief Michael Murray, Deputy Fire Chief Scott Boman and Village Clerk Jane Quinlan.

Several residents at the meeting said afterward that they suspected Alonso, without giving his full name. Alonso lived at the trailer camp. They said he had relatives living in the park, and had been seen around, bumming cigarettes and causing problems after he had been ordered out for causing trouble before. The arrest had not been announced yet, but Murray alluded to a suspect being in custody when he reassured residents that they were not in any danger of the offender returning.

“The case is still active and ongoing. We are confident there is no safety issue for you residents,” said the police chief.

Alonso was being held without bail in Cook County Jail this week.

Just a month before the latest fatal fire, a woman in her 60s died in another fire in her home in the park. Fire officials said smoking is suspected to be the cause in that case. Someone else died of a heroin overdose in the park, which includes 268 mobile homes.

“I reacted very emotionally to all of these incidents,” said Bury. “I heard people say they feel trapped or they don’t feel safe. We really care for your safety and happiness. We want Airway to be a great community,” said Bury. “You have resources available to you,” she added, listing the police and fire departments, and village staff. “The village of Oak Lawn supports you, and wants you to be safe.”

Murray also said residents shouldn’t hesitate to call 911 to report anything that looks suspicious. “If you want the police there, call 911. You are our eyes and ears.”

“This community meeting didn’t happen only because of the fire,” said Olejniczak, whose district includes Airway. “I’ve been working on this for a long time,” he said, noting that he has heard of complaints from residents about other issues, including drugs being sold in the mobile home park.

Olejniczak also encouraged residents to contact the management of the park to report any unusual activity, pointing out that the bylaws of the park mandate them to do so. He also reminded them that they are entitled to set up a homeowners association, much like a condo or townhome association.

Airway is owned by the same family that built it originally in 1956, and went on to build others as well. But it is currently held in a trust run by a management team.

The onsite manager, Rudy Aguirre, and national manager Mike Fiala, were both at the meeting, along with an attorney.

When several residents said they were afraid of repercussions from management if they made any complaints, Fiala promised that would not happen.

“The incidents of the last 30 to 40 days are concerning. Our 61-year track record is (very good). Your safety is our main concern. Our goal is to maintain constant communication with you, and do everything we can to help you,” Fiala said.

While resident Sandi DiGangi expressed confidence in the management team, and said she feels “very safe,” others remained concerned.

“I’ve been happy there. We take pride in what we have. My daughter has made a lot of friends so I can’t just move but I don’t feel safe anymore,” said three-year resident Candace Lacewell.

She said she used to leave her door open while she was at home, but recently someone came in while she was there, used the toilet and stole prescription medication out of a bathroom cabinet.

Evergreen Park Community Farm welcomes horses

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

horses photo 6-15

Photo by Dermot Connolly

Jack (left) and Turk, two retired harness racing horses, seem to be enjoying their retirement in their new home in Evergreen Park's community farm, part of the 50-acre Park.

 

Three horses now call Evergreen Park home, and goats and chickens are on their way to keep them company in the Community Farm in the village’s 50-Acre Park, which is seeing quite a bit of activity these days.

The park, which takes in the western half of what originally was the old Evergreen Park Golf and Country Club, stretches between Rockwell and California Avenue, from 91st to 93rd Street. In addition to the farm, the park also includes a driving range, disc golf course, sledding hill and a dog park. A pavilion where concerts are often held also looks over a manmade lake.

But as popular as the disc golf and dog park are, these days a lot of people are coming by to see the horses. Turk, a female harness racer, got her racing name of “Let’s Talk Turkey” shortened when she arrived in Evergreen Park last September. Jack arrived soon after from Crete-Monee.

Jim Nowicki, an Evergreen Park employee, manages the farm on a daily basis with a lot of help from volunteers. Denny Pietranduono, who is in charge of the farm at the Chicago Agricultural High School in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood neighborhood, also volunteers his time and expertise. He brought over a miniature horse called Ariel from the Ag School to join the others.

Before the end of the summer, a couple of goats are also expected to arrive from rural Indiana, as well as 20 hens.

The farm also includes a large garden, where assorted varieties of tomatoes, onions, peppers, eggplant, zucchini and squash are already growing.

“Last year, we harvested 2,500 pounds of produce, which was donated to local food pantries run by the village and Catholic Charities,” said Nowicki. “With the hens, we will be able to donate eggs this year too,” he added.

Honey will be harvested this year as well, said Nowicki, pointing out the four new beehives added this spring, with 3,000 bees in each.

An apple orchard was also planted along the northern border of the property this year, but Nowicki said it will be several years before the trees will be producing edible fruit.

Nowicki and others at the farm credited Mayor James Sexton with having the vision to keep the land open when Babe Ahern sold the country club property.

“We kept 50 acres of open space and that is hard to come by in this day and age,” said Sexton. “It is nice to have a big open space like this in the village. In addition to the farm, the disc golf is very popular, and the dog park is divided into three for different-sized dogs. The concerts in the park are very popular, too.”

Sexton also pointed out that the retired horses are being trained to be ridden with a saddle.

“Our plan is to start a riding program for special-needs children. It is supposed to be good therapy, and it will be nice to offer that.

“Having the farm really brings Evergreen Park back to its roots,” the mayor added, explaining that when the village started out as open land, it featured “truck farms on every corner.”

The village is accepting donations of new and used livestock-related items as more animals are being added to the barn. The "wish list" included two saddles for adult Standardbred horses; saddle and cart for a miniature horse; saddle pads for Standardbred and mini-horses; grooming aids for animals; and a small hay rack for goats. Anyone with those items may contact the Streets/Parks Department at (708) 422-1562 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

OL officials troubled by fires

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

burned trailers 3 photo 6-15

 

Photo by Dermot Connolly

Last week's fire at the Airway mobile home park in Oak Lawn left two men dead.

 

The investigation continues into the deaths of two men taken out of a fire early last Thursday morning in the Airway mobile home park at 9001 S. Cicero Ave. in Oak Lawn, which have been ruled homicides by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.

Oak Lawn police and fire officials said at a press conference last Thursday that they had been alerted by a Hometown police officer to a fire in a mobile home at that location at 12:43 a.m. Firefighters determined that the fire started in unit 10D, and spread to 10E. Both were heavily damaged. Both fatalities were found in the same residence, according to Fire Chief George Sheets, and another man in the residence next-door suffered smoke inhalation.

The officials said the Hometown police officer entered the first residence and found one of the men and brought him out, but he was deceased. As of Tuesday, his name had not been released, awaiting notification of his family. But, according to the medical examiner’s office, an autopsy determined the cause of death to be injuries caused by the fire, with “sharp force injuries.”

The second person taken out of Unit 10D was identified as Randy Chabala, 59, of Midlothian. He had been taken out of the residence in full cardiac arrest. After being stabilized at Advocate Christ Medical Center, he was flown to Loyola University Medical Center, where he died at 2 p.m. the same day. His death also was ruled a homicide, caused by injuries from the fire as well as “sharp force injuries,” indicating that both men were stabbed.

“We are all distraught that there have been two fatal fires in that community within 30 days,” said Mayor Sandra Bury at the press conference.

She was referring to the May 9 fire at another home in the park, which killed a 64-year-old woman who lived there. That fire is believed to have been caused by smoking, said Sheets.

“We have very few fatal fires in Oak Lawn,” said Sheets, calling it a coincidence that two had occurred.

He said having working smoke alarms is very important for safety, and noted that they are available free at Village Hall for Airway residents.

But the fact that the latest deaths were ruled homicides “is a major concern,” said Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) at the Village Board meeting on Tuesday night. He held up a sheaf of papers, saying it represented the number of calls for service that the village’s emergency services have received from Airway over the past year. He estimated that there have been 100 calls over the past 12 months, and Sheets said there have been something like 253 over the past three years.

“That is an usually large number,” the trustee said.

“Safety is a high concern with all of us,” said Olejniczak. “Myself, the mayor, and village staff are trying to set up a meeting with the owners of Airway to discuss our concerns. It is a shame it has come to this.”

The trustee said he expects the safety concerns in the 61-year-old Airway community, which includes several hundred residences, are expected to be a major topic of discussion at a District 2 safety meeting he will be holding at noon Saturday, in the conference room at Oak Lawn Village Hall, 9446 S. Raymond Ave.

Worth approves to dissolve economic development commission

  • Written by By Sharon L. Filkins

During the June 6 village board meeting, Worth trustees voted unanimously to eliminate its economic development commission (EDC) and to modify the village’s business license review procedures.

Mayor Mary Werner stated that the EDC members had met with her last month to recommend the elimination of the commission.

 “They felt that their duties, which included reviewing business applications after they had been processed by the Real Estate Development Board, was a redundancy and only served to delay the application process by weeks,” she said.

When the elimination of the EDC was discussed at the last board meeting, Trustee Kevin Ryan expressed concern about economic development efforts in the village.

 “We can’t just walk away from economic development. We have just recently approved a long range plan and we need someone to oversee it. We need to consider hiring an economic development coordinator,” he stated.

In a later discussion after the June 6 meeting, Werner acknowledged that the role of economic development is different than approving business applications and licenses.

 “We are beginning our budget discussions in the coming weeks and we will definitely be considering the possibility of hiring an economic development coordinator,” Werner said.

Also officially approved at the meeting was the ordinance approving the village’s “opting out” of the Cook County requirements regarding minimum wage and sick leave payments for local business owners. With this vote, Worth joins the many other south suburban communities opting out of the Cook County ordinance and agreeing to follow Illinois State mandates. 

In other matters, the board approved business licenses for AR Oil Inc., 11458 S. Harlem Ave., and for Odeh Law Group, 11350 S. Harlem. Ave.

In the public comment portion of the meeting a resident complained about vehicles speeding on Hyland Avenue, a residential street.

 “There is a stop sign at 105th and Hyland and drivers don’t even stop for it. It is getting worse all the time,” the person said.

Werner acknowledged that speeding on the residential streets is a problem throughout the village.

 “It is our residents that are speeding and it is a real problem,” she said.

Police Chief Mike Micetich asked the resident what time the traffic was the heaviest.

 “It starts getting heavy around 2 p.m., said the resident.

Micetich promised him there would be extra patrols in the area.

 “We are battling this problem all across the village,” he added.

Venerable Vito and NIck's II reopens in Hickory Hills

  • Written by By Bob Bong

 

vito and nicks photo 6-15

 

Photo by Bob Bong

Vito and Nick’s II reopened at 9644 S. Roberts Road in Hickory Hills. The restaurant reopened on May 26.

 

After being closed for more than six months after the death of its longtime owner, Vito and Nick’s II of Hickory Hills reopened May 26 with limited hours and a limited menu.

The restaurant was famous for its thin crust pizza. It will begin regular hours and its full menu on Monday, June 19.

Former Chicago police officer Mick Martire owned the pizzeria for 17 years until he passed away in January and left the restaurant to his daughter.

"He created a great business and loyal customer base," said Cayla Bates, the new manager of the pizzeria at 9644 S. Roberts Road.

Following Martire's death, the pizzeria was purchased by a group of local owners who, according to Bates, “Love the pizza and the neighborhood feel of the restaurant.”

She said the new owners invested in a complete renovation of the restaurant with the goal "to create a friendly neighborhood environment with good food and friendly faces."

Among the renovations was new Edison lighting, an open floor plan and a complete redesign of the graphics and art work. New flat screen TVs, increased seating and an area designated specifically for video gaming and slots were also added.

One of the key things the owners didn’t do was change the pizza ovens. The well-seasoned Blodgett ovens have pizza stones that have been seasoned over the years. Those stones and the dough made several times a week produce the restaurant's famous crispy thin crust pizza.

“The owners are committed to the highest quality ingredients. We use locally produced cheese and sausage made within 15 miles of the store. We bring in the mozzarella cheese in five-pound blocks and grind it in-house to maintain freshness,” said Bates.

Each pizza is made by hand and baked between 450 and 475 degrees to create that crisp crust and evenly melted cheese, she said.

There is close to one pound of sausage on the large sausage pizza, which has quickly become its best-selling pie. Other specialty pies include spinach, shrimp and Hawaiian pizza with pineapple.

The restaurant features a menu focused on pizza, salads and sandwiches. There is also an array of appetizers and a full bar.

According to Bates, the chocolate chip skillet cookie with vanilla ice cream is quickly becoming a customer favorite dessert.

"We bake the cookie to order, right next to the pizza, it comes to the table hot with a scoop of ice cream on top. It is quite good and perfect to share," she said.

Vito and Nicks II will be open from 3-9 p.m. today through Sunday and then from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily starting June 19.

At present, the pizzeria offers dine-in and carry-out only. Delivery will be coming later.

The reopening created about 20-25 new jobs.

The newly opened restaurant has no connection to the original Vito and Nick's at 84th and Pulaski in Chicago's Ashburn community. It got its name when Martire was married to one of the daughters of the original establishment's owner.