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.