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Bullet pass

  • Written by Frank Gogola

‘I didn’t know if I was going to die or what,’ Richards’

star QB said after being shot on Memorial Day

Richards’ dual-threat quarterback Hasan Muhammad-Rogerspage-1-2-col-hasan-black-and-whiteRichards’ quarterback Hasan Muhammad-Rogers poses during a break Saturday at a 7-on-7 tournament. Rogers missed just one practice this summer – mandated by his coach – despite getting shot in the stomach on Memorial Day. Photo by Frank Gogola. wasn’t at first too concerned if he would ever play football again after he had been the unintended victim of a drive-by shooting.
He was more concerned if he would even be alive the next day.
Muhammad-Rogers, one of the top returning football players in the area, said he was on his bike in the front yard of his dad’s house in Dolton, preparing for a Memorial Day barbeque, when a bullet from a drive-by shooting hit him in the right side of the abdomen, went through and got stuck in the left side. He got up and ran into his dad’s house and an ambulance brought him to a hospital.
“As soon as it happened there was a lot going through my head,” Muhammad-Rogers said Monday night. “When I was in the ambulance I didn’t know if I was going to die or what.”
He arrived at the hospital, was soon in stable condition, and the senior-to-be said doctors told him the bullet was a couple inches away from hitting an organ but his abs were strong enough to the stop the bullet. However, the doctors told him they might have to leave the bullet in him based on its location to his organs.
“With the bullet not being taken out I didn’t think I’d play again,” he said. “But the doctors talked it over and decided they could take it out.”
He had surgery the next day -- May 27. He was back home the following day.
His name was not released in news stories but friends and rivals were shaken up by the news on social media and a #prayfor8 popped up on Twitter shortly after the shooting.
“May be a rival on the field but this man is my friend. He better make it through,” wrote former Marist wide receiver Flynn Nagel, who is attending Lemont High School. “Keep praying for Hasan.’’
He was ready to go for the Bulldogs’ first practice on June 9 but coach Tony Sheehan made his signalcaller stand on the sidelines that day. But the following day he was back taking snaps.
“I didn’t want to miss practice because I had to be there with my guys,” Muhammad-Rogers said. “I was a little sore, but being the captain I didn’t want to show anything. I was setting an example that pain is weakness leaving the body. It wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle.”
He said he’s “still a little sore” but “will be ready for the season,” planning to guide the Bulldogs back to a state title game. Last year, they made it to the Class 6A championship and lost to Batavia 34-14.
“He’s looked good, but you can tell he’s not moving the same,” Sheehan said. “He’s sore in his midsection, but he’s getting breaks on certain things so that he’s not forcing it too much.”
Muhammad-Rogers has received college offers from Indiana State, Illinois State, Northern Iowa and North Dakota, but – he said he won’t make a decision until after the season.
Sheehan said Muhammad-Rogers is working harder, taking a leadership role and has “a newfound appreciation for a lot of things.”
“Now I just do everything to the fullest because I never know when it’s going to be over,” Muhammad-Rogers said. “That last play could be your last ever, so I never take anything for granted.”

A mess of fests for the weekend

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

“I just want to celebrate another day of living.’’

Rare Earth made that lyric popular in 1971 and 43 years later, folks can soon hear the group belt it out live.
There will be plenty to celebrate this weekend, which is one of the busiest weekends when it comes to big fairs and fests in and near the Reporter area. That will include Porky Fest at Toyota Park in Bridgeview starting today and running through Sunday. The aforementioned Rare Earth will appear at 9 p.m. Sunday at the event.
A quick look at some of the activities this weekend:

Hickory Hills Street Fair
The annual event will have a kickoff party on Saturday night at the beer garden, located in the parking lot of TCF Bank, 9528 S Roberts Road. Saturday night’s entertainment is the Fabulous Jah Moe. The beer tent will be open from 6-10 p.m. The band takes the stage at 7 p.m.
The main event runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday on Roberts Road between 91st and 95th streets.
Entertainment continues on Sunday when The Captain Miller Band performs from 12:15-3:15 p.m. followed by Heartland Star, who will take the stage from 3:45-7 p.m. The beer tent opens at noon.
The annual summertime event will feature approximately 100 craft vendors, 20 food vendors, who will serve a variety of entrees and treats, including popcorn, exotic drinks and shaved ice.
Auto enthusiasts can take advantage of the antique car show, sponsored by the Hickory Hills Park District from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Kasey Meadow Park, 8047 W. 91st Place.

Evergreen Park’s Day in the Park
Evergreen Park’s 26th annual Day in the Park is described as “the biggest block party” in the village.
Saturday’s daylong celebration is on the grounds of the Community Center, 3450 W. 97th St. Festivities began at 11:30 a.m. and run through 9 p.m. A 5k run will be held at 8:30 a.m. Registration starts at 7:30 a.m. The festival features music and live entertainment, food, a beer and wine garden and plenty of children’s activities, including face painting.

4-H Fair at Toyota Park
For the first time in more than 100 years, Cook County will have a joint 4-H fair.
 The Cook County 4-H Fair will be held Saturday at Toyota Park at 7000 S. Harlem Ave. in Bridgeview. The Cook County Fair will run from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., and a variety of activities will be offered while the projects are judged the fair and activities are open to the public.

Porky’s Rib Fest at Toyota Park
Porky’s Rib Fest at Toyota Park, 7000 S. Harlem Ave. in Bridgeview runs from Thursday through Sunday.
Live entertainment from classic rock to country and blues; a huge carnival, a spectacular fireworks show on Saturday and a petting zoo are a part of the test. There will be a new mega beer fest, Friday and Saturday, featuring a selection of over 75 craft beers for sampling from around the world.
Rib vendors include local and international cookers, including: Chicago BBQ Company, Uncle Bub’s BBQ from Westmont, Robinsons Ribs, Famous Daves, Texas Thunder BBQ and even Aussom Aussie Australian BBQ from Australia.
Headlining the live musical entertainment will be Rare Earth, performing Sunday from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Performances from Tynan, Crazy Uncles, ZZ Top Tribute Band Eliminator, Back Country Roads, Screamin’ End, Brother Trouble, Brushville, Maxwell Mojo and Rolling Stones Tribute Band Hot Rocks will fill out the schedule.
The hours are 4 p.m.-11 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, 1 p.m.-11 p.m. on Saturday and from noon to 11p.m. on Sunday.

Deadly ride on the Cal-Sag

  • Written by Bob Rakow

PAGE-1-five-col-boats2Rescue boats search for bodies of boaters on the Cal-Sag channel on Saturday afternoon after a crash involving a pleasure boat and a barge occurred the night before. Photos by Jeff Vorva.Three people killed after boat hits barge

  Bob Bielarz’s pleasure craft was approaching the Worth boat launch late Friday night after a cruise along the Cal-Sag Channel when the unthinkable happened: the boat collided with a 66-foot barge.

  Bielarz’s body was recovered Monday morning approximately 1.5 miles west of the boat launch. He was not wearing a life jacket, authorities said. He was the last of the three victims recovered during the search.
  The bodies of Bielarz’s wife, Viengsavanh, 40, and their friend, Jeremy Muzika, 33, of Palos Hills, were recovered from the channel Saturday afternoon, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
  Neither was wearing a life jacket, according to the Coast Guard. They died of drowning and multiple injuries following the collision. Their deaths were ruled accidental. An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday for Bob Bielarz’s body, authorities said.
  Bielarz, of Orland Park, was a local musician who, according to the heavy metal website Loudwire, played in the Chicago nu-metal band No One from 2000-2003 and again in 2010 when the band reunited.
  No One released one self-titled album in 2001 via Immortal Records and played alongside several other bands on the second stage at Ozzfest 2001. No One also performed as a part of the Pledge of Allegiance tour, which was co-headlined by Slipknot and System of a Down.
  Muzika played in a local cover band with Bielarz.
  The crash was reported at about 11 p.m. on Friday when a crew member of the towing vessel notified the Coast Guard station in Milwaukee of the collision with the 19-foot pleasure craft at mile marker 311 of the Cal-Sag Channel.
  The cause of the collision remained under investigation. The boat capsized and had significant damage after colliding with the barge, Illinois Department of Natural Resources officials said.
  The Coast Guard and other emergency responders immediately began searching for occupants of the pleasure craft.
  The search team included a Coast Guard response boat stationed at Calumet Harbor, a helicopter aircrew stationed at the Coast Guard Air Facility in Waukegan, inspectors from the Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Chicago and crews from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
  The Palos Hills and Lockport fire departments and Palos Hills and Worth police departments also were on the scene. Dive teams using side-scan sonar also were instrumental in the search, which lasted several hours before switching from a search-and-rescue to recovery operation, officials said.
  Chicago Ridge’s Frank Mastalerz, owner of FM Entertainment, which books shows throughout the Midwest, said he was promoting Throttle Fest on Friday night at Toyota Park in Bridgeview when he heard the news of the accident.
  “Halestorm had just gotten off the stage and I was actually standing with a lot of mutual friends of Bob’s,” said Mastalerz, a friend of Bielarz for more than 20 years. “We all started receiving texts about what happened. Here we were all having a good time and the next thing we knew, we were all trying to make sense out of all of it. It’s so sad.”
  Bielarz was a central figure in the Chicago area music scene, which is mourning his death, Mastalerz said.
  “Bob and his wife were sincere, genuine people and they were truly in love. This is so sad because the music community in this area is so close knit,” he said. “Since this happened, I was able to look back at some photos, There were so many good times I remember with Bob and his group and there were so many good times I had forgotten about. It’s unfortunate to see the good times end.’’
  As of press time, funeral arrangements were not announced, but Mastalerz predicted “There will be a massive turnout.’’
—Jeff Vorva contributed to this report

Trash talk: Hickory Hills signs up with Waste Management for eight more years

Hickory Hills renewed its contract with Waste Management for eight more years.
  The city council voted unanimously on a tentatively approved contract extension with Waste Management last Thursday night, allowing for an eight-year extension.
  Residents will see a $5 decrease beginning with their next bill, when the current rate at $26.75 will drop to $21.75.
  “It is a big contract and a big savings for the city,” Alderman Brian Fonte said. Fonte has been working with a contractual agreement with Waste Management over the past month.
  Upon attorney review, Mayor Mike Howley reported the contract will go into effect immediately.
  The contract also includes a weekly recycling agreement instead of bi-weekly, set to begin in August. In October, 2013, Fonte and Alderman Thomas McAvoy, both third ward alderman, published and distributed a survey form to approximately 1,300 homes in the their ward. The questionnaire was designed to determine how many residents would like to change the combination of refuse and recycling containers they had to some other desired combination. The majority of residents said they wanted weekly recycling.
  Prior to weekly recycling taking place, Waste Management will send out postcards to Hickory Hills’ residents informing them of the change. WM officials also presented to the council the idea of creating community brochures for the city and its residents. The brochures would include all necessary Waste Management information and allow space for city services, including branch pickup.
  “We will be sure to handle all communication between us and your residents,” Waste Management representative Mike Morley said.
  The city will be receiving a $7,500 check in community support each year, beginning June, 2015, instead of continual recycling rebates. A 50/50 recycling rebate will take place when Hickory’s recycling amount exceeds $130 per ton. The city will then be entitled to half of the Waste Management rebate, Morley explained.
  “We get the most back from recycling from cardboard,” Morley said, “Glass is actually at a negative retail value and plastics are 50/50.”
  Officials said the last time recycling in Hickory Hills exceeded $130 per ton was in 2008 and again in 2011.
  There is a higher contamination rate in recycling effecting the rebates with items being put into recycling containers that should not be, Morley said. Examples include traditional garbage, garden hoses, metal objects and yard waste.

  “When these items are hidden inside of recycling containers, it contaminates the items that are meant to be recycled,” he said. “We could include an additional 75-cent drop in rate to our residents this year, or wait until next year when the rate will be able to be dropped to 90 cents per household,” City Treasurer Dan Schramm said.
  The additional 75-cent drop in price would have taken residents’ monthly fee to $21 per household; however, the city decided it is best to wait at least another year into the contract when they will be able to lower residents’ rates even more.

  “We have worked with Hickory Hills for many years and we look forward to serving them in the future,” Morley said.

Bob Rakow's B-Side: Case Closed? Seriously? Not for this family

  • Written by Bob Rakow

The release last week of the Worth Police Department’s report on the death of Brittany Wawrzyniak indicates that the investigation is closed.

But don’t tell Wawrzyniak’s family that. For them, the report may have been an interesting read, but it left many questions unanswered, including, “who killed Brittany?”

The family won’t rest until that question is answered, though it seems they’ll have to do the legwork themselves in order to find the answer. I’m not sure what their next step is, but they’re weighing their options.

Additionally, the family wonders, why was Courtney Hyzy, who was in the SUV from which Brittany jumped or was pushed, never interviewed by police. It’s a worthwhile question.

The police report summarizes in great detail numerous interviews conducted with those who were at the Worth boat launch on Nov.8—the night Brittany died—but not Hyzy. That strikes me as odd.

At the very least, Hyzy was a witness. Shouldn’t she have been interviewed like everyone else gathered at boat launch on that fateful night?

Indeed, Hyzy was in the SUV from which Brittany jumped or was pushed. She was much closer to Wawrzyniak in the seconds before her death than anyone else at the boat launch. It seems she could lend something to the investigation.

According to witnesses, Wawrzyniak allegedly conspired with her friend, Lily Arboleda, to lure Hyzy to the boat launch so that Arboleda could fight Hyzy. Arboleda, the report said, was seeking revenge for damage Hyzy supposedly had done to her car, the report said.

This is not new information. The family revealed the scenario shortly after Brittany’s death.

Hyzy arrived at the boat launch in an SUV driven by her boyfriend, Eric Johnson, according to reports.
Brittany got into the SUV under the ruse of buying the prescription drug Clonazepam from Johnson, the report says.

This, too, is information reported on shortly after Brittany’s death.

Brittany apparently was counting the pills when Arboleda, who was hiding nearby, ran toward the vehicle, the report said. Arboleda was reaching for the door handle of the SUV when Johnson sped away. It’s unclear if she opened the door before Johnson drove away.

When Johnson turned out of the parking lot onto 115th Street, Brittany either jumped or was pushed out of the vehicle, according to the report. There wasn’t enough clear-cut information from eyewitnesses to help police determine if she was pushed or jumped. Witnesses could only offer details about how Brittany hit the ground; no one saw how the door opened or how she exited the SUV.

 It’s tough to imagine someone jumping out of a speeding SUV, but again, the report leaves open the possibility.

Jumped or pushed. Horrible either way, but if I’m the family, I’d sure want to know which if for not other reason than to gain some closure. You see, that’s what the family does not have, and the report was no help. It contains a lot of information, but it does not answer the family’s ultimate questions: who is responsible for Brittany’s death, how and why did she die and will anyone be held responsible?

Ask the family, and they’ll you the police failed because they did not at least pursue answers to those critical questions.

Johnson ultimately was charged with conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance and is serving a 3 1/2 –year prison sentence. Arboleda, of Chicago, has been charged with conspiracy to commit battery for her role in the incident.
Brittany’s family has maintained from the start that she did not do drugs. They were angry that some media reports portrayed her death as a drug deal gone bad. The family’s contention was bolstered when Wawrzyniak’s toxicology report came back clean.

The clean report doesn’t prove that Brittany didn’t intend to use the pills she allegedly purchased from Johnson. Then again, she might have been buying them for someone else, or maybe she truly was setting up a fight. It she was, she went to great lengths to make the phony drug deal seem legitimate. Either way, she paid with her life.

Additionally, Brittany’s family is less-than-thrilled with information in the report culled during a February interview with a Palos Heights woman who knew Wawrzyniak.

The family doesn’t understand why police interviewed her, as she was not a witness at the boat launch. They also can’t figure why she voluntarily showed up at the police department three months after Wawrzyniak’s death.

Perhaps police were open to talking to anyone who could offer potential information about Brittany. I doubt it’s good policing to tell someone during a death investigation, “We’re not interested. Go home.”

The woman told police that Brittany “was a good person but she did have her faults.” the report said. She added that Wawrzyniak did drugs and ignored advice about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Could be true, could be entirely bogus. The clean toxicology report would favor the family.

The family has portrayed the woman as a “nut” who Brittany was forbidden to associate with. They contend the woman is untrustworthy and what she told police was entirely false.

But the woman did offer a suggestion to police that seemed to have merit. She said she had tracked Hyzy to her sister’s residence in Evergreen Park and advised police to obtain a DNA sample from Hyzy and compare it to any DNA evidence found on Wawrzyniak. The report does not indicate that the suggestion was followed.

So here we are, seven months after Brittany Wawrzyniak’s death. I often wonder if a reporter sitting in my chair years from now will write the story about the big break in the case that solves the whole thing. Will someone who was at the boat launch reveal something that forces police to take another look? Will the family’s personal inquiry produce a valuable lead? It’s hard to know, but we not have heard the last of this case.