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Kustok guilty

  • Written by Tim Hadac

In about the same 90 minutes it took Orland Park resident Allan Kustok to grasp a loaded .357-caliber revolver, shoot his sleeping wife in the face, wrap her body in bloody bed linens and drive her to Palos Community Hospital in the early morning hours of Sept. 29, 2010, jurors in Kustok’s murder trial deliberated, ordered and ate lunch, and then delivered a guilty verdict on Tuesday afternoon.
Kustok, 63, bowed his head when the verdict was read while his sister, Sharon Crooks, sat behind him and wept as jurors were polled to confirm the verdict.
Prosecutors and relatives of the victim, 58-year-old Anita “Jeanie” Kustok, reacted to the guilty verdict with a mixture of faint smiles and tears of relief. They spoke with the press briefly outside the Bridgeview courtroom after the verdict.
“It’s kind of bittersweet that we lost a great sister,” said Jeanie’s brother, John Runko, his eyes tearing up and his voice wavering, as Assistant State’s Attorney Jennifer Gonzalez gave him a reassuring pat on the back. “Nobody wins in this, but I’m just glad that justice was served.” Runko had been a witness for the prosecution, testifying back on Feb. 20 that he was close to his sister and was unaware of any trouble in her marriage.
Runko thanked the prosecution team for doing “a phenomenal job,” and his sentiments were echoed by Jeanie’s sister, Patti Krcmery.
“I’m so indebted to them for everything they’ve done, because they truly showed my sister and how wonderful she was” throughout the four-week trial, Krcmery said.
The jury clearly was not buying Kustok’s longtime contention that his wife had shot herself with the handgun—as on accident or as a suicide— that he claimed to have given her as a 34th anniversary gift in response to her alleged fear of being alone in the house.
During the trial, prosecutors made much of Allan Kustok’s allegedly adulterous ways, portraying him as a good-time Charlie who even joked about his “life of the party” exploits to a hospital nurse on the morning of his wife’s murder, and who received text messages from another woman while he was being quizzed by Orland Park police.
What appeared to be the decisive blow in the prosecution’s case was last week’s testimony by crime scene analyst Rod Englert that the killer had to be someone standing over Jeanie while wearing Allan’s T-shirt, shorts and glasses.
Englert testified on March 4 that the pattern of blood stains in the Kustoks’ Orland Park bedroom made it clear—at least from his analysis—that Jeanie could not have shot herself, deliberately or accidentally.
Further, the victim was reportedly right handed, which would not be consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the left cheek, police said in 2010.
Jurors also apparently brushed aside testimony given Monday by the Kustoks’ daughter, Sarah, that she did think her father killed her mother. Sarah was not in court on Tuesday.
The Kustoks’ children are former standout area athletes Zak and Sarah Kustok, who starred in several sports at Sandburg High School. Zak played quarterback at Northwestern University for three years, while Sarah played basketball at DePaul University, was an anchor for Comcast SportsNet Chicago and currently works for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.

Proposal for Worth 5K not OK with two trustees

  • Written by Bob Rakow

A Worth Park District proposal to host a 5K run at Water’s Edge Golf Course may never leave the starting blocks if trustees opposed to the plan have their way.

 

The Worth Village Board Tuesday night debated the merits of the idea, and at least two trustees—Tedd Muersch Jr. and Mary Rhein—voiced opposition to the plan that called for a 5K run to be held at the village-owned course on Sept. 14.

 

The district proposed the early morning run as part of the village’s centennial celebration.

 

Muersch said the course would lose significant money if it closed on a Sunday morning to accommodate the run.

 

“In my opinion, I do not think this is a good idea,” said Muersch, who chairs the golf course committee.

 

He said a significant number of Sunday golfers who tee off early would not be able to golf that day.

 

Rhein agreed that reserving the course for Sunday morning run did not make financial sense.

 

“I don’t see that the board can make that decision and feel good about it,” Rhein said. “We owe it to the taxpayers to do the right thing over there and increase our revenue. I can’t see shutting it down and losing this revenue.”

 

She said the proposed run and walk coupled with the clean up after the event would force the course to close from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.

 

“The golf course is going to lose revenue. It’s not going to make revenue that morning,” she said.

 

Muersch agreed, saying that the loss of $67 greens fees per golfer on a busy Sunday morning is not feasible.

 

“I don’t see any way can move forward with this,” he said.

 

Mayor Mary Werner, however, voiced support for the run.

 

“I personally think it would be a great event for residents,” Werner said.

 

She said the run would promote the golf course as well as its restaurant, The Edge.

 

“I just think logistically it makes sense,” said Werner, who added that the event would serve as a marketing tool even if the village lost some golf revenue that day.

 

Trustee Colleen McElroy said she was not wholly opposed to the idea but it did lack a detailed plan.

 

“I think it would have been wise to have this discussion in a committee,” McElroy said. “I would prefer that everybody sit at a table and talk about this.”

 

Trustees agreed to delay a decision on the run and left the door open for a sponsor for the event or funds from the centennial committee to offset the cost of the event.

 

Sifting through emotional rubble

  • Written by Bob Rakow

PAGE-1-COLOR-4-colA week has passed since a triple murder and suicide shook Oak Lawn—the latest in a series of tragedies that has battered the community in 2014.

 

While many ultimately will forget the events, first responders continue to cope with the devastations.

 

The most recent incident occurred last Wednesday when John P. Conta allegedly killed his parents—John and Janice Conta—and nephew at the family home in the 9800 block of 51st Avenue. Conta then set the house on fire and killed himself with a gunshot while in a car in the house’s garage, police said.

 

An Oak Lawn firefighter who responded to the blaze saw Conta kill himself, officials said. The body of Conta’s nephew, 5-year-old Matthew Meier, was discovered in the house later in the day, they said. Family members celebrated the boy’s fifth birthday at the house the previous night, police said.

 

That level of tragedy—suicide and the murder of a family members—can wreak havoc on the emotions of even the toughest and resilient first responders.

 

“Especially when you have a tender-age (involved), I think it affects everybody,” said Oak Lawn Police Division Chief Mike Kaufmann.

 

The October death of six-month-old Vivian Summers, who allegedly was killed at the hands of her grandmother, Alfreda Giedrojc, a long-time Oak Lawn resident, was one of the most heinous crimes Kaufmann had witnessed during his career, the veteran officer said.

 

“Everybody can relate to a young, infant baby. For all of us, it touches (the) heart,” Kaufmann said at the time.

 

Both the police and fire departments offer various services to anyone affected by the tragedies that are part of the job.

 

“It doesn’t stop when we leave the fire scene,” Oak Lawn Fire Chief George Sheets.

 

Sheets said he and his commanders apply a “now-what” approach after a fire or other incident concludes. The health and welfare of the firefighters is at the top of that methodology, he said.

 

Firefighters are offered a variety of resources, including services provided via the village’s employee assistance program or Genesis Therapy, village manager Larry Deetjen said.

 

Sheets added firefighters often elect to talk with their colleagues during tough times.

 

“You have the camaraderie of those firefighters that were there,” Sheets said. “We have individuals who have been here a long time.”

 

The Chicago Police Department offered its peer counseling program to Oak Lawn’s first responders following last week’s incident. Some officers prefer to peers rather than supervisors about the rigors on the job, Kaufmann said.

 

“Everybody is affected quite differently,” Kaufmann said.

 

Deetjen agreed.

 

“In additional to offering professional help, each individual copes with stress, violence and tragedy through their own networks consisting of family, loved ones, special friends, church and other support groups.”

 

Oak Lawn Trustee Terry Vorderer, a retired village police officer, agreed that various incidents can affect first responders over the long haul.

 

“Talking about these things does help,” said Vorderer, who joined the Oak Lawn force shortly after returning from a tour as an infantryman in Vietnam.

 

He said the “macho, get over it” approach prevalent in his day is gone.

 

In fact, the Oak Lawn Fire Department looked to therapy dogs this week to assist firefighters looking to cope with last week’s fire.

 

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, three golden retrievers from the K-9 Comfort Dogs program visited firefighters at Station 2, 6451 W. 93rd Place. The program is sponsored by Lutheran Church Charities and is designed to bring compassion to those affected by a calamity.

 

“When anybody pets a dog, it relaxes them,” said Tim Hetzner, president of the charity.

 

He added that some people will talk to dogs about their involvement in or feeling about an disaster before speaking with another person.

 

“The dog serves a tool,” said Hetzner, who added that golden retrievers are used exclusively by the program because “by nature they are lovers.”

 

Last week’s fire isn’t the only tragedy Oak Lawn first responders have had to cope with in recent weeks.

 

In early February, a fire on the west side of the village lives of two elderly women.

 

Kathryn Lomec, 73, was pronounced dead Feb. 8 shortly after a blaze at her house in the 10100 block of Lawrence Court, officials said. Her sister and caretaker, 74-year-old Mary Bruce, died three days later at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, according to news reports.

 

There were no smoke detectors in the house and officials have not released the cause of the fire.

In January, a fierce argument between an Oak Lawn man and his wife may have led the man to burn down his house a few hours after the dispute, prosecutors said.

 

Arunas Samoska, 48, was charged with two counts of aggravated arson and one count of residential arson Jan. 13 after appearing in Bridgeview Court where a request for bond was denied, according to police.

 

Oak Lawn police and fire departments from several communities responded Jan. 11 to a house fire/explosion in the 8900 block of 55th Court. The house was engulfed with fire and required about one hour to extinguish.

 

Prosecutors said Samoska poured gasoline throughout his home, including the living room and the bed in the master bedroom. The vapors ignited when he went to his garage to get more gasoline, prosecutors said.

 

The explosion and subsequent fire rendered the home a complete loss, officials said. No one was in the home at the time of the explosion and there were no injuries. The houses on each side of the fire were occupied but no one was injured.

 

But fire has not been the only cause of tragedy in the community in 2014.

 

In late January, an elderly Oak Lawn died from cold-related causes. Antoinette Diesness, 86, of the 8700 block of Meade Avenue, died from hypothermia due to cold exposure, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Heart disease and dementia were contributing factors in her death, the medical examiner said.

 

A neighbor found her lying in the snow near her home, police said. She was the 17th reported cold-related death this winter in Cook County, authorities said.

 

Oak Lawn officials eye watch program

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Think about a neighborhood watch program and you’re likely to conjure images of crime prevention.
That’s not what two Oak Lawn officials have in mind for a neighborhood surrounding Christ Medical Center.
“It’s more than just crime. It’s community awareness,” said Trustee Terry Vorderer, who partnered with Trustee Alex Olejniczak to kick off the program.
“This is a pilot program, said Vorderer, who along with Olejniczak, will hold a kickoff meeting for residents at 7:30 p.m. March 20 at the Oak Lawn Park District administrative building, 9400 S. Kenton Ave.
“We’re very excited about it,” Olejniczak said, adding that program is designed to bring about synergies in the community.
The two trustees hope to eventually expand the program throughout their districts and ultimately village wide, they said.
Rather than focus solely on criminal activities, the watch program will concentrate on increasing communication between neighbors and keeping an eye on elderly residents, especially those who live alone, said Olezniczak, the village board’s fire department liaison.
The program would involve block reps—ideally two on each block—who communicate with Vorderer and Olejniczak and talk to residents about various village programs or initiatives, Olejniczak said.

Vorderer, a retired Oak Lawn police officer, said the village has not experienced an increase in serious crimes, although rashes of other crimes, such as car or home burglaries, have occurred recently. However, “people’s perception is reality,” he said. Hopefully, the program will be able to change perceptions that crime is on the rise, he said.

Vorderer, the village board’s police department liaison, said he sent letters to about 40 residents in his district, inviting them to participate in the program.
“Anyone is welcome to show up” at the meeting, he said.
The area chosen for the pilot program was selected because it includes the hospital, businesses on 95th Street and Cicero Avenue as well as single- and multi-family residences and the mobile home park.

Four hurt and Oak Lawn house smashed after a pair of crashes

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE-1-COLOR-3-col-houseThis is a scene of the house on New England Avenue and 76th Street in Oak Lawn on Wednesday morning a day after an SUV plowed into it late Tuesday afternoon, continuing a string of major incidents in that town since the start of 2014. Photo by Jeff Vorva.

Four people were injured and taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center after a driver of an SUV plowed into an Oak Lawn home late Tuesday afternoon after allegedly causing two accidents.
According to Burbank police, the SUV collided with a pair of other vehicles in two separate accidents before smashing into the front of a house on 87th Street and New England Avenue. An unidentified woman driving the SUV and her baby are in stable condition according to a CLTV report. Drivers of two other cars were also taken to a hospital but two people inside the Oak Lawn home were not hurt, according to CLTV.
Charges are pending against the driver, according to the station.
The house is located at the Oak Lawn side of the border of Oak Lawn and Burbank but the vehicle crashes happened in Burbank.
Burbank Police Division Chief Mike Dudlo said in a news release that at 4:45 p.m. witnesses saw the white BMW SUV get into an accident and fled the scene. A Burbank police officer chased the vehicle, which ran a stop sign at 87th and New England and collided with another vehicle before skidding out of control and crashing into the house.
Burbank’s Bruno Danko, said he heard the crash less than half a block away while he was in his house.
“It sounded like metal on metal, just a big bang,” Danko said told Sun-Times Media.