It was touch-and-go with the ice and snow

  • Written by Bob Rakow

PAGE-1-wuth-weather-story-072Black ice, rather than snow, was the culprit Monday morning when approximately 45 cars and trucks were involved in a chain reaction pileup on southbound Interstate 294 near Hickory Hills.

The accident was the most significant event related to a weekend snowstorm that dropped more than a foot of snow on our area.

Aside from the crash, towns in the Reporter’s coverage area survived the season’s first storm with few difficulties, save for a few complaints from residents wondering why their streets weren’t cleared sooner or more thoroughly, officials said.

The tollway crash reportedly began when someone ran into the back of a state trooper's car that was pulled over for another accident, officials said.

The trooper was not injured, but traffic started to slow and three semis jackknifed, causing the accident, officials said.

A total of 11 people were injured in the crash, which occurred around 9:20 a.m., state police said. None of the injuries were serious.

A total of 16 crash reports were taken involving 45 vehicles. Of the 45 vehicles, 20 were towed from the tollway. Eight people were transported to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, and one individual refused treatment, state police reported.

The Roberts Park Fire Protection District and several other fire departments responded to the crash, which stretched from mile marker 18¾ to mile marker 18 in the southbound lanes, officials said.

Chris Perry, battalion chief for the North Palos Fire Protection District, said ice was the primary cause of the accident.

“It was icy up there. It was pretty slick up there,” Perry said “We had a lot of vehicles smashed into one another.”

Perry said he “amazed” there were no major injuries as a result of the crash.

“We were kind of surprised that we had no extrications,” Perry said.

Nineteen inches of snowfall fell from late Saturday night into Sunday in the fifth-largest blizzard to ever hit Chicago area.

But the communities within the Reporter’s coverage area handled the season’s first significant storm with relative ease, officials said.

“We have to congratulate our public works department,” said Chicago Ridge Village Clerk George Schleyer, who lauded crews for keeping up with the storm.

Schleyer admitted he may have spoken too soon when it came to the winter weather.

“It was funny, the mayor and I were talking about what a great year it was for public works and the salt budget,” he said.

Still, the village remains ahead of the game since the first significant storm did not happen until February.

The battle against the elements went as good as could be expected in Oak Lawn, said Village Manager Larry Deetjen.

“All hands were on deck,” he said, referring to the public works crews who took to the streets late Saturday night. “We’re running around-the-clock shifts.”

“Most people have been very understanding,” he said of residents.

The village plowed major thoroughfares and snow routes first and got to other streets later on.

“You prioritize,” he said, adding that the village began plowing alleys Monday so garbage trucks could access them beginning on Tuesday.

Village crews were to begin plowing cul-de-sacs and taking a second pass at other areas throughout the week, Deetjen said.

He added that the absence of weekday traffic and an existing ground cover of ice and snow made plowing easier on Sunday.

Garbage collection was cancelled on Monday and resumed Tuesday with Republic Services employing a holiday schedule.

Village crews cleared all but the top level of the commuter parking deck in preparation for Monday morning, Deetjen said.


Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Garibaldi's got talent -- and is using some of it for charity

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions

Some of us are getting at that age when we see young punks run afoul of the law and say things like “why can’t they use all of that energy for something positive?’’

I’ve been saying it in recent years whenever computer geeks decide to gum up our laptops and home computers or hack into some place they shouldn’t be and do millions of dollars of damage. Why can’t they spend all of those hours doing something positive?

David Garibaldi had a little punk in him.

He admits to doing illegal activities in South Sacramento involving graffiti. He was a high school dropout and was seemingly heading nowhere with his life.

Why couldn’t this kid do something positive his talent?

Thanks to some advice from an art teacher, he turned his life around and became an amazing performance painter. He paints pictures of celebrities in less than six minutes while using music and dance in his act. He made it to the finals of “America’s Got Talent’’ in the seventh season (Judge Howie Mandel couldn’t get out of his seat fast enough to applaud Garibaldi after one performance) and has made his share of money entertaining and dazzling audiences all over the world.

His hometown media speculates he could be the next Andy Warhol.

But the cool thing about Garibaldi is that he came up with an idea.

His goal was to make $1 million before he turned 30.

All for charity.

In late 2012, at age 29, he accomplished that goal.

Garibaldi was in Oak Lawn on Jan. 19 – Martin Luther King Day – to speed paint portraits of King, Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi during a presentation at the Advocate Christ Medical Center Auditorium. Those three pictures will be auctioned off at later time to help one of the hospital’s anti-violence program, so Garibaldi did not stop helping once he reached the $1 million goal.

He said some auctions have raised “tens of thousands of dollars’’ per picture.

“I realized I had this unique opportunity to use a few minutes on stage and a few hundred dollars of materials to see the value in what it brought to other people’s lives,” he told the Oak Lawn crowd. “I wanted to change the purpose behind the passion. Along the way, I was thinking ‘I don’t think we’re going to achieve this goal. That’s a very large number.’ But the night I met that goal was a reminder on why I stayed on that path.’’

Usually his act finds him painting celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Jay-Z and has done some touching pictures of Jesus.

He and a few other artists banded together and made it to the finals of “America’s Got Talent” and the group did a lot of dancing and painting to get pictures done in under two minutes.

“A lot of people overlook that I did paintings in 90 seconds,” he said after the Oak Lawn performance. “I usually do these in six minutes and that’s pretty fast. Doing this, a performance and dance in 90 seconds, was tough. It wasn’t the millions of people watching that made me nervous – it was doing something I had never done before.’’

Between the first stroke of the brushes through the final product, this guy jumps around, dances, dips his hand in the paint and throws it onto the canvas until this mess all of a sudden shapes up to be a brilliant work of art.

Sometimes he is not sure what the final product will look like until it’s over.

“Paint drips and paint doesn’t always go where you want it to,” he said. “Things change in the middle of a performance all the time. But it’s a process I’ve been doing a long time and I’m trying to perfect it. I try to capture the portrait during that moment.’’

After Oak Lawn, the next day he was performing in New Jersey and the next day he was throwing paint around in Scottsdale, Arizona.  He said he does 100 shows a year and when he’s not creating on stage, he said he practices a lot at home.

“Talent without hard work is just kind of a cool hobby,’’ he said. “I practice and try to find new ways to create.’’

SUBHEAD – 21 and counting

This was the 21st MLK celebration at Christ and one of the people overseeing all 21 events is the center’s staff chaplain, Rev. Richard E. James.

James and his committee have brought authors and entertainers – and even a play -- to the center for more than two decades including Chris Gardner, whose memoir, “The Pursuit of Happyness,”  was made into a film starring Will Smith.

J.R. Martinez, an actor and war veteran who suffered burns over 34 percent of his body and won the season 13 “Dancing with the Stars” competition, was also a guest.

Having cool guests on MLK Day is nothing new, but I asked Rev. James what he could possibly do for an encore after Garibaldi’s presentation.

“That’s a question I love to hear every year,” he said. “Our aim is to provide the creativity that Martin Luther King lived and died for. Our mission is to keep his values and philosophy alive and to put on a multi-cultural presentation that many people can enjoy. It’s not just a black thing.’’

Hickory Hills man allegedly reneges on $30,000 lewd act, gets slapped with solicitation charge

  • Written by Bob Rakow

A Hickory Hills man was charged Jan. 22 with soliciting a sexual act after refusing to pay the $30,000 he offered a man to watch him masturbate, police said.


Timothy J. Costello, 29, met the 20-year-old Palatine man on Facebook and offered him $30,000 to come to his apartment in the 8100 block of 87th Street and watch him perform the sexual act, according to police reports.


The Palatine man took a cab to the apartment and told the driver that his friend  “Tim James” would pay the $74 fare when they arrived. But Costello refused to pay when the cab arrived, police said.


Costello, police said, is known to have made similar offers in the past but has never made good on them. Police went to his apartment to see if he would pay the cab fare, but he did not answer the door, they said.


They found Costello “lurking behind the building,” the report said. Costello admitted to making the offer, but denied saying he would pay the cab fare, police said. Costello said did he not think the alleged victim would take him up on the offer, according to police.


The Palatine man later admitted that Costello told him to skip out on the cab fare, but he had second thoughts when he arrived at the apartment building, police said.


The alleged victim told police, “Man, I knew it was too good to be true.  I would have watched 10 guys masturbate for $30,000.”


The Palatine man telephoned his sister, who agreed to pay the cab fare via credit card. Police drove him to the station where he waited for his mother to pick him up.


--Bob Rakow

Tom Marches on:Oak Lawn political hopeful, 23, gunning for two spots in April election

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Page-1-MARCH-SchoolTom March is back from Brown University and ready to march into the world of local politics.

“I’ve always had high aspirations,” said March, a 2014 graduate of the Ivy League university, where he majored in economics.

But rather than dip his toe into the local political scene, March, 23, is doing a cannonball into the deep end, running for seats on both the Oak Lawn Library Board and Ridgeland School District 122 board.

March has long had an interest in politics, serving as president of his class each of his four years at Oak Lawn Community High School.

He also served a summer internship at the Federalist Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing conservative and libertarian ideas into legal education.

Now, March is ready to bring his ideas to what he describes as the “pillars of education in our community” by running for school and library board.

“If anything, the two are aligned,” he said.

He believes students should experience a rigorous education to prepare them for college, where students from more affluent communities may be ahead of them.

He admires the village’s library, but believes more could be done to encourage young people to take advantage of all it has to offer.

“We have an incredible library, but it feels underutilized,” he said.

March enjoyed his experience at Brown, but looked forward to coming home and “giving back to the community in which I was raised.”

“I learned a lot,” March said of his time at Brown, but knows he’ll need more than his education to succeed in local politics.

“I have to earn my respect,” he said.

In Ridgeland District 122, March is one of four candidates running for three, four-year terms. He is a graduate of Simmons Middle School and Oak Lawn Community High School.

Mike Riordan, superintendent and principal of the high school, said he was not caught unaware that March was taking on such a considerable challenge.

“He’s jumping in head first,” Riordan said. “I’m not surprised at all.”

Riordan recalled March as a “great kid and a great student” who made the most of his years at the high school as an athlete and member of student organizations.

“Tom was the kid that other kids gravitated to,” Riordan said.

The library board race is uncontested as March and two other candidates run for three seats. March’s father, Frank, previously served on the library board and has served an inspiration for his son.

“Growing up, you look to your father,” he said.


Richards teacher a big wheel

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Kelly Vander Meer has some bruises on her hands but some big bucks in her pockets after success as a contestant on Wheel of Fortune.

“The wheel is a lot smaller than I thought it would be,” said Vander Meer, a special education teacher at Richards High School in Oak Lawn.

But the wheel weighs 2,400 pounds, and spinning it was no easy task, Vander Meer recalled.

“It is so heavy. I had bruises on the inside of my hands from the spikes,” she said.

Yet the wheel’s weight didn’t interfere with Vander Meer’s success.

She was the show’s big winner, walking away with more than $18,000 and a trip to Aruba, which is now her honeymoon destination.

Vander Meer, 29, is getting married in July. The prize money will help pay for the wedding and the purchase of a house, she said.

“It was perfect timing,” she said.

Vander Meer said she wasn’t nervous during the taping of the show, which aired Friday. She watched four episodes of tape before playing the game, which helped her prepare.

“If I was on the first show (of the day) I would have been extremely nervous,” said Vander Meer, who also credited her profession for helping her speak loudly and think on her feet.

Vander Meer wasted little time gaining an advantage by guesing the first puzzle, “Thomas Jefferson.”

“I started to flow,” she said.

She also correctly answered the final puzzle: “Painted Desert.”

Unfortunately, another contestant on the show, James Trahan, became the subject of Internet and TV show razing for repeating the wrong answer to the puzzle.

The contestant before him guessed the letter “P” and guessed “The Pointed Desert.” It was wrong. So now it was Trahan's turn.

He also guessed “The Pointed Desert.” Host Pat Sajak reminded him that the answer was incorrect, but that he had time to guess again.

Trahan appeared confused, but eventually said, “I'd like to solve the puzzle” before again guessing “The Pointed Desert.”

“It's not ‘The Pointed Desert,' no matter how many times you say it,” Sajak said.

Vander Meer never expected to be in position to solve the puzzle.

“When (the first contestant) didn’t get it, I never thought it would come to me,” she said.

Vander Meer said Trahan appeared nervous throughout the show and perspiration was wiped away from his face during the commercial breaks.

Vander Meer’s Wheel of Fortune journey started in October when a friend told her the show was doing auditions in Chicago.

She sent in the required 30-second introductory video, and two weeks later received an email inviting her to audition, which included playing the game and taking written tests.

She survived three rounds of cuts and was told she would receive word within 18 months about coming to Los Angeles to participate in the show. She got an invitation a few weeks later, and taped a show in early December.

Vander Meer, who previously appeared on Family Feud, said her goal was to win more than the minimum $1,000 Wheel of Fortune prize.

“I’m usually pretty good at the game playing at home,” she said, adding that she watched regularly in preparation for her appearance.

Vander Meer did not win the bonus puzzle, which would have added $36,000 to her take.

She added that there aren’t too many behind-the-scenes secrets to reveal about the show.

Contestants are encouraged to clap and be upbeat. In the hours before their show, contestants are somewhat secluded as they watch the other tapings. They are not allowed to see their families or friends or make phone calls.

Vander Meer’s appearance was a big hit at Richards. She talked about the appearance with her students, some who had never seen the show. Other students that she did not know stopped by her classroom to offer congratulations.

Vander Meer is the second teacher from Richards to appear on Wheel of Fortune. English teacher Sara Carlson competed last year.