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Candidate says Worth mayor’s husband verbally assaulted him

  • Written by Joe Boyle

The former mayor of Worth and current candidate for the position filed a complaint with police claiming he was verbally abused by the husband of current Worth Mayor Mary Werner.

Randy Keller, who served as mayor of Worth from 2009 to 2013 before losing to Werner, said he was out campaigning door-to-door and passing out literature at about 2:30 p.m. Saturday along 109th Street and Depot, near Gale Moore Park.

It was at this point, according to Keller, that Steve Werner pulled up along the street in his truck and began shouting obscenities at him. Steve Werner, the mayor’s husband and the president of the Worth Park District, was angry about Keller’s campaign literature, stating the material was a “bunch of lies,” according to police. Keller responded that “the truth hurts” and kept on walking, reports state.

According to Keller, Steve Werner continued to follow him but remained in his vehicle. The mayoral candidate said that Werner continued to follow him just over a half hour.

“I didn’t know what he was going to do,” Keller said. “I was concerned for my safety.”

Keller said that as he approached at 108th Street and Depot Avenue, Erich Werner, the son of Steve Werner, drove up in his vehicle and allegedly approached him. He advised Keller to leave the area.

“You better get out of here (because) my dad is going crazy,” according to Keller in a statement to police. According to police, Erich Werner advised Keller to get into a car and leave. Keller soon entered his friend’s car, which was nearby.

Erich Werner then immediately left the area. Keller said he then noticed that Steve Werner drove north on Depot Street to 107th Street, turned around and continued south on Depot. Keller said Steve Werner drove past him and also left the area.

After the alleged incident, Keller called police from a friend’s home and filed the report. Police reportedly questioned both Steve and Erich Werner about what reportedly happened.

According to police, Steve Werner said that he did shout at Keller regarding the campaign literature, but never threatened him. Steve Werner told police that he never left his vehicle during his contact with Keller.

Ecpert in human trafficking enlightens residents about 'modern-day slavery'

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Human trafficking is as prevalent today as it has ever been, and a justice advocate said these victims come from all social backgrounds.

“Human trafficking has been around forever,” said Sr. Jeanne Christensen, RSM, the justice advocate for human trafficking representing the Sisters of Mercy Hermanas de la Misericordia West Midwest Community out of Kansas City, Mo. “Violence is the key in human trafficking and that’s how they control their victims.”

Sr. Jeanne was the guest speaker last Thursday night at the Warde Academic Center at St. Xavier University in Chicago. She spoke on the topic of “Human Trafficking = Modern Say Slavery” before a crowd of just over 150 people.

The majority of the victims of women are between the ages 18 and 24, according to Sr. Jeanne. She pointed out that there are two forms of human trafficking: sex trafficking, in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion; or labor trafficking, in which a person is forced into labor against their will.

According to Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, human trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, debt bondage or slavery.

Sr. Jeanne said cases of human trafficking can occur at social gatherings and sporting events throughout the country. She mentioned there had even been some incidents at the annual College World Series in Omaha, Neb., where often a group of young women are checked into hotels and stay there for a couple of days.

“Some men feel free to do what they want on the road,” Sr. Jeanne said. “If girls are registered in hotels with don’t disturb signs that could be a sign of human trafficking.”

Sr. Jeanne said these young women are in danger but are often not in a position to seek help.

“If a victim is at the hospital with a predator, she is not going to tell you the truth,” Sr. Jeanne said. “You need to separate the victims from these predators.”

Sr. Jeanne said the number of trafficking victims in the U.S. is largely unknown. However, thousands of U.S. citizens, including minors are estimated to be at risk of human trafficking. While the number of trafficking U.S. victims may be unknown, 100,000 U.S. children are commercially exploited every year in the U.S. The number may be as high as 300,000, according to recent statistics on human trafficking.

Ninety-eight percent of human trafficking victims are girls and women. Ninety-five percent of victims experienced physical or sexual violence due to human trafficking, according to statistics.

“Fair trade helps cut down on human trafficking,” Sr. Jeanne said. “Victims are of all backgrounds and are not just minorities or the poor. Runaways ages 13 or 14 could become victims of human trafficking. Don’t go to the streets and be very careful about social media.”

Predators often find girls of low self-esteem by talking to them at bars, restaurants, malls, rest areas, bus depots and train stations. Traffickers can be individual pimps (men or women), small families or businesses, loose-knit criminal networks, gang members, and national or international organized criminal syndicates.

Sr. Jeanne said that when authorities are able to crack down on human trafficking, some of these predators just change how they do business. She mentioned these predators use websites to lure girls and women. Sr. Jeanne said these predators have used the Backpage website to solicit customers.

“Reducing the demand is what we’re working on,” said Sr. Jeanne. “If you think something is suspicious, report it. Call law enforcement. If you are in the mall and see something you don’t like, report it.”

The U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking is a faith-based national network that offers education, supports access to survivor services, and engages in advocacy in an effort to eradicate modern day slavery.

Sr. Jeanne presented a 20-minute film on two victims of human trafficking who have since turned their lives around and now assist victims.

“We just had a 20-year-old woman in our town who has disappeared and could be a victim of human trafficking,” Sr. Jeanne said. “She worked in a strip club. Some of these girls in strip clubs are trying to make more money. But it is not a good situation.”

This is why volunteers need to reach out these women and men, many of whom have been traumatized by what they have gone through.

“Be a voice and share with others,” Sr. Jeanne said. “Talk to men about showing respect for women. If we respect women, you won’t treat them like a commodity.”

Anyone who has information about a possible victim can call 911 or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888.

Speeding, wildlife feeding are hot topics in Worth

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

 

A lively exchange of conversation took place during the Worth Village Board meeting on Feb. 21 regarding speeding and feeding the wildlife

Resident Jim Peltzer, who lives near 114th Place and New England Avenue, spoke up during the public comment portion of the meeting with complaints about speeding traffic on his residential street and people continuing to feed the wildlife at the Worth Waterfalls area, in spite of signs reading “Do Not Feed the Wildlife.”

Peltzer stated that he fears for his children and the neighborhood children going to and from a nearby elementary school.

“Some of these drivers reach 60 miles per hour on my street, they ignore the stop signs and many of them are texting” he said.

“I have tried to flag them down to tell them to slow down. I have yelled at them, all to no avail. I am really afraid something bad is going to happen. Something needs to be done,” Peltzer added.

He added that he understood that the police can’t be there all the time.

“But would it be possible to increase the presence of the police for a while?” Peltzer asked.

Mayor Mary Werner also responded with her concerns.

“I see these people speeding on our side streets also, and it boggles my mind,” she said. “It is so frustrating.”

“The sorry thing about this situation is the fact that it is the parents of these kids doing the speeding,” said Trustee Pete Kats. “I see them; they drop their kids off at the school and speed away, texting and driving and not paying attention. The parents need to be educated.”

He also suggested to Peltzer that perhaps the residents could take photos of the license plates of the offenders, which could then be reported to the police department.

Police Chief Mark Micetich stated that he had talked with the school’s service officer and there are plans to include a letter to the parents in the school’s newsletter regarding speeding, texting while driving and parking illegally in the school zone.

Peltzer’s second comment was in regard to the violation of feeding rules at the Worth Water Falls area. He said people are feeding the wildlife, which is clearly prohibited.

“Feeding the ducks and geese creates a hazard to their health and also creates a mess on the grassy area. I was there with my family and we couldn’t even walk on the path,” Peltzer said.

Again, Werner agreed with him.

“I was sitting on a bench there last weekend and families were walking by with large bags of bread to feed the geese, right in front of the huge sign prohibiting the feeding. The bread is harmful to the ducks and geese. We are literally killing the wildlife.”

She said an ordinance is needed to enforce the prohibition, but it would have to come from the MWRD, which owns the property.

“We are working with them to establish an ordinance,” Werner said.

In other business, the board approved two ordinances and a business license pertaining to a retail tobacco store at 10700 S. Harlem, Fattoush Hookah, Inc., owned by Naser Farhan. The ordinances included a special use zoning and a variance to reduce the required number of vehicle parking spaces for the store.

Other action included the swearing in of four police officers: Bryan Brooks, Christian Ferchau, Roberto Frias and Gerard Igoe.

 

Oak Lawn's 4th District race is heating up

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Oak Lawn Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th) is being challenged by John Koss in his bid for a second term in the April 4 election.

Vorderer is allied with Mayor Sandra Bury and Koss is allied with her opponent, Trustee Bob Streit (3rd), and they share some election material. But both lifelong Oak Lawn residents said they are running independent of the mayoral candidates.

Vorderer, 70, a lifelong village resident who retired as chief of patrol from the Oak Lawn Police Department, is a Vietnam War veteran.

“The only time I spent away from Oak Lawn was my time spent in tents in the jungles of Vietnam with the 1st Infantry Division,” he said.

Vorderer counts among his accomplishments as trustee the restarting the tradition of having community meetings.

“I’ve held more than a dozen of them. (Former trustee) Steven Rosenbaum used to do it, and I think they are very important to meet with residents and bring them information. We have had speakers from the business community, village officials, and the police department.”

“When I ran last time, I promised not to raise property taxes, and we haven’t. We have even lowered them a small amount. But a lot of people don’t realize that the village only gets a small amount of their property tax bills, so even if our part wasn’t raised, other taxing bodies may cause their bills to go up.”

“As a retired police officer, security is very important to me,” said Vorderer. He said that the police force has increased from 105, when he retired, to 109.

“We did that without raising property taxes. We were able to do it from the increased revenue generated by the new businesses that have come into town,” he said.

“I’ve increased and participated with other board members in the efforts that have seen a lot of economic development,” he said. “In the past four years, 175 new businesses have opened, bringing 1,500 new jobs, and $2.5 million additional tax dollars.”

Vorderer said he is also proud of his successfully solving the issues with Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant on 95th Street, which had been plagued by violent disturbances in recent years. After being threatened with losing its business license, the company has agreed to close the restaurant before the end of the year.

“I’ve been working on that since I was elected. And we did it without incurring large court costs,” he said. “It is a good company but it didn’t work here,” said the trustee.

He also said ending the policy of giving pensions to part-time employees was good for the village. If re-elected, he said he looks forward to working on seeing the $25 million Advocate medical center planned for the Beatty Lumber site coming to fruition, and working on getting the Metra train schedule expanded in Oak Lawn. Vorderer also said he is looking forward to the long-planned light at 95th and Kilbourn.

Koss, 49, who owns a window and door company, and works for BSNF Railroad, is a graduate of Brother Rice High School and Southern Illinois University. He and his wife, Laura, have six children. Koss said he is very involved with scouting and coaching, in addition to belonging to groups such as the Knights of Columbus.

“I’ll have to give up some of the outside activities if I’m elected, but I want to have a voice in village government,” he said.

Pointing to a number of armed robberies and incidents of gunfire that have occurred in recent weeks and months, Koss said Oak Lawn does not feel as safe as when he was growing up.

“We want to raise our children here. But I would never allow them to go to a park alone, like I did.”

Koss said that while the police force has increased in numbers, he would like to see more officers patrolling the streets.

“There are only 10 officers on the street per shift,” he said. “We might not have to hire more, but just look at how they are deployed.”

“I also think it took too long to solve the problem with Chuck E. Cheese’s,” he said

Koss said he was also unhappy with the decisions made by the current village board to privatize the 911 center. He said hiring an outside company to run the center, which handles calls for surrounding communities as well as Oak Lawn, was not a good idea.

“I am sure they did it as a money-saving measure but it costs lives,” Koss said.

That assertion, that lives have been lost due to mishandled 911 ambulance calls, has been disputed by village officials.

The candidate said that if elected, he would also work on finding ways to hire more fire department personnel. He maintains that the fire department is undermanned and expressed concern that the current numbers are inadequate.

Our Lady of the Ridge Parish gives thanks

  • Written by Joe Boyle

music ministers photo 3-2

Photo by Joe Boyle

Music ministers who performed during the Prayer Service of Thanksgiving at Our Lady of Ridge Church Sunday night were (from left) sisters Stephanie and Jillian Seweryn, along with their mother, Laura.



 

The faculty, students, parents and community of Our Lady of the Ridge Elementary School in Chicago Ridge received the news they had been waiting for on Friday.

The school, 10859 S. Ridgeland Ave., will remain open in the fall.

The administration, staff and students celebrated when they were informed by the Chicago Archdiocese that they had met the criteria had been met to keep the school operating. The administration had been informed on Jan. 11 that the school could close unless they reached an enrollment of at least 114 and could raise over $250,000.

The school exceeded those expectations through a phone-a-thon, two open houses and parishioners spreading the word about the school. Fundraisers were held and local businesses provided support by donating portions of their profits to go to the school.

“We are ecstatic,” said Mary Grisolano, media relations volunteer and graduate of Our Lady of the Ridge.

Grisolano said that the school was able to raise $321,500 over the past month. Enrollment is now at 117 and Grisolano said that those numbers traditionally rise in the spring, especially now that the school will remain open.

The major catalyst event that provided the necessary support for Our Lady of the Ridge was the fundraiser held Feb.19 at 111 Bourbon Street in Merrionette Park. A huge crowd was present all day and over 850 tickets were sold for various raffles. Nearly 880 people attended the event.

To celebrate the news Our Lady of the Ridge School will continue, a Prayer Service of Thanksgiving was held on Sunday night at the church.

The Rev. Wayne Svida, pastor of Our Lady of the Ridge, began the service by telling parishioners that this is a great time for the teachers, the parents and students.

“These past few days, have you leaped for joy? We, too, have leaped for joy for fulfilling our obligation to the Archdiocese of Chicago,” Svida said.

Our Lady of the Ridge School opened in 1954. Svida said he is pleased that the school will “continue to educate young men and women.”

Svida thanked everyone responsible for keeping Our Lady of the Ridge open, including the teachers, the staff and the parents.

“This is about family,” Svida said. “They say it takes a village to raise a child. We are a village. We are the village of Our Lady of the Ridge.”

Svida reminded parents, students and volunteers that they need to continue to support Our Lady of the Ridge in the future.

“We cannot stop what we are doing,” Svida said. “We can’t stop educating our children. We will continue on with Our Lady of the Ridge School.”

Sr. Stephanie Kondik, OSF, principal at Our Lady of the Ridge School, praised Svida’s leadership, calling him an “inspiration” during the past month.

At the conclusion of the prayer service, a celebration was held where a variety of food and a cake were served to students, teachers, parents, volunteers and community leaders.

Marianne Gillfillan, school board president at Our Lady of the Ridge, said she is confident that the school has the support it needs to remain open for many years to come.

“The support has been tremendous from alumni, media, local businesses, elected officials, current and even former school families. Everyone has mobilized together to save our gem of a school. It speaks to the uniquely strong community we have and its impact on people’s lives that this town is so dedicated to keeping the school open.

“Our Lady of the Ridge is here to stay.”