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EP Mayor frustrated over potential danger from long train delays

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton was shocked when he witnessed a cyclist get off his bike and crawl under a delayed freight train rather than continue to wait for the train to pass a crossing in the village.

  It was an extremely dangerous thing to do, but the move emphasized for Sexton the frustration people are dealing with when it comes to stalled trains and downed crossing gates at various spots in the village.
  “People who get frustrated do crazy things,” Sexton said.
  Sexton said the delays force ambulances headed for Christ Medical Center—the region’s only trauma center—and Little Company of Mary Hospital from 2-col-railroadA series of signs warn drivers of oncoming trains at one of the crossings, which has experienced massive delays that Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton hopes that the railroad can prevent.. Photo by Bob Rakow.reaching their destinations in a timely fashion. Rerouting wastes precious moments that could be the difference between life and death, he said.
  “Somebody is going to get hurt or die waiting for an ambulance,” Sexton said.
  The railroad line, which CSX took over in 2012, dissects the village and crosses 95th Street near Troy Avenue and Kedzie Avenue at 94th Street—immediately adjacent to the police and fire departments.
  Stalled trains and downed gates occur numerous times a week, and the delays have exceeded one hour in some cases, Sexton said.
  “It’s a mess,” said Sexton, who added that the village has received hundreds of calls from complaining residents. The trouble is, there’s little the village can do, as the federal government oversees the railroads.
  Sexton last week attended a 90-minute meeting with CSX officials to discuss a solution to the problem. State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) and representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Rep. Bobby Rush and 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea also attended the meeting.
  Railroad officials made a commitment to put an end to the delays, Sexton said, but the mayor is tiring of promises the railroad doesn’t keep, he said.
  “They’re going to make everything better,” Sexton said with a trace of sarcasm. “I’ll feel better when it gets fixed.”
  Sexton said no improvements were made following a previous meeting with CSX officials at O’Shea’s office.
  “It’s only gotten worse,” he said. “It’s just off the charts. I can understand why there’s so much road rage.”
  CSX officials told Sexton that recent extreme weather as well as repairs being made along the line are to blame for the delays.
  The train line runs through Chicago’s Mt. Greenwood community before entering Evergreen Park where it crosses several major streets in the village, including 99th Street, 95th Street, Kedzie Avenue and 87th Street.
  In addition to safety concerns, Sexton said the delays and resulting snarled traffic have a negative impact on the village’s business community.
  CSX is currently repairing and replacing signals and replacing tens of thousands of railroad ties, and has ordered slow zones through the area while the work is in progress. The work will be ongoing into 2014, CSX officials have said.
  The railroad purchased the line from the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, and the company’s plan to run more than 20 trains a day through town was not well-received by village officials in 2012 when railroad officials spoke at a village board meeting.
  CSX’s acquisition of the rail line will allow the company’s freight trains to be expedited more quickly in Chicago, railroad officials said. Trains do not run through Evergreen Park between 5 and 9 a.m. or from 4 and 7:30 p.m., CSX officials said.

Police suspect foul play in death of Rice teacher

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

  An icon from Brother Rice High School was found dead in his Orland Park home on Tuesday and police are investigating the possibility of foul play.
  Al Filan, 62, a longtime business teacher at the school and soccer coach in the area, was found dead at his Orland Park home in the 9400 block of Georgetown Square and multiple media reports say that the Orland Park Police Department is handing it off to the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force for further investigation.
  “We don’t want to leave any stone unturned if there is any possibility [of] foul play,” Orland Park Commander John Keating told Sun-Times Media. I can’t confirm [it is a homicide]. It’s still classified as a death investigation at this point…’’
  An autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday, after The Regional Publishing deadline.
  A statement from Brother Rice said that Filan taught at the school for more than 39 years and “touched the lives of thousands of students.”
  Filan was also a veteran soccer coach and was a former head coach and assistant at Andrew High School in Tinley Park.
  Orland Hills’ Tim Neighbors, who was a goalie coach for Filan at Andrew for a couple of years, was shocked to hear the news.
  “One of my sons called us,” Neighbors said. “We were like ‘holy cow!’ You know people get up in age could have a heart attack or something like that. He was in his 60s. But to find out if it was foul play, I can’t believe it.’’
  Neighbors’ sons, Greg and Tim, played for Andrew in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
  “Al was more of a quiet coach — but like all of us he had him moments when he got loud,” Neighbors said. “And I’ll tell you what — he always faced the stiffest competition. He never backed down from a challenge and the teams we played were loaded.’’
  Marist High School held a moment of silence for Filan before the boys basketball game between the RedHawks and Brother Rice on Tuesday night.

St. Bernadette needs $500,000 to stay open

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  St. Bernadette Catholic Academy 2-col-St.-BThe doors at St. Bernadette Catholic Academy likely will be closed next school year, but Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton and school officials are talking about a financial plan to save the school. Photo by Bob Rakow.officials and Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton are examining a series of options designed to prevent the school from closing its doors at the end of the year.

  Sexton, principal Arlene Baumann and the Rev. Benedykt Pazdan, St. Bernadette’s pastor, met Thursday to discuss ways in which $500,000 could be raised to keep the school open.
  “I’m really not at liberty to discuss the options,” Sexton said.
  Sexton called for the meeting after parents were informed on Jan. 10 by the Archdiocese of Chicago that the 64-year-old school would be closed due to struggling finances. The news was delivered by Sr. Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese, at a parents-only meeting in the school hall. Sexton attended the meeting at a parent’s request.
  Sexton said the school, which has experienced declining enrollment over the past few years, needs $500,000 to remain open for the next three years. The school currently has less than 100 students.
  The school, 9311 S. Francisco Ave., must look to large donations rather than fundraising within the parish community in order to achieve the goal, he said.
  “We’re looking to get some partnerships with some people,” said Sexton, who would not identify potential business partners. “You’ve got to come up with a couple big donors.”
  Sexton admitted that raising a significant amount of money in a short period of time will be difficult, but is not ready to give up on the school’s future.
  “Never say never,” he said.
  Archdiocesan officials said that financial plans must be submitted by Friday.
  Pazdan could not be reached for comment, and Baumann was hesitant to discuss the meeting.
  “We’ll see what happens,” she said.
  She added that raising money to keep the doors open for another year is not sufficient and likely would not be approved by the diocese, which she described as “cautious” about plans to save schools slated for closure.
  “To come up with money for one year is not enough. We’ve got to wait and see.”
  She added that the school would require long-term marketing and financial plans to keep it sustainable for several years.
  “If something happens, I’ll be dancing down 95th Street,” Baumann quipped.

  Over the past five years, the Chicago Archdiocese has contributed more than $100 million to operate its school system over and above what local parishes contributed. Continued support at that level is unsustainable, the diocese said in a statement.

  The families of the 775 children affected by the closures of St. Bernadette and five other elementary schools will be encouraged to transfer their children to nearby Catholic schools and offered tuition discounts to offset any inconvenience, the diocese said.

Palos Heights man charged with abduction in Oak Lawn

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  A Palos Heights man was charged Jan. 13 with child abductionLoftus-Terrence-Child-Abduc-attempt-pick-upTerrence Loftus after he tried to convince a high school girl to enter his car, Oak Lawn police said.
  Terrence P. Loftus, 59, drove alongside a 17-year-old girl who was walking home from school near 92nd Street and Kilpatrick Avenue and asked if she needed a ride, reports said.
  The girl declined the ride, but Loftus continued to follow her and was persistent in his attempt to continue a conversation, police said. He also motioned for her to get into the car, they said.
  The girl reached her home and locked herself inside, according to reports. She memorized the license plate number of the Chrysler that Loftus was driving. The car was registered to an 86-year-old-woman, reports said.
  Last Friday, Oak Lawn police picked up Loftus, who is the son of the woman who owned the car, police said. Loftus matched the composite drawing provided by the student. He was identified by the student in a lineup the next day.
  The Cook County State’s attorney approved one count of child abduction because the offender intentionally attempted to lure a child, traveling from secondary school, into a car without the consent of a parent for other than a lawful purpose, police said.

Jeff Vorva's Editor's Notebook: Even this Olympic-sized grump will have an interest in games

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

jeff columnThe sports fan in me has no use for the Olympics.
  Sorry.
  If I don’t care about sports such as figure skating, skiing and sports where they shoot guns while they are on skis for three years and 11 months, why should I get all excited about them during the Olympics?
  Call me a grump and a grouch but I really don’t feel better about myself as an American because our ice dancers outpointed the ice dancers from Japan. Someone’s triple axel will not solve the unemployment problem or pension crisis going in our country and state.
  Don’t even get me started on the politics and the cesspool of corruption over the years from Olympic officials, and word is that the coming Olympics in Sochi could be the most corrupt in history.
  However...
  The writer/editor in me thinks the Olympics are wonderful. I am a guy who prides himself on trying to tell great stories about people and the Olympics certainly provide more than enough great stories. Emotions run high. The triumphs are great. The disappointments are monumental.DR-Page-3-2-col-bonnie-now-for-JV-COLOlympics legend Bonnie Blair talks to Stagg students Friday afternoon. Photo by Jeff Vorva.
  Just to get to the Olympics, there are plenty of cheers and tears. An athlete has to work hard to reach that elite level. Even the people on snowshoes shooting guns have fascinating tales to tell.
  Another drama to getting to the big games is timing. You have to be at your top form at just the right time because this event takes place every four years. If an athlete peaks in 2013 or 2015? Oh well. You are out of luck, pal.
  Legendary Olympic speed skater Bonnie Blair was in Palos Hills last Friday to give a motivational talk to students at Stagg High School and it was a very cool assignment. I was able to chat with her afterward and I didn’t feel like I was interviewing an ex-athlete. I felt like I was talking to a historic figure.
  The sports fan in me wouldn’t watch speed skating. The reporter in me was honored to be able to spend a few minutes talking to Bonnie Blair, who these days goes by Bonnie Cruikshank.
  One of the things she told the Stagg kids was about working as hard as you can and then work a little harder. She talked about the 5 a.m. wakeup calls for practice. She talked about the heartbreak of races she lost.
  All good stuff. Great stories abound from Blair and the Olympic athletes in the past and many more are waiting to be written.
  So as the 2014 Olympics approach in a couple of weeks, the sports fan in me is ready for another long yawn while the editor/reporter in me has a couple of reasons to pay close attention.
  First, there is former Sandburg student and Palos Heights resident Kendall Coyne. She is on the United States women’s hockey team. The fact that she is a local star is great. The fact that her brother, Kevin, is a freelance reporter for us here at Regional Publishing makes it that more special.
  We’re hoping that if Kevin gets to make the trip to Sochi, he will be able to write some columns and stories for us. Now, there is a chance that he will have an undying sense of duty to stay home and cover Chicago Ridge and Moraine Valley meetings instead of watching his sister try to win a gold medal…just kidding.
  Second, I was able to interview figure skater Jason Brown of Highland Park before he qualified for the Olympics and he couldn’t have been nicer to talk to. If this kid medals, he will be a huge international celebrity. It’s always fun for some writers to brag to anyone who will listen that “I knew so-and-so before he was a big star.’’ So I may, gulp, actually watch some figure skating with interest.
  I was hoping Palos Hills’ Katie Eberling would get a shot to be on the U.S. bobsled team. Some speculated that she would be a lock to make the team but this weekend she was passed over in favor of, among others, former track star Lolo Jones.
  So I won’t shout from the mountaintops “BRING ON THE GAMES!!!” but when they get here, I’ll give it a couple of looks.