Legislators rail against CSX delays

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Being stuck by a train at a railroad crossing is a common frustration, but Surface Transportation Board representatives were in the Chicago area this week at the request of local legislators to investigate reports of all-too-frequent traffic back-ups caused by CSX trains blocking arterial streets in Evergreen Park and nearby Chicago neighborhoods.

State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) and state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th), along with state Rep. Fran Hurley (D-35th), Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton and Chicago Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), signed letters asking for help from Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) and Sen. Dick Durbin at the federal level to resolve the problem.

Cunningham, who said Lipinski and Durbin are backing their efforts to get an STB review, said the problems began in 2013, when CSX took over what is called the Elsdon Line from Canadian National Railroad.

The rail line goes through Evergreen Park, crossing both Kedzie Avenue and 95th Street with crossings a couple of blocks apart, before heading southwest, where it crosses 99th, 103rd Street and 111th streets along Sacramento Avenue.

“Before getting permission from the Surface Transportation Board to take over the line in 2013, they said there would be more traffic on it. But they promised that they would keep trains moving and not block intersections with standing trains. That hasn’t happened,” said Cunningham this week.

“I wish they wouldn’t make these promises if they can’t deliver on them,” said Burke.

While there were no trains in sight when he and Burke visited the crossings in Evergreen Park to talk about the situation, he said he was delayed by a train on 103rd Street.

They both expressed particular concern about the increased possibility of ambulances trying to get to either Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn or Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park.

Burke said the biggest problem seems to be with standing trains, either blocking intersections or causing railroad crossing gates to go down because they are so close.

It was pointed out that one train could, and often does, block both crossings in Evergreen Park. Cunningham said the same thing often happens at the other crossings farther east, where one train can be long enough to block two intersections a mile apart. They said students afraid of being late for school are often seen climbing between stationary train cars at the blocked crossings on 103rd Street.

“We were told they wouldn’t let one train proceed until there is room for it to get into the yard, but it happens too much,” said Burke. “We want to work for our constituents and get something done at the federal level, because that is where the decisions are made,” said Burke, noting that efforts to impose fines in Springfield did not hold up to challenges.

Gail Lobin, a spokesperson for CSX, said in a statement that safety is the company’s highest priority. “Our CSX operationsteam has been working to improve train movements in the Beverly area. In general, CSX and the rail industry, have seen significant operational improvement overall in the Chicago region. There are some remaining areas of congestion, including the Elsdon Line.  Recent operational adjustments have been made and we continue to look for the best manner in which to safely and efficiently move goods while also being a good neighbor.  We continue to focus on making additional progress to minimize interruptions to residents and the community.”

Smoke clears on medical marijuana dispensary planned for Worth

  • Written by Joe Boyle

The stigma attached to the use of medical marijuana to relieve pain for a variety of illnesses appears to be lessening, that is if the reaction of visitors who attended the information session at the Worth Village Hall on Sept. 24 is any indication.

Steve Weisman, chief operating officer of Windy City Cannabis, and Feliza Castro, CEO and founder of The Healing Clinic, addressed a large crowd that had many questions relating to the use of medical cannabis..

The fact the there was no opposition to the program was not lost on Castro.

“This is a first for me,” Castro told the crowd at the beginning of the meeting.

Worth is one of four locations in the south and southwest suburbs that will have a medical cannabis facility. The Worth location will be at 11425 S. Harlem Ave. Other facilities will be in Homewood, Justice and Posen.

Weisman said that officials in Worth were eager to set up an information session after the village was designated to become one of the dispensary center sites. Other meetings in other locations will be set up at a later date, said Weisman.

During her presentation, Castro told the audience that she has lupus, an inflammatory disease that has no cure. A spinal cord injury complicated her condition.

“The medicine that they gave me made me very sick,” said Castro. “I lost over 20 pounds. I didn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.”

After her condition worsened, Castro looked into alternatives and began to research the availability of medical cannabis. She was living in Michigan at the time where medical cannabis was approved.

“Medical cannabis for me was a complete game changer,” added Castro, who soon began to organize a movement to make it available throughout the country. The Healing Clinic became the first medical marijuana patient advocate center in Chicago.

She became a registered user of medical cannabis in Michigan during 2009. “I’m not saying that it will work for everyone but it worked for me.”

Castro said that the Healing Clinic offers state compliant patient services for residents seeking to register for a marijuana patient ID card. The clinic has a group of doctors and medical marijuana patient advocates to serve Chicago and suburban communities.

However, Weisman and Castro admitted that not all doctors are on board in regards to the use of medical marijuana.

“I think a lot of them are afraid to come out and say they approve it.,” said Castro. “But we are finding that there are more doctors out there who are working with our clinic.”

One resident at the meeting said that sessions are being offered at Advocate Christ Medical Center informing personnel about medical cannabis.

Castro gave a presentation about the history of marijuana dating back to colonial days. She mentioned that farmers were encouraged to grow hemp, which was used in a variety of ways. She also mentioned that Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson also grew hemp.

Weisman and Castro reminded the audience that medicinal cannabis is not be confused with the stereotypical images of drug addicts and stoners.

Medical conditions covered under the state’s medical cannabis program include Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, Crohn’s disease, AIDS, HIV, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. Castro said that earlier centers in some other states abused some of the privileges of medicinal marijuana. Some of the people getting the cannabis were not really sick.

However, both Weisman and Castro said the restrictions in Illinois prevent such abuses. Weisman said that the facility in Worth should open by the end of the year. Dispensaries were approved in 2014 by Gov. Pat Quinn. Delays occurred after Bruce Rauner defeated Quinn in the race for governor. Rauner held up the licenses but finally approved them.

Prices for medicinal marijuana range in price. Weisman said the cultivators for Illinois are still growing the product and have yet to set a price.

Chicago Ridge Mayor Mary Werner was also in attendance. She said the village held a series of meetings last year to discuss the dispensary. Many residents at the time had reservations.

“People came up to me later and thanked me,” she said. “They had some misconceptions. We addressed their concerns. We had to go through the zoning department and then take a vote from the trustees. They voted 6-0 for it. This town hall meeting was an information session. They have the permits so it’s just a matter of getting started.”

The applications for employment at the Chicago Ridge dispensary should be available in November.

“All I can say is Worth has been great,” said Weisman. “Mayor Werner has been incredible. She has been very receptive.”

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Chicago Ridge boy finds solace with other younger burn victims

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Mohamad Dallash is like any other 8-year-old child who likes to have fun. But within a moment’s notice, the Chicago Ridge youth was met with a tragic incident that could have cost him his life.

He was playing with his sister, Sama, 6, in their backyard with another neighborhood child. According to Mohamad’s mother, Yasmin Ablitar, the neighborhood child decided to start a fire in a cardboard box.

However, the neighborhood child became afraid when the fire grew in intensity. The child reportedly kicked the cardboard box, which went into the direction of Mohamad. The Chicago Ridge boy suddenly found himself surrounded by flames.

Mohamad immediately raced to a nearby garden hose and turned it on. He doused himself with water and put out the fire. The fast-thinking youngster essentially saved his own life.

However, the two Dallash children did not get away unscathed. Sama suffered first- and second-degree burns on her arms and face. Mohamad had burns on half his body.

Both children survived and attended the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance (IFSA) inaugural Family Day event for young burn survivors and their immediate family members at Brookfield Zoo on Sept. 12.

The two children attended the event with the rest of the Dallash family . which was held to unite burn victims and stress fire prevention. The other members of the family present at the event were siblings Towfeek, 16, and Sara, 13, and the father, Saed.

Mohamad’s mother is delighted with her son’s recovery and his attitude.

“He's such a brave kid that has been through so much,” Yasmin said.

Mohamad’s entire family was happy to meet families that have gone through similar situations and discuss how they’ve handled it at the Brookfield zoo event.

“When you have a child who is a burn survivor, you typically do not come across many people going through the same thing as a family,” said Philip Zaleski, the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance’s executive director. “This is a way for parents to network and kids to get to know each other and together learn to cope as a family.”

The five-hour program hosted by the non-profit organization was open to burn survivors, ranging from infant to 12 years, and their immediate family members. Over 100 participants gathered, consisting of 20 burn survivors, their families, volunteers, firefighters and medical professionals.

The event was held from noon to 5 p.m. The program featured educational presentations, lunch and games. Participants also received T-shirts and goodie bags.

Burn unit nurses from University of Chicago Medical Center and Loyola University Medical Center discussed the coping process with a burn injury, including acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder that can follow an entire family after a single burn incident.

“Children who are burn survivors often times have trouble coping and are even teased by other children because of their scars,” Zaleski said. “Through our organization, families are united and together we help mentally heal any injuries that have sufficed as the result of being a burn victim.”

The goal of the event was to create an environment of mutual acceptance, respect and support while participating in family-friendly events and activities. This was the IFSA’s first family-friendly event, aimed as recovering together as a family.

          “When there is a burn victim in a family where there are other siblings, a lot of attention goes to that child and parents become extremely overprotective of that specific child because of what happened and other children within the family can begin to feel resentful or left out,” Zaleski said. “This event is an opportunity for the entire family to be there and everyone is included. It is very family-orientated.”

It was also the organization’s first outreach program for burn-injured children under the age of 8. The IFSA also hosts two other free programs for burn-injured individuals, Camp “I Am Me” and a Young Adult Summit. The weeklong burn camp, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary in June, is open to children 8 to 16 years old, while the Young Adult Summit is a three-day weekend retreat for individuals ages 18 to 25.

          “The camp is a great way for burn survivors to connect with one another,” Zaleski said. “Children participate in traditional camp activities from crafts to boating to fishing and also spend time working with volunteers, firefighters, social workers and medical professionals talking through their situation and learning how to move forward.”

          Mohamad was among one of the camp participants this summer.

          “I really liked camp,” he said.

          “Mohamad gained confidence from his participation in the camp this past summer,” his mother said. “He felt like he was the only one with burns all over his body and was very insecure about it. When he went to camp he told me that the kids there weren't afraid to show their burns. They didn't try to hide their burns, but embrace them. He also gained many wonderful friends who liked him for himself and not out of sympathy.”

          The camp hosts an average of 65 to 75 kids each June and is free of cost. Buses are also provided to pick children up and drive them to the camp site at the YMCA Camp Duncan in Ingleside free of charge.

          Zaleski plans to continue developing valuable support programs, such as Family Day, through the IFSA for burn survivors and their families.

Evergreen Park caregiver helps save senior’s life

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Evergreen Park resident Judy Quinn Knasiak, a home care provider, spends her days helping people in their homes, or putting families in touch with caregivers. But last week, she very likely saved the life of one of her clients.

          Quinn Knasiak, who is a community liaison in addition to being a care provider with Health Advocates in Palos Heights, explained that she spends two days a week with her 70-year-old client in Chicago’s Clearing neighborhood near Midway Airport.

          “I’ve worked with her for two years. She is like a family member,” she said, explaining that she had last seen the woman on Sept. 14.

          “When her daughter called from Wyoming, where she was on vacation on Wednesday (Sept. 16), saying she was not answering the phone, I knew something was wrong.” She told the woman’s daughter to call the Chicago Lawn (8th) District police and ask for a well-being check. Quinn Knasiak then met the officers outside the house.

          The woman was found on her bedroom floor, where she had fallen, probably 24 hours before. “Thankfully, she did not hit her head or break any bones,” said the caregiver. “But at first, when she was unresponsive, and the police officers initially thought she had died.”

          “I was on the phone with her daughter, and they first said I couldn’t see her. But when she heard my voice, she started talking and moving around,” said Quinn Knasiak. “It was such a relief.”

          “Then, when I left the room and went into the kitchen, she started calling for me.”

“We figure she probably fell down the day before. Thankfully, she wasn’t seriously hurt. She’s a wonderful woman,” she said, explaining that prior to joining Health Advocates this year, Quinn Knasiak owned a home care agency, and the Clearing woman has been a client since then.

          “She is actually in great shape. If her sight was a little better, she would probably still be driving,” said Quinn Knasiak, explaining that her role with this client is to spend two days with her each week, taking her shopping and running errands, and making sure she has enough food and necessities in the house. “I just keep her company, and give her an opportunity to get out of the house.”

          The woman was taken to the hospital for treatment of dehydration, and may go to a rehab center for a while. But Quinn Knasiak said she is otherwise doing fine now.

          When told that she very likely saved the woman’s life, Quinn Knasiak responded modestly, that she was just doing her job. Furthermore, she said it happened once before, a few years ago when she found another client in a similar predicament, also in the Clearing neighborhood.

“I don’t really want to call attention to myself. But it just goes to show that home health aides can be very helpful and it might be something people would want to look into getting for their parents or other family members getting up in years.”

“Judy responded so quickly and does great work, but things like that happening are not that unusual,” said Raj Ismail, president of Health Advocates, based at 11737 Southwest Highway, Palos Heights. He said that since opening about 18 months ago, the agency has about 40 clients throughout the Southwest Side of Chicago and suburbs. In addition to having home care providers, the agency also has two registered nurses who visit clients regularly.

“We’ve been blessed with a lot of good people to work with,” said Ismail. “Not that long ago, another client was rescued from similar circumstances in her home in Palos Park,” he noted.

Quinn Knasiak, 52, is a native of Chicago’s West Lawn neighborhood and graduated from Lourdes High School in the city.

A mother of four, she has been through a lot in her own life, and said her challenges led her into the healthcare field. With her husband, Kurt, she moved from West Lawn to Evergreen Park so they could keep an eye on her parents, who live on the block behind theirs. Her sister, who has Down syndrome, lives with her parents.

“I am a cancer survivor, and a survivor of a drunk-driving accident. I feel it is my purpose in life to take care of those who need it,” she said

Worth board debates hiring 3 police officers

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins


A question of whether or not to hire three new police officers sparked a lengthy discussion at the Worth Village Board meeting on Tuesday night.

Although it was not an agenda item, Mayor Mary Werner opened the discussion during a report from the Public Safety committee, chaired by Trustee Warren Soldan.

“We have three candidates who will be eligible to enter the Police Academy in October, but the final hiring must be approved by the board,” she said.

Trustee Pete Kats questioned whether the budget would support the hiring.

“I thought from earlier discussions that we were waiting for the state budget to be finalized and that hasn’t happened yet,” said Kats. “I don’t want us to hire someone and then have to lay them off if we don’t receive the $500,000 the state owes us. I don’t want to go down that road.”

Werner stated that the village has been behind the eight ball for several years in having enough officers on the street.

“I have not heard anything from the Mayor’s Caucus or the Illinois Municipal League indicating that we would not receive our funding from the state,” she said.

Kats responded that it is a crap shoot right now with the state. “We don’t know what is happening with the budget. I would rather err on the side of caution. Can’t we wait on this?”

Police Chief Mark Micetich replied that it was a premium time to send the three candidates to the academy in order to ensure that the department will have the personnel needed to fill the necessary positions.

Village Finance Director Dwayne Fox stated that the hiring of the officers would offset the increasing cost of overtime for the village. He added that the new hiring is part of the village mandate for public safety.

Werner asked Kats if he could be comfortable in trusting the police chief and the finance director in their recommendation to move forward with the hiring. Kats said he would step out in faith for both the chief, who he said runs a good department, and the finance director.

The discussion ended with an approval from the board for the hiring of the three candidates who will begin training at the academy in October.

In other business, a business license was approved for Risk Advertising dba Rizk Ad Inc., located at 11410 S. Harlem Ave.

Also approved was an ordinance for a special use to operate an Automobile Laundry at 6445 W. 111th St., and an ordinance granting a variance to reduce the required number of vehicle parking spaces at the Automobile Laundry.

Two town hall meeting dates were announced. On Thursday, Sept. 24, there will be a presentation at the Village Hall by Medical Cannabis, a business opening at 114th Street and Harlem Avenue. The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21, a town hall meeting will be held at the Village Hall for public input on a Transit Oriented Development project funded by a $75,000 grant from the Regional Transportation Association (RTA). Farr Associates, hired as consultants for the project, will be present to answer questions.