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Family says cops still not ‘aggressive enough’ regarding Brittany’s death

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Worth police have interviewed the two people who discovered the body of Brittany Wawrzyniak, but family members of the 18-year-old girl remain skeptical of the department’s interest in the case.
“I almost don’t know how to react,” said Earl Lane, Wawrzyniak’s step-grandfather. “I still don’t think they’re being aggressive enough.”
The family has planned a March 29 rally in Oak Lawn to bring attention to the circumstances surrounding Wawryzniak’s death and to prompt Worth police to ramp up their investigation. The rally is scheduled for noon at the Oak View Center, 4625 W. 110th St., and will include a presentation including all of the information the family has gathered so far.
Family and friends also plan to attend the April 1 Worth Village Board meeting to demand that police and community leaders focus on the case.
The police interviews were held March 5, four months after Wawrzyniak died near the Worth boat launch. Prosecutors said she was ejected from the backseat of an alleged drug dealer’s car after buying pills from him—an explanation that her family does not accept.
Worth police questioned Adam Wilczek and his girlfriend, Agnes Smyk, several days after the couple met with Wawrzyniak mother, Rebecca Tully, at an emotional meeting also attended by several other family members. The two-hour gathering was held at Lane’s Hickory Hills home.
Family members believe a story published in The Reporter about that meeting led police to interview Wilczek and Smyk. The Burbank couple shared with police the same information they provided family members at the Feb. 22 meeting, they said.
Police met with Smyk for about 30 minutes followed by a one-hour session with Wilczek.
“I told them the same thing I told you guys,” Wilczek said. “I told them I was a little disturbed that we were doing this four months after the fact. They didn’t want to answer my questions. Someone has got to push the investigation in the right direction.”
Wilczek said he asked police if they had interviewed residents who live on 115th Street across the street from Water’s Edge Golf Course, which abuts the boat launch. He also asked if they have reviewed footage from the camera at the nearby Worth Metra Station.
He added that police took a considerable amount of notes during his interview, but Smyk said the opposite was true during her interview.
Smyk, who said she was nervous during the meeting, was asked to describe the teenage boy who approached her car when she and Wilczek arrived the boat launch to walk their dogs. She also was asked to estimate how long Wawrzyniak was lying in the parking lot before the couple arrived.
Smyk and Wilczek told Tully that they spotted a group of teenage girls in the parking lot that appeared to be looking for something on the ground. A teenage boy approached their car and “starts feeding me a story,” Wilczek said.
Only one of the seven girls in the parking lot was kneeling next to Wawrzyniak. The other girls on the scene did not appear shaken by the tragedy, Smyk said.
“I was holding her hand,” Wilczek told Tully. He said he knelt at Wawrzyniak’s side for about three minutes until police and paramedics arrived.
Police would not reveal if they were interviewing others or offer any details about the status of the case, Smyk said.
Smyk informed Tully that she was she and Wilczek were interviewed by police.
The Feb. 22 meeting with Tully occurred after Smyk posted on Facebook that she and Wilczek discovered Wawrzyniak’s body when they arrived the Worth boat launch to walk their dogs.
The couple spotted a group of teenage girls in the parking lot that appeared to be looking for something on the ground, Wilczek said.
They said she met Eric Steven Johnson at the boat launch near 115th Street and Beloit Avenue, got into the back seat of his car and handed him $200 in exchange for 30 pills of Clonazepam.
The prescription drug is used to treat panic and seizure disorders, according to medical experts.
Wawrzyniak’s family believes she faked a drug buy at the boat launch to arrange a fight between a friend and another girl.
The Worth police have confirmed that there were no drugs in Wawrzyniak’s system the night that she was died, the family said. But Tully remains critical of the way the police have handled the case.
Wawrzyniak began counting the pills while still in the backseat as Johnson drove away. She opened the door of the moving car, was ejected and struck the pavement, prosecutors said. She was pronounced dead at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn less than one hour later.

Palos Township may not pull the switch

  • Written by Jack Murray

Referendum unofficially loses by just one vote

By a margin of a single vote, voters who live in unincorporated Palos Township defeated the electrical aggregation referendum on Tuesday’s Illinois primary election ballot —473 No votes to 472 Yes votes, or 50.05 percent to 49.95 percent.
Those are unofficial vote tallies reported on election night by the Cook County Clerk’s Office. The official canvas of vote totals is conducted at a later date.
Palos Township Supervisor Colleen Schumann, who had supported passage of the referendum, agreed that it was stunning that it should be defeated by only one vote.
“It’s so surprising, too, because it was predicted to result in savings of 8 to 9 percent” on residents’ electricity bills, she said when reached for comment on election night.
Voters in Palos Park, Palos Heights and Orland Park handily passed municipal electrical aggregation referendums that appeared on the ballots in those suburbs in the 2012 March primary election two years ago. Officials of those towns have all reported savings on residents’ utility bills since making the switch from ComEd to other power suppliers.
“I’m disappointed,” Schumann said of the different result in Palos Township in this election. “We could have saved them money.”
Turnout on the ballot question was only 14.23 percent of voters, and Schumann pointed to that as a possible reason for the referendum’s narrow defeat. “If people are not educated on an issue they automatically vote no.”

EP applies for CDBG grant

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Evergreen Park will continue to make village-owned facilities Americans with Disabilties Act compliant using Community Development Block Grant funds it receives this year.
The village board on Monday agreed to apply for the funding, which it expects to receive in about six months, Mayor Jim Sexton said.
The village has received approximately $1 million in CDBG funds over the past five years, but finding uses for the money is getting tougher because of program’s limitations, he said.
“It’s getting difficult,” Sexton said.
For example, the program maintains on its website that “not less than 70 percent of CDBG funds must be used for activities that benefit low- and moderate-income persons. In addition, each activity must meet one of the following national objectives for the program: benefit low- and moderate-income persons, prevention or elimination of slums or blight, or address community development needs having a particular urgency because existing conditions pose a serious and immediate threat to the health or welfare of the community for which other funding is not available.”
Evergreen Park has used the money to renovate the senior center, 9547 S. Homan Ave., which was formerly a church, as well as the community center, 3450 W. 97th St.
“This year our plan is to make (the facilities) more ADA compliant,” Sexton said.
The mayor expects the village to receive about $100,000 this year.
“We always try to get something,” Sexton said.

EP’s Sexton doesn’t think a 911 ‘hiccup’ will turn into indigestion

  • Written by Bob Rakow

 The mayor of Evergreen Park said a “hiccup” in Oak Lawn’s 911 emergency dispatch center is no reason for concern.
  His comments came shortly after a letter written by the Evergreen Park village attorney outlining serious concerns with the system was made public.
  “We’re confident everything will work out fine,” Mayor Jim Sexton said. “A couple of things didn’t get dispatched.”
  A Feb. 24 letter from Evergreen Park attorney Michael Cainkar to Kathy Hansen, Oak Lawn’s director of emergency communications, said Evergreen Park Police Chief Michael Saunders “outlined a series of incidents over the last several weeks involving delayed emergency dispatches.”
  Oak Lawn provides emergency dispatching services to Evergreen Park as well as other surrounding communities and fire protection districts.
  The letter added that dispatchers provided misinformation to Evergreen Park police officers. “To compound matters, the dispatchers and team leaders demonstrated an utter lack of concern, if not overt hostility, when members of the police department followed up on botched emergency dispatches seeking an explanation for what had happened,” the letter said.
  The letter goes on to detail a Feb. 14 incident in which an elderly Evergreen Park resident called police about someone knocking at the door. Police, however, were not dispatched to the house until five minutes after the call was placed to dispatch. The letter also referenced a Feb. 16 call in which police were not notified that an offender had a handgun.
  Sexton said there were some “hiccups” in the system but he did not believe the public safety in Evergreen Park was at risk.
  The issue was first raised when Oak Lawn Trustee Bob Streit criticized village manager Larry Deetjen for failing to notify trustees of the Cainkar letter.
  “Neither the mayor nor the manager thought it was important to tell the board about these issues,” Steit said at last week’s village board meeting.
  Streit the village board is responsible for setting policy, which it cannot accomplish “when complaints and issues are hidden from the board. There is no excuse, especially when it comes to the safety of the public and our residents.”
  “We have real complaints about a delayed response where a squad was not even dispatched for even six minutes on a 911 call. The board isn’t even provided any information,” Streit said. “We were never informed by the mayor or the manager.”
  Streit, who voted against the decision to outsource the village’s 911 services, has continued to criticize the move as part of his ongoing attack on Mayor Sandra Bury.
  Trustees in January voted 4-2 to outsource 911 services to Norcomm Public Safety Communications, a move that could save the village $1 million over two years, village manager Larry Deetjen said.
  Deetjen strongly rebuked Striet for making the Cainkar letter public.
  He said he was deeply disappointed that a trustee saw fit “to discuss a matter non- factually and also publically discuss an interdepartmental memorandum.”
  “It’s shameful,” Deetjen said at the village board meeting.
  The village manager said Cainkar was “flabbergasted that such a document would be displayed earlier today on a political blog authored by a former mayor and a sitting trustee.”
  Deetjen would not comment on the contents of the letter.
  He said that the village’s 911 dispatch center handles more than 100,000 calls a year. “He’s referring to three calls,” Deetjen said of Streit.
  “Every day, 24/7, (the dispatchers) do their very best,” he said.
  Sexton refused to comment on perceived political posturing that accompanied Streit’s decision to discuss the letter at the board meeting.
  “I just don’t want to get into their business,” he said. “I don’t want to get involved in their stuff.”
  He added that Evergreen Park’s concerns likely would not have been politicized if they were lodged before Oak Lawn outsourced its 911 services.

Heights’ Lawler edges out Barrett in 15th Subcircuit

  • Written by Tim Hadac

The Democratic primary battle for the bench in the Cook County Circuit Court’s 15th judicial subcircuit (Sterba vacancy) went to the wire Tuesday night and spilled into early Wednesday before the Cook County Clerk’s Office released a final count, at 1:13 a.m., showing that Chris Lawler of Palos Heights had edged Michael B. Barrett of Orland Park by a mere 14 votes.
With all 291 precincts reporting, Lawler finished with 4,168 votes (25.98 percent), with Barrett an eyelash away with 4,154 votes (25.89 percent).
Bringing up the rear in the race were Robbin Perkins of Matteson with 2,996 votes (18.67 percent), Sondra Denmark of Matteson with 2,785 votes (17.36 percent), and Mary Beth Duffy of Tinley Park with 1,942 votes (12.10 percent).
Lawler did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday night. He ran a highly visible campaign, with prominent blue and white yard signs across Palos Heights, in his race to best Barrett, who was the slated candidate of the Cook County Democratic Party.
Barrett, reached at his home in Orland Park on Tuesday night, that “win, lose or draw, this campaign has been a great experience. I’ve met some fantastic people, had tremendous support for which I’m grateful. It really strengthened my faith in our system.”
Barrett’s candidacy began long before the official announcement of his campaign when he began making the rounds of speaking appearances before area senior citizen and other community groups and fraternal organizations, discussing the law and his interest in the sport of hockey, as both a referee and president of a youth hockey organization.
Lawler already serves as a judge, appointed to his position last year by the Illinois Supreme Court upon the retirement of Judge David Sterba, also a Palos Heights resident. He is assigned to the 6th District Courthouse in Markham.
The race also was a test of political muscle, with both Barrett and Lawler lining up camps of local committeemen, mayors and others.
Lawler had the backing of Palos Heights Mayor Robert Straz, as well as the mayors of Crestwood, Midlothian, and Oak Forest.
Barrett was supported by Orland Park Mayor Daniel McLaughlin, Palos Hills Mayor Gerald R. Bennett, and Orland Hills Mayor Kyle Hastings.
Both men claimed the backing of the mayors of Alsip and Tinley Park.
Both men had lined up significant support from organized labor.

Doody vacancy
Less frenzied and noticed was the other race in the 15th judicial subcircuit, to fill the Doody vacancy.
Orland Park resident Patrick Kevin Coughlin fought his way to victory in a fairly tight race.
With all 291 precincts reporting, Coughlin finished with 6,694 votes (44 percent), besting Flossmoor resident and incumbent Judge Diana Embil, who trailed with 6,198 votes (40.74 percent), and Orland Park resident John S. Fotopoulos bringing up the rear with 2,321 tallies (15.26 percent).