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Bob Rakow's B-Side: Case Closed? Seriously? Not for this family

  • Written by Bob Rakow

The release last week of the Worth Police Department’s report on the death of Brittany Wawrzyniak indicates that the investigation is closed.

But don’t tell Wawrzyniak’s family that. For them, the report may have been an interesting read, but it left many questions unanswered, including, “who killed Brittany?”

The family won’t rest until that question is answered, though it seems they’ll have to do the legwork themselves in order to find the answer. I’m not sure what their next step is, but they’re weighing their options.

Additionally, the family wonders, why was Courtney Hyzy, who was in the SUV from which Brittany jumped or was pushed, never interviewed by police. It’s a worthwhile question.

The police report summarizes in great detail numerous interviews conducted with those who were at the Worth boat launch on Nov.8—the night Brittany died—but not Hyzy. That strikes me as odd.

At the very least, Hyzy was a witness. Shouldn’t she have been interviewed like everyone else gathered at boat launch on that fateful night?

Indeed, Hyzy was in the SUV from which Brittany jumped or was pushed. She was much closer to Wawrzyniak in the seconds before her death than anyone else at the boat launch. It seems she could lend something to the investigation.

According to witnesses, Wawrzyniak allegedly conspired with her friend, Lily Arboleda, to lure Hyzy to the boat launch so that Arboleda could fight Hyzy. Arboleda, the report said, was seeking revenge for damage Hyzy supposedly had done to her car, the report said.

This is not new information. The family revealed the scenario shortly after Brittany’s death.

Hyzy arrived at the boat launch in an SUV driven by her boyfriend, Eric Johnson, according to reports.
Brittany got into the SUV under the ruse of buying the prescription drug Clonazepam from Johnson, the report says.

This, too, is information reported on shortly after Brittany’s death.

Brittany apparently was counting the pills when Arboleda, who was hiding nearby, ran toward the vehicle, the report said. Arboleda was reaching for the door handle of the SUV when Johnson sped away. It’s unclear if she opened the door before Johnson drove away.

When Johnson turned out of the parking lot onto 115th Street, Brittany either jumped or was pushed out of the vehicle, according to the report. There wasn’t enough clear-cut information from eyewitnesses to help police determine if she was pushed or jumped. Witnesses could only offer details about how Brittany hit the ground; no one saw how the door opened or how she exited the SUV.

 It’s tough to imagine someone jumping out of a speeding SUV, but again, the report leaves open the possibility.

Jumped or pushed. Horrible either way, but if I’m the family, I’d sure want to know which if for not other reason than to gain some closure. You see, that’s what the family does not have, and the report was no help. It contains a lot of information, but it does not answer the family’s ultimate questions: who is responsible for Brittany’s death, how and why did she die and will anyone be held responsible?

Ask the family, and they’ll you the police failed because they did not at least pursue answers to those critical questions.

Johnson ultimately was charged with conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance and is serving a 3 1/2 –year prison sentence. Arboleda, of Chicago, has been charged with conspiracy to commit battery for her role in the incident.
Brittany’s family has maintained from the start that she did not do drugs. They were angry that some media reports portrayed her death as a drug deal gone bad. The family’s contention was bolstered when Wawrzyniak’s toxicology report came back clean.

The clean report doesn’t prove that Brittany didn’t intend to use the pills she allegedly purchased from Johnson. Then again, she might have been buying them for someone else, or maybe she truly was setting up a fight. It she was, she went to great lengths to make the phony drug deal seem legitimate. Either way, she paid with her life.

Additionally, Brittany’s family is less-than-thrilled with information in the report culled during a February interview with a Palos Heights woman who knew Wawrzyniak.

The family doesn’t understand why police interviewed her, as she was not a witness at the boat launch. They also can’t figure why she voluntarily showed up at the police department three months after Wawrzyniak’s death.

Perhaps police were open to talking to anyone who could offer potential information about Brittany. I doubt it’s good policing to tell someone during a death investigation, “We’re not interested. Go home.”

The woman told police that Brittany “was a good person but she did have her faults.” the report said. She added that Wawrzyniak did drugs and ignored advice about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Could be true, could be entirely bogus. The clean toxicology report would favor the family.

The family has portrayed the woman as a “nut” who Brittany was forbidden to associate with. They contend the woman is untrustworthy and what she told police was entirely false.

But the woman did offer a suggestion to police that seemed to have merit. She said she had tracked Hyzy to her sister’s residence in Evergreen Park and advised police to obtain a DNA sample from Hyzy and compare it to any DNA evidence found on Wawrzyniak. The report does not indicate that the suggestion was followed.

So here we are, seven months after Brittany Wawrzyniak’s death. I often wonder if a reporter sitting in my chair years from now will write the story about the big break in the case that solves the whole thing. Will someone who was at the boat launch reveal something that forces police to take another look? Will the family’s personal inquiry produce a valuable lead? It’s hard to know, but we not have heard the last of this case.

Karrson Ken-nects on three IPA awards

In sports terms, Ken Karrson brought home a gold medal and a couple of bronze medals.
The Reporter/Regional sports editor garnered three awards in the Illinois Press Association contest as winners were announced Friday at its convention in Springfield.
Karrson won first place in the Class B headline writing contest with the judges saying “This headline writer knows how to draw eyes to stories. Great job, very creative.’’
His collection from 2013 featured “More southern comfort” about Chicago Christian’s baseball trips to Jacksonville, “Forgettable Momence” about Chicago Christian’s football team’s loss to Momence, “Meteor slighting” about St. Laurence’s football loss to De La Salle, “Tigers get Adam-Bombed” about Stagg quarterback Adam Pilota’s big passing night against Joliet West and a “A Crum-my way to end’’ about St. Rita’s Julian Crum’s block of a Brother Rice field goal hurting the Crusaders’ chances to make the playoffs.
Karrson’s Bartosh columns on athletes spitting, an athlete appearing on a Fruity Pebbles cereal box and manners at the Master’s Tournament won third place as did an in-depth feature on the Illinois High School Association new rules to prevent injuries during summer football sessions.
Reporter editor Jeff Vorva took second place to Karrson in headline writing.
Headlines that appeared in the news section were “Disorder on the courts” about Oak Lawn’s basketball court controversy, “Doggone it’’ about the Richards Bulldogs’ state football championship loss, “High Tension” about an Oak Lawn resident’s displeasure with ComEd, “No Christmas Carol for Bury” about Oak Lawn trustee Carol Quinlan blasting Mayor Sandra Bury’s blog and “West Nile Nightmare” on Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton’s fight with West Nile virus.

The judges said “Great job writing headlines that make you want to read the story; particularly enjoyed ‘Doggone it.’ ’’

Vorva also took honorable mention for a photo series featuring the end of a Chicago Christian girls volleyball match.

Jeff Vorva's imPRESSions: Former EP couple hits home run with Challengers Field

 

Jeffs Col ImpressionsIn the heart of a Tinley Park neighborhood stands a new baseball field in which there is a game or two going on just about every day involving special needs kids and adults.
And it warms the hearts of hundreds of volunteers who made it happen including Denis and Lois Murphy.
This couple is receiving a lot of credit from TP officials for the opening of Challengers Field, a $300,000 facility PAGE-3-2-col-helmets-with-JV-COLDenis and Lois Murphy, bottom photo, are formerly of Evergreen Park but are making an impact in Tinley Park as they had a big hand in creating Challengers Field to serve athletes with special needs. In the top photo are new helmets specially made for the facility. Photos by Jeff Vorva.Page-3-2-col-with-vorva-colwith artificial turf that has provided many hits, runs and smiles.
The Murphys lived in Evergreen Park 28 years ago. Denis went to St. Bernedette and Evergreen Park High School. Lois attended Northwest Elementary School and Evergreen Park High School. Her maiden name is also Murphy and they still have friends and family in the Evergreen Park community.
But they have really made a big mark in Tinley Park.
One of their four sons, Kyle, is a special needs athlete who has neurofibromatosis, which is a seven-syllable word meaning the growth of tumors anywhere from the spinal cord to the brain.
Kyle is 24, and his parents have been a part of the Challengers League since 1994.
The vision for the new field came about two years ago, Denis said.
“We played on a dirt field and we were kind of handicapped because we only had the field for one night and we split it with three teams,” he said. “We wanted to expand and make it a safe surface. That’s how we started this project.
“We can play seven days a week if we want.’’
The Challengers have 64 athletes in the organization and hope to expand it to more than 120 in the coming years. Athletes from Evergreen Park, Tinley Park, Orland Park, Frankfort, Mokena, Oak Forest and Steger play ball there.
The senior member of all the players is Orland Park’s Brian “Killer” Korwin, who has been with organization since it started 20 years ago. Korwin made a speech via his computer during the grand opening of the field on May 18 and said the major league scouts would flock to the field to scout future phenoms.
“Good luck and just try to keep track of all of this talent,” Korwin said. “These players can help you win a World Series. That is a Killer Korwin guarantee.’’
Another guarantee is that Challengers Field will make a lot of players, parents and friends happy for a long time.
Lois was amazed at the outpouring of love from the hundreds who showed up for the opening ceremonies, which included a parade, the Andrew High School band, White Sox mascot Southpaw, speeches and other activities.
“It’s beyond words – it’s awesome,” she said. “We were waiting for this day to come and it’s everything and more than we expected.’’

A new celebration
We’re going to change a little something that has made me scratch my head for a while.
When Regional Publishing puts out a special section on a given community, it has gone out of its way to make the cover of the section focus on a big event coming to town, such as we did for the Hickory Hills’ Street Fair in last week’s paper.
The trouble is, a vast majority of the section is about the town itself and the businesses that are in it and not the event. People who just look at the cover of these sections might think it is just about the event itself and may not even want to crack it open if they are not interested in it or can’t attend it.
In changing up the ‘we’ve-always-done-it-like-that’ mentality, the Reporter is tossing a curveball.
This week, the special section for Evergreen Park will be called “A Celebration of Evergreen Park and Day in the Park.” Evergreen Park gets the top billing and rightfully so, because this section will be full of great stories and photos that our people have put together over recent months along with some businesses bragging about what they bring to town.
Sure, there will be valuable information about the Day in the Park and six photos on the cover are from last year’s event.
But the true stars of the section are the peeps and businesses in your community, and we are going to try to reflect that from now on.

 

Screwy incident in OL doesn’t scare off some parents

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  Yelena Fedorchenko sat at a picnic table park storyYelena Fedorchenko said she takes her daughter, Enila, (inset) to Memorial Park almost every day despite a recent incident in which someone inserted screws into the rocket slide to apparently injure children. Phot0s by Emily Smas.under a shelter at Oak Lawn’s Memorial Park Tuesday morning and watched her daughter, Enilia, walk to the rocket slide.

  She kept a close eye on the 2-year-old girl, but didn’t stop her from playing on the playground equipment despite a June 5 report that someone found screws fastened onto the some of the slides.
  The screws were driven into the bottoms of two of the five slides that make up the rocket slide.
  “I wasn’t that surprised,” said Fedorchenko, an Oak Lawn resident. “There’s always crazy stuff happening in the world.”
  Fedorchenko and her daughter visit the park, 10200 S. Major Ave., almost every day. She said she would inspect the slides if other children weren’t already playing on the equipment—an indication it was safe.
  Several other moms looked on Tuesday morning as their young children climb the rocket slide—a playground apparatus that is the centerpiece of the recently remodeled Memorial Park—but no one inspected the equipment or prohibited their children from spending time on the slides.
  Fedorchenko said her mother warned her to keep a close eye on the playground equipment, but she’s not too concerned.
  “Things happen all the time,” she said. “My husband keeps saying, ‘Why would someone want to do this to kids?’”
  Wendy Moss spent the morning at Memorial Park with other moms from the Pullman Christian Reformed Church. The group visits a different park every Tuesday morning, but last week’s news of vandalism didn’t deter them from spending time at Memorial Park.
  “It definitely worries me,” said Wendy Moss, a South Holland resident, as she watched her three children play on the rocket slide.
  Vellma Kellup, an Oak Lawn resident and church group member, was convinced that whoever damaged the slide was mimicking reports of similar activity elsewhere in Illinois and other parts of the country.
  “To me, it was like a copycat incident,” Kellup said. “It doesn’t take much.”
  Church member Kim Dykstra said the incident is a sign of the times.
  “When I was growing up, I never had to deal with that,” Dykstra said.
  In April, razor blades were duct taped to playground equipment at a park outside Philadelphia, but no one was injured. In Illinois, a toddler’s hands were sliced by razor blades glued to playground equipment in East Moline.
  East Moline police said they found about a dozen razor blades glued to playground equipment at a local park.
  Photos of the razor blades of the 2-year-old’s bloody, cut hand went viral on Facebook and made national headlines.
  In Oak Lawn, police were called to Rocket Slide Park at about 11:30 p.m. after receiving a call about the screws, which were immediately removed by park district employees.
  Park district employees are inspecting playground equipment in Oak Lawn parks on a daily basis. The police department also is keeping an eye on the parks.

Seeking bigger digs

  • Written by Declan Harty

EP mayor looks to expand Giving Garden and

promote village’s history and farming

The corner of 93rd Street and Turner Page-1-color-3-colEvergreen Park’s Giving Garden (above and below photos) could be moved from its current location at 93rd Street and Turner Avenue to a portion of a 50-acre lot on Western Avenue. Photos by Jeff Vorva.page-1-2-col-giving-gardenAvenue in Evergreen Park is not much different from other intersections in the village.

There are cars parked on the streets. A streetlight stands overhead. Houses lie upon each corner.
Breaking the monotonous tone of house after house after house which line Turner Avenue, is a garden that channels the village’s historical pastime -- farming.
But it’s a little bit more special than that.
The Giving Garden, now in its fourth year, has become a foundation of the intersection and the community. Consisting of 16 raised beds, which play home to various fruits and vegetables, the garden is run and operated primarily through Central Junior High School students and teachers. The school, located at 9400 S. Sawyer Ave. in Evergreen Park, is less than a half-mile from the garden.
The produce that is grown at the Garden is then provided to local food pantries in the area for the needy and to assist in providing a healthier meal option.
“It is twofold, seeing what you need to do and what you can do for yourself nutritionally and how important it is to be healthy, that is a whole big part,” said Kathleen Hatczel, assistant superintendent for Evergreen Park School District 124. “To be able to give back because you get so much, the sharing part, is why they named it the Giving Garden.”
But now the lot that the garden sits on may be a stepping-stone to a larger platform.
Mayor Jim Sexton said he hopes to revitalize and revisit the community’s farming roots and to move the Giving Garden to portion of a 50-acre lot that lies near the new Menards on Western Avenue. The lot would also house farm animals such as retired race horses, Sexton said.
“We have that 50 acres of a new park over there, and we have set aside a portion of that,” Sexton said. “We have the last piece of the park, but we want the kids to understand what the past was here in Evergreen Park, and again let them be able to produce produce and be able to help out the less fortunate.”
Sexton said the village would be borrowing the idea for a farm area from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences located at 3857 W. 111th St. He said that the property would not be as large as the high school’s campus, but that they “hope for something else like that.”
Hatczel said the expansion has been discussed before, but a larger plot would mandate more community assistance in addition with her hopes to keep the current lot.
“I would love to talk to the mayor about doing that in the near future, but we would have to have help,” she said. “Whether it is the scouts or church groups, I think we have enough interest. We have several master gardeners in Evergreen Park who would be interested, I think, in helping get started. It is just a matter of us sitting down and saying here is the land and what we need to do to plot it out and decide how we are going to get together. I would be very interested in helping get that off with the community.”
The Giving Garden was initially proposed by a variety of group leaders at a meeting at Little Company of Mary Hospital, according to Hatczel. The idea for a community garden was initially much larger including the possibility of churches, schools, shops or anyone participating.
But Hatczel said the difficulties of meeting with that many people took place and eventually she proposed that Central Junior High School, which will begin as a middle school in the fall of 2015, take control of the lot and care for the garden.
Hatczel said with teachers Pat Coci and Sarah Murphy leading the effort, the lot began to prosper along with the school’s club that tends to the garden.
“The Giving Garden is for students and the teachers, they plot, they figure out what it is they need to put in there, and the cool part is, like I said, they are involved,” she said. “Some of the kids have never done that before. So the planting and watching it grow, harvesting it at the end and donating everything back because it is so critical through the summer. It is nice to bring it to the families that can never bring to the food pantry.”
According to Sexton, the garden channels a reminiscing of Evergreen Park’s farming days and when that was the main business in the area.
“It is kind of a throwback to the early 1900s, but besides that I think it is wonderful,” Sexton said. “We have a lot of good kids here in town who want to help the less fortunate, and this is their way to grow something and help the less fortunate that participate at our food pantries and get fresh vegetables and stay healthier. I think it is a great way to get the kids involved, they believe they make a difference and they do.”