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Residents demand a safer Ridgeland

  • Written by Tim Hadac

  Worth resident Mary Sue Prendl is not a fan of riding her bike on Ridgeland Avenue.

  “Ridgeland is so inhospitable to people who ride bicycles,’’ she said. “It’s like trying to ride your bike on an expressway.”
  She was one of approximately 40 people who showed up last Thursday night as officials held a Ridgeland Avenue Corridor study meeting at the Palos Heights Recreation Center.
  Prendl said she planned to take full advantage of the opportunity to provide input on the plan.
  “Like some people, I’m just seeing these maps for the first time tonight,” she said after the gathering. “But they said we have a couple of weeks to look over everything and get back to them through the website. I will, and so will my neighbors.”
  The safety of bike riders was a prevailing theme at the meeting, which was attended by Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar, Worth Mayor Mary Werner and Palos Township Trustee Brent Woods.
  All the pedestrian— and bicycle-friendly amenities promised for the Ridgeland Avenue Corridor will be useless if government officials don’t stop motorists — particularly drivers of semi-trailer trucks — from routinely speeding on the roadway, a Palos Heights resident said.
  “I’ve lived at the corner of 124th Place and Ridgeland for 31 years, and I’ve seen [Ridgeland] go from two lanes to four lanes,” said Don Schuble. “This [corridor study] is a great idea, an excellent idea. But my concern is the increase in truck traffic on Ridgeland, as well as the speeding—drivers who routinely go 50 miles an hour (10 miles per hour faster than the posted speed limit).
  “How is the county going to get around that? How will they ensure the safety of pedestrians and people riding bicycles?” he asked.
  The Ridgeland Avenue Corridor Study “focuses on improving access to transit and developing recommendations that ensure the safe and efficient movement of people while supporting the local residents and economy,” according to materials written by officials at Teska Associates, Inc., the lead agency hired to drive the study forward. “The primary goal is to improve active transportation throughout the area, making Ridgeland Avenue a corridor of choice due to the progressive character of the environment, which includes many quality shops, businesses and public places.”
  The term “active transportation” typically refers to walking, biking and public mass transit—often as a means to encourage physical activity and reduce congestion and emissions from cars and other vehicles.
  The $200,000 study is partially funded by the Regional Transportation Authority and is a planning initiative of the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways. It encompasses a seven-mile stretch of Ridgeland, from 79th to 135th streets.
  The draft plan, available online at ridgelandcorridor.wordpress.com, calls for construction of off-street paths, underpasses and bridges that would accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists alike. It also suggests landscaped medians, curb bump-outs and other measures designed to slow down traffic to ensure compliance with speed limits.
  Schuble’s concern was addressed, in part, by Tara Fifer, a highway engineer for the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways.
  “We do not restrict truck traffic [on county roads], regardless of whether the surrounding area is commercial or residential,” she said.
  Others at the meeting picked up on Schuble’s point and suggested that county commissioners craft and enact legislation to restrict truck traffic on Ridgeland. The study area includes parts of districts represented by three of the 17 county commissioners: Elizabeth “Liz” Doody Gorman (R-17th), Joan Patricia Murphy (D-6th), and John P. Daley (D-11th).
  Schuble said he has fought the battle over traffic volume and velocity for years with city and county officials, but the problem has only worsened.
  “Now we’re getting semi traffic, heavy semi traffic, almost like you would see on the Tri-State Expressway. They’re using Ridgeland as a pass-through, as a fast road that allows them to avoid Cicero and Harlem avenues. I can’t tell you how many times things on our walls at home have shaken and actually fallen.”
  Schuble said he has even used a radar gun to clock traffic on Ridgeland and found that trucks and others routinely speed at all hours.
  “We have children walking home from Shepard High School—where my children went—down the easement side. They’re taking their lives in their hands,” he said. “People that are trying to drive out of the side streets and merge onto Ridgeland or just walk across the street—we have people using the walking trail over by Trinity College—it’s a nightmare.”
  Schuble alleged that Palos Heights police write tickets for speeders on the west side of Ridgeland Avenue, near the Westgate Valley subdivision, but ignore speeders north of 127th Street.
  “We’ve begged the city to put patrols on Ridgeland Avenue, and it’s fallen on deaf ears,” Schuble claimed. “It’s very frustrating, and I’ll say this—if there was this kind of a traffic concern near Ishnala or Navajo Hills, the city would put a stop to it immediately. Immediately.”
  When asked by The Regional News for a response to Schuble’s allegations, Palos Heights Police Deputy Chief William Czajkowski said that the department deploys its resources uniformly throughout the city and does enforce the speed limit on Ridgeland. “We can and do conduct traffic studies in response to citizen concerns about speeding,” he added, saying that when studies show patterns that are problematic, the department takes action.
  The city police cars often seen across from Shepard High School are there to ensure that before- and after-school traffic flows smoothly and safely, he added.
  Gorman said she found the study “interesting” but had not yet been briefed on the plan and was “still mulling it over.”
  Her initial reaction, she added, was “…where’s the funding? That’s an important part of this, of course.”
  Echoing what Gorman said was Chicago Ridge resident Bill Johnston, who said that “without political will and without adequate funding, this study will sit on a shelf somewhere and gather dust. In my 72 years, I’ve seen that happen more than I can remember, from big plans like the Crosstown Expressway to smaller municipal projects that never happened.”
  The study in final form is expected to be ready by May.

 

Kustok murder trial proceeds

  • Written by Tim Hadac

The murder trial of Allan Kustok is winding through its second week in a Bridgeview courtroom, taking on a bit of a circus air with allegations of marital infidelity and more.
Kustok, 63, is accused of murdering his wife, Anita “Jeanie” Kustok, in their Orland Park home on the morning of Sept. 29, 2010.
In opening statements, Kustok’s defense team portrayed him as a man who deeply loved his wife and had “an absolutely perfect marriage.” Prosecutors painted Kustok as a man leading a double life of sexual trysts with other women—a life that “fooled everyone,” they alleged.
Kustok allegedly shot his wife in the head as she slept in her bed.
Shortly after Anita Kustok’s death, Allan Kustok reportedly told police his wife shot herself with a .357 caliber revolver he allegedly had given her for their 34th wedding anniversary, because he said she feared for her safety while he was away on business trips.
After the shooting, Kustok did not call any authorities and drove his wife’s body—reportedly wrapped in bloody bed linens--to Palos Community Hospital nearly 90 minutes after the gun was fired, police said.
Anita Kustok, 58, was pronounced dead upon arrival with a gunshot wound to the left cheek. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office declared the death a homicide from a gun fired inches from her face; the gunshot wound was not self-inflicted accidentally or otherwise, according to what Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy said in 2010.
“After hearing the single shot, he awoke to find his wife lying on her back, next to him, with her arms crossed on her chest and a .357 revolver in her right hand,” Chief McCarthy said Kustok told police.
The victim was reportedly right handed, which would not be consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the left cheek, police said.
“I found it striking that according to him she was lying on her back with her arms crossed and a weapon of significant power and weight and cylinder still in her right hand,” Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Peter Troy said then.
The Kustoks’ children are former standout area athletes Zak and Sarah Kustok, who starred in several sports at Sandburg High School. Zak Kustok played quarterback at Northwestern University for three years while Sarah played basketball at DePaul University, was an anchor for Comcast SportsNet Chicago and currently work for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.

More questions than answers

  • Written by Bob Rakow

 

Couple that discovered Brittany’s body shares horrific details with family

 When Adam Wilczek approachedBrit picAgnes Smyk and Adam Wilczek, left photo, share graphic details with Mike and Rebecca Tully, right photo, about discovering the body of Rebecca’s daughter, Brittany Wawrzyniak, during an emotional meeting Saturday. Photos by Bob Rakow. Brittany Wawrzyniak’s body the night of Nov. 8, he feared that the 18-year-old Worth girl was dead. “I put my hand on her chest. I didn’t feel it moving up and down. I couldn’t feel a heartbeat,” Wilczek said. “When I lifted her head, that’s when I saw a pool of blood.” Wilczek’s girlfriend, Agnes Smyk, approached Wawrzyniak’s body moments later and also worried that Wawrzyniak was dead. “I got nervous. I didn’t know what to do. I panicked a little. When I leaned over to touch her, she was so cold and so stiff,” said Smyk, who works as a medical assistant. “A body doesn’t get that cold or that stiff immediately after passing away. There was a massive pool of blood behind her head.” Wilczek and Smyk, of Burbank, shared those horrific details Saturday morning with Wawrzyniak’s mother, Rebecca Tully, at an emotional meeting also attended by several other family members. The two-hour gathering was held at the Hickory Hills -- home of Wawrzyniak’s grandparents. This was the first time Tully met the couple who stayed with her daughter in the parking lot of the Worth boat launch the night that she died. The get-together ran the gamut of emotions from sorrow over Wawrzyniak’s death to anger at the Worth police for failing to investigate in a more aggressive fashion. The Worth police last week 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. “I had to question them. They didn’t offer that information,” Tully said. “They didn’t even tell me the cause of death.” The Worth police have declined comment throughout the investigation. Smyk said she wants to do everything possible to help Tully get justice for her daughter. “I just want to be helpful and get justice for her as much as possible because a police department that’s supposed to serve and protect is not doing that and causing her more pain and grief. I’m willing to help with anything,” Smyk said. She added the images of that fateful night have remained with her. “You don’t forget something like this. I relive this and dream about it almost every night,” she said. “I wish I would have done more. I wish I would have recorded it. I posted on Brittany’s site on Facebook because I wanted to let it known that I was there and what I saw. I was so stunned that there was no contact from the cops. No one was asking us anything.” But Tully and her husband, Mike, are grateful for the information Wilczek and Smyk have provided. “This is more answers that I’ve (ever) gotten about that moment,” Rebecca Tully said. Wilczek and Smyk arrived at the boat launch at about 8 p.m. to walk their dogs. The Burbank couple is familiar with the area because Wilczek owns a boat, he said. The couple spotted a group of teenage girls in the parking lot that appeared to be looking for something on the ground, Wilczek said. 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. “She was more in a panic, like ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,’” Smyk said. The other girls on the scene did not appear shaken by the tragedy. “There was no sign or remorse,” Smyk said. “There was nobody crying.” “I was holding her hand,” said Wilczek, who knelt at Wawrzyniak’s side for about three minutes until police and paramedics arrived, he said. The information the Burbank couple offered Wawrzyniak’s family answers some questions but raises many others. For example, how long was Wawrzyniak’s lying in the boat launch parking lot before Wilczek and Smyk arrived and exactly how did she sustain the injuries that led to her death? And, if the couple had not arrived, how long would she have remained in the parking lot before someone called 911? Finally, why have the Worth police never interviewed Wilczek and Smyk? Wawrzyniak’s family believes she faked a drug buy at the boat launch to arrange a fight between a friend and another girl. “From what we understand, she walked up to the car and said, ‘come out’ and they said, ‘no, you get in,’ and I think she didn’t know what to do,” Tully said. She added that her daughter “was willing to do anything” so that people would like her. Prosecutors have said Wawrzyniak, 18, died after she was ejected from the backseat of an alleged drug dealer’s car after buying pills from him. They said she met Eric Steven Johnson at the boat launch near 115th Street and Beloit Avenue, got into the backseat 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 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. But some of the facts don’t add up for Wilczek. “You would think someone coming out of a warm car would be a warmer to the touch,” Wilczek added. “She didn’t have her jacket on at the time, which, now that I think about it, struck me as odd.” And, Smyk said there was nothing in Wawrzyniak’s hands when she approached the girl. Worth police, however, told Tully that her daughter had pills in her hands when they arrived, she said. “I promise you 100 percent that there were no pills in her hands,” Smyk said. Johnson, of Peotone, was ordered held on $300,000 bond. He is charged with unlawful delivery of a controlled substance.

 

Chicago man said he was not aggressor but charged anyway

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  A Chicago man was charged with assault and disorderly conduct last Wednesday following a disturbance at an Oak Lawn gas station, police said.
  Joel Sepulveda, 32, allegedly threatened a 42-year-old Oak Lawn man at Thornton’s gas station, 9138 S. Cicero Ave., according to reports. A witness told police the incident occurred at 6:30 p.m. when Sepulveda produced a knife and yelled racial slurs at the victim during a disturbance at the station, according to reports.
  The victim was not at the station when police arrived. He later told police he left because he feared Sepulveda would follow him home. He added that he did not see a knife, police said.
  Sepulveda told police that he was not the aggressor. Rather, he said, the victim yelled racial slurs at him. He denied producing a knife during the argument.

Wounded knee worse after tussle in Ridge

  • Written by Bob Rakow

An Oak Lawn man was charged with battery Feb. 16 after allegedly throwing a man to the ground outside a Chicago Ridge bar, police said.
  George J. Weinant, 56, was charged three days after the incident occurred at Rick’s Tap, 10553 S. Southwest Highway, according to reports.
  The victim, a 57-year-old Oak Lawn man, told police that he arrived at the tavern with his girlfriend at 7 p.m. Weinant walked to the passenger side of the car and initiated a conversation with the woman. The woman knows Weinant and dated him briefly several years ago, she told police.
  The victim and his girlfriend then got out of the car to enter the bar. Weinant allegedly became impatient while walking behind the victim, who was walking slowly because he had a bad knee, he said.
  At that point, Weinant grabbed him from behind, picked him up and threw him to the ground, causing him to land on his bad knee. Weinant stood over the victim until two male bystanders intervened and separated the two men, police said. Weinant left and the victim and his girlfriend drove home, according to reports.
  The victim told police he did not immediately call 911 because he did not believe he was seriously injured. But he experienced swelling and serious pain the following day and was later treated for a contusion, he said.
  Weinant told police a different story. He said he was walking behind the victim, who told him, “I have a bad knee, walk around me.” He agreed but the victim turned around and swung at him. He said he backed away to avoid being hit. He then grabbed the victim from behind and gently placed him on the ground, he told police.