Deadly ride on the Cal-Sag

  • Written by Bob Rakow

PAGE-1-five-col-boats2Rescue boats search for bodies of boaters on the Cal-Sag channel on Saturday afternoon after a crash involving a pleasure boat and a barge occurred the night before. Photos by Jeff Vorva.Three people killed after boat hits barge

  Bob Bielarz’s pleasure craft was approaching the Worth boat launch late Friday night after a cruise along the Cal-Sag Channel when the unthinkable happened: the boat collided with a 66-foot barge.

  Bielarz’s body was recovered Monday morning approximately 1.5 miles west of the boat launch. He was not wearing a life jacket, authorities said. He was the last of the three victims recovered during the search.
  The bodies of Bielarz’s wife, Viengsavanh, 40, and their friend, Jeremy Muzika, 33, of Palos Hills, were recovered from the channel Saturday afternoon, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
  Neither was wearing a life jacket, according to the Coast Guard. They died of drowning and multiple injuries following the collision. Their deaths were ruled accidental. An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday for Bob Bielarz’s body, authorities said.
  Bielarz, of Orland Park, was a local musician who, according to the heavy metal website Loudwire, played in the Chicago nu-metal band No One from 2000-2003 and again in 2010 when the band reunited.
  No One released one self-titled album in 2001 via Immortal Records and played alongside several other bands on the second stage at Ozzfest 2001. No One also performed as a part of the Pledge of Allegiance tour, which was co-headlined by Slipknot and System of a Down.
  Muzika played in a local cover band with Bielarz.
  The crash was reported at about 11 p.m. on Friday when a crew member of the towing vessel notified the Coast Guard station in Milwaukee of the collision with the 19-foot pleasure craft at mile marker 311 of the Cal-Sag Channel.
  The cause of the collision remained under investigation. The boat capsized and had significant damage after colliding with the barge, Illinois Department of Natural Resources officials said.
  The Coast Guard and other emergency responders immediately began searching for occupants of the pleasure craft.
  The search team included a Coast Guard response boat stationed at Calumet Harbor, a helicopter aircrew stationed at the Coast Guard Air Facility in Waukegan, inspectors from the Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Chicago and crews from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
  The Palos Hills and Lockport fire departments and Palos Hills and Worth police departments also were on the scene. Dive teams using side-scan sonar also were instrumental in the search, which lasted several hours before switching from a search-and-rescue to recovery operation, officials said.
  Chicago Ridge’s Frank Mastalerz, owner of FM Entertainment, which books shows throughout the Midwest, said he was promoting Throttle Fest on Friday night at Toyota Park in Bridgeview when he heard the news of the accident.
  “Halestorm had just gotten off the stage and I was actually standing with a lot of mutual friends of Bob’s,” said Mastalerz, a friend of Bielarz for more than 20 years. “We all started receiving texts about what happened. Here we were all having a good time and the next thing we knew, we were all trying to make sense out of all of it. It’s so sad.”
  Bielarz was a central figure in the Chicago area music scene, which is mourning his death, Mastalerz said.
  “Bob and his wife were sincere, genuine people and they were truly in love. This is so sad because the music community in this area is so close knit,” he said. “Since this happened, I was able to look back at some photos, There were so many good times I remember with Bob and his group and there were so many good times I had forgotten about. It’s unfortunate to see the good times end.’’
  As of press time, funeral arrangements were not announced, but Mastalerz predicted “There will be a massive turnout.’’
—Jeff Vorva contributed to this report

Trash talk: Hickory Hills signs up with Waste Management for eight more years

Hickory Hills renewed its contract with Waste Management for eight more years.
  The city council voted unanimously on a tentatively approved contract extension with Waste Management last Thursday night, allowing for an eight-year extension.
  Residents will see a $5 decrease beginning with their next bill, when the current rate at $26.75 will drop to $21.75.
  “It is a big contract and a big savings for the city,” Alderman Brian Fonte said. Fonte has been working with a contractual agreement with Waste Management over the past month.
  Upon attorney review, Mayor Mike Howley reported the contract will go into effect immediately.
  The contract also includes a weekly recycling agreement instead of bi-weekly, set to begin in August. In October, 2013, Fonte and Alderman Thomas McAvoy, both third ward alderman, published and distributed a survey form to approximately 1,300 homes in the their ward. The questionnaire was designed to determine how many residents would like to change the combination of refuse and recycling containers they had to some other desired combination. The majority of residents said they wanted weekly recycling.
  Prior to weekly recycling taking place, Waste Management will send out postcards to Hickory Hills’ residents informing them of the change. WM officials also presented to the council the idea of creating community brochures for the city and its residents. The brochures would include all necessary Waste Management information and allow space for city services, including branch pickup.
  “We will be sure to handle all communication between us and your residents,” Waste Management representative Mike Morley said.
  The city will be receiving a $7,500 check in community support each year, beginning June, 2015, instead of continual recycling rebates. A 50/50 recycling rebate will take place when Hickory’s recycling amount exceeds $130 per ton. The city will then be entitled to half of the Waste Management rebate, Morley explained.
  “We get the most back from recycling from cardboard,” Morley said, “Glass is actually at a negative retail value and plastics are 50/50.”
  Officials said the last time recycling in Hickory Hills exceeded $130 per ton was in 2008 and again in 2011.
  There is a higher contamination rate in recycling effecting the rebates with items being put into recycling containers that should not be, Morley said. Examples include traditional garbage, garden hoses, metal objects and yard waste.

  “When these items are hidden inside of recycling containers, it contaminates the items that are meant to be recycled,” he said. “We could include an additional 75-cent drop in rate to our residents this year, or wait until next year when the rate will be able to be dropped to 90 cents per household,” City Treasurer Dan Schramm said.
  The additional 75-cent drop in price would have taken residents’ monthly fee to $21 per household; however, the city decided it is best to wait at least another year into the contract when they will be able to lower residents’ rates even more.

  “We have worked with Hickory Hills for many years and we look forward to serving them in the future,” Morley said.

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.