Jeff Vorva's Editor's Notebook: Two runs, less guns

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Race security shouldn’t be as threatening

jeff column There were police helicopters, bomb-sniffing dogs, snipers on roofs and plenty of unconcealed machine guns.
  Was it a hostage situation?
  Was it a bank robbery?
  Was the President in town?
  It was the 2013 running of the First Midwest Bank Marathon in May.
  On April 15, terrorists bombed the finish line of the Boston Marathon leaving deaths and injuries in its wake. While the cops and government officials pieced together what had happened in Boston, the men that ran the half-marathon here at home were a little edgy.
  Co-race director Mel Diab was actually running the Boston Marathon but was miles away when the explosions hit. Still, he was shaken by the events. The next morning he said he was sad and angry, saying “These are cowardly, terrible human beings that did this.”
  The other co-director, Jeff Prestinario, was spitting mad.FRONT-COLOR-2-col-Marath2Last year, there was still plenty of fun at the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon as Tinley Park’s Rold Talusan crossed the finish line wearing an anatomy running suit. But there was also a serious presence of cops (above) with machine guns and police helicopters (bottom photo) at the event, which was held weeks after the Boston Marathon bombing. Photos by Jeff Vorva. Prestinario is normally a low-key friendly guy with a smile on his face but during that time, he was trying to get ready for one of the biggest events in his village, and a flood of thoughts were running through his head, including possibly cancelling the May 5 event.
  But those thoughts quickly were erased and he, Diab and several law enforcement organizations teamed up for a day in which there was a heavy security presence. Cops with machine guns milled around with the thousands of kids, runners and spectators at the race. Shortly before the race started, a helicopter from the Chicago Police Department made an appearance and buzzed around for a little while checking things out.
  The day went without incident and Prestinario was back smiling again.
  The organizers had their first committee meeting for the May 4, 2014 race on Friday, and while the emotions from the Boston bombings are in the past, they aren’t forgetting that tragic event, either.
  In the coming months, there will be a game plan for security but it doesn’t figure to be a severe.
  “The terrorism created as huge problem for our race,” Prestinario said on Friday. “It happened soon before our race. The police and fire department and city will be discussing FRONT-COLOR-3-colwhat level they will supply services and security for this year.
  “I don’t think it will be at the level of last year. Knock on wood, this won’t be an issue. The security last year was unbelievable. We had more security than probably any race you have seen.’’
  Palos Heights Sgt. Jeff Crowley had a big hand in security last year. This year, Sgt. Adam Nagy will take over for Crowley but Crowley was at Friday’s meeting in Nagy’s absence and agreed with Prestinario’s assessment.
  “We incorporated a lot of things last year because of international events’’ Crowley said. “We don’t anticipate we’re going to do that much again. But we will go over all of that.’’
  There figures to be a fair presence of security this year but not as prevalent as last year.
  Outsiders may scoff that last year was overkill. After all, why would a terrorist want to make a statement by bombing a race in Palos Heights?
  But at the time it made sense. It was an uncertain time and it was smart to be too cautious than to underplay the safety of thousands.
10K saves the day
  The seventh running of the race has been saved and it looks like it will be alive and will be for three years, thanks to the First Midwest Bank sponsorship.
  But it was almost shut down because of costs. During the holidays, it was still up in the air. But adding the 10K race to the half marathon could defray some costs.
  “We talked about it and I met with Mel [Jan. 2] and we did some numbers and figured out what we needed,” Prestinario said. “At that time, we had to decide if we wanted to do it another three years. It was close.


  “People don’t understand that the cost of running this race from top to bottom is expensive.” Presitinario added. “We needed to do something to bring in more runners. A 10K was the most natural way.’’


10K added to the half marathon helped save race

  • Written by Tim Hadac

  Like a long-distance runner hitting a wallFRONT-COLOR-2-COL-marathLast year, there was still plenty of fun at the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon as Tinley Park’s Rold Talusan crossed the finish line (top left photo) wearing an anatomy running suit. But there was also a serious presence of cops with machine guns and police helicopters at the event, which was held weeks after the Boston Marathon bombing. Photo by Jeff Vorva. halfway through a race, the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon faltered briefly last month, but has rebounded and is on pace for success this year, organizers said last Friday.

  With expenses almost outpacing revenue, a 10K race has been added to “enhance the race, to make the race more attractive, but probably the most important reason — [raise] more money!” event committee chairman Jeff Prestinario said with a smile to about 20 half marathon organizers at a meeting held at the Palos Heights Recreation Center, 6601 W. 127th St.
  Prestinario acknowledged that he and event co-founder Mel Diab (owner of the Running for Kicks specialty running shop, 7158 W. 127th St.), briefly considered walking away from the run, now in its seventh year and billed as the premier athletic event in the southwest suburbs.
  “We had to do something for this race to continue. So the easiest and best thing for us to do was to add this 10K,” Prestinario said. “If you realized it or not, last year our numbers were down, so we decided that we needed to do something. Otherwise, Mel was not planning on having the race. So we needed to do that, and we’re going forward.”
  The half marathon is set for Sunday, May 4, on a course that starts and ends near Palos Heights City Hall, 7607 W. College Drive. The half marathon starts at 7:30 a.m., the 10K race begins at 7:40, and a “Run, Walk or Roll” half-mile race (for people with disabilities) is set to start at 7:45.
  Some 2,000 runners are expected to participate, with an equivalent number of spectators. Proceeds from the event benefit the American Cancer Society, the South West Special Recreation Association, and Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens.
  Registration details and more information on the event may be obtained at
  Diab, competing in races at the 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, was not at Friday’s committee meeting.
  Prestinario did not speculate on how much revenue the newly added 10K race will bring in, but expressed confidence that it will be sufficient to ensure the popular event’s survival for at least the near future.
  Another change over the 2013 event is security. Last year’s race saw an unprecedented level of security that included bomb-sniffing dogs, a surveillance helicopter, marksmen on rooftops, police carrying machine guns and more.
  “Terrorism was an issue last year, because our event here in Palos Heights was just two weeks after [the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon], so everybody was on high alert,” he said. Exactly how much and what kind of security will be provided at this year’s event “is something that the police and fire departments and the city will be discussing. It won’t be at the level of last year, because, knock on wood, [an attack] isn’t an issue.”
  “The amount of security that was given to this race [last year] was unbelievable,” he added. “We had more security than probably any race you’ve seen.”

Began with an idea
  “Mel and I started the race about nine years ago,” Prestinario recalled. “I was a runner at that time. I used to meet with Mel on Monday nights, and we’d go out for a run. One night, he just said, ‘Jeff, you know my dream is to have a large race, like a half marathon race.’ I had been involved with [organizing] some special events in the city [as a Palos Heights alderman], so I said, ‘That’s a good idea. Let’s do it.’”
  “So we went to the mayor, and he said, ‘Are you crazy?’” Prestinario added with a smile, “and I said, ‘No, no, no, we really want to do it. We can do it.’ He said OK, but I don’t think he ever thought it would happen, because a half marathon, of course, is 13.1 miles, which means you have to go outside of Palos Heights and get the cooperation of other jurisdictions, like Palos Park, Palos Hills, Alsip, unincorporated Cook County, the Forest Preserve [District of Cook County]. You have to get permits for everything. You have to close off Route 83. We’ve got two fire districts involved. We have multiple police departments involved, including the county, the forest preserves and the state. There’s, like, one thing after another.”
  “When we started, we actually thought we’d have this race up and running within a year,” he continued. “Well, we weren’t even close. It took two years to get everybody on board, and thanks to the cooperation we received from all the government agencies and everyone else, we were able to pull it off — and here we are years later, going on our seventh race.
  Prestinario praised First Midwest Bank and all other organizations and individuals that contribute to the annual event’s success.

  “Everything has to work, it’s like one big chain, and every link has to be strong and can’t break,” Prestinario concluded. “Everyone involved has to sacrifice a little bit, and say ‘OK, this is a great event.’ We’re at the point where we’ve raised over $150,000 for charity over the years, and we plan on adding to that this year. We’ve gotten approximately 300 volunteers out for the event. We have spectators and runners coming from all over. So it’s been kind of a win-win situation. It’s been amazing, a good ride so far, and we’d like to continue doing it.”

Fiery argument may have led Oak Lawn man to torch home

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  A fierce argument betweencolor-p1-3-col crop an Oak Lawn man and his wife may have led the man to burn down his house a few hours after the dispute, prosecutors said.

  Arunas Samoska, 48, was charged with two counts of aggravated arson and one count of residential arson Monday morning after appearing in Bridgeview Court where a request for bond was denied, according to police. He remains at Cook County Jail.
  Oak Lawn police and fire departments from several communities responded at 5:14 a.m. Saturday to a house fire/explosion in the 8900 block of 55th Court. The house was engulfed with fire and required about one hour to extinguish.
  Prosecutors said Samoska poured gasoline throughout his home, including the living room and the bed in the master bedroom. The vapors ignited when he went to his garage to get more gasoline, prosecutors said.
  The explosion and subsequent fire rendered the home a complete loss, officials said. No one was in the home at the time of the explosion and there were no injuries. The houses on each side of the fire were occupied but no one was injured. A neighboring house sustained considerable damages, police said.
  Samoska was found outside of his home when police and firefighters arrived. He was subsequently questioned by police, who secured search warrants and began collecting physical evidence, which was presented to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
  Approximately three hours before the fire, Oak Lawn police responded to the house for an unwanted subject. Police officers intervened in a verbal between Samoska and his wife.
  His wife and children left for a relative’s house while he stayed behind. A co-worker also left the house. Before Samoska’s wife left, she smashed the couple’s wedding photo, prosecutors said. Samoska later found the photo, they said.
  After the house blew up, Samoska admitted in a phone call with a friend that he was responsible, prosecutors said. He also posted an apology on his Facebook page, they said. He also called his wife and left a message in which he admitted to blowing up the house, prosecutors said.
  Samoska is scheduled to appear in court Feb. 3.

Bury is ‘very, very concerned’ about TC Pub’s employee’s arrest

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  One day before the owner of an Oak Lawn bar agreed with the village on a series of modifications designed to prevent underage drinking at his tavern, a manager of his bar was charged with drunken driving and possession of a controlled substance, Oak Lawn police said.

  Jillian M. Lindquist, 30, an Oak Lawn resident and a manager at TC Pub, 9700 S. Cicero Ave., also was charged with speeding, no insurance, failure to yield to an emergency vehicle and illegal transportation of alcohol following a Jan. 5 stop at 105th Street and Pulaski Road, police said.
  Mayor Sandra Bury, who also serves as the village’s liquor commissioner, said she is “very, very concerned” about the incident, which was not brought to her attention before the Jan. 6 liquor commission hearing involving TC Pub.
  At that hearing, Robert Olson, the bar’s owner, was fined $250 for being open after hours on Dec. 13 and $1,000 because cocaine was found in the office of the establishment when police responded to a disturbance that night. Olson apologized at the hearing for everything that happened that night.
  Olson could not be reached for comment about the Jan. 5 arrest.
  The agreement between Olson and the village calls on him to enforce an employee code of conduct as well as a drug-free workplace policy. It also requires employees to complete the state’s Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training program.
  Bury said it was likely Olson knew about the incident before the liquor commission hearing.
  “He had to have known, being a DUI attorney. I’m sure she called him,” Bury said.
  The mayor said she sent Olson a letter asking for his response to the incident.
  “I’m hoping he’ll tell me there was corrective action,” she said. “His response will determine my next step.”
  Police spotted Lindquist’s car swerving on eastbound 103rd Street at 2:36 a.m. according to reports. The squad car activated its emergency lights but Lindquist sped up, police said. She turned right at 103rd Street and Pulaski Road and stopped near 105th Street.
  Lindquist’s speech was slurred and she allegedly had a strong odor of alcohol on her breath, reports said. She denied she was drinking, but police found an empty bottle of hard apple cider in her car, they said. Police also found a partial pill, later identified as Amphetamine, in her wallet.
  Lindquist said the odor of alcohol existed because she was a bartender. She denied that she sped up when police activated the patrol car lights. She refused to undergo field sobriety tests or chemical testing at the police station, police said.

Mayor Sexton wants Saint Bernadette’s school to stay open

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  News of the closing of St. Bernadette Catholic Academy came as a shock to parents, teachers and students, but Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton isn’t ready to throw in the towel.

  Sexton hoped to meet this week with Principal Arlene Baumann and the Rev. Benedykt Pazdan, St. Bernadette’s pastor, to discuss options for keeping the school open.
  “I think we deserve to sit down and talk,” Sexton said Monday.
  School parents were informed Friday of the decision by the Archdiocese of Chicago to close the 64-year-old school. The news was delivered by Sr. Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese.
  Sexton, who attended the meeting, said the parish community must at least try to save the school, which he described as “a tremendous part of the community.” He said he has not met with parents, as he does not want to raise their hopes. He attended Friday’s meeting at a parent’s request.
  “Nothing is promised at this time,” said Sexton, who added that he needed more information before discussing specific solutions.
  “I’m wondering if there’s an alternative (to closing),” he said. “The kids deserve us to discuss it.”
  Baumann said Monday that parents responded to the news with a mix of shock and resignation.
  “It’s a very close community. The school is truly like a family,” Baumann said Monday morning before visiting classrooms to discuss the news.
  Baumann, principal for the past 14 years, said the decision to close was solely a financial one—a disappointment because the school consistently has high test scores, a diverse student body and uses advanced technology tools.
  Baumann said she did receive advanced news of the decision, adding that she attended a meeting with diocesan officials in December during which plans for next school year were discussed.
  She said that the school will not grieve the decision throughout the remainder of the year.
  “We’re going to have a celebration,” she said. “We have great plans for the next five months.”

  Over the past five years, the Chicago Archdiocese has contributed more than $100 million to operate its school system over and above what local parishes contributed. Continued support at that level is unsustainable, the diocese said in a statement.
  The families of the 775 children affected by the closures of St. Bernadette and five other elementary schools will be encouraged to transfer their children to nearby Catholic schools and offered tuition discounts to offset any inconvenience, the diocese said.
  Evergreen Park also is served by Most Holy Redeemer, Queen of Martyrs and St. John Fisher schools.
  “We are committed to providing a high-quality educational and faith formation experience to every child in our schools,” McCaughey said in a statement. “By focusing our resources on schools that are well positioned to attract an optimum enrollment level and equipped to meet the needs of a modern curriculum we can help ensure this network will remain sustainable over the long term.”
  Pazdan said St. Bernadette parish will remain “vibrant” despite the school’s closing.
  “Though our school is closing, our church and parish will remain open and continue to be a vibrant place where we gather together as a community to profess our faith. Even though we are joining the ranks of Catholic parishes that do not operate a school, St. Bernadette will continue to provide religious education to our children,” Pazdan said in a statement. “Catholic schools will continue to fulfill the mission of nourishing our children both intellectually and spiritually, but, sadly, not here in our parish.”