Chicago Ridge mourns loss of police officer

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Illinois State Police are investigating a three-vehicle crash involving a wrong-way driver on Interstate 294 that killed Chicago Ridge Police Officer Steven Smith, 27, early Sunday morning on Interstate 294 in Hillside.

The ISP said that about 3:45 a.m., someone called 911 to report a female motorist driving a car the wrong way near the Cermak Road Toll Plaza near Hillside. Her 1998 Toyota Camry was heading south in the northbound lanes when she struck the 2002 Dodge Neon head-on that Smith was in, police said. The Camry then spun around and struck a 2013 Chevrolet pickup truck.

Smith was off-duty and a passenger in the Neon driven by his cousin when the collision occurred. He was pronounced dead at the scene, according to police and the Cook County medical examiner's office.

The cousins were on their way to retrieve Smith’s car in Stone Park, where he had left it after a wedding the previous day.

Described by Police Chief Robert Pyznarski as “a tremendous asset to our department,” Smith was scheduled to work later on Sunday.

A graduate of Finley Junior High School in Chicago Ridge and Richards High School in Oak Lawn, Smith joined the Marines in July 2009 and served in Afghanistan before becoming an active reservist. He joined the Chicago Ridge Police Department as a part-time officer in 2010, and was promoted to full-time in February. Even before becoming a police officer, he was known for helping neighbors in the 6200 block of Birmingham Street, where he lived with his parents.

“He was just a delightful young man,” said Village Clerk George Schleyer, who swore Smith in as a full-time officer at a village board meeting in February.

“Being a Marine veteran, he was all about police work, and just a very respectful young man,” said Schleyer. Schleyer, a production manager for a bakery, said he often met Smith during his frequent visits to the police department bringing baked goods to the officers.

“We’re a close-knit community, so we all know each other. To have this happen is just devastating for his family and friends, the department and the whole village,” said the clerk.

“It hits home for me because I have a 27-year-old son. I can’t imagine getting that call,” he added.

According to police, the person in the pickup was not injured. The driver of the Camry was taken to Elmhurst Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, officials said. The crash remained under investigation, and charges may be filed against the driver of the Camry.

Smith, who was single, is survived by his parents and brother. Arrangements were pending on Tuesday, but Schleyer said big crowds are expected to attend his wake and funeral, which were tentatively planned for Friday and Saturday.

Eighty years of saving lives

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


The Animal Welfare League has come a long way since it was founded 80 years ago, mainly to look after neglected horses that pulled wagons carrying everything from coal to watermelons through the streets of Chicago.

Originally named the Illinois Citizens Animal Welfare League when it opened in 1935, the non-profit organization now focuses on the care and adoption of stray or unwanted dogs, cats and other domestic pets. But a wide range of animals still come through the doors of the main Animal Welfare League facility at 10305 Southwest Highway in Chicago Ridge.

“We see 16,000 animals a year, coming from 54 municipalities, mainly the suburbs,” said Terri Sparks, the marketing and public relations manager for the non-profit organization, which is holding an 80th anniversary gala at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, at Giorgio’s Banquets, 8800 W. 159th St., in Orland Park.

“We’re celebrating 80 years of saving lives,” said Sparks. The $60 tickets for the gala will include a full buffet dinner with carving station, dessert and unlimited soft drinks with a cash bar, and DJ music for dancing. There will also be raffles and silent auctions.

“The only thing we won’t have is animals there. They won’t allow us to bring them,” said Sparks.

The smaller, original Animal Welfare League site at 6224 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago, remains the largest no-kill shelter on the South Side of Chicago. Between the two facilities, the AWL annually takes in about 10,000 stray animals and more than 13,000 animals given up by owner for one reason or another.

“We see an average of 110 clients a day in the clinic (in Chicago Ridge). It is like Cook County Hospital,” said Sparks with a smile.

She said that in addition to the cats and dogs, birds, and small mammals like rabbits and hamsters that come through the door regularly, other, more exotic animals have ended up at the Animal Welfare League too. 

“We have had alligators, monkeys, and there is a picture of me somewhere with a tiger cub too,” said Sparks. “Wolves and coyotes also have been here.”

She recalled that an unknown person once just abandoned a box in the middle of the busy admissions area. “When an employee noticed, and opened it, there were something like 60 snakes inside, causing her to emit an ear-piercing scream,” she said.

Sparks explained that the exotic animals are typically turned over to rescue organizations that handle that type of animal specifically. Only organizations with special licenses are allowed to handle them, so they cannot be adopted like dogs and cats.

One bird that was turned over about 20 years ago, and has taken up residence at the Chicago Ridge shelter is Clancy, a colorful parrot, who will say a few words when he wants to. “He won’t do it on command,” said Sparks. “He is not up for adoption. He is like one of the family.”

“We have about 1,200 animals that are available for adoption here now,” she said. Dozens of volunteers help out by exercising and bathing the dogs, among other things, she added.

During a recent visit, it seemed that as soon as one family left happily with a newly adopted dog, someone else came to the counter with a dog being dropped off.

“We’re about the only shelter that takes in stray animals any more. Our main concern is the welfare of the animals. We don’t want to turn any away, because what would happen to them if we did? Where would they go?” she wondered, noting that the facility is open 24 hours a day for animals to be brought in.

Heather Lathus, of Oak Lawn, and her daughter, Addyson, 6, were among the happy ones, leaving with their newly adopted puppy, “Blue,” an American Staffordshire terrier. The friendly little dog had been with them for a few days, and gets along well with all three of her young children, Lathus said.

Sparks said that people adopting pets go through a vetting process, and in cases where pitbull-type breeds with reputations for fighting, house checks are done to see where the dogs will be going.

“We also do 30- , 60- and 90-day checks,” she added.

In addition to adoption, the AWL provides veterinary care, low-cost spaying and neutering services, and microchips animals to help ensure lost pets are reunited with owners. The League also has a foster-care program for sick and injured animals, wildlife rehabilitation, and educational programs about the humane treatment of animals, as well as pet assisted therapy programs for elderly or physically challenged individuals.

Sparks said she fosters animals, and has four of her own dogs and five cats.

“You want to take all of them home,” she said, noting that fostering many types of animals has been a learning experience for her children too.

More information about the AWL, and tickets for the gala, may be obtained by visiting the website at


Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Warning to politicians: Stay out of our sports pages

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Jeffs Col Impressions



You’ve heard of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx?

How about the Reporter/Regional News sports cover jinx?

A few weeks ago, I covered the third annual Battle of the Burbs softball game at Standard Bank Park in Crestwood, which was a softball game with police chiefs, fire chiefs, mayors and other politicians. Money raised from the event went to the Special Olympics.

The first two years, we ran photos and stories on that event in the regular news sections but with the Stanley Cup coming to the area and gobbling up our valuable page 4 space, and sports needed an extra story, we ran it on the front page of the sports section with three photos.

One of the photos in our Aug. 20 issue was of a couple of politicians horsing around. State senator Napoleon Harris, a former Northwestern and NFL player, hoisted Harvey Mayor Eric Kellogg over his shoulders and gave the mayor a little airplane spin.

Just a few days later, TV stations and newspapers had stories on some alleged shenanigans regarding Kellogg using grant money to buy an SUV for his personal use.

Actually, it’s probably not fair to admit to a jinx when it comes to Kellogg and unflattering headlines. Just Google up his name and you will get an eyeful.

Harris, on the other hand, seemed to have a clean record.

He was a football hero and thanks to excelling at NU (ironically, the Kellogg School of Business) he was an owner of a pair of Beggars Pizza locations. He was hoping to be a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Less than a week after he was on our sports front hoisting Kellogg, I saw a TV story in which Chuck Goudie and the Channel 7 I-Team said he illegally underpaid his Beggars employees. The I-team said he owed 40 workers roughly $23,000.

Harris released the following statement:

"Ensuring the citizens of Illinois receive a fair wage is an issue I take very seriously. I would never knowingly deny anyone his or her right to fair compensation. As a public servant, business owner or citizen, it has always been important to me that the workers of Illinois are paid a fair and sufficient wage. My record as a State Senator reflects this. My life experiences embody this. In the event that my business is not in full compliance, these alleged issues will be addressed and resolved."

As for us?

We’re going to try to keep the politicians off the sports pages for a while.

(SUB HEADLINE) Roaring sarcasm

Last week, I was listening to the police scanner and in one of the nine towns the Reporter/Regional covers, a dispatcher asked a couple of officers to check out a report of a mountain lion roaming a neighborhood.

I wasn’t listening all that closely and I wondered if I heard it right.

So I put the scanner on hold and waited awhile for the next dispatch.

A few minutes later, the officers arrived at the neighborhood and one of the cops told the dispatcher “We’re here looking for the mountain lion…in Illinois.’’

That was pretty subtle yet pretty funny, too.

(SUB HEADLINE) Will she run a fowl campaign?

I am not in her jurisdiction, but if I could vote for her, I would consider voting for Tonia Khouri for 11th district congress.

She recently announced she was running for office at a chicken dinner she hosted at Frontier Park in Naperville.

But it wasn’t just any chicken dinner. It was a Yummy Chicken Dinner, with capital letters on the Y, C and D.

She had a handful of these YCDs all over her district recently.

I wish she was in our area because if she were to knock off incumbent Bill Foster, I could write the headline “Winner winner (yummy) chicken dinner.”



A Pope-pourri of fun

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



This is an event that will feature clowns.

It will also have face-painting.

There will be some Tai Kwan Do demonstrations.

Don’t forget the softball game.

And the main event will be the Pope.

Well, actually Pope Francis won ‘t physically be there but he will be giving his message from Philadelphia live and on a 13-foot high, 22-foot long HD video board.

Incarnation Parish of Palos Heights is hosting its first World Festival of Families at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood. It is open to all families and religious denominations.

“This is not an event just for Catholics,’’ Incarnation Director of Religious Education Kathy McNicholas said. “This is for everyone. It’s about family and it’s our way to celebrate the family.’’

Outside of the stadium, at 12:30 p.m., there will be the disc jockey, clowns, face painting, pony rides, Tai Kwan Do demonstrations and food available for a picnic lunch.

The gates open at 2:30 p.m. to go inside of the stadium and there will be a 16-inch softball game between the Crestwood Police/Incarnation Youth Group against the Crestwood Fire/Incarnation Alumni.

The Pope’s message will broadcast on the screen at 3 p.m.

The cost is $20 per family.

McNicholas said she has received positive reaction toward the event and people are not deeming it to be sacrilegious.

“Gosh no –I think the Pope would be very happy with the way this event is run,” she said. “It’s a celebration of family life. It’s going to be more like a wedding reception.’’

Incarnation volunteer Andrea Covert said this was the “perfect way to go” to raise funds.

“Families don’t get together enough,” she said. “Sometimes they go to Mass on Sunday and go their separate ways. We want everyone to go to Mass in the morning and have fun in the afternoon together as a family.’’

For more information, call 708-388-4004 or visit

Lemont-Palos Park golf war escalates

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Page 1 Cog

It’s getting a little nastier out there.

Golf may be considered a gentlemen’s game by some, but annexing land with golf courses? Well, that’s a different beast.

Shortly after Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves went on television to rip the city of Palos Park in a segment shown on Friday, the city went on the offensive.

The Friday fights started when Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves told Fox-32 that Palos Park’s annexing of 1,400 acres of unincorporated land which includes three golf courses including the jewel of the bunch -- Cog Hill – was a “land grab.’’

That came 11 days after a Lemont village board meeting in which some people in that town portrayed the City of Palos Park as “selfish and self-centered” and a “political predatory parasite” officials.

“I call this a land grab because at the end of the day, the village of Lemont had no chance to combat what’s going on,” he told the TV station.

He also accused a deal was cut between Cook County and Palos Park but added he couldn’t prove it.

“I can tell you something doesn’t smell right,” Reaves said. The village’s website calls it a “back-room deal.”

New Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison, who has publically said he favors the annexation, called Reaves’ accusations “hogwash” and told the Chicago television station that Reaves has lost his mind.

That didn’t sit well with Palos Park Mayor John Mahoney and City Manager Rick Boehm.

Not long after the broadcast, Boehm sent out a seven-page information packet to the media about the situation from Park’s point of view.

 “Even the suggestion of a ‘land grab’ is ridiculous and utterly false,’’ Boehm said in the statement. “The properties involved in the proposed annexations – both the Forest Preserve District land and the private properties – are not the Village of Lemont’s land and are not within the Village of Lemont’s corporate limits.

“Lemont appears to be laying claim to land over which it has no control or authority. Lemont knows that the annexation of Forest Preserve District land can lead to Palos Park annexing the significant lands owned by leading area families. And these families have freely exercised their rights and made the decision to be annexed into Palos Park. The annexation of unincorporated property into a municipality is governed by state law, and the Village of Palos Park has followed these laws in pursuing the proposed annexations.’’

This controversy started in 2009 and died down for a few years. Now it’s become a full-blown fight and Palos Park officials don’t think they did anything wrong since they content that property owners sought them out. With Cog Hill, a course that has hosted PGA events, in the mix, the emotions are running high.

 “These property owners first met among themselves prior to 2009 to explore a plan to jointly seek annexation into either Palos Park or Lemont,” Boehm said in the statement. “They then asked for annexation proposals from each village.

“Both Palos Park and Lemont made proposals and after long and thoughtful consideration of each village’s proposal the property owners unanimously decided, as one landowner has stated, ‘to rule out Lemont because only Palos Park offers the real prospect of securing the use entitlements, the public utilities, the marketplace and the community identity essential to a long-term redevelopment of Cog Hill, Gleneagles, Mid Iron and Ludwig Farm to their highest and best use.’ ”

Boehm also said this was good for the people of Palos Park.

“Palos Park sees these prospective annexations as a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity to enhance the quality of life in Palos Park by annexing lands from property owners who appreciate our village’s commitment to quality development, recreational, and open spaces that Palos Park fosters.’’ he said.Palos Park sees the annexations as a way to enhance our Village, gaining lands and future residential development that will fit into the Palos Park environment that emphasizes recreation, cautious growth and green development. The annexations will also provide the Village with control over future development in significant local corridors along Bell and other roads.

It will likely be months before this gets resolved but for now tensions are running high.