Air mail from Washington

  • Written by Kevin M. Coyne and Jeff Vorva


Devastating storm blows assisted-living flier 130 miles to Palos Hills


  It was the most interesting piece of garbageDOUBLE-RUN-PAGE-1-COLOR-2-col-WashingtonMoraine Valley officer Danielle Zychowski displays an advertisement that flew 130 miles from Downstate Washington to the Palos Hills campus during Sunday’s massive storm. Photo by Jeff Vorva. Chicago Ridge’s Danielle Zychowski picked up in her life.

  Close to noon on Sunday, the Moraine Valley community service officer was helping to secure the Palos Heights campus for the impending storm. The winds were kicking up and some debris started falling and an advertisement for the Villas of Holly Brook assisted living facility in Downstate Washington, fluttered and fell to the ground right in Police Chief Patrick O’Connor’s parking space. It had some dirt on it and it was partially torn.
  “I looked up in the sky and saw the debris falling,” said Zychowski, who graduated from Moraine with a criminal justice degree. “That one actually fell right at my feet. Out of curiosity I picked it up wondering where it came from. I thought maybe it was from Orland Park or Palos Hills or Palos Park. I picked it up and I saw it was from the town of Washington. I had never heard of the town of Washington.
  “I Googled it and found out where Washington is. It travelled 130 miles. About 25 minutes later, that’s when the news went public that the tornado hit Washington.’’
DOUBLE-RUN-jump-2-col-storm-readyMoraine Valley Police Chief Patrick O’Connor, left, receives an award from Jim Allsopp of the National Weather Service. Photo by Kevin Coyne.  The flier was sent to Steven Bucher of Kern Road in Washington and when Zychowski went home that night, she saw him on television.
  “The crazy thing is that he was on NBC Nightly News,” she said. “He talked about how his house was completely destroyed. I was excited to know that he was OK. Of course, my heart goes out to everybody there, but I felt a connection to this person. Finding his mail made it personal.’’
  Bucher described what happened.
  “All of a sudden, the wind started picking up and [my wife] said ‘we’ve got to get in the basement right now!’ ’’ Bucher told NBC. “Within less than a minute, everything started collapsing inside the house, cracking, sputtering. Next thing we know, its light inside the garage.’’
  Bucher’s junk mail flying from his house all the way to Moraine’s campus was “amazing,” O’Connor said.
  “To elevate that upward and for it not to be damaged by water, it had had to be very high up,” O’Connor said. “The National Weather Service was shocked that it reached this far. They had reports of debris from Morris and Joliet. They never thought it would make it all the way to Palos Hills. It shows how strong this storm really was.”
  Luckily for most of the Reporter’s six towns, there was only minor damage caused by the storm. The chief said there was no damage on campus.
  O’Connor said he would photograph the advertisement and send it to the Washington post office, which is holding people’s mail that has flown all around the state.
  “When [Bucher’s] life gets back to normal, he will get this back,” O’Connor said. “I think he’s going to be surprised that it travelled this far.’’
  The incident happened four days after O’Connor received the National Weather Service StormReady Award at the school’s monthly board meeting.
  StormReady was developed in 1999 in Tulsa, Okla., after a tornado struck a community that was unprepared and sustained great loss and damage.
  NWS and NOAA Weather Radio partnered to create the grassroots program in cooperation with state and local emergency management agencies to help prepare communities, colleges and universities and counties for inclement weather.
  “It took us about three years to get everything in place and we are very proud of being award the StormReady Award,” O’Connor said. “We had to setup an emergency operations center, establish multiple means of communication to students and staff, train our employees and meet [NWS official Jim Allsopp’s] strict policies and procedures.”
  The NWS requires each of the StormReady communities to create redundant methods of receiving watches and warning from the NWS on campus, redundant methods of disseminating that information while sending it out to the community, severe weather procedures in place, storm shelters on campus, training of storm-spotters, and training for the staff and students.
  “Chief O’Connor has done a great job meeting the requirements to be a StormReady college,” Allsopp said. “Statewide this is only the tenth college or university to achieve StormReady status and there are only about 140 nationwide.”
  According the NWS, roughly 90 percent of all presidentially declared disasters are weather related, leading to around 500 deaths per year and nearly $14 billion in damage. The StormReady program provides individuals with the communication and safety skills needed to help protect communities from severe weather.
  “This program is great for the college community since we have protocols in place where we are able to reach out to all three campuses and prepare students, faculty, staff and visitors for severe weather,” O’Connor said. “This award ensures the safety and performance of not only our department but the college community as a whole.”



Blah, blog, blah

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Blogging OL mayor not responding to attacks from anonymous-run blog

  Twenty four hours after Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury went live with her blog, another website highly critical of her administration alleged that the mayor’s site may violate state ethics laws.
  Mayor’s Bury’s Blog launched on Nov. 13, though a version of the site has been around for about one month. The site had approximately 25 entries as of Nov. 20.
  The blog posts cover a variety of topics, including new businesses in the village, Bury’s appearances at schools and community events, the village’s efforts to improve transparency and reports on the mayor’s visits to Springfield and Washington, D.C., to lobby on behalf of the village.
  Critics of the blog, who post anonymously on a website that was created shortly after Bury was elected, say the mayor’s blog is political and violates state ethics laws because it includes the village hall address and phone number.
  According to a recent post: “We do mind when someone runs on a platform of good government and transparency and then decides that she can use the village phone system, village employees and the village mailing address for her political blog. It creates all kinds of ethical and legal problems for the mayor and her supporters.”
  “I really have nothing to say about what they have to say,” Bury said.
  She added that her blog includes the village hall phone number and address to make it convenient for residents to reach out to her. She said the blog is not a campaign site or a “call to action.”
  “I’m not running for office,” she said. “We are going to be ethical, and we are going to move forward.”
  The blog is hosted by WordPress and Bury paid $9 for the domain name, she said.
  Bury said she’s attempting to fill the “void of information” that exists in the community. Plans call for her blog to include a link to the redesigned village website, which is expected to launch before the end of the year, she said. She also wants to “energize Channel 4,” the village’s local access cable channel, to cover more village events than board meetings.
  Former Mayor Dave Heilmann, who Bury defeated in April, admitted in June that he founded the anonymous site critical of Bury but did not have time to administer it. The blog does not include contact information and its stories do not include bylines. The site has run about 30 stories, many within the past few weeks.
  The site contended in a recent post that Bury uses her blog to praise her allies and attack her opponents. It goes on to say that blog ostracizes trustees who are not aligned with the mayor.
  Critics also contend that the mayor’s blog “has several political references to the village, including attacks against all previous mayors and current Trustee Robert Streit.”
  No previous Oak Lawn mayors were referenced in any of Bury’s blog posts, but an Oct. 27 post titled, “No More Pay to Play in Oak Lawn,” was critical of Streit for the amount of money he has amassed in his campaign fund.
  “The vast majority of these contributions are from area businesses or are from those hoping to do business with the village,” Bury wrote in the post. “In the third quarter of 2013, Streit had amassed $53,000 in this account. This is over eight times his salary as trustee,” Bury posted.
  Bury said she is not deterred by her detractors.
  “It’s awesome and incredible honor and privilege” to serve as mayor, she said.
  Many big city mayors maintain blogs.
  For example, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak includes a disclaimer that says: “This blog is supported by the city of Minneapolis through city funds, supplies, equipment and/or personnel.” Madison Mayor Paul Soglin has a blog within the city’s website. Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell has blog that is paid for by his campaign committee.

It could have been worse

  • Written by Bob Rakow


Deadly storm packs light punch in area


  The southwest suburbs front-color-4-COL-WEATHERWorkers from Eclipse Awning repair damage caused by Sunday’s storm in front of the Worth Restaurant. The deadly storm did some minor damage in the Reporter communities but it was not as severe as other parts of the state. Photo by Jeff Vorva.escaped the havoc and destruction that Sunday’s tornadoes wreaked on communities stretching from central Illinois to Frankfort, and residents realize how fortunate they were to elude the life-threatening damage that accompanied the storm.

  Workers on Monday repaired awnings at the Worth Restaurant, 6948 W. 111th St., which were damaged by high winds that whipped through several of the communities in The Reporter’s coverage area.
  Fortunately, the winds and rain caused only minimal damage to homes and businesses in the area.
  “We’re very, very happy this wasn’t worse,” said Linda Dawson, who has been a waitress at the Worth Restaurant for 16 years. “It’s a big deal to us, but it’s not that big of a deal when you consider what could have happened. This wasn’t major.’’
  Hickory Hills Village Clerk Dee Catizone echoed Dawson’s sentiments.
  “We were pretty lucky,” Catizone said. “It sort of blew over. It was pretty quick.”
jump-3-col-weatherFences at the site of a new bank on 95th Street in Oak Lawn were twisted and knocked over after Sunday’s storm. Photo by Jeff Vorva.  ComEd crews were working Monday to restore power to about 150 homes in the 9200 block of 88th Avenue, Catizone said. Those homes lost electricity on Sunday when a downed tree branch took out a power line, she said.
  Palos Hills, Chicago Ridge and Evergreen Park weathered the storm without serious property damage or electrical outages, officials said.
  However, power outages were again an issue in a section of Oak Lawn typically affected by storms.
  “Twenty four hours after the incident, residents of Oak Lawn are still without power,” Trustee Alex Olejniczak said.
  Outages affected more than 1,000 homes in an area roughly bounded by 87th and 101st streets between 52nd Avenue to Pulaski Road. Many of those homes had power restored by Sunday night, but an area near 93rd Street and Tully Avenue remained without electricity the following day, Olejniczak said.
  Olejniczak, a long-time critic of ComEd, said a damaged wooden utility pole located behind Fox’s Pub, 9240 S. Cicero Ave., collapsed during the storm, causing the outage.
  “It was weathered and warped through,” said Olejniczak, who added that markings indicated that the pole had not been inspected since 1983.
  ComEd officials said the pole was not responsible for the outage, and added that it was inspected in 1997.
  Olejniczak said homes in the 4600 block of 105th and 106th streets also were without power.
  “It’s just a frustration,” he said.



Family conducts investigation of Brittany’s death

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  Two weeks after her daughter’s tragic death, Rebecca Tully vows that her memory will never be forgotten the cause of her death will ultimately be revealed.

  “She shouldn’t have died,” Tully said Tuesday afternoon. “This is not an accident.”
  And she wants to prove it.
  “My family and I are doing our own investigation,” Tully said.
  Prosecutors said Brittany Wawrzyniak, 18, died Nov. 8 after she was ejected from the back seat of an alleged drug dealer’s car after buying pills from him.
  “We have to be patient,” said Earl Lane, Wawrzyniak’s step-grandfather. “(Police) are not telling us everything right now.”
  Wawrzyniak met Eric Steven Johnson at the boat launch near 115th Street and Beloit Avenue in Worth. She got into the backseat of his car and handed him $200 in exchange for 30 pills of Clonazepam, prosecutors said.
  The prescription drug is used to treat panic and seizure disorders, according to medical experts.
  Wawrzyniak, a Worth resident and Shepard graduate, began counting the pills while still in the back seat 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.
  Johnson, of Peotone, was ordered held on $300,000 bond. He is charged with unlawful delivery of a controlled substance.
  Tully said her daughter had no intention of purchasing drugs. Rather, the drug buy was a ploy to arrange a fight between Wawrzyniak’s friend and another girl, she said.
  “It was all a ruse to set up a fight,” she said.
  Tully contends that if her daughter intended to meet Johnson to purchase pills, the transaction would not have resulted in her death.
  Tully said she is relying on God to guide her through the difficult days following her daughter’s’ death.
  She said she drew strength from the outpouring of support shown during last week’s wake and funeral services.
  Bridgeview police were needed to direct traffic in front of Hann Funeral Home where mourners waited in line for two hours to pay their respects. There was a standing-room-only crowd for funeral services at New Hope Church in Alsip. The family had to turn away people who wanted to attend the luncheon following services, Tully said.
  Wawrzyniak’s friends and family continue to post messages on the RIP Brittany Wawrzyniak Facebook page, which had more than 7,200 “likes” as of Tuesday. Her online memorial fund has raised approximately $11,000.
  Lane said the family is struggling to assume “some sense of normalcy. It’s a period of calming.”
  “There’s nothing you can say, nothing you can do,” said Lane, a Hickory Hills alderman from 1979 to 1991. “We lost a lot of love with Brittany, Brittany was special.”
  “I know where she’s at, and I will see her again,” Tully added.
  Several Facebook posts encourage people who may know more about Wawrzyniak’s death to report the information to the police. Worth police can be contacted at 708-448-3979.
  Attempts to contact Worth police for an update on the investigation were unsuccessful.

‘Shared sacrifice’ still on ice as Oak Lawn trustees mull their health benefits

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Mike CarberryMike CarberryOak Lawn trustees took a pass Tuesday night on a discussion of eliminating health care benefits for elected officials, deciding instead that additional information is needed first.

  “There’s going to be a lot of discussion that’s going to take place between all of us,” Trustee Mike Carberry said. “It’s an overall compensation package. Health benefits are a major cost. We need to get everybody’s input. We’re going to try to come up with something that makes sense. There’s not a big rush on this.”

Part of that discussion will focus on a proposal to allow trustees to purchase health insurance from the village if it is no longer offered as a benefit.

“That wasn’t really discussed at the last meeting and I think that’s important to talk about before we start drafting an ordinance,” Village Attorney Patrick Connelly said. “I would like to hear some direction on what you guys [on the board] think.”

Connelly added that he is exploring whether or not the repeal of health care benefits would take place after a board member’s term. He said there was “some gray area” in the law that might allow benefits to be repealed at the end of the fiscal year instead.

The health insurance issue was first raised at the Oct. 22 board meeting by Trustee Tim Desmond, who called for “shared sacrifice” at a time when the board is considering several significant cuts to balance the village budget.

Several trustees and Mayor Sandra Bury currently take full or partial health benefits.