With election a year away, second candidate surfaces for OL board

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Municipal elections are 12 months away, but political newcomer Paul Vail has thrown his hat in the ring in Oak Lawn’s 5th District trustee race.


Incumbent Trustee Carol Quinlan, who was first elected in 2007, has refused to comment on her political future.


Vail is the second person to announce his candidacy. Patrick McGowan in September in announced his plans to oppose veteran Trustee Robert Streit in the 3rd District.


Trustee Tim Desmond (1st) also faces re-election because he won a two-year term in 2013.


Vail, 36, is a lifelong Oak Lawn resident and chairs the village’s corridor studies committee.


He said Planning and Development Commissioner Rich Piazza, a friend and mentor, encouraged him to consider running for public office.


“I’ve been wanting to get involved, so now I’m doing it,” said Vail, the divorced father of a 6-year-old boy.


He added that the political infighting for which the village board has become known did not discourage him to run.


“You can’t complain about it if you don’t try to change it,” said Vail, who grew up in the 2nd District and attended McGugan Junior High before heading to Mt. Carmel High School. He is a graduate of DePaul University.


Vail, who works as a construction manager, said he is running as an independent and was not asked by Mayor Sandra Bury or other politically connected individuals to consider the race.


“I’m not with or against anybody,” he said, adding that he has “no grand political agenda.” Rather, he said, he believes it time for people of his generation to reinvest in Oak Lawn.


He said he announced his candidacy well ahead of next year’s election season to “get myself out there and give people time to get to know me.”


Vail was not critical of Quinlan’s work as trustee, but added, “I just think more can be done. He said he sent an email to Quinlan notifying her of his plans to run, but did not receive a response.

OL fireman who witnessed horrific suicide promoted

  • Written by bob

By Bob Rakow

Staff Reporter


February was a difficult month for Oak Lawn’s firefighters, having battled two house fires and witnessed six deaths.


Those firefighters were recognized for their efforts at Tuesday night’s village board meeting by receiving commendations from Fire Chief George Sheets. It was also announced that Michael Bowman was promoted to the assistant fire chief post. He was the firefighter who witnessed a horrific suicide before battling a Feb. 26 blaze.


John P. Conta allegedly killed his parents—John and Janice Conta—and nephew at the family home in the 9800 block of 51st Avenue. Conta then set the house on fire and killed himself with a gunshot while in the house’s garage, police said.


The body of Conta’s nephew, 5-year-old Matthew Meier, was discovered in the house later in the day, they said. Family members celebrated the boy’s fifth birthday at the house the previous night, police said.

Bowman was on his way to work and responded to the blaze. He entered the garage and saw John P. Conta kill himself after the gun was pointed at him, officials said.


“Assistant Chief Bowman jerked back thinking he might be shot,” Sheets said. “This happened in a matter of seconds.”


Bowman witnessed the shooting and then joined his colleagues fighting the fire—action that went above and beyond the call of duty, Sheets said


He said that Bowman’s ability to battle the fire after witnessing the suicide is unlike anything he’s witnessed in his 31-year career.


Bowman and firefighter Teddy Moran were awarded the department’s Medal of Honor for their efforts during the fire.


The first fire occurred in early February on the west side of the village.Kathryn Lomec, 73, was pronounced dead Feb. 8 shortly after a blaze at her house in the 10100 block of Lawrence Court, officials said. Her sister and caretaker, 74-year-old Mary Bruce, died three days later at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County.

Although Bruce ultimately died, the efforts of firefighters and paramedics allowed her to live a few more days, time that she was able to spend time surrounded by family, Sheets said.





Sheets also lauded residents who live near the 51st Avenue fire for supporting his crews during the second fire.


“That’s what brings a community together,” Sheets said.


Palermo’s Pizza fed the firefighters, who were at the scene for 12 hours in freezing temperatures. Another resident showed up with White Castle food, while others opened their homes to let emergency personnel use the bathroom and warm up.


“They didn’t have to do that, but they did,” Sheets said. “We were hungry. We were cold.”


Tuesday’s ceremony began with a moment of silence for the six people who perished as a result of the two tragedies.


“Your fire chief is very proud of each and every one of you,” Sheets said at the end of presentation, which also recognized firefighters from Evergreen Park and Hometown.



Checkers, anyone?

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

By Jeff Vorva

Reporter Editor

A fellow by the name of Joe Moore from Pennsylvania runs a checkers blog and he almost sounds like late comedian Rodney Dangerfield when he talks about the perception of the game he loves getting no respect.

“I believe that the single most reason checkers is underrated it because it gets compared to chess,” Moore wrote on his World of Checkers website. “Most people, especially chess players, cannot imagine checkers being taken seriously.

“Fact is, people are right in that checkers is very easy to play. What they don’t understand, however, is just how hard it is to play at a high level.’’

A fellow by the name of Mike Erickson from Evergreen Park is working at the local level to help give the game some respectability and popularity.

He is hosting the first Evergreen Park all-ages, village-wide checkers tournament from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 19 at the Hamilton B. Maher Community Center, 3450 W. 97th St. in Evergreen Park. There is a $5 entrance fee and the tournament is open to all ages. Proceeds will go to the Village Food Pantry.

“If you’re old enough, you’re never too old,’’ is the tournament’s motto.

Erickson is hoping for a big turnout. Ramon Dionisio, the Illinois State Checker Association president, will be making a guest appearance at the event.

“We want to have as many people as we can in the center,” Erickson said. “We’ll have brackets in age groups and at the end, all the champions of each age group will compete against each other for one grand champion.”

The grand champion will receive funding to play at a state competition.

Erickson is also involved in a new venture of creating and selling checkerboards with painted golf balls used as checkers. He went to a local play rehearsal and was surprised at the response.

“I took some sets with me to play practice and some of the kids are in high school I found out that some of them play checkers online with their phone,” he said. “I brought in three sets and everybody was playing during a break. The kids love it.’’

His company, Golf Ball Checkers, Etcetera, is getting off the ground and Erickson made an appearance at the Tinley Park Golf Expo in early February. He invited patrons to stop by and play and he watched as kids, adults and even some nuns had fun kinging and double jumping.

Living near golf courses helped give him an idea for the checker designs.  


“I live across from Beverly Country Club and I always found really good golf balls,” he said. “I would pocket those. I used to go up and down the tracks between the two courses which included the nine holes at Evergreen until they closed it. Village Hall asked me to be in an art presentation so I made a checkerboard and that was the first iteration.”



Photo by Jeff Vorva

Evergreen Park’s Michael Erickson is forming a checkers tournament in the village in April.


Telling their side of the story

  • Written by Bob Rakow

The family of Brittany Wawrzyniak plans to hold a March 29 rally to bring awareness to what they perceive as a lack of attention given to the 18-year-old Worth girl’s death investigation.


Wawrzyniak was found dead Nov. 8 near the Worth boat launch, and family members have been highly critical of Worth police for failing to aggressively investigate the cause.


“It’s so unfortunate the way police are treating this,” said Rebecca Tully, Wawrzyniak’s mother.


The rally is scheduled for noon at the Oak View Center, 4625 W. 110th St., Oak Lawn.


Tully said she plans to give a PowerPoint presentation that will include all of the information the family has gathered so far related to her daughter’s death.


Tully said she’ll “try to be professional” during the presentation, which she expects to be emotional.


“This could happen to anybody,” she said. “Four months is enough.”


Tully said family members and friends will begin to promote the rally next week by passing out flyers throughout the community.


The rally is scheduled three days before the Worth Board of Trustees April 1 meeting, which Wawrzyniak’s supporters plan to attend to demand that community leaders and police focus on the case.


Tully predicted that the crowd at the board meeting will be big enough to warrant a larger venue.


Prosecutors said Wawrzyniak was ejected from the backseat of an alleged drug dealer’s car after buying pills from him—an explanation that her family does not accept.


They believe Wawrzyniak set up a bogus drug buy to arrange a fight between a friend and another girl.


Worth police questioned Adam Wilczek and his girlfriend, Agnes Smyk, several days after the couple met with Tully at an emotional meeting also attended by several other family members.


Family members believe a story published in The Reporter about that meeting led police to interview Wilczek and Smyk. The Burbank couple said they shared with police the same information they provided family members at the Feb. 22 meeting.


“To me it seems like it was a front,” Tully said.


Police News from 3-6-14


Chicago Ridge

Rodney Cotton, 47, and Demetria Blakley, 40, both of Chicago, were charged with retail theft Feb. 18 after they allegedly stole $550 worth of merchandise from Sears at Chicago Ridge Mall, police said.
Malcolm Shields, 27, of Crete, was charged with driving on a suspended license Feb. 24 after a stop in the 7000 block of Southwest Highway, police said.
John Ambrose, 57, Oak Lawn, was charged with aggravated driving while intoxicated, driving on a suspended license and possession of a stolen vehicle Feb. 25 after he allegedly struck a car in the parking lot of Chicago Ridge Mall with a front-end loader that he stole, police said.
Sherae S. Berry, 20, of Chicago, was charged with retail theft Feb. 26 after allegedly stealing merchandise from Hollister at Chicago Ridge Mall, police said.
Yolene Richards, 23, of Palos Hills, was charged with retail theft Feb. 27 after allegedly stealing craft supplies from Michael’s Arts and Crafts at Chicago Ridge Commons, police said.

Evergreen Park


Brian N. Byrb, 18, of Chicago, was charged with retail theft Feb. 22 after allegedly stealing cosmetics from Wal-Mart, 2500 W. 95th St., police said.
Allen L. McKinzie, 21, of Chicago, was charged with retail theft and obstructing a police officer Feb. 24 after he allegedly stole a bottle of hard lemonade from Lagen’s Supermarket, 8859 S. California Ave., police said.
Oscar Guzman, 35, of Chicago, was charged with driving on a revoked license, illegal transportation of alcohol and no insurance Feb. 25 after a stop at 94th Street and Western Avenue, police said.

Eboni J. Newell, 21, of Chicago, was charged with retail theft Feb. 26 after allegedly stealing merchandise from Wal-Mart, 2500 W. 95th St., police said.
Khalyb J. Ford, 21, of Chicago, was charged with theft Feb. 26 after allegedly stealing $100 from Meijer’s, 9200 S. Western Ave., where he had been employed, police said.
Erlinda L. Brown, 55, of Chicago, was charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver following a Feb. 28 arrest at 87th Street and Kedzie Avenue, police said.

Hickory Hills


Witold A. Studenski, 21, and Leah C. Wright, 18, both of Palos Hills, were charged with possession of a controlled substance Feb. 23 after a stop at 95th Street and Roberts Road, police said. Wright also was charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, police said.

Emad Af Albukasi, 53, of Bridgeview, was charged with driving on a suspended license Feb. 25 after a stop in the 7700 block of 95th Street, police said.

Oak Lawn


A washer-dryer set was reported stolen sometime between Dec. 1 and Feb. 25 from a building in the 5700 block of Circle Drive.
Kelli N. Townsend, 33, of Flossmoor, was charged with drunken driving, failure to signal, improper lane use and illegal transportation of alcohol Feb. 20 after she was stopped at 98th Street and Cicero Avenue, police said.
Shunzel A. Wright, 22, of Chicago, was charged with retail theft Feb. 22 after allegedly stealing goods from Kmart, 4101 W. 95th St., police said.
Pedra Ortiz-Macias, 23, and Antonio Ortis, 30 both of Chicago, was charged with retail theft Feb. 23 after allegedly stealing items from Kmart, 4101 W. 95th St., police said.
Ricardo Vera, 41, of Oak Lawn, was charged with drunken driving, no insurance and improper lane use Feb. 23 following a stop in the 4500 block of 95th Street, police said.
Thomas W. Bowen, 50, of Chicago, was charged with possession of a controlled substance and driving without a valid license Feb. 24 after a stop at 93rd Street and Cicero Avenue, police said.
Heather N. Sleeman, 24, of Hickory Hills, was charged with retail theft Feb. 25 after allegedly stealing items from Jewel-Osco, 8801 S. Ridgeland Ave., police said.
A catalytic convertor was reported stolen Feb. 25 or 26 from a car in the parking lot of Kmart, 4101 W. 95th St., police said.



Ryan P. Shaughnessy, 30, of Worth, was charged with domestic battery Feb. 23 following a disturbance in the 10400 block of Southwest Highway, police said.

Mohammad J. Albis, 24, of Burbank, was charged with obstructing a peace officer and possession of marijuana Feb. 27 after allegedly withholding information from police about a robbery at his ex-girlfriend’s condo, police said.


Katie L. Bezak, 23, of Oak Lawn, was charged with domestic battery Feb. 28 after a disturbance at an apartment in the 6600 block of Lloyd Drive, police said.


Area police departments
Chicago Ridge..................425-7831
Evergreen Park...............422-2142
Hickory Hills...................598-4900
Oak Lawn........................499-7722
Palos Hills.......................598-2272