– Emotions ran high for family after Palos Hills native is rescued in Nepal

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Days of worry by family and friends were followed by jubilation when Palos Hills native Corey Ascolani, was rescued by U.S. Special Forces helicopters after being trapped for five days in earthquake-ravaged Nepal.

“I can’t tell you how good it was just to be able to talk to him today. The emotions are still very high,” said his mother, Christine Bregar on Saturday. “For two days, we didn’t even know he was alive.”

Ascolani, 34, a 1998 Stagg High School graduate, had moved to Barcelona, Spain, to teach English, about 18 months ago. But after his rescue, his family was looking forward to welcoming him back to the southwest suburbs sometime this week.

Bregar, and Corey’s older brother, Damon Ascolani of Lemont, said Corey and a friend, Paul Franklin, also a Stagg alumnus were considering climbing Mt. Everest later this year, and he had gone hiking in Nepal to lay the groundwork.

When the 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook the mountainous Himalayan country on April 25,  he was hiking with 26 others in Langtang National Park, a 660 square mile reserve about 90 miles from the capital of Kathmandu. But his family and friends in Illinois were not exactly sure where he was.

“We knew he was in Nepal, but we weren’t sure if he was in Kathmandu, or out on the hike already.  He had also visited a monastery. His itinerary hadn’t been set,” Damon said.

“He is an adventurer. Using Barcelona as a base, he had already been to Switzerland and walked the El Camino,” he added, referring to the trek across northern Spain that attracts people from around the world.

Bregar, who lives in downstate Lacon near Peoria, credited Damon, Franklin and Mike Dettlaff - all Stagg graduates -- with using social media to coordinate the efforts to rescue Corey and the group of people he was with. Damon said that he and the other friends used Facebook to keep in touch, and get a general idea of where Corey was.

Damon said that two days after the earthquake, Corey was able to use someone’s satellite phone to send a text message to their mother. Bregar said that when she got the first text message, she wasn’t sure if someone who heard about the case was playing a cruel prank, and asked for confirmation to ensure it really was her son. “When he said as my favorite son, I knew it was him, because he always jokes about that,” she said.

They were eventually all able to speak to him, and from the satellite phone, got the coordinates of where the group was and send for help.

In phone interviews conducted since his rescue, while at the U.S. embassy in Nepal, Corey thanked the U.S. forces for rescuing his group, which included people from several different countries.

He said there were landslides following the earthquake, but his group was in an area where they could see the rocks coming and get out of the way. In a radio interview, he also said the group was able to clear and mark three makeshift helipads for the rescue helicopters to land.

Damon Ascolani said that since his rescue, Corey had been staying at the U.S. embassy in Kathmandu, and helping with the recovery efforts as much as possible until flights out became available. According to the latest figures on Tuesday, at least 7,000 people have died in the quake, and thousands more are missing.

Coincidentally, Ascolani was not the only Stagg alumnus rescued following the earthquake. Tinley Park resident Rob Besecker and his sister, Chris Griffin, were also there, and came home earlier this week.

Besecker, who has muscular dystrophy and atrial fibrillation, had just left Mount Everest’s base camp and was in the town of Luka when the ground shook. His older sister was there for support, but had become ill on the climb and was taken by helicopter back to  Kathmandu before the quake. 

CR insurance controversy could be cooling down soon

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

More than 100 people jammed Village Hall Tuesday to see what Chicago Ridge officials would decide regarding the hot-button health insurance benefits issue.

They came away without a definite answer but one could be on the way soon.

Chicago Ridge trustees moved forward at the board meeting with plans to at least amend, if not abolish, the controversial health insurance benefits offered to part-time elected officials.

Like the board meeting two weeks prior, more than 100 people were in the audience, attesting to the level of community interest in the insurance controversy. It became a campaign issue in April, and Mayor Charles Tokar informed the crowd that, as promised, he had formed a committee to look into the board’s options for solving the problem.

The insurance perk, last updated in 2000, gives eligible trustees access to the same insurance offered to full-time employees. Although the wording of the ordinance is vague, trustees Tuesday agreed unanimously that to be eligible, trustees must have completed two terms. The village covers 80 percent of premiums for participants who have outside jobs, and 100 percent for those not employed elsewhere. As it stands now, trustees can keep the insurance after leaving the board, and pass it on to surviving spouses.

Tokar thanked Trustees Sally Durkin and Fran Coglianese for agreeing to sit on the committee that will look into the legalities of making changes to the insurance program for people already on it. Durkin was elected to the board two years ago, while Coglianese was elected in April.  She, along with newly elected Trustee William McFarland, and re-elected Trustee John Lind, were sworn in at the end of the meeting.  

The mayor said he had met with three law firms to serve as consultants for the committee, and decided on Odelson  & Sterk, which the village already uses for planning and zoning issues.

“This is an ad-hoc committee,” he said, meaning that it will not be permanent. “We hope to get our resolution of this in 30 days.’’

Burt Odelson, who was in the audience, said “I think I can help, and I look forward to sitting down with the committee members.”

Durkin also proposed having Village Attorney George Witous amend the current ordinance, rescinding the insurance benefit “from this day forward.” She said that by removing two parts of the ordinance, the insurance would not be available to anyone not on it already. She noted that she does not yet qualify for the insurance, and never will if the amended ordinance is approved at the next meeting.

“The committee is dealing with what we can do about the past, and this (ordinance change) would deal with the future,” said Durkin. Trustee Amanda Cardin, who also was elected two years ago and doesn’t qualify for the insurance, said she doesn’t want the insurance anyway. Coglianese and McFarland also have said that they would not accept it.

Cardin said the goal of the committee is to study the history of the insurance ordinance with attorneys, and ensure the legality of any changes being considered for people who have the insurance now. “As with any company, we can’t offer something and then just take it away. The last thing we want to do is open the village up to a lawsuit,” she said.

Abel is more than able

  • Written by Claudia Parker

New EP police sergeant has had a Monster career

There’s a new sergeant in town.
Evergreen Park board members voted unanimously Monday night to approvePage-3-or-5-EP-SARGeAbel Salazar, right, poses with his partner, Steven Hart after Salazar was sown in as a police sergeant Monday night. Photo by Claudia Parker. Abel Salazar’s promotion from the police tactile unit to police sergeant after five years with the force.
Salazar, who said that five years ago he had his resume on in hopes of getting a police gig, said his first few weeks on the job as a patrolman were full of adrenaline.
“I received three commendations within my first three months,” said Salazar.
Commendations are often awarded when an officer has been in grave personal danger in the performance of duty or has had a highly credible, unusual police accomplishment.
In Salazar’s case, one of them was received for his involvement in capturing suspects in the armed robbery of a Barraco’s Pizza delivery driver in December, 2009.
He had flashbacks during that incident.
“That kid being robbed at gunpoint was me,’’ he said. “I had an armed robbery committed against me when I was 17. I felt lucky to be in a position to protect him. There were guns drawn with helicopters flying over our heads. I loved it!”
The fast pace of high crime during Salazar’s first few months were short-lived.
“Things really mellowed out after that,’’ he said. “Evergreen Park is one of the safest towns anyone could ever live in.”
After a year as patrolman, Salazar was promoted to the radar unit, which he said specialized in keeping the roads clear of those driving erratically.
He only remained in that position four seasons before being promoted again, this time to Special Weapons and Tactics, aka SWAT. He’s spent the previous three years in SWAT, serving alongside his partner Steven Hart.
Hart was noticeably happy for Salazar the two posed for a picture during the board meeting. He was there for support as were a host of Salazar’s family members.
“Hard work naturally pays off,” Mayor Jim Sexton said. “He came in five years ago, has been well trained and educated on the job and he’s done a good job.”
Salazar said prior to being on the EP Police department he worked at Little Company of Mary Hospital in the processing department.
“I don’t remember how old I was but I always thought maybe one day I would be a police officer. While working at Little Company, I started applying for positions in law enforcement. I kept my resume current on” Salazar said.
“Evergreen Park was the first one to give me a chance and because of that, I will never leave. The head chief and deputy chiefs are some of the best people to work for.”
Salazar studied biochemistry while attending school at Purdue University’s Calumet campus. He said discontinued classes to join the police force.
“This is where I’m supposed to be.” Salazar said. “I’m very focused about getting criminals off the street.”
With some of the national attention on police misdeeds, Salazar and Sexton expressed concerns about the state of the nation’s view on police.
“My father was a police officer for 35 years,’’ the mayor said. “No one knows more than I do about the key life events he missed while out protecting the community. It’s easy to criticize our officers but they have a tough job, they go through a lot.”
“It’s unfortunate that a few bad apples can mess up the image of an entire force,” Salazar said. “I risk my life every day to save people I’ve never met. As a sergeant, I intend to coach, guide and direct every officer to treat everyone fair. In all my time on the force, I only know of receiving one complaint. I de-escalate situations by choosing to talk to people with respect.
“We’re blessed to do what we do.” 

‘Irish hillbilly’ making an impact in Worth

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

Talk with John Staunton, proprietor of the Chieftain Irish Pub in Worth, PAGE-5-IRISHJohn Staunton/Sean Mora may not be a big Nashville star but he loves his country music and owns a pub in Worth. Photo by Colleen McElroy.for just five minutes and you will learn two things.
First, he is Irish.
Second, he loves his music.
But not just any music. His passion is country music, which he sings, writes and plays in his own pub, as well as locations across the U.S.
Staunton, also known as Sean Mora, which is Gaelic for “Big John” is not your usual, run-of-the-mill, wannabe musician. He is an accomplished singer and composer who is also a civic-minded, entrepreneur with a flair for running a successful business. The Chieftain Irish Pub will celebrate its fifth year anniversary on Saturday.
His journey to Worth began years ago in Ireland where his father was an Irish folk singer and their home was filled with music. Staunton knew early on, however, that his heart was in country music.
“I was an Irish Hillbilly,” he said with a laugh. “Country music is huge in Ireland.”
By 1990, he had formed a band called “The Cadillacs” which became successful and toured Ireland, Scotland and the United Kingdom for ten years. As the band members began to marry and have children they tired of all the travel, Staunton said. Looking for a new challenge, he traveled to the United States where he had gigs in New York, Boston, Chicago and Cleveland.
Eventually he said he felt the lure of Nashville and headed there with songs he had written. Still living in Ireland, he would travel back and forth a couple of times a month to visit Nashville.
Finally, he said an agent told him he needed to be in the “inner circle” in order to be heard.
Staunton shifted gears. Music was still his interest and he wanted a base in the U.S.
Enter, Worth, Illinois. Staunton was visiting relatives in the southwest suburban region and saw a broken down bar for sale on 111th Street.
“I love a challenge and I decided to go for it,” he said.
He approached the village officials and told them his plans for the building, which included a total remodeling and expansion and then opening again as a bar.
“They asked me if I had lost my mind,” he said.
He told them he would close on the building, board it up, return to Ireland for three months to get his affairs in order, come back and begin the remodeling. “I did exactly what I told them I would do,” he said.
He renovated the building, inside and out and added a second story with three apartments. The Chieftain Irish Pub opened for business in May, 2010.
“It is a family-friendly pub with a neighborhood community atmosphere,’’ he said. “There is no nonsense in my pub. I want it to be an asset to the village.”
Staunton says he draws customers from the Palos communities, Oak Lawn, Hickory Hills, Chicago Ridge and Alsip.
Staunton says it is important to become a part of the community. He said the Village of Worth was extremely helpful as he moved through all the paperwork required when starting a project such as the remodeling he did.
In Ireland, he said he was very involved with the civic groups and business community. He currently serves on the village’s economic development commission as chairman where he is spearheading work on a long-term master plan.
He still finds time for his beloved music and writes when he feels the inspiration. At least twice a year, he goes on tour to New York and Boston where he plays a country-Irish music mix. ”I like to keep my hand in.” he said
During July and August, on Sunday nights, you can find him on the front patio of the pub, relaxing and jamming with fellow musicians.
To hear him play and sing his own compositions as well as familiar country songs, visit his website at!music-/cl5sm.

Eighth wonder

  • Written by Tim Hadac

Streak of great weather for race continues

Mother Nature’s seven-year winning streak of mild weather at the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon looked like it would end last Sunday, as early-morning rain started to slap the pavement on the 13.1-mile course in Palos Heights and Palos Park.

But whether it was a 6:30 a.m. pre-race prayer service led in the beer tent by Harvest Bible Chapel Pastor Ryan Hall, or race co-founder Jeff Prestinario’s repeated insistence that the streak would not be broken, faith paid off. About 30 minutes before the starting horn sounded at 7:30 a.m., clouds rolled away to the northeast, and the sun bathed Route 83 in light and warmth.
That was fine with Palos Heights resident Kathy Becker, who bicycled from her home a mile away to cheer on her cousin, Marie Gagliano, at the starting line on Route 83 near Palos Heights City Hall.
“I didn’t bring my umbrella, but I was more worried about Marie. Wet pavement can be a hazard, or even anything slick on the ground,” Becker said, recalling the infamous incident at the 2006 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon, when winner Robert Cheruiyot slipped on an advertising mat, fell backwards and hit his head on the pavement just as he reached the finish line.
No such slip-ups occurred Sunday at the eighth annual Palos event, even though a shortage of volunteers weeks earlier had threatened to make logistics a bit difficult.
“In the end, it all came together, as it does every year,” said Mel Diab, race co-founder and owner of the popular Running for Kicks specialty running shoe store near 127th Street and Harlem Avenue. “The people who volunteer for this event really pull together, work together and make it all happen. I can’t thank them enough. They are as important as our sponsors and everyone else who made this day possible.”
Prestinario added that in its eight years, the event has raised more than $200,000 for charity. This year’s not-for-profit recipients were the American Cancer Society and the Alsip-based South West Special Recreation Association (SWSRA).
The morning was a mixture of grimaces, sweat and smiles, as competitors—in the big race, as well as a 10K and the Walk, Run or Roll race for athletes with disabilities—pushed themselves to their limits and then savored the sweet payoff of their efforts.
Finishing first overall in the half marathon was Kyle Brady, 26, of Warrenville, with a time of 1:11:31. Finishing first among women and 10th overall was Kristen Heckert, 28, of Bolingbrook, who hit the tape at the 1:18:36 mark.
Nearly 40 athletes with special needs participated in the event’s Run, Walk or Roll race, headed by the SWSRA, nearly doubling last year’s final total of 32 participants.
Results for the Half Marathon and 10K race are posted online at
The event, which bills itself as the premier athletic event in the Southwest Suburbs, also draws thousands of people to the area—some of whom patronize local restaurants and other businesses, giving a shot in the arm to the local economy.
“We had the best breakfast yesterday at Royalberry Restaurant,” said Oak Lawn resident Dawn Podlasek, there with her husband, Jim, and twin 8-year-old sons, Jason and Jon. “This evening, after we drop the boys at their grandma’s house, we’re coming back for dinner and drinks on Harlem. We go to Orland a lot when we dine out, but we didn’t know about these nice restaurants in Palos Heights. We had been passing them up, I guess, but not anymore.”
That kind of endorsement was music to the ears of Palos Heights Mayor Robert Straz.
“The whole idea behind this race—other than the race itself—is to get people into the Southwest Suburbs and appreciate what we have here,” Straz said in his pre-race remarks at the starting line. “All too often, everything south of Madison (Street) is thought of as being a vast wasteland of culture and civilization…but we do actually have things going on out here

“We’re fortunate to go through the forest preserves a bit west of here,” the mayor continued, pointing toward Palos Park. “Behind me, we’ve got Lake Katherine, which has an incredible amount of natural beauty and a bike path (the Cal-Sag Trail) under construction that will link Alsip with Lemont. So please, stick around and discover the Palos area.”
The 2015 First Midwest Half Marathon’s organizing committee will meet next week to share observations and discuss ways to improve the event for 2016. Those with feedback to offer may visit and click on the “Contact” tab.