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posted: 9/18/2011 5:00 AM

Police drama? It helps if you're the beholder

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Many years ago, before I-355 was built, before we covered Lombard, when the Daily Herald's lone editorial office was in Arlington Heights, I was headed home and stopped for gas at a station at Route 53 and North Avenue.

As I was filling my tank, a car drove into the station "at a high rate of speed" as they like to tell us in copspeak. The young occupant jumped from the car while it was still moving. The car crashed into the service bay door, and the kid fled. Not far behind was a Lombard squad car. The officer stopped, jumped out and pursued on foot, gun drawn.

I watched the whole scene, transfixed. Until I saw the gun. Then I started thinking personal safety. Do I hit the deck, hide behind my car? Call the cops? Neither the officer nor presumed suspect was seen again, so I thought the prudent thing to do was leave. But early next morning I told a reporter to get the details on this huge event I had witnessed, as I was sure it would be of interest to our readers, who at that point didn't go south of the Cook County line.

I forget the details, but we never did find out what happened. I've always figured it was one of many suspect-cop chases our police departments routinely engage in, and whoever we called didn't feel like chasing down the details for some out-of-town newspaper.

Just a few days ago, a copy editor in our Lisle office came to me with some drama she had witnessed at a house on a normally quiet stretch of High Street in Aurora: Cops in full SWAT gear, two men in handcuffs, several squads, and across the street in a church parking lot, more cops with a presumed drug-sniffing dog. Aurora police told us only that it was part of a drug investigation. We didn't have enough detail for even a short story.

But I'm presuming this was a fairly routine matter to Aurora PD, which did not put out a news release. And we would never have stumbled onto it without our eagle-eyed copy editor's report to the DuPage editor.

The point is, what looked like an intense police situation to our copy editor, and to me many years ago, could be SOP to our local police, even in the relatively pristine suburbs.

And, even when one can easily argue that something dramatic -- or certainly newsworthy -- has occurred, it's sure helpful when police are forthcoming with the details.

A couple examples:

We received a news release from the DuPage County Sheriff's office Wednesday morning of an accident with injuries on Winfield Road near Wheaton. It was serious enough to prompt the closing of Winfield Road. Good to know, and we quickly posted a story on our website with those basics. A few hours later. an updated report told us the road had been reopened. That, too, was appreciated and quickly reported online. But what we've asked for and are still waiting on (as I write this on Friday afternoon), is some kind of detail about the accident: number of cars involved, how it happened, whether tickets were issued. All we knew was it was bad enough that four people were injured.

By contrast, there was the case of the car driven by a 71-year-old St. Charles woman that crashed Sept. 7 into the outdoor patio of the Rock Bottom restaurant in Warrenville. I'm guessing "drama" would be an understated word to describe what that must have looked like to eyewitnesses. The driver crashed through the patio's wrought-iron fence, injuring five and pinning one person against the building before quickly throwing the car in reverse and backing away at "high speed" into a parked car, starting a chain reaction that involved four other cars. I'm thinking "pandemonium" might have ensued.

The Warrenville Police Department provided the details as they unfolded that day and gave more for our next-day follow-up. And, here's the kicker, a deputy chief gave us a heads up this week that a final report was coming out. It concluded the driver accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake. She would not be charged, pending toxicology tests she took voluntarily, police said.

So, how about a shout out to the Warrenville Police Department? And for the sheriff's office, maybe you could try just a little harder?