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updated: 7/19/2012 5:15 AM

Lake Zurich teen's killer remains at large

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  • Teresa Drozdz of Lake Zurich rests her head on the headstone of her daughter, Gabriella Drozdz. Gabriella died a year ago when she was struck by a hit-and-run driver while walking along Church Street in Lake Zurich.

       Teresa Drozdz of Lake Zurich rests her head on the headstone of her daughter, Gabriella Drozdz. Gabriella died a year ago when she was struck by a hit-and-run driver while walking along Church Street in Lake Zurich.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • From left, father Jan Drozdz, mother Teresa Drozdz, both of Lake Zurich, and sister Ilona Gregory of Chicago huddle at Gabriella Drozdz's gravesite. The teen died a year ago when she was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Church Street in Lake Zurich.

       From left, father Jan Drozdz, mother Teresa Drozdz, both of Lake Zurich, and sister Ilona Gregory of Chicago huddle at Gabriella Drozdz's gravesite. The teen died a year ago when she was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Church Street in Lake Zurich.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Gabby Drozdz

      Gabby Drozdz

  • A sign stands at the site along Church Street in Lake Zurich where 18-year-old Gabriella Drozdz was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver July 22, 2011, while she was walking to Alpine Fest.

       A sign stands at the site along Church Street in Lake Zurich where 18-year-old Gabriella Drozdz was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver July 22, 2011, while she was walking to Alpine Fest.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • A banner about the death of Gabriella Drozdz is on display at routes 12 and 22 in Lake Zurich. It has been one year since she was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver as she walked with friends to Alpine Days in Lake Zurich.

       A banner about the death of Gabriella Drozdz is on display at routes 12 and 22 in Lake Zurich. It has been one year since she was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver as she walked with friends to Alpine Days in Lake Zurich.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Gabriella Drozdz's grave in Lake Zurich is decorated with trinkets left by friends and family. Gabriella died a year ago when she and two friends were struck by a hit-and-run driver struck while walking along Church Street in Lake Zurich.

       Gabriella Drozdz's grave in Lake Zurich is decorated with trinkets left by friends and family. Gabriella died a year ago when she and two friends were struck by a hit-and-run driver struck while walking along Church Street in Lake Zurich.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Remembering Gabby

 
 

Ilona Gregory said she is still shaken by her younger sister's death, her life taken in a moment by a hit-and-run driver in Lake Zurich.

Gregory, 35, said she wishes she could wake up tomorrow and the nightmare of Gabriella Drozdz would end.

"We all want Gabby back, but this also teaches you that life is so short," Gregory said. "I cringe every time I say it because it's so cliché, but it's so true. Life can be taken away at any second."

It's been nearly one year since the 18-year-old Drozdz was killed while walking with two friends on the shoulder of the roadway on the 100 block of Church Street on her way to the opening night of Alpine Fest on July 22.

The driver of the van that police say was involved in the fatal hit-and-run is still at large.

With the fateful anniversary approaching and police committed to finding the driver, Drozdz will be a presence during Alpine Fest when it begins Friday.

Lake Zurich police Cmdr. David Bradstreet said police will unveil two large banners in the village and near the three-day festival in Lion Fred Blau Park to remind people of the tragedy and that Drozdz's killer remains free.

The banners -- one at routes 12 and 22 and another at Route 22 and Old Rand Road -- read "Justice for Gabby!" They have information about a $10,000 reward and the phone numbers of the Lake Zurich Police Department and Lake County Crime Stoppers. The banners will be removed after the festival.

"Occasionally we will get a call on something that someone may have seen, and we track it down," Bradstreet said. "We have been to northern Cook County and McHenry, Kane (and) DuPage tracking down leads. But right now, we have run out of leads to follow on."

The three teens were hit from behind as they walked to the festival on the night of the crash. Drozdz, of Lake Zurich, was pronounced dead just before 10 p.m. at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, officials said.

Rosie Fitts, 16, and Vanessa Fitts, 18, also of Lake Zurich, were injured and taken to Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital, where they recovered. Attempts to reach the Fitts sisters for comment were unsuccessful.

Drozdz and Vanessa Fitts had graduated from Lake Zurich High School about two months before the crash. Drozdz was expected to attend the College of Lake County.

Police say they are looking for a light-colored GMC Safari or Chevy Astro van seen driving erratically south on Church Street before it struck the girls.

The vehicle, thought to be in the model years ranging from 1985 to 1994, had damage to the right-side turn signal and marker light. It also has a license plate mounted high on its rear hatch.

It was last seen driving eastbound on Route 22 near Quentin Road.

"We are very confident that our evidence is correct and we are looking for the right vehicle," Bradstreet said. "We have verified parts at the scene through a forensic investigation, and the information we have is good. We have been to junk shops and garages looking for the van, but nothing at this point."

Finding the vehicle that ran down Drozdz is like finding a needle in a haystack, he said.

"Truth is that someone could have parked that vehicle in a garage somewhere and it hasn't seen the light of day since," he said. "We have (invested) thousands and thousands of man-hours at this point to find this vehicle. We've followed many leads, but so far, nothing."

Bradstreet said officials hope the banners will call attention to the Drozdz death and potentially spark the memory of someone who may have seen something related to the crime.

Bradstreet said the department tries to keep information in front of the public by maintaining a sign about the hit and run on Church Street and also by regularly speaking with the media about the case.

He added that the family maintains a website at gabbydrozdz.com and routinely hosts fundraisers and memorials for the teen.

A $10,000 Crime Stoppers reward is in place for anyone who tips off police with information that leads to the arrest of the driver, he said.

"I don't care how it plays out, just as long as we get some new information," Bradstreet said. "The person can take the reward, leave the reward, donate it somewhere or do it completely anonymously. We would just love to solve this so the family can try and put it all behind them."

Bradstreet said it's not uncommon for a hit-and-run to remain unsolved, though it's a rarity that one involving a death is not solved at some point.

"There was one back in the '70s where a '55 Chevy killed someone and fled the scene," he said. "That one remains unsolved, but it's not because of a lack of effort. Bottom line, the vehicles can be parked somewhere, people forget about it, and the case runs cold."

The banners and police booth at Alpine Fest are designed to ensure the same thing doesn't happen with Drozdz's case.

He said the goal is to keep it fresh in everyone's mind and motivate people to continue to keep an eye out for the missing van.

Gregory said the past year without Gabby has been extremely difficult and hard on her family. The holidays, Gabby's birthday and Mother's Day have been "brutal and devastating" without her sister.

"We're doing the best that we can. We definitely have come together as a family and try to help each other out," Gregory said. "We all have bad days, we all have some better days. We miss Gabby very, very much."

Gregory said her family plans to mark the anniversary of Drozdz's death by attending a small church service and spending time at her gravesite.

They are hoping for a little more closure.

"Yes, we want justice for Gabby, but we also know that it won't change anything if that person is caught. Gabby will still be gone." Gregory said. "The person who did this has to live with this burden too. If they have a heart, they are affected by this too."

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