Lake County was on pace to have its lowest homicide figure since 1980.
However, the murder of Randy Hardy, 45, in Waukegan on Dec. 14 pushed 2012 into a statistical tie with 2011 for the second-lowest homicide level, according to the Lake County coroner's office.
That marks consecutive years of 10 homicides, which is far below the 25 murders committed in 1982 and 1994 when the county's population was significantly lower than it is now.
Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran said he believes a staffing change that increased the number of deputies on the street played a role in the 2012 figures.
Curran said full-time deputies on duty at the Lake County Courthouse were replaced this year by part-time, retired officers. That manpower shift enabled the county to put eight additional deputies on the street daily.
"We also have a newly created Special Investigation Unit with a focus on drug and gang activity," he said. "We do not raise the people involved in murder, so we cannot completely eliminate violence. But we have taken a number of positive steps to keep citizens safe."
The first murder of 2012 took place on Jan. 11 when Alina S. Rybnikova, 22, was killed during a murder-suicide by ex-boyfriend Gennadiy Plaksa, 44. Plaska was accused of killing the woman in the early morning hours, before holding Rybnikova's mother hostage and taking his own life.
Last year also included the June 1 murder of former Lake County Fair board member Harry Dahms, 68. No one has been arrested in that case.
Dahms was found dead in his Russell Road driveway about 8:30 a.m. from a single gunshot wound to the head, said former Lake County Coroner Artis Yancey.
Yancey said the gunshot was not self-inflicted and the case was officially ruled a homicide.
Homicides also stemmed from domestic violence and in another case, involved an infant.
Police say Michael Axtell, 41, killed his 40-year-old ex-girlfriend Tammy Stone following an Oct. 4 argument in the Antioch-area home they shared. The couple had been in a long-term relationship and lived together on-and-off, authorities said
After striking Stone hard enough to kill her, Axtell fled the home but was found about an hour later and taken into custody, police said. He was charged with first-degree murder and is due back in court Jan 17.
Sarah Gumm, 34, of Waukegan, is also awaiting trial after being charged with killing infant Rylan Koopmeiners in July. Gumm was baby-sitting the 3-month-old child in her home when authorities say she severely fractured the baby's skull out of frustration.
Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim said while the number of homicides in Lake County remained steady at 10 in 2012, it's still too many.
"Having said that, I do recognize that in a county the size of Lake County, the fact that our numbers have stayed the same or decreased is a good sign, especially when you consider what is going on just a few miles south of us in Cook County," he said. "I credit our excellent law enforcement officers and increased community outreach as the reason for our relatively low numbers."
He said he plans to continue to work with local law enforcement community to help support them with tools needed to prosecute violent offenders.
"We will work with the community to try to help identify violent offenders and prevent criminal activities before they occur," Nerheim added. "I will be unveiling a Gang Prosecution Unit that will work with law enforcement to aggressively attempt to eradicate the gang menace that faces our community."Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.