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posted: 12/26/2013 9:42 AM

Top 10 Lake County stories of 2013

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  • A school bus lies on its side as police officials investigate the crash scene at Route 173 and N. Kilbourne Road near Wadsworth on April 5.

      A school bus lies on its side as police officials investigate the crash scene at Route 173 and N. Kilbourne Road near Wadsworth on April 5.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Grayslake Middle School teacher Wendy Chiswick looks for support from passing traffic as teachers walk the picket line outside Grayslake Middle School in January. Teachers from Grayslake Elementary School District 46 went on strike after negotiation talks with the school board broke down.

       Grayslake Middle School teacher Wendy Chiswick looks for support from passing traffic as teachers walk the picket line outside Grayslake Middle School in January. Teachers from Grayslake Elementary School District 46 went on strike after negotiation talks with the school board broke down.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • David Hatyina wipes tears from his eyes after reading a statement during his sentencing hearing at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan June 14. Hatyina plead guilty earlier this year to killing 10-year-old Tony Borcia in a boat accident in July 2012.

       David Hatyina wipes tears from his eyes after reading a statement during his sentencing hearing at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan June 14. Hatyina plead guilty earlier this year to killing 10-year-old Tony Borcia in a boat accident in July 2012.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Bennie Starks

      Bennie Starks

  • Volunteer Phil Rosborough checks the sump pumps around Gurnee Community Church after the building was surrounded by floodwaters from the Des Plaines River in April. "We are keeping the inside dry," Rosborough said. "It is all hands on deck."

       Volunteer Phil Rosborough checks the sump pumps around Gurnee Community Church after the building was surrounded by floodwaters from the Des Plaines River in April. "We are keeping the inside dry," Rosborough said. "It is all hands on deck."
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
 

From flooding to crime to a battle over election power, 2013 featured a variety of stories that made big news in Lake County.

Some involved controversial issues that stretched out over months before being resolved, while others were single instances that quickly caught the attention of readers. All helped shaped the county in the past year.

The following were chosen as the top stories of this year and presented to you in no particular order by staff writers and editors at the Daily Herald Lake County office from among hundreds covered in 2013.

Election commission controversy:

An election power play took place after the state lawmakers in July approved legislation to strip the Lake County Clerk's Office of election power in favor of an election commission.

Critics said the law illegally singled out Lake County and took away voters' rights to choose who they want to run their elections. Although the legislation never mentioned Lake County by name, it described affected counties by population and geography in such a way that it could only apply to Lake.

The law was attached to a larger piece of election legislation involving online voter registration that was deemed too important to pass up.

The authorship of the bill creating the commission was never claimed, though many pointed to state Sen. Terry Link, a Democrat from Waukegan. Link denied having a hand in the legislation, though he was the only Lake County legislator to vote in favor of it.

Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor and Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim filed a lawsuit to strike down the legislation. The leaders won an injunction against forming the commission, then a judge brought in from Kane County to hear the case struck down the law as unconstitutional Nov. 8.

The issue proved to be the final straw for Lake County Clerk Willard Helander, who decided in October to not seek re-election to the post she has held since 1994.

Street race kills Antioch teen:

A 16-year-old girl was killed in June after the car she was riding in flipped over on Route 120 in Gurnee during an illegal street race.

Cynthia Perez, a junior at Antioch High School, fell out of the back window in the June 24 crash and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Jeremy Betancourt, 17, the driver of the car, was initially charged with reckless homicide, but those charges were upgraded to aggravated driving under the influence after traces of marijuana were found in his system after the crash.

The driver of the second car, Michael Dawson, 20, of Antioch, pleaded guilty to illegal street racing and was sentenced to 18 months of periodic imprisonment and 30 months of intense probation.

Betancourt, of Antioch Township, was released on bail after posting 10 percent of his $100,000 bond, then successfully finished a stay in a drug and behavioral treatment facility in Lake Villa. He faces trial in 2014.

Spring flooding:

Heavy storms on two occasions led to severe flooding and millions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses in communities across Lake County.

The first flooding was reported April 15, when swollen rivers and another rainfall caused the Fox and Des Plaines rivers to overflow its banks.

The Des Plaines River crested April 19 at 16 feet, 5 feet over flood stage. The Chain O' Lakes crested about a week later at 8 feet, about 3 feet over flood stage.

The result was more than 1,000 homes were damaged in the spring floods, including more than 600 homes in Fox Lake alone. More than 30,000 sandbags were used to turn back high floodwaters.

The 10-day flood on the Chain was considered the worst since 1960 and closed the financially important waterway to boating from April 17 through May 6.

Just when things started to get back to normal, the skies opened again when an intense storm hit southern Lake County on June 26. It dropped 6 to 7 inches of rain on Lake Zurich, and caused flash floods in several subdivisions there and in Libertyville.

Newport Township school bus crash:

One person was killed and about three-dozen elementary school students were injured April 5 in a three-vehicle accident involving a school bus in Newport Township near Wadsworth.

Police said three vehicles collided when they converged at the intersection of Route 173 and Kilbourne Road at 8 a.m.

Phillip Smith, 62, of Beach Park, was killed in the crash after his Jeep Wrangler slammed into the wheel well of the bus, causing the bus to roll over.

The Wrangler was southbound on Kilbourne when it hit the bus that was heading west on Route 173. No one was ultimately charged or blamed in the crash as it was impossible to prove who had the right of way at the intersection, officials said.

All of the 34 children on the bus heading to Newport Elementary School in Beach Park were injured, as was the bus driver and the driver of a Jeep Cherokee clipped during the accident.

Grayslake teacher strike:

Grayslake Elementary District 46 teachers went on strike for three days over salary, retirement incentives and extra compensation for job-related advanced degrees.

Some 325 teachers walked off the job Jan. 16 after working without a contract for about six months. The walkout idled 4,000 students at seven buildings.

A tentative deal was struck Jan. 19 and approved by both sides Feb. 7. The two-year deal froze salaries for teachers in the first year, but allowed for a $1,000 base salary increase or a $500 stipend for teachers in the second year. Also, teachers who announced their retirements will receive between a 4 percent and 5.75 percent salary hike in the years leading up to their retirement date.

Boating safety:

A state senator tried to strengthen boating laws following the sentencing of a 50-year-old Bartlett man who had pleaded guilty in the death of the lawmaker's 10-year-old nephew in a 2012 boat crash on Petite Lake.

David Hatyina pleaded guilty in April to one count of operating a watercraft under the influence of alcohol and drugs prior to running over and killing Tony Borcia of Libertyville with his 29-foot power boat.

Following an emotional two-day sentencing hearing at the Lake County courthouse in Waukegan in June, Hatyina was sentenced by Kane County Judge Clint Hull to a year in prison for every day Borcia was alive.

Borcia's aunt -- state Sen. Julie Morrison, a Democrat from Deerfield -- launched an effort to pass tougher boating legislation. Morrison was successful in passing a new law that takes away the driver's license of a drunken boater involved in a fatal boating accident.

However, at a large meeting she hosted in Libertyville in late August, Chain O' Lakes boaters spoke out against three other provisions of the plan: suspension of a person's drivers license if convicted of operating a watercraft while intoxicated; requiring boat licenses for anyone born before Jan. 1, 1990; and forcing boaters to display a flag when pulling someone behind their watercraft.

Morrison said in October that the legislation needed further revisions.

Finally free:

Lake County legal officials dropped the remaining aggravated battery charge against Bennie Starks, now 53, of Chicago, allowing him to officially be a free man.

The charge stemmed from a wrongful conviction against him in a 1986 rape in Waukegan. Starks served 20 years in prison before finally being freed in 2006 following an appellate court decision.

Officials dropped the rape charges against him in 2011, but refused to drop a charge of aggravated battery until Jan. 7.

Officials tried to drop the charge in December, but were delayed by a paperwork snafu. Starks returned to court Sept. 25 and obtained a letter of innocence in front of Lake County Judge George Bridges that officially declared him an innocent man.

Starks' case was one of four in the last two years that imploded after Lake County prosecutors had insisted on the suspect's guilt even though DNA suggested someone else was responsible. Murder cases involving Juan Rivera, Jerry Hobbs and James Edwards were also overturned because of DNA evidence.

Rivera and Hobbs have filed civil lawsuits against the county and former Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller because of the wrongful convictions.

Little girl abducted:

A 3-year-old girl was abducted outside of a Mundelein apartment complex about 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 30, only to be brought back to the complex 30 minutes later.

After the girl was returned to her mother, police began an aggressive manhunt for the kidnapper, capping it off three days later with the arrest of Jose Reyes, 28, of Chicago.

Reyes was nabbed after police used a traffic ticket and footage from a resident's security video to identify Reyes' 2007 Hyundai Accent, which led to his arrest at his place of employment.

He pleaded not guilty to aggravated kidnapping and sexual assault charges that were added later. He faces 150-years behind bars, if convicted.

Crash kills trooper:

Illinois State Police Trooper James Sauter, 28, of Vernon Hills, was finishing a traffic stop on the Tri-State Tollway on March 28 when his state police vehicle was hit from behind by a semi truck just south of Willow Road. Sauter was killed in the crash.

A state police report said Andrew B. Bokelman of Wisconsin had fallen asleep and struck Sauter's squad car.

Bokelman was charged in November with operating a commercial vehicle while impaired with fatigue, driving beyond a 14-hour duty limit and falsifying a report of record regarding his duty status.

The funeral for Sauter in April was packed by police officers from across the state, and he was honored at the state capital May 24.

Dominick's closes:

In October, Safeway Inc. announced it was shutting down its remaining Dominick's Finer Food stores in Illinois after failing to keep pace in the competitive Chicago grocery market.

The move meant 72 Dominick's stores in the Chicago area -- including those in Mundelein, Fox Lake and Gurnee -- would close permanently and 5,600 employees in those stores would lose their jobs.

The damage was lessened slightly in December when Roundy's Supermarkets Inc. of Milwaukee, the owners of Mariano's grocery stores, announced it purchased 11 stores, including the Gurnee location.

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