Leader of troubled Antioch Rescue Squad retires

Troubled squad has been fined, faces lawsuits

Wayne Sobczak has retired as chief of the troubled Antioch Rescue Squad, after months of reports about misconduct involving members under his supervision, village officials confirmed Thursday.

Village Attorney Bob Long said rescue squad Assistant Chief Brian DeKind announced Sobczak’s resignation in an email to the organization’s membership.

According to the email, Sobczak wrote in a letter his departure was effective immediately. DeKind said in the email he’ll serve as chief for the next 3½ weeks until an internal election.

DeKind will assign his current responsibilities to other board members, the email stated. He said all of his attention “needs to be focused on the future of Antioch Rescue and restoring its reputation as a cornerstone of this community.”

Antioch Mayor Larry Hanson said he wishes the best for Sobczak. Hanson speculated Sobczak retired because he may have believed he didn’t catch on to the rescue squad problems and thought he let down the volunteer group.

“Wayne has over 40 years in the organization,” Hanson said. “He’s done a lot of good things over the years.”

Village Trustee Dennis Crosby said Sobczak’s retirement and other management changes that have occurred recently at the rescue squad are a step in the right direction.

“It is shocking that so much has gone wrong there,” Crosby said in a statement.

He added he expects the village will continue to provide intensive oversight of rescue squad operations and management processes. He said there will be full cross utilization of qualified Antioch Fire Department and rescue squad emergency medical technicians to ensure the best and fastest response to medical emergencies.

“It is not at all clear that the ARS will be allowed to continue serving the residents of Antioch, but it is my hope that leadership there will continue (to) correct their problems aggressively and completely so that possibility will continue to exist,” Crosby said.

Hanson said officials will settle on the best way to provide emergency medical services in Antioch. He said village officials never had a say in what went on at the venerable rescue squad until a contract was recently struck between the two sides.

Formed in 1940, the rescue squad uses volunteers and contract workers to provide emergency medical care 24 hours a day for the village and Antioch Township.

Sobczak’s retirement comes on the heels of a tumultuous summer and fall for board members, administrators and others connected with the Antioch Rescue Squad. Neither Sobczak nor rescue squad lawyer Martin LaPointe returned messages seeking comment.

In May, a sexual harassment lawsuit against the rescue squad came to light. It was filed by three former members against several rescue squad members and high-ranking officials.

Two of the three women who made the accusations accepted offers from the rescue squad Tuesday during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Chicago. The women’s attorney, Megan O’Malley, said the rescue squad used a legal maneuver by asking the court to enter a judgment against it, then offering payments to the women to avoid trial.

Shannon Volling accepted $100,000 from the rescue squad, while April Soulak will get $55,000, O’Malley said.

“It’s not really about the money at all,” O’Malley said when contacted about the case Thursday. “There is no price tag you can put on the indignities you suffer in the workplace.”

She said the payments to Volling and Soulak are not an admission of guilt by the rescue squad. Though a legal technicality, the payments to the women are not considered settlements, she said.

Julie Banser, the third lawsuit plaintiff, continues to pursue her portion of the case against the rescue squad, O’Malley said. None of the women has settled with other defendants in the federal suit.

Antioch Rescue Squad was investigated earlier this year by the Illinois Department of Public Health, which released an informal letter in August accusing members of various forms of misconduct. Accusations included members arriving for shifts shortly after consuming alcohol, unauthorized access to and improper use of certain medications and agitating patients to justify restraining device use.

The letter also stated the rescue squad lacked management systems, personnel files and formal codes of conduct.

Since the letter was received, the rescue squad has sent a plan of corrections to the state and is working toward addressing those issues. The changes include restructuring the board of directors and the resignations of former President Steve Smouse and Secretary Patrick Chostner.

The informal findings led the IDPH to issue $15,000 in fines against the Antioch Rescue Squad on Oct. 15 for violations of the Emergency Medical Services Act.

Last week, Antioch police announced rescue squad Treasurer John Edgell was charged with theft. Authorities said Edgell is accused of stealing more than $12,000 from the rescue squad.

Edgell, who also served as an Antioch Township trustee before resigning in August, remains free after posting 10 percent of his $2,000 bail.

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