How a Wheaton officer reunited boy with a treasured autographed baseball

Brian Lipowski is the property control officer for the Wheaton Police Department, but maybe he ought to be a detective.

Lipowski put his sleuthing skills to good use recently when he reunited a local boy with the Nolan Ryan-autographed baseball he lost nearly two years ago in a city park.

According to the city, Lipowski was taking part in an audit of the thousands of pieces of property and evidence in police custody when he came across the baseball signed by the MLB strikeout king.

Lipowski, who played baseball in college, knew the significance of a ball signed by a Hall of Famer like Ryan, and he decided to find out how it ended up in the police department.

He dug in and discovered that a resident had found it, along with its certificate of authenticity, at a local park back in July 2021 and turned it over to police about a month later.

Lipowski then contacted the Wheaton Park District staff, who helped determine the baseball teams that had been scheduled to play at the park on the day the ball was found.

From there, Lipowski contacted the head coach of the 9-year-old Battling Braves, whose son happened to have lost a Nolan Ryan-autographed baseball.

The happy reunion soon followed.

“Wheaton Police Department's employees are held to a high standard, and Property Control Officer Brian Lipowski certainly exceeded those standards in this instance,” Deputy Chief Princeton Youker told us in an email Thursday. “Baseball is America's pastime, and reuniting a treasured piece of Americana with its owner is priceless.”

What's making fentanyl worse

Just when you thought the fentanyl crisis that's killed tens of thousands in Illinois and across the country couldn't get any worse, here comes news that it has.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued an alert this week warning of a sharp increase in the trafficking of fentanyl mixed with the horse tranquilizer xylazine. Also known as “Tranq,” xylazine is FDA-approved for veterinary use, but not for humans.

“Xylazine is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in the alert.

According to the alert, the DEA has seized xylazine and fentanyl mixtures in 48 states. Last year, about 23% of fentanyl powder and 7% of fentanyl pills seized by the DEA contained xylazine.

Officials say combining the drugs increases the likelihood of a fatal overdose, and because the tranquilizer isn't an opioid, naloxone cannot reverse its effects.

People who inject drug mixtures containing xylazine also can develop severe wounds, including necrosis — the rotting of human tissue — that may lead to amputation.

Federal authorities, 107,735 Americans died from August 2021 to August 2022 from drug poisonings, and two-thirds of those deaths involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

New judge for new sentencing

Three times Zachary Reyes has been sentenced to lengthy prison terms — 97 years, 66 years and again 66 years — for killing an East Aurora High School soccer star in a 2009 gang-related shooting.

And now, for a third time, a higher court has rejected the sentence. Not only that, but the Second District Appellate Court of Illinois also ordered that a new judge be assigned for the fourth go-round.

Reyes, formerly of Aurora, was just 16 when, authorities say, he opened fire on a vehicle he believed contained rival gang members near Oswego. Jason Ventura, 17, was hit multiple times and died at the scene. A second teen in the vehicle also was struck by gunfire but survived.

Prosecutors later said Ventura was not a gang member.

After being convicted of first-degree murder in 2012, Reyes was sentenced to 97 years in prison. That sentence was thrown out four years later by the Illinois Supreme Court, which ruled it was effectively a life sentence and therefore unconstitutional for a juvenile defendant.

Reyes was sentenced again in 2018, this time getting a 66-year term. It was again tossed out for the same reason.

Kendall County Judge Robert P. Pilmer doubled down in 2021, again sending Reyes away for a 66-year prison stay.

The appellate court was not pleased. In a 33-page ruling Wednesday, a majority of the court said Pilmer's decision was rife with errors, from using what they called improper sentencing factors to relying on an invalid risk assessment.

Worse yet — at least according to the appellate court — was their finding that Pilmer chose to ignore its instructions when it threw out Reyes' second sentence. That led the court to order a new judge be assigned to the case.

“The trial court made multiple errors in sentencing Reyes, all of which operated to disadvantage him, and ... deliberately chose not to comply with our mandate,” Justice Mary Schostok wrote in the ruling.

It should be noted that Justice Joseph Birkett dissented on whether a new judge should be assigned, finding there was no evidence that Pilmer intentionally showed bias against Reyes.

More eyes on you

Citing their ability to prevent property damage during times of civil unrest as one reason, Aurora is increasing the number of surveillance cameras it has by about 20%.

The city council recently approved spending about $1.2 million in state grant money to purchase and install 68 cameras, including license plate readers. That will supplement the 300-plus cameras already around town.

Many will be installed where people protested or committed crimes after the 2020 killing of George Floyd — including the Broadway (Route 25) corridor downtown, where vandals smashed shop windows and where three men tried to burglarize a bank drive-up ATM by bashing it with a baseball bat.

The new cameras will feature live feeds to the city's police department.

Some of the license-plate readers will be placed on downtown bridges over the Fox River, as well as near the I-88 interchange at Farnsworth Avenue.

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Zachary Reyes
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