2023 brought sad farewells, stunning closures and school controversies to the suburbs

In 2023, scores of teens mourned classmates killed in horrific car crashes.

Some iconic suburban buildings met the wrecking ball.

And controversies swirled around the elimination of cash bail, the ouster of a popular principal and a high school's planned Barbie theme night.

These are some of the stories that captivated Daily Herald readers over the past year.

Cash bail ends

After months of delays and dire warnings from critics, Illinois judges stopped issuing cash bail for criminal defendants in 2023.

The way pretrial detention or release is handled in Illinois was overhauled as part of the SAFE-T Act, criminal justice reform legislation that was approved by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in 2021.

The elimination of cash bail was one of the most significant – and controversial – elements of the law. Under the new system, a judge can deny a defendant’s pretrial release by determining the defendant is a significant flight risk or poses a threat to any person or the community.

The change was supposed to go into effect on Jan. 1, but legal challenges kept it in limbo. The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the law in July, however, and the new system launched in mid-September.

Teens die in crashes

The Buffalo Grove High School community was rocked in May after four students were killed when the SUV in which they were riding went through a red light, struck two other vehicles and then hit a light pole.

The crash claimed the lives of Richard De Ita, 18, Kevin R. Hernandez-Teran, 17, Jesus Rodriguez, 16, and Ricky Barcenas, 17. Barcenas was from Arlington Heights; the others lived in Wheeling.

A fifth teen in the SUV survived.

The crash occurred just down the road from the high school, and teens and staffers flocked to a roadside memorial for days.

A few months later, in August, two South Elgin High School students were killed and two others were injured when the car in which they were riding collided with a truck in Bartlett.

Tahlulay Henry, 16, of Elgin, was pronounced dead at the scene. Kamorra Campbell, 17, of Bartlett, died at a hospital.

Police later determined the Honda Civic in which the girls were passengers failed to yield while turning left and was hit by the truck. This month, 17-year-old Elgin resident Aanomeya Jacqueline D. Henry, the sister of one of the victims, was indicted on two counts each of reckless homicide and reckless driving. She also is charged with aggravated driving under the influence of drugs.

Also this month, Francis “Frank” M. Martinez, 18, of Des Plaines, and Wolfgang W. Gustaveson, 19, of Park Ridge, were killed when a truck in which they were riding collided head on with another truck near Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. The friends were studying automotive technology at SIU.

Closings, openings

The suburbs lost a number of restaurants in 2023. Some were veterans of the culinary scene; others never got a foothold and faded quickly.

Des Plaines’ Cafe la Cave definitely fell into the first category. The once-popular restaurant and banquet hall was shuttered in March after more than 40 years, stunning longtime customers and some patrons who’d scheduled gatherings at the facility. It’s since been demolished.

The closing of Wheeling’s Buca di Beppo was a shock, too. The restaurant, at 604 N. Milwaukee Ave., shut down for good in August after more than 25 years as part of the village’s Restaurant Row.

But not all the dining news was bad.

The much-anticipated Ramsay’s Kitchen — bearing the name of celebrity chef and TV personality Gordon Ramsay — opened in May at 39 W. Jefferson Ave. in Naperville.

  Christina Wilson, vice president at Gordon Ramsay North America, showcases some of the dishes offered at Ramsay's Kitchen in downtown Naperville. Paul Valade/

And in September, Des Plaines officials announced that a Guzman y Gomez Mexican restaurant, a Raising Cane’s chicken joint, and a Mediterranean restaurant called Cava are planned for the former Cafe la Cave space.

Arlington demolition

  Arlington Park’s iconic grandstand came down this summer, as the property’s new owners, the Chicago Bears, continued to weigh building a new stadium on the 326-acre site. Paul Valade/

With the Chicago Bears organization still sounding like it plans to build a stadium at the former Arlington Park, the racecourse’s once-towering grandstand was reduced to rubble in 2023.

But the Bears’ move to Arlington Heights is anything but guaranteed, even though the team closed on a $197 million purchase of the 326-acre property in February.

In early June, Naperville Mayor Scott Wehrli revealed he’d met with team President Kevin Warren to discuss building a new NFL stadium in that suburb rather than Arlington Heights. The Bears released a statement saying the Arlington Heights project was “at risk” and that the team was looking at stadium opportunities other than Arlington Park.

Aurora and Waukegan officials subsequently made overtures to the Bears.

So stay tuned, sports fans.

Landmarks vanish

Two other suburban landmarks fell to wrecking balls in 2023: the former Alcatel-Lucent building at 1960 Lucent Lane in Naperville and the former Pheasant Run Resort at 4051 E. Main St. in St. Charles.

It’s been a slow, sad demise for Pheasant Run.

Built in 1963, the resort had been a regional entertainment and recreation attraction with restaurants, an 18-hole golf course, convention space and a space for live theater. But its popularity waned and it closed in 2020.

City police reportedly responded to the property more than 300 times to investigate trespassing, vandalism, sexual assaults and other offenses there after it closed.

To add insult to injury, arsonists ignited a massive fire in May 2022 that burned large parts of the former resort.

  Demolition of the former Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles began this fall, three years after the once-popular destination closed for good. Paul Valade/

Finally, this past November, a DuPage County judge approved the hiring of a contractor to demolish the buildings.

The Alcatel-Lucent building was much more eye-catching than what was left of Pheasant Run — but its fate was the same.

Visible to drivers cruising along I-88, the glass-and-steel complex was sold in April to Oak Brook-based Franklin Partners. Nokia, which acquired Alcatel-Lucent in 2016, had vacated 1960 Lucent Lane and consolidated its operations in a northern building.

Franklin Partners subsequently got a demolition permit for the empty, 500,000-square-foot building and the garages that flanked it.

Demolition began in August.

Barbie controversy

The Rolling Meadows High School community got worked up over the planned student spirit theme for a varsity football game against Deerfield High in September.

The theme “Barbie and Ken” was chosen prior to the start of the school year. But according to Principal Megan Kelly, some “incredibly passionate” students sought to change the theme for that game to something patriotic.

That didn’t sit well with a school staff member who sent leaders of the Stampede club a message threatening to cancel the student group’s activities for the remainder of the football season if they didn’t stick with the Barbie theme. The message gained attention on social media and led to threatening phone calls and emails to other employees, Kelly said.

The employee who sent the original message wasn’t publicly identified.

Sears campus sells

The sale of Sears’ former headquarters at 3333 Beverly Road in Hoffman Estates was yet another nail in the coffin of the former retail giant.

Sears moved to the suburb from Chicago in 1992, bringing thousands of jobs with it. But a seemingly endless series of financial problems led to bankruptcy and the near-elimination of the brand.

  The former Sears corporate headquarters in Hoffman Estates was sold this year to a Dallas-based company that specializes in developing data center campuses. Joe Lewnard/, 2020

The company born from that bankruptcy put the 273-acre Hoffman Estates property on the market in late 2021, and this summer a Dallas-based developer of data center campuses, Compass Datacenters, signed a contract to buy the property.

The deal was finalized in September. The 2.4 million square feet of office space that’s there could be destined for demolition.

No more Lipizzans

After entertaining crowds for decades, the Tempel Lipizzans program in Old Mill Creek shut down this summer.

The staff at Tempel Farms had been breeding and training Lipizzans in the classic style of dressage since the 1950s. But program director Esther Buonanno, the granddaughter of the program’s founders, said her family is moving on.

  Trainers Raul Roa, left, and Nadalyn Firenz work with Favory VI Bellanna V, a Lipizzan lovingly referred to as Bingo, at Tempel Farms in Old Mill Creek. After entertaining audiences for decades, the operation closed this year. Rick West/, 2022

“The Lipizzan horse remains close to my heart, and I’m certain I’ll find meaningful ways to support the breed in the future,” Buonanno said in August.

Principal removed

The removal of Plum Grove Junior High School Principal Kerry Wilson from that post in April triggered a controversy in Rolling Meadows.

The Palatine Township Elementary School District 15 school board transferred Wilson to a different job -- assistant director of human resources. But the change was supposed to happen in July, not April.

In protest, some students skipped school April 26. Wilson subsequently was placed on leave and hired an attorney. She accused district officials of treating her “like a criminal.”

Documents reviewed under the Freedom of Information Act detailed disputes between Wilson and administrators, including “continued insubordination of district directives.“ Much of the conflict surrounded Wilson’s handling of special education matters, documents showed.

Gun law disputes

A new law that effectively bans Illinoisans from buying military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines and requires those with such weapons to register them drew criticism from DuPage County Sheriff Jamed Mendrick in January — and Mendrick’s remarks drew strong rebukes from Democrats supporting the restrictions.

Mendrick said he believed the law was unconstitutional and promised his office wouldn’t enforce it. Dozens of other Illinois sheriffs issued statements opposing the weapons ban, too.

Additionally, a Naperville gun shop owner took his challenge of the law to the U.S. Supreme Court.

U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, a Democrat from Downers Grove, and other lawmakers called Mendrick’s statements irresponsible and reckless. Casten was joined by Democratic U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg as well as Democrats serving in the General Assembly and DuPage County government.

As for the law, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld it in a 4-3 decision in August. But the court delayed issuing a final order, pending an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. This month, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block enforcement of the law while challenges are being heard in lower courts.

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