A flamethrower, not-great escapes and other odd suburban crimes of 2017
We learned some lessons this year about crime.
Like, when trying to run from the law, it's best not to run into a building filled with cops. Or post your video of your escape on YouTube for all to see -- including the officers you were trying to evade.
We learned torching cars is a lousy item for your bucket list, and judges presiding over murder trials aren't fans of "innocent" pranks.
Speaking of judges, we learned they, too, can blunder their way onto the wrong side of the law. And while experimentation is a hallmark of scientific discovery, some experiments don't belong on a public bike path.
Here's our annual recap of some of the weird crimes, odd cases and not-so-bright offenders who caught our eye this year.
• Who knew flamethrowers were a thing outside World War II movie sets?
Julie Gagne, for one, according to Barrington police.
Police say the 47-year-old Barrington resident used an X15 Flamethrower she bought online to torch her luxury SUV on Nov. 10. Gagne was arrested after she reported the 2016 Infiniti QX70 (sticker price: $48,000, give or take) stolen from outside a Schaumburg restaurant, then retracted that claim.
Police have not said why Gagne set the SUV ablaze. She was charged with arson and with disorderly conduct.
• Speaking of torched vehicles, if you're thinking about adding "setting a car on fire" to your bucket list, you might also jot down "spending time behind bars" just below it. That's how things turned out for Alfredo Leynes-Valdes, who in August was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to arson.
Leynes-Valdes torched an SUV and van in Elgin on March 21, later admitting to police he stuffed papers into the van's gas tank and set them on fire to check off an item on his bucket list.
• The speeding motorcyclist almost got away with it.
Pulled over by a St. Charles police officer June 26, he stopped momentarily, then took off just as the officer walked up to his bike, reaching a top speed of 143 mph to make a clean getaway.
Then he posted video of the escapade on YouTube. That, police said, would be Brian A. Bianco's undoing.
Investigators found the clip in a video called "Bikers vs. Cops -- Motorcycle Police Chase Compilation #15" and used it to track down the St. Charles-area man. He's facing multiple felony charges of aggravated fleeing.
• There were plenty of other not-great escapes this year, but our choice for the worst goes to a pair of armed robbery suspects who led cops on a high-speed chase through the North suburbs and ... right into the lobby of a police station.
Police said the duo were among three men who held up a Verizon store in Lake Bluff at gunpoint Sept. 8, then sped off down Route 41 through Lake Forest, with cops giving chase.
The suspects zoomed into Highland Park and promptly crashed. They fled into a nearby building and hid behind a vending machine, police said.
That building just happened to be the Highland Park police station, where officers were happy to take them into custody without a fight.
The third suspect didn't fare much better. He was captured while hiding in the police station's parking lot.
Runners-up? There was bank robbery suspect Francisco Martinez, who was nabbed by the FBI in August because he unwisely chose a well-marked loaner car from a Libertyville auto dealership as his getaway ride.
Then, there were the Lake County teens who authorities say stole two cars in September, and drove one into a Port Barrington pond, getting soaking wet in the process. They were captured at a Crystal Lake Walmart store while changing into dry clothes they bought with a stolen credit card.
• Was it a biology? Psychology? Sociology?
We're not sure what kind of "experiment" William Winnie claims he was conducting along the Illinois Prairie Path in DuPage County this fall, but we're pretty sure it wouldn't pass scientific muster.
The 67-year-old Naperville man was arrested Dec. 2 on allegations he had been leaving pornography and used women's underwear along the path since October. Winnie told investigators he regularly collects women's underwear he finds hanging from trees along the path, takes them home, packs them in plastic bags and then leaves them along the trail, according to a police report. We wonder what his hypothesis was.
He said he began collecting the underwear in summer 2016 and was "conducting an experiment," police said.
Winnie is scheduled to appear in court Jan. 8 on charges of obscenity, disorderly conduct and (naturally) littering.
• DuPage County Judge Patrick O'Shea found himself on the wrong side of the bench in November after his arrest on allegations he fired a bullet through a common wall in his Wheaton apartment building Sept. 15. His neighbors found the bullet in their living room nine days later.
O'Shea gave property managers at least three different excuses for the hole, including that he accidentally put a screwdriver through the wall while hanging a mirror and that his son accidentally caused the hole while using a pneumatic nail gun, police reports state. His attorney later said O'Shea -- who's since been stripped of his judicial authority -- accidentally discharged the gun, believing it to be unloaded.
He's set to face trial Jan. 4.
• A 19-year-old pizzeria worker thought he was making a joke when he attached a note reading "They're innocent" on the inside lid of a pizza box headed to the Kane County Judicial Center in July. A judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys weren't laughing when the box ended up with jurors deciding the fate of a murder suspect -- nearly derailing a weeklong trial.
But they were forgiving. Instead of bringing criminal charges against the would-be prankster, they agreed to accept his letters of apology.
• Fans of almost-"American Idol" Haley Reinhart got to see another side of the suburban native this summer -- and we don't mean from her new album of covers of late '60s songs.
The pop singer from Wheeling added her contribution to the celebrity mug shot compendium after her July 8 arrest in connection with a brawl at a Palatine bar.
Reinhart, 27, was charged with misdemeanor battery after authorities said she struck a bouncer at Lamplighter Inn Tavern & Grille. Of course, there are differing accounts of what happened, and a bartender involved in the fracas was charged with two felony counts of aggravated battery.
• Yes, there are happy endings, even in a column called "Cops and Crime."
One of our favorites this year began with the dognapping of a beloved puggle named Misty from her Round Lake Park home in June, a deed made even worse a few hours later when someone stuffed the tiny pug-beagle mix in a garbage bag and threw her from a moving SUV.
Fortunately, a good Samaritan saw the toss and helped get Misty into the hands of police. Police Chief George Filenko -- himself a puggle owner -- recognized Misty from a previous visit to her owners' house and was able to reunite her with the family.
Thanks for reading, and have a happy, safe and crime-free 2018.
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