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updated: 4/20/2011 4:01 PM

Mt. Prospect mom still looking for closure in son's killing

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  • Nanci Koschman of Mount Prospect wipes away tears while viewing scrapbook photos of her son, David.

      Nanci Koschman of Mount Prospect wipes away tears while viewing scrapbook photos of her son, David.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Nanci Koschman holds a photo of her son, David.

      Nanci Koschman holds a photo of her son, David.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • David Koschman died  after a fight outside a Chicago bar.

    David Koschman died after a fight outside a Chicago bar.


Nearly seven years ago, Nanci Koschman said goodbye to her son, David, for the last time.

It was the night of April 24, 2004. David was in his bedroom at their Mount Prospect home playing video games. Nanci was about to go out with a friend.

David was a student at Harper College and worked at an insurance firm in Buffalo Grove. He planned eventually to have a career in human resources.

"Normally what I would do is just shout to the back, 'OK, Dave, I'm leaving. See you later.' And I would go out the garage door and my friend would pick me up."

This time was different. "I don't know why, but I stopped and put my purse down and walked back to his room," Nanci said. "And I said, 'Give me a hug and a kiss.'

"And he stood up and we gave each other a big hug and a kiss, and I said, 'Just be real safe. Be careful. I love you.' He said, 'I love you too, Mom.'"

As his mother knew, and everyone else knows by now, 21-year-old David Koschman was going into Chicago that night with friends he knew growing up in Mount Prospect. He would stay overnight downtown, then go to a Cubs game the next day.

In the early morning hours of April 25, however, Koschman and his friends were leaving a bar in the 0-100 block of Division Street when they got involved in an argument with another group of partyers.

David Koschman was pushed, or punched. He fell back and hit his head on a curb, injuring the base of his brain. He died nearly two weeks later at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, when Nanci decided his body had had enough and turned off his life support.

Outside the Koschmans' circle of family and friends, no one would have heard much about this tragedy except for one factor: One of the young men in the group that argued with Koschman and his friends was R.J. Vanecko, a nephew of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.

At the time, the case was closed without fanfare, and no one was charged. Recently, however, a steady drumbeat of media pressure forced the case to be reopened, and witnesses to be reinterviewed. And about 2 weeks ago, Chicago police concluded Vanecko threw the punch, but once again have closed the case without charges.

Terence Gillespie, Vanecko's attorney, returned calls but said his client is unable to comment at this time. Repeated calls to the Chicago Police Department for comment have gone unanswered.

Meanwhile, Nanci Koschman, now 62, lives with reminders of an open wound that does not appear close to healing.

At her Mount Prospect home, a framed picture of David beams at visitors. A white figurine with wings stands beside it on a small table.

It is a house that has seen its share of tragedy. David had an identical twin who died in utero. And when David was 12, the family was watching a movie at home when David's father Bob, only 47, died after a blood clot in his leg traveled to his heart.

Nanci took on the burden of supporting her family, getting a job as a secretary at Lions Park School in Mount Prospect.

"(David) was 12 when my husband died, so he was really too young to leave home alone and too old to have a baby sitter," she said. "So I thought a school would be a perfect fit for me." She also picked up a part-time hostessing job at a Mount Prospect restaurant.

As she talks she pulls out tissues from a box, dabbing at her eyes.

She remembers returning home the night David was injured and waking up suddenly at 3 a.m. Later, she would learn that was about the time he hit his head. She remembers receiving the phone call later that morning from one of David's friends.

She recalls the ensuing events. The induced coma. The surgery on his brain. The surgery on his heart. And finally the decision to take him off life support.

"They said he would be a vegetable basically his whole life, so I turned him off life support," Nanci Koschman says. "It was really tough, because I felt alone. Yes, I had hundreds and hundreds of friends, but it's still a decision that I had to make by myself,"

Throughout the ordeal, she had no idea that David's death was originally classed as a homicide.

It was only when she spoke to a nurse and alluded to funeral arrangements that she learned that an autopsy would be required on her son's body, since the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office had initially classified Koschman's death as a homicide.

Koschman said if it weren't for the tenacity of local journalists, she would have been in the dark concerning her son's case. The Chicago police did little if anything to enlighten her, she says.

"Since the very first day I have never been contacted by the Chicago police. Ever," she says. "Except the very first night my son was hurt. In the hospital.

"About five o'clock, I got a phone call from a lady detective, who said, 'I'm one of the detectives assigned to your son's case. Here is the case number. You will be hearing from us.' Of course the next 12 days went by, and I never heard anything else."

While the police stayed away, Koschman was barraged by reporters, eager to ask her about a possible cover-up.

Someone at Lions Park School put her in contact with her sister, an attorney, who arranged a meeting with police. Koschman and her brother-in-law paid the call.

"So we went in and we sat down in this room and this detective came in and he sat down with me and he said, 'Do you have any idea how drunk your son was? Well, he was really drunk.'"

She said he also told her, "If you knew the names of the people that were involved in this you would be really impressed."

She said the detective told her it was basically David's fault and that they had taken it to the State's Attorney's office, which looked at the case and could do nothing.

The same detective also advised her against pursuing a civil suit, saying, "They'll keep it locked up in court for years."

So Nanci Koschman went home and did her best to get on with her life.

After David's death, the school job -- with summers off and Christmas break -- left too much free time, so she found a job in a doctor's office in Skokie. She kept the hostess job, and one day, shortly after David's funeral, a reporter met her there and brought up the subject of a possible cover-up. Three years later, in 2007, a television reporter looked into the case. This year, the reporters returned, more aggressive than before, and forced the police and state's attorney's office to re-examine the case.

She has seen the police report, much of which contains redacted material to protect people's names. She can't help notice her son is mentioned as the aggressor, something she said was recently contradicted by someone who saw the argument and contacted her through Facebook.

She said she has received a lot of support from friends, family and community members.

Still, the hurt is obvious when she says, "My family reunions are going to the cemetery and walking between two headstones."

But in the midst of the grief, she is also seeking closure. She says she is looking for peace of mind.

The biggest question everyone has asked, she said, is "What do you want out of this?"

She said, "What I want out of it is my son sitting on the sofa with me again. I know that's never going to happen. So what do I want out of it? I just want that person to know what he did to me and my family and my son. Because for so long, I know he knew.

"He didn't go out that night to kill my son. I know that. He didn't walk out and say, 'I'm going to punch some kid and kill him.'

She said she doesn't want Vanecko to go to jail. Nor does she want money.

"I can't put a price tag on what my son's life would have been. I don't want any money from him. But I want to know that he knows he did it.

"Would I like him to say, 'I'm sorry?' Hell, yes. Do I think it will ever happen. Hell no."

Vanecko was 29 and nearly a foot taller and about 100 pounds heavier than her son. She said he could have said, "Screw you, little man," and turned around and walked away.

"Instead he stood there arguing with my son … (and) reached around and punched my son. Why? Why did he have to do that? That's what I need to know."

She said she made one thing clear to reporters. "If this is all about getting Daley, I'm not on this ride. I don't care about Mayor Daley. Mayor Daley didn't hit my son."

Koschman is disappointed the case seems to have ended again without resolution.

"It's like I take two steps forward and then I go back two steps, because I think, 'OK, someone's looking at it' and then they sort of take it away.

She said she would like resolution, "for David's sake. I would like his name cleared, to say that he wasn't the instigator, (that) he wasn't the only one doing anything."

"I'm not quite sure if it's ever going to get a fair look, but I'm just glad that somebody is interested, and hopefully the more press that's out there, the more people will think about it and maybe other people will look into it."