Stories of the year in Northwest Cook County

  • Former Schaumburg police officers Matthew Hudak, Terrance O'Brien and John Cichy.

    Former Schaumburg police officers Matthew Hudak, Terrance O'Brien and John Cichy.

  • The mode of transportation around Des Plaines neighborhoods is by canoe, as Vic Kamka, center, talks to neighbors after flooding along the Des Plaines River.

    The mode of transportation around Des Plaines neighborhoods is by canoe, as Vic Kamka, center, talks to neighbors after flooding along the Des Plaines River. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer Apr

  • Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens stands in front of the new Fashion Outlets Of Chicago mall.

    Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens stands in front of the new Fashion Outlets Of Chicago mall. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer July 2013

  • Francis Cardinal George rides through the hallways, blessing the staff, patients and families at the new Alexian Brothers Women and Children's Hospital in Hoffman Estates.

    Francis Cardinal George rides through the hallways, blessing the staff, patients and families at the new Alexian Brothers Women and Children's Hospital in Hoffman Estates. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
Daily Herald staff report
Posted12/27/2013 5:30 AM

Police scandal rocks Schaumburg

Most members of the Schaumburg Police Department had 15 days of 2013 to enjoy a sense of normalcy as they went about their important and often dangerous duties.

 

Then, on Jan. 16, the department was rocked to its foundations by the arrests of undercover officers John Cichy, Matthew Hudak and Terrance O'Brien on multiple drug conspiracy charges.

The three members of the Special Investigations Bureau were accused of shaking down drug dealers and selling the narcotics their unit had seized.

The three officers resigned soon after. But as their own prosecutions proceeded, many other court cases that had relied upon their testimony began to collapse.

Such a major ethical breach in the department led village officials to hire the law enforcement consultant firm Hillard Heintze to conduct a thorough study of its operations.

When Police Chief Brian Howerton retired in early April after being cleared of criminal wrongdoing in a complaint he had stalked and harassed his ex-girlfriend, Hillard Heintze Chief Operating Officer Ken Bouche became interim chief.

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In June, Officer Bryan Woodyard resigned after being charged with misconduct for keeping a .22-caliber revolver a resident had attempted to turn into the department while refusing Woodyard's offer to buy it.

Hillard Heintze ultimately made 10 general findings and 55 recommendations to improve the department -- one of the key ones being to drop the undercover vice unit Cichy, Hudak and O'Brien belonged to and to join a regional task force instead.

Hillard Heintze also assisted in the search for a new permanent police chief, a process delayed by the retirement of then village manager Ken Fritz and the appointment of St. Charles City Manager Brian Townsend to replace him.

Townsend ultimately selected a former colleague, St. Charles Police Chief James Lamkin, from the candidate pool. Lamkin will succeed Bouche on Monday, Dec. 30.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Changing of the guard at the top

April's municipal election marked a major changing of the guard, with longtime village presidents in Arlington Heights and Mount Prospect not running for re-election and with Des Plaines electing 26-year-old Matt Bogusz over a popular former mayor almost three times his age.

"This race isn't about age," Bogusz said the night he won. "Voters want to move forward and tonight's result is proof of it."

In Arlington Heights, the biggest of the Northwest suburbs, Tom Hayes replaced five-term incumbent Arlene Mulder, beating out two challengers. In contrast to Des Plaines, however, he was the voice of experience, having joined the village board in 1991, the same year as Mulder.

In Mount Prospect, Arlene Juracek also sported a long public service pedigree, having served for six years as a village trustee and 10 years before that on the zoning board.

In Wheeling, voters chose trustee Dean Argiris over one-term incumbent Judy Abruscato and former trustee Patrick Horcher. Abruscato joined the village board in 1987.

In Bartlett, political newcomer Kevin Wallace, a past chairman of the Bartlett Chamber of Commerce, pulling in three times the votes of his two opponents put together. Three new trustees were elected with him, giving a new cast to a prior board that had been rived by infighting and the resignation of an incumbent mayor midterm.

And in Barrington Hills, two-term village President Robert Abboud apparently wore out his welcome with voters and was defeated by Martin McLaughlin. "The electorate was looking for some change and I'm sure Mr. McLaughlin will bring it," Aboud said.

Des Plaines River rages

In Des Plaines, it can begin to seem like the 100-year-flood is an annual occurrence.

After going through a couple of severe floods in recent years, last April an overnight downpour produced one of the fastest river rises yet, and broke a record, with the river peaking at 10.92 feet. Despite valiant efforts at blocking the water with sandbags, thousands of properties were damaged.

"It came up so fast," said Elizabeth Heyse, 83, a 61-year resident of Fargo Avenue.

"I don't want to deal with it anymore," said Heather Roppel, whose house sits in the lowest point of Big Bend Drive, the area hardest hit and first to be evacuated after flooding began. She and her husband Matthew have put their property on a Federal Emergency Management Agency buyout list if money becomes available.

Hazing scandal lives on

A hazing scandal that first surfaced in October 2012 at Maine West High School in Des Plaines continued to dominate the news for much of 2013 and is sure to continue to be an issue in 2014.

In May, after a five-month investigation, the Cook County state's attorney's office charged former Maine West High School head varsity soccer coach Michael Divincenzo with misdemeanor hazing and battery, while dropping charges against six juveniles.

The state's attorney's review stemmed from initially allegations by two 14-year-old freshman members of the varsity boys soccer team that they were sexually assaulted by seniors inside the school in September 2012 as part of a hazing ritual. In the months that followed, more juveniles came forward, lawsuits were filed and multiple investigations began.

Maine Township High School District 207 instituted new policies and procedures and unleashed additional training for staff and students in how to handle allegations of hazing, bullying or harassment. Legislation was passed and signed creating a new criminal offense in Illinois for failure to report hazing.

In December, Divincenzo went on trial, but it will be January before a judge rules on the charges.

Group homes an uphill battle

Developers of affordable housing for people with mental illness continued to find winning community support for such projects an uphill struggle.

This month, developers of a proposed apartment building in Palatine filed a lawsuit asking a judge to review the facts of the case after village officials denied a rezoning request that would have allowed the project to go forward.

The Palatine village council voted 4-2 in August against the zoning change for Catherine Alice Gardens, a planned 33-unit affordable housing building for people with disabilities at 345 N. Eric Drive, near the village's downtown. Trustees at the time voiced an unwillingness to rezone the former warehouse property that had been vacant for more than a decade, saying they hoped a manufacturer could eventually move in.

The vote came a couple of years after Arlington Heights rejected a similar project after neighbors complained that the project was requesting too many variances from village codes and would be too intense a use for the size of the property. And an agreement this year in Wheeling to build a similar project called PhilHaven came only after the developers sued the village and appeared likely to win in federal court. A federal judge upheld the rejection in Arlington Heights.

In a more positive vein, Myers Place in Mount Prospect in June became the first such supportive housing development to open in the Northwest suburbs.

Daveri Development Group LLC partnered with the Kenneth Young Center of Elk Grove Village and other nonprofits to provide independent apartment living for people with mental illness or physical disabilities, and also provide on-site access to social workers and other services.

The $13.2 million Myers Place features 21 one-bedroom and 18 studio furnished apartments. There is a community room, a kitchen, laundry facilities and offices for case managers from the Kenneth Young Center.

Skunks multiply, so do complaints

"Everybody in the village of Wheeling is talking about skunks," Trustee Ken Brady said at one village board meeting. "In my neighborhood, you can't leave your window open."

A decade ago, a rabies epidemic knocked down the skunk population, but "over the past two or three years or so, the skunk populations have been higher," said Tim Preuss, wildlife biologist with the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

Our lush suburban yards serve as delicatessens for the odoriferous omnivores, which eat grubs, grasshoppers, beetles, bees, some plants and even mice, rats, baby rabbits, bird eggs and birds.

"In the urban environments, you may very well find them eating on garbage and pet food," said Laura Kammin, manager of the Living with Wildlife website for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. "They especially like the canned cat food."

All of which means business for Brandon Kulosa, president of Animal Trackers Wildlife Co. of Hoffman Estates, which handles removal calls from homeowners.

"I've been sprayed many times," said Kulosa, adding that stories that a skunk won't spray if it can't lift its tail are myths.

Fiery Barrington area divorce

Barrington and the Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District after years of working together to provide fire protection for a 48-square-mile area in 2013 mutually decided on a divorce.

The split, caused by disagreements over the district wanting higher staffing levels and the village unwilling to go along because of concern about rising pension obligations, will take effect Jan. 1.

The fire district includes portions of Barrington Hills, Lake Barrington, South Barrington, Inverness and unincorporated Cook, Lake and McHenry counties.

Since the split became inevitable about midyear, the two bodies have been working to agree among themselves on how to handle the myriad details related to the split, including what will happen to current staff and how mutual aid will be handled. All current equipment is co-owned by the village and fire district and will be divided between them at the end of the year.

How successful they have been in working out a formula that will provide each side with what it wanted and at the same time keeping residents of the area safe in fire and medical emergencies will be tested with the beginning of the new year.

Earlier this month, the Barrington Countryside and Palatine Rural fire protection districts reached a deal in long-stalled negotiations toward an automatic-aid agreement for the west side of Inverness. But another potential deal between Barrington Countryside and the village of Barrington remains stalled, with not much confidence expressed by either side that there would be a deal by Jan. 1.

St. Viator testing expands to alcohol

St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights in October began randomly testing all students for alcohol consumption, adding to the school's drug testing policy that has been in place since 2007, officials said. The mandatory tests show how much alcohol a student has consumed in the past 90 days.

"We want to intervene in the lives of kids who are drinking a lot or starting to experiment with alcohol," the Rev. Corey Brost, school president, said in announcing the testing.

If a test comes back positive for alcohol, the student has a confidential meeting with a school administrator and his or her parents, and is required to go through a mandatory evaluation with a school counselor. There is no discipline for a first positive test. The school's experience with the drug tests is less than 1 percent come back positive, Brost added.

"Constitutionally a private school is free to engage in whatever level of intrusion they want into the lives of students so long as the parents tolerate it," Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the Illinois American Civil Liberties Union, said.

children's hospital in Hoffman Estates

After years of planning, raising money and construction, the new Alexian Brothers Women and Children's Hospital in Hoffman Estates opened last April.

Among the highlights of the $125 million hospital is the Center for Pediatric Brain, which houses neurology specialists, including a pediatric neurosurgeon. Services in the center include epilepsy treatment, concussion recovery, and neuropsychological and developmental evaluations.

The 210,000-square-foot building also holds outpatient areas, a pediatric unit, a pediatric intensive care unit, a Level III neonatal intensive care unit, and labor, delivery and recovery rooms.

Playrooms for different age groups can be found on the pediatric floor, including a sensory room with subdued colors and padded carpet, and a teen room with a large window, gaming chairs and a big-screen TV.

Rosemont becomes fashionable

Fashion Outlets of Chicago, the first fully enclosed suburban mall built in the Chicago area in more than two decades, opened in August in Rosemont.

Its location -- 13 miles from Schaumburg's Woodfield Mall and less than 20 miles from Chicago's Magnificent Mile -- makes it unique, an analyst said, pointing out that historically outlets were located 40 to 50 miles outside a major metropolitan area so the merchants could avoid undermining their full-price distribution channels.

The two-story, 530,000-square-foot structure also offers more amenities than the traditional outlet mall. The mall adds 2,000 jobs and an expected $6 million in annual sales tax revenue for the village, Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens said.

The village borrowed more than $60 million to build the seven-story parking deck attached to the mall, make off-site improvements and help build the Balmoral Avenue off-ramp to provide access. The village also invested roughly $50 million in the MB Financial Park at Rosemont restaurant and entertainment district north of the mall property.

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