Lake County homicides, overdose deaths drop in 2015
Lake County law enforcement officials say some of the credit for an apparent decline in heroin-related deaths goes to the expanded use of an opioid overdose antidote by police.
A countywide program introduced last year allows law enforcement officers across the county to carry the overdose reversal medicine naloxone on their duty belt. It's cited as a reason why there were two drug-induced homicides reported in 2015, down from six a year earlier. Officials also said 44 naloxone "saves" were recorded by law enforcement in 2015.
"Overall, we are saving lives with naloxone, but there has to be intervention and education that also must occur," Lake County Undersheriff Raymond Rose said. "We need to take a complete countywide approach to not only save the people who are overdosing, but also put these people in treatment and get them help."
The number of homicides also declined in Lake County last year.
According to data released by the Lake County coroner's office, 20 homicides were recorded in 2015, down from the 27 in 2014, a 26 percent drop. Of those 20, 11 stemmed from shootings, five involved vehicle crashes, one person was beaten to death and there was one murder-suicide, in addition to the drug-induced homicides.
"I am certainly glad to see the homicide numbers come down in 2015, but the numbers we have are still too high," Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim said. "There have been a lot of coordinated efforts with law enforcement and community partners to reduce violent crimes and overdose deaths. Those efforts seem to be working, but we need to continue remain vigilant in our effort to continue to reduce the numbers."
Law enforcement officials define homicide as one human taking the life of another. The annual homicide numbers generally include murders, traffic crashes and murder-suicides.
The 2015 homicides included:
• Elpidia Munoz-Garcia, 33, of Waukegan, was shot to death at a Waukegan tavern Jan. 2. Roberto Romero, 23, is charged with first-degree murder and remains in the Lake County jail on $3 million bail.
• Beata Brocksom, 48, of Gurnee, was shot and killed Sept. 27, after a fight with ex-husband, David Brocksom, 43, of Kenosha. He is charged with first-degree murder and is in the Lake County jail on $3 million bail.
• Gregory Boyes, 50, of Antioch was killed in an Aug. 26 hit-and-run crash. Leena A. Ultsch, 34, of Antioch Township, faces multiple charges of aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol, aggravated DUI resulting in death and failure to report an accident resulting in death. She told authorities she had been drinking wine when she crashed into Boyes' motorcycle on North Linden Lane about 4 a.m. Aug. 26. Ultsch left the scene of the crash, claiming she was scared, but called police five hours later to admit she hit Boyes. She told police Boyes swerved his motorcycle into her lane of traffic. She is free from jail after posting 10 percent of $100,000 bail.
Of the shootings ruled to be homicides, the Lake County state's attorney's office deemed two were justified.
Justus Howell, 17, was shot and killed by a Zion police officer during a foot chase April 4. The shooting was deemed justified by the Lake County state's attorney's office after authorities said Howell made a motion indicating he was about to shoot an officer while running away from police with a loaded handgun.
In the other fatal shooting deemed justified, Justin Greenwald, 30, of Ingleside, was killed by a clerk at the Kwick Shop liquor and convenience store in Wauconda. Authorities say Greenwald, who was on parole after serving time for robbery, was armed with a BB gun and trying to hold up the store when the clerk shot him.
Coroner officials reported there were 29 heroin-related deaths in 2015, down from 39 in 2014. Those deaths were not classified as homicides because they did not involve one person killing another.
The overall number of heroin deaths could still rise, officials say, because 38 cases are awaiting final toxicology reports. It's anticipated some of those deaths will be heroin-related, officials said.
Bill Gentes, project coordinator for the Lake County Underage Drinking and Drug Prevention Task Force, said the county could have had up to 73 heroin-related drug overdoses in 2015 if not for the use of naloxone. That number includes the naloxone "saves" plus the number of heroin overdoses recorded by the coroner's office.
Overall, there were 55 drug overdose deaths in Lake County in 2015, down from 72 in 2014.
To reduce the number of shootings in Lake County, Rose said the sheriff's office created a gang task force that's working to remove illegally possessed guns on the streets.
The task force -- formed in July -- consists of more than 30 local law enforcement agencies and focuses on training to create consistent anti-gang law enforcement standards, he said. It will train police in gang member recognition and how to share resources through a records management system.
"We need to develop some way to control the illegal guns from finding their way on the street," Rose said.
"I'm not talking about taking all the guns away by any means. I'm specifically saying we need to look at how to reduce the criminal activity of some of these gangs who are putting guns on the street illegally."