Top 10 Lake County stories of 2016

  • Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor explains his decision to withdraw his support for the extension of Route 53 during an event by the Livable Lake County coalition that included local mayors and elected officials.

      Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor explains his decision to withdraw his support for the extension of Route 53 during an event by the Livable Lake County coalition that included local mayors and elected officials. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted12/23/2016 6:00 AM

An abrupt change of direction from a key leader on Route 53, a plan to convert a private beach to a public park, the shooting death of a fugitive being sought by authorities and a local teen at the Olympics in Rio were among the top stories in Lake County in 2016.

The following list was selected by Daily Herald staffers who cover Lake County from among scores of possibilities and are presented in no particular order.

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About face

In a stunning reversal, Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor withdrew his support for the long-discussed extension of Route 53 north from Lake-Cook Road to Route 120.

Long a supporter of the road as a way to move traffic and spark economic development, Lawlor said he concluded a likely increase in an already daunting funding gap and gridlock among state politicians doomed the vision of a 45 mph parkway and accompanying environmental safeguards.

"The financial and political realities have become insurmountable," he said in May and reiterated in December.

"It was the toughest decision I've made in elected office and the one that I am most confident in," he said recently. "It's been several months since my 'course correction' and I feel stronger than ever that I made the right decision for the long-term fiscal and environmental sustainability of our county."

However, Illinois tollway leaders remain committed to studying an extension of Route 53 and in mid-December approved a 2017 budget with $10 million allotted for that purpose.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Hazing allegations

Lake Zurich High School
  Lake Zurich High School - Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Police said evidence didn't merit criminal charges and no potential victims came forward but allegations of hazing by Lake Zurich High School football players shocked the community and resulted in changes to practices, such as locking dressing rooms when an employee is not available to supervise.

Police investigated what was described as "inappropriate activity" in a school football locker room before a Nov. 5 state playoff game against Fenwick High School.

The probe began after it was made public that football players were ordered to sign a student behavior agreement before that game or be prohibited from playing the rest of the 2016 season. The agreement was part of a letter sent to players and parents that provided no details about what happened but included several references to hazing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Head football coach David Proffitt and assistant Chad Beaver were placed on paid administrative leave just before the Fenwick game.

Lake Zurich Unit District 95 hired a national expert in hazing and prevention who has worked with school employees to lead education programs and results of an internal investigation related to the allegations is expected to be released in January.

Moving on

The Lake County Discovery Museum in the Lakewood Forest Preserve closed Sept. 1 and will relocate to its headquarters on Winchester Road in Libertyville. A reopening is planned for late 2017.
  The Lake County Discovery Museum in the Lakewood Forest Preserve closed Sept. 1 and will relocate to its headquarters on Winchester Road in Libertyville. A reopening is planned for late 2017. - Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Two of the Lake County Forest Preserve District's longest running and popular attractions will be relocated in actions officials say will provide better public access to more information.

The Lake County Discovery Museum and the Teich Postcard Archive, both housed since the 1970s at the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda, will resurface later in new locations.

The museum, which had been housed in old dairy buildings, was closed to the public on Sept. 1. Work continues to prepare the space and relocate the vast collection of archives and artifacts at the district's general office on Winchester Road in Libertyville. New exhibitions are planned and the reopening is scheduled for late 2017.

No word yet on the future of the iconic unnamed mastodon model that greeted visitors at Lakewood.

On. Oct. 11, district officials approved the transfer of the massive and world renowned Teich postcard collection the Newberry Library in Chicago. The relocation was completed in early December and the collection is being incorporated into Newberry's offerings. Reference service, at first by appointment only, is expected to be available in April.

Life's a beach

The Wauconda Park District bought the iconic Phil's Beach and plans to open it as a public park.
  The Wauconda Park District bought the iconic Phil's Beach and plans to open it as a public park. - Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

The Wauconda Park District delighted patrons in September by announcing it would purchase and convert the shuttered Phil's Beach on the west side of Bangs Lake to a public park.

Phil's Beach opened as a business in 1926 and drew thousands of people to Wauconda over the decades. It may best be known as the location for scenes featured in the 1980 movie "The Blues Brothers," which filmed in the Chicago area. But it closed in 1990 due to rising costs.

District officials unanimously agreed to acquire 3 acres for $690,000. Public facilities, such as picnic shelters and a building for bathrooms and showers will be added, and a grand reopening is possible in May 2018.

Fugitive shot, killed

- Gerald R. Boyes

In April, Gerald R. Boyes, a fugitive murder suspect with a lengthy criminal record was killed in a fatal confrontation with police outside Toppers Sports Bar on Route 173 in Antioch Township.

Boyes, 53, was shot multiple times just after midnight by Lake and McHenry County sheriff's deputies who had surrounded his car and tried to arrest him. Boyes also shot himself once in the head, authorities said.

Toppers Sports Bar in Antioch Township was the scene of the fatal shooting of fugitive Gerald R. Boyes.
  Toppers Sports Bar in Antioch Township was the scene of the fatal shooting of fugitive Gerald R. Boyes. - Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Boyes, who grew up in the Chicago area and formerly lived in Antioch, was wanted on a Florida warrant for a parole violation. Police said they fired after Boyes pointed a gun at them. He also was a suspect in the April 11 murders of his father and his father's longtime girlfriend in McCracken County, Kentucky.

Police haven't determined why Gerald Boyes was in Antioch, but traced him to the area after he pawned his dead father's wallet at a pawnshop in Villa Park a few days after the murders.

Hate countered with kindness

About 150 to 200 students gather in response to "White's Only" graffiti found on a door at Warren Township High School's Almond Road campus in Gurnee.
About 150 to 200 students gather in response to "White's Only" graffiti found on a door at Warren Township High School's Almond Road campus in Gurnee. - Courtesy of Warren Township High School

Racist graffiti scrawled on several bathroom stalls at Warren Township High School's two campuses in Gurnee led to a police investigation and a small but earnest response by students to counter the messages with notes of kindness.

Warren District 121 in early November were contending with student reaction to "White's Only" graffiti found on a women's bathroom stall at the Almond campus when copycat messages were discovered at the freshman-sophomore O'Plaine Road building.

A day after the graffiti "White's Only" was discovered, some minority students at Almond organized what became a large indoor group meeting and a protest outside. About 150 to 200 students jammed a hallway near the building's library to discuss diversity and respect with principal Patrick Keeley.

A positive tone was struck when the sticky notes with messages such as "You Are a Treasure," "Shine Your Light," "Believe in Yourself" and "You Can Change the World!" were put on 2,500 lockers at the Almond campus.

No arrests or other action has been announced.

Making the saves

Chelsea Laliberte, Live4Lali executive director discusses how U.S. Rep. Bob Dold was instrumental in the passage of Lali's Law.
  Chelsea Laliberte, Live4Lali executive director discusses how U.S. Rep. Bob Dold was instrumental in the passage of Lali's Law. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Lake County's fight against the opioid crisis received a boost in May with the passage of a law that provides $10.8 million in federal grants to help states make an overdose-treatment drug called naloxone available at pharmacies.

The effort to pass what is called Lali's Law, after a Buffalo Grove man who died of a drug overdose, was led by Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Dold of Kenilworth. Dold lost his re-election bid in November but was able to bring Republicans and Democrats together on the law.

"We need bridge builders that are actually going to solve the problem," he said during the campaign.

In October, the Lake County Health Department distributed nearly 1,000 doses of the naloxone antidote to first responders through a contribution from the Jordan Michael Filler Foundation of Highland Park. More than 118 lives have been saved by administering the antidote, which counters the effects of overdose from drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin or heroin.

Candid cameras?

Round Lake Park police officers filed a federal lawsuit seeking more than $15 million, claiming body cameras recorded them during private times.
Round Lake Park police officers filed a federal lawsuit seeking more than $15 million, claiming body cameras recorded them during private times. - courtesy of the Round Lake Park Police

In June, 10 Round Lake Park police officers filed a federal lawsuit seeking more than $15 million, claiming body cameras that recorded them during private times, including in the locker room and restroom, violated their civil rights and right to privacy and intentionally inflicted emotional distress.

The cameras were put into use in August 2015 to increase transparency between the officers and residents. But the department stopped using them in May after it was determined they were not recording in conjunction with protocols.

The suit claims the police department, Chief George Filenko and Deputy Chief Daniel Burch "willfully allowed the unauthorized and prohibited" recordings of the officers during private times and viewed the videos during a seven-month period.

Filenko said the officers "made a quick rush to judgment without considering all the facts." He also noted four officers have dropped off the case and two have left the department. The case is still in litigation.

Ballot bickering

Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd.
Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd. - Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Lake County politics took an unusual turn this election season when incumbent Coroner Thomas Rudd found himself as barred from having his name on the ballot.

The incumbent Democrat wanted to seek a second term but removed himself from the March Democratic primary ballot after a challenge to his nominating petitions. Rudd said he wouldn't have had enough signatures on the petitions if the objections were upheld.

In June, he filed nominating petitions to run as an independent in the November general election. However, Democratic coroner candidate Michael P. Donnenwirth and Waukegan resident Keith E. Turner filed objections.

The Lake County Electoral board ruled, and the circuit and appellate courts agreed, Rudd's name could not appear on the ballot as an independent candidate because a person, by law, can't run as a candidate for a political party and as an independent in the same election cycle.

Donnenwirth was defeated by Republican Howard Cooper 143,321 to 127,311 votes. Rudd had party support but gathered only 8,524 votes as a write-in.

Olympic dream come true

Libertyville High School junior Laura Zeng is welcomed back to school after competing in individual rhythmic gymnastics at the Rio Olympics.
  Libertyville High School junior Laura Zeng is welcomed back to school after competing in individual rhythmic gymnastics at the Rio Olympics. - Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Sixteen-year old Laura Zeng finished 11th in her competition at the Rio Olympics, but received a champion's welcome when she returned home to Libertyville.

"It's not every day you get your own parade," Zeng said of the reception at Libertyville High School.

An individual rhythmic gymnast, Zeng won the all-around USA Gymnastics Championship to earn the sole U.S. Olympic berth. Thirty-six athletes from Illinois, 30 as members of the U.S. team, represented their countries at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Zeng was one of the youngest on Team USA.

Although disappointed she didn't medal in Rio, Zeng said she's looking forward to competing in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

"I did my job, and I know I'm going to go to Tokyo," she said.

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