How We Got The Story: A sobering look at wounded officer's rehab work

  • Susan Sarkauskas

    Susan Sarkauskas

Posted5/2/2022 1:00 AM

I have been following the case of the shooting of Bensenville Police Officer Steven Kotlewski from the day it happened in November. I wrote about the first, and several subsequent, appearance of the man accused of shooting him nine times; about fundraisers for the Kotlewski family; and about the festivities when Kotlewski was discharged from inpatient treatment, to reside with his in-laws while he continued to recuperate.

So when one of his sisters-in-law posted on Facebook in March that Home Depot had renovated his house so Kotlewski could move back in, I took note, planning to do a little something, maybe a couple paragraphs in the "Cops and Crime" column.


And then editor Lisa Miner saw a post about it, or a story on WGN-TV, and the story was 1) moved up on my list of priorities and 2) became a full-fledged deal, not "a little something."

Due to some scheduling issues, my original plan to meet Kotlewski at his Roselle house changed to me and photographer John Stark visiting him during a rehabilitation session at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab DayRehabCenter in Arlington Heights.

Kotlewski and his family have been very willing, from Day 1, to talk to us. I met them in person at the homecoming in December. I may have stood out in the crowd that day at a press conference Kotlewski gave not just because I was a tall woman wearing a long fuchsia-colored coat, but because I think I was the only reporter to ask if he still wanted to be a police officer. Plus he was holding his dog and when I asked the dog's name, he told me it was Stabler. I responded something like "Like from 'Law and Order?" (For better or worse, I have seen almost every episode of every single series in the "Law and Order" universe.)

Yes, the dog was named after the fictional character.

So when I saw Stabler again, one of the first things I asked was how Stabler was. We also talked about how his kids were handling the situation, and I gave him a brief update on the status of the court case.

Watching Kotlewski do his rehabilitation exercises made me shift the focus from the return to his house to, instead, showing just what the shooting has cost him, and how much it is taking for him to overcome it. Seeing a formerly strong, healthy man having to take a break and lie down due to pain, nearly six months after the shooting, was sobering.

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