Biggest stories of the year in Northwest Cook County

 
 
Posted12/22/2017 6:00 AM
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  • Kevin Crawford, right, Kirsten Crawford, back row second from right, and Anita Crawford, third from the right in red, were killed when a speeding vehicle struck their car in Des Plaines. Two other children, Hailee Crawford, far left, and Christian Crawford, middle with glasses, are living with their grandparents.

    Kevin Crawford, right, Kirsten Crawford, back row second from right, and Anita Crawford, third from the right in red, were killed when a speeding vehicle struck their car in Des Plaines. Two other children, Hailee Crawford, far left, and Christian Crawford, middle with glasses, are living with their grandparents. courtesy of ABC 7 Chicago.

  • Striking workers in Palatine Township Elementary District 15 protest outside the Winston Campus in Palatine.

      Striking workers in Palatine Township Elementary District 15 protest outside the Winston Campus in Palatine. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer, October 2017

  • Former Wheeling Village President Dean Argiris

    Former Wheeling Village President Dean Argiris Daily Herald file photo

  • Residents packed the Des Plaines City Council chambers to argue for and against following Cook County's minimum wage and sick leave laws.

      Residents packed the Des Plaines City Council chambers to argue for and against following Cook County's minimum wage and sick leave laws. Chacour Koop | Staff Photographer, June 2017

  • Traffic moves along Algonquin Road in Schaumburg, right, near the future site of the Veridian development on the Motorola Solutions in Schaumburg.

      Traffic moves along Algonquin Road in Schaumburg, right, near the future site of the Veridian development on the Motorola Solutions in Schaumburg. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer, July 2017

  • Former Des Plaines Elementary School District 62 Superintendent Floyd Williams Jr.

    Former Des Plaines Elementary School District 62 Superintendent Floyd Williams Jr.

  • Kenneka Martin was found dead in a Rosemont hotel freezer, leading to weeks of online speculation over how her death occurred and whether she was the victim of foul play. Her death was ruled an accident.

    Kenneka Martin was found dead in a Rosemont hotel freezer, leading to weeks of online speculation over how her death occurred and whether she was the victim of foul play. Her death was ruled an accident. Courtesy of the Martin Family

  • Cassie Wagner, center with red bullhorn, an Arlington Heights resident and a leader of "We the People," addresses protesters against hate at a Saturday rally in front of the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.

    Cassie Wagner, center with red bullhorn, an Arlington Heights resident and a leader of "We the People," addresses protesters against hate at a Saturday rally in front of the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. Daily Herald file photo/September 2017

  • McDonald's Corp. plans to raze the replica of its first franchised restaurant in Des Plaines.

      McDonald's Corp. plans to raze the replica of its first franchised restaurant in Des Plaines. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Mount Prospect logo

    Mount Prospect logo

  • District 214 logo

    District 214 logo

Here's a look at some of the biggest stories of the year in the Northwest suburbs:

Speeding car kills three

Three members of an Arlington Heights family were killed in February in a horrific accident when they were struck on their way to a soccer game by a drunken driver going 135 miles per hour.

Kevin Crawford, his wife, Anita, and their 20-year-old daughter, Kirsten, were turning into the parking lot at Lattof YMCA in Des Plaines when their vehicle was struck by a Mercedes-Benz driven by 21-year-old Piotr Rog, who was also killed. His passenger spent weeks in a coma.

Des Plaines Police Chief Bill Kushner said it was the worst accident he'd seen during his 40-year career in law enforcement.

Before the accident, according to the police investigation, Rog, whose blood alcohol level was almost three times the legal limit, was thrown out of one bar after harassing a woman, punching a patron in the process, then thrown out of a second bar for harassing female customers.

Immediate surviving Crawford family members included a 10-year-old boy, Christian, and 15-year-old girl, Hailee, who are living with their grandparents.

District 15 strike

All 454 secretaries, clerical employees, nurses and classroom aides in the Educational Support Personnel Association union at Palatine Township Elementary District 15 walked off the job in October after failing to reach agreement with the district on a new contract during negotiations which began in February.

The district, which a year earlier had taken flak for approving a 10-year contract with teachers and in April had gotten a mostly new school board after incumbents were voted out, took a hard line in negotiations.

The strike took a twist when Cook County Judge Neil Cohen issued a temporary restraining order that forced 168 "essential" nurses and special education classroom aides back to work immediately. A week later, the nurses and classroom aides returned to the picket lines when Cohen lifted the order.

But with the district having ended medical coverage for support personnel at the start of the walkout and with district officials having said they were about to start to seek replacements, striking employees decided to return to work without a contract after 10 days.

The two sides still have not agreed on a new contract and still are disputing an unfair labor practice complaint filed by the union.

Wheeling mayor ousted

A Daily Herald investigation into Wheeling's financial protocols which raised questions about the practices of Wheeling Village President Dean Argiris prompted new policies for using purchasing cards and village vehicles.

Argiris turned over his village credit card and the keys to a decommissioned police SUV. He often used the credit card for purchases he later reimbursed and failed to provide receipts for numerous expenses, according to documents obtained through public records requests.

Records also showed the village had threatened to shut off his water 17 times due to late payment of bills. Argiris had filed for bankruptcy a week after voters elected him in April 2013.

"Like many people, I have had some financial struggles," he said, denying he ever used his elected office for personal gain.

Despite the stricter policies the village adopted, Argiris lost to longtime rival Pat Horcher in the April municipal election.

Cook County controversies

After years of relative quiet since Toni Preckwinkle replaced Todd Stroger as Cook County Board chairman, two moves this year led to widespread protests that resulted in the county abandoning a soda tax and more than 75 percent of suburbs opting out of new county minimum wage and sick leave requirements.

Tim Schneider and his three suburban Republican counterparts on the Cook County Board tried to convince Democratic colleagues a penny-per-ounce sweetened beverage tax to fill a $200 million budget hole was a bad idea, but it was adopted effective July 1 in a 9-8 vote.

Then the American Beverage Association's Can the Tax Coalition stepped in, seeking to make Cook County "ground zero" against expansion of soft drink taxes around the nation, Schneider said. "They created this awareness program, and the commissioners who had supported the tax were inundated with mail, commercials and calls. They started feeling the heat."

On the other side, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg poured an estimated $13 million into keeping the tax as part of the billionaire businessman's crusade to reduce the obesity epidemic.

In October, though, the county board voted 15-2 to repeal the tax, effective Dec. 1. It was a historic synthesis of efforts by the beverage and restaurant industries, Republican commissioners and a few unlikely political allies.

The county never did back down on minimum wage and sick leave ordinances that went into effect July 1, but suburbs had the power to opt out and a Daily Herald survey of 134 municipalities found more than three-quarters did so. The ordinances raised the minimum wage to $10 initially and $13 by 2020, and mandated businesses pay employees up to five sick days.

Massive development plan

A developer has spent the year refining a plan to transform Schaumburg's former Motorola Solutions campus into a self-contained community of offices, homes, stores, restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues whose land area would rival that of the Chicago Loop.

Motorola Solutions' relocation of its headquarters to Chicago -- downsizing its Schaumburg presence to a still respectable 1,600 employees -- provided the impetus.

Bob Burk, managing partner of UrbanStreet Group LLC, said the size, location and existing redevelopment of the Schaumburg site makes the potential of the development unique.

Motorola Solutions' old headquarters borders the I-90 tollway just minutes west of O'Hare Airport, with easy access via a new interchange at Meacham Road that just opened. Zurich North America opened its new headquarters on the southeast corner of the site not long ago.

The site is one of two in the suburbs being pitched by the state as possible locations for Amazon's second headquarters, with its estimated 50,000 jobs.

"We are excited to see the campus evolve to be repurposed by the developer," said Motorola Solutions spokeswoman Natalie Brown.

Harassment charged

Des Plaines Elementary District 62 Superintendent Floyd Williams Jr. was ousted in November, with school records showing at least five female employees reported inappropriate interactions.

The board approved a $127,000 separation agreement for the superintendent, who was hired by the district effective July 2016 despite problems with his previous employer. It spent $23,200 in legal fees investigating the allegations.

The district said employees made no allegations of "inappropriate physical contact of a sexual nature." Williams has denied sexually harassing the employees.

Though women complained about Williams months after he joined the district, school board members continued giving him high marks, expressed support and, in October, considered giving him a pay raise.

Board members addressed Williams on three occasions about employees' accusations of inappropriate behavior during his 15-month tenure, district officials say. The board says it enlisted the district's attorneys to investigate Williams' interactions and communications with colleagues when another accuser came forward in early October.

Williams began his absence from the district Oct. 17 and went on paid leave Oct. 31.

District 214 TIF suit

Mount Prospect's efforts to use a new downtown TIF district to help spur redevelopment of the area spurred the ire of Northwest Suburban High School District 214 officials who stood to lose tax revenue, resulting in a June lawsuit.

All along, the village and the district have disagreed on who is to blame for the impasse.

In a statement issued in October, village officials said settlement discussions have not been productive and they're resolved to vigorously defend the Prospect and Main TIF District.

A TIF district is an economic incentive in which new tax revenue created by development within its boundaries is diverted away from schools, libraries and other local governments, and instead goes into a special fund for use within the district.

According to village, it has offered District 214 two compromise settlements involving significant payments prior to the natural end of the TIF and both were rejected. The school district said that there was a proposal that the district thought the two sides had agreed to, but the village's summary afterward was different.

The Prospect and Main TIF, which was adopted in January, consists of 235 parcels within 180 acres in the area around South Main Street and East Prospect Avenue

Freezer death fury

The macabre death of 19-year-old Kenneka Jenkins of Chicago, found Sept. 10 in the freezer of a Rosemont hotel after leaving a party in a hotel room, set off a wave of protests over how police and the hotel initially handled the investigation, and launched a social media frenzy over whether she was the victim of foul play.

After weeks of investigation, Rosemont authorities and the Cook County medical examiner's office ruled the death was accidental. The official cause of death was listed as hypothermia, with alcohol and topiramate, a medication used to treat epilepsy and migraines, as contributing factors. Jenkins had a blood-alcohol level of .112, the autopsy found.

Police conducted interviews with 44 people, including 30 who were with Jenkins at a hotel party the night she went missing. There was no sign Jenkins was forced to drink alcohol or consume any drugs while at the hotel, police said. Police posted on the village's website their reports, video surveillance footage, 911 and police dispatch calls and photographs.

"While there were many theories, rumors and much speculation floating around social media regarding the death of Ms. Jenkins, none were supported with facts," Chief Donald Stephens III said in a news release.

Police said they are still looking for a man and a woman who have ties to a gang on the West Side of Chicago and used a fraudulent credit card to pay for the hotel room where the party occurred.

Upheaval at the library

There was no escaping into the world of books last fall at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, as threats, protests, a resignation and a firing upended the usual order of things.

First, the library canceled a "Know Your Rights" program tailored to immigrants, after library officials received numerous objections, as well as several threats so severe police were called.

That sparked a Sept. 30 protest by about 250 people, calling on the library to stand against hatred, bigotry and xenophobia.

"We support all of our neighbors," Cassie Wagner, a Mount Prospect resident and a leader in the "We the People" activist group, told the crowd.

Then it was announced that the library executive director, Jason Kuhl, had resigned in the middle of the controversy, receiving $73,589 in severance and six months of health insurance.

A month later, the acting executive director, Mike Driskell, fired the deputy director, Jeremy Andrykowski, a 17-year employee. Andrykowski said he and Kuhl had been pushed out because of Kuhl's diversity and inclusion initiatives, and because of complaints by some employees to the board about Kuhl's restructuring of library departments.

Library board President Debbie Smart said she couldn't comment on personnel issues, but she said the library board supports efforts at diversity.

"At the end of the day the board is ultimately responsible for the library's performance," she said in a prepared release. "The board has been very transparent in nature but cannot and will not comment on performance or personnel issues on the advice of our attorney."

Des Plaines McDonald's

News in November that McDonald's plans to tear down the replica of its first franchised restaurant in Des Plaines garnered quick reaction from local residents and historic preservationists, who expressed hope the local landmark, which has been damaged various times by river flooding, could be spared from the wrecking ball.

"I think it's a shame that McDonald's Corp. doesn't think it's very important, because the people of Des Plaines sure do," said Brian Wolf, a Des Plaines resident and history buff.

The Des Plaines Historical Society and the Volo Auto Museum both expressed interest in helping to save the restaurant and there's hope of a change of course until the 32-year-old replica of company founder Ray Kroc's first walk-up restaurant at 400 Lee St. is razed, an action that could occur at any time.

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