Fox Valley's top stories of 2017
New school programs, political battles, economic development controversies and acts of heroism were among the most memorable moments in the Fox Valley this year. Here are some of the top stories from 2017:
Elgin charter school approved for 2018
In October, a state panel sanctioned a new charter school to serve Elgin-area students, despite objections from officials at the state's second-largest school district. The Elgin Area School District U-46 school board had denied the Elgin Charter School Initiative's proposal in June, citing concerns with the plan's economic soundness, the proposed school site, how the school would serve at-risk students, and inadequate transportation. The Illinois State Charter School Commission in a 5-3 vote reversed U-46's decision granting a five-year charter. A 2014 proposal by the same charter group was denied by the U-46 board and the state charter commission. The Elgin Math and Science Academy charter school opens in August 2018 under state oversight. It would cater to roughly 200 students in kindergarten to third grade in the first year, adding grades each year through eighth grade.
Nurses taken hostage at Delnor Hospital
A Kane County jail inmate being treated at Delnor Hospital in Geneva escaped from his guard and took two nurses hostage on May 13 before being shot to death by a SWAT team. The situation on a sunny Saturday afternoon shut down the hospital campus for hours while authorities negotiated with Tywon Salters, 20, of Chicago. He was being held for an Elgin car burglary. Two nurses later sued a guard, Kane County and the hospital's security firm, arguing they failed to monitor and secure Salters, and that he later tortured and raped one of the nurses.
St. Charles man kills daughters, self
St. Charles East High School twins Brittany and Tiffany Coffland were murdered by their father in March. The man then turned a gun on himself and took his own life. Their deaths triggered a communitywide grieving process that fueled a memorial outside their downtown apartment for months.
Teens save baby in West Dundee
Three teenagers were honored in West Dundee for saving a baby who fell out of a moving car on Oct. 30. Jonathan Padilla of Carpentersville and Matthew Gillespie and Anthony Arroyo, both of Sleepy Hollow, were turning onto Route 72 from Route 31 when the door to the Nissan in front of them opened, and a 1-year-old fell onto the street. Padilla, who was driving, stopped his car abruptly, Arroyo ran out to help the baby, and Gillespie called 911. The Nissan's passengers returned to the scene, snatched the baby and drove off, the teens followed them and kept police updated.
Kane County employee files complaint
The Kane County employee charged with protecting all other employees from intimidation and harassment filed her own federal complaint against county board Chairman Chris Lauzen in 2017. The county's Human Resources executive director, Sheila McCraven, alleged in the complaint that Lauzen engaged in a pattern of "harassment, intimidation and demotion" after the county brought in an outside attorney to investigate claims of inappropriate conduct by Lauzen's hand-picked executive director of building management. McCraven and the county later agree to a six-figure separation deal.
U-46 to have co-op lacrosse teams
The Elgin Area School District U-46 board recently approved co-op teams making lacrosse an Illinois High School Association-sanctioned sport. Last spring, some coaches pushed for creating district-funded programs. The district has boys' club teams at South Elgin and Bartlett high schools that are self-funded, costing roughly $30,000 per program. The independent boards running those clubs sought the district to take over the programs and provide partial funding, as well as to expand them to include girls. This spring, U-46 will have a girls' cooperative with students from all five high schools, and two boys' co-ops.
Lake in the Hills mom kills two kids, self
A 27-year-old Lake in the Hills woman strangled her two children, then hanged herself in their home in January. Huntley firefighters found Carla M. Lopez-Mejia, her son, Ezequiel Garcia, 11, and her daughter, Ariana Garcia, 8, dead in the family's home on Daybreak Drive. Autopsy results determined Lopez-Mejia was hanged and her children died of strangulation.
Judson helps students rise above disabilities
Judson University in Elgin has launched a program to help students with intellectual disabilities, who age out of special education programs at public schools and community transitional services. Twelve students with intellectual disabilities started the new Road to Independent Living, Spiritual Formation and Employment, or RISE, program this fall. It provides students 18 to 25 an opportunity to experience residential college life and develop independent living and work skills.
Severe flooding this summer throughout Fox Valley
Storms and heavy rainfall led to record flooding along the Fox River this summer. Events were canceled, streets were shut down, Geneva's Island Park was underwater, and homes and businesses were damaged throughout the Fox Valley. Gov. Bruce Rauner declared McHenry, Kane, Lake and parts of Cook counties state disaster areas, and later asked for low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration after the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied aid for flood victims.
No more electronic monitoring
in Kane County
An increasingly tight budget fueled a decision by the Kane County Board to eliminate the county's GPS and electronic monitoring program. The program is used to keep jail costs low by allowing for tracking of people charged with crimes, like domestic violence, without incarcerating them. The program is set to be fully dismantled by the end of December.
ECC cops file federal lawsuit
Two Elgin Community College police officers in September filed a federal lawsuit against the college claiming gender, age and racial discrimination. The complaint stems from earlier accusations that ECC's former police chief, Emad Eassa, engaged in sexually explicit gender- and race-based discrimination and racially charged language and behavior for three years. Eassa retired and left ECC April 21.
Campana battle continues after several meetings
People from Batavia and Geneva showed up in droves at meetings to support or criticize a proposal to put 80 apartments in the former Campana factory building at Route 31 and Fabyan Parkway. Some didn't like changes proposed for the exterior of the landmark building; others thought adding tenants would worsen traffic at the intersection. Others didn't like that the majority of the apartments would be government-subsidized housing, for low-income or disabled people. Late in the year, the city learned that it would need a two-thirds' positive vote to make it happen, and since that did not seem likely, postponed a final vote until 2018, offering the developer a chance to make changes.
District 300 launches program
to help at-risk students
Students struggling with emotional traumas and behavioral issues are getting additional support in smaller classroom settings at a Carpentersville elementary school to improve their academic performance and overall health. An initiative called the DREAM (Dedicated Reinforcement, Engagement And Motivation) Academy started this fall to help up to 100 Perry Elementary School students in first through fifth grades who have been identified as at-risk because of adverse childhood experiences. Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 created the program, which is unique in the state, according to officials.
U-46 school board member threatened
Elgin Area School District U-46 board member Traci O'Neal Ellis got online threats after she stated in a Facebook post in September that the U.S. flag "means nothing more than toilet paper to me." The threats included someone writing "one bullet" on her public, school board member Facebook page.
Drug treatment facility rejected again
Kane County officials rejected an application by a company known as Maxxam seeking to open a drug treatment facility for a second time. The vote inspired a $68 million federal discrimination lawsuit that is still pending.
Arcada manager asks for
city's help fixing theater
Arcada Theatre manager Ron Onesti sent St. Charles officials a letter promising to close the iconic location unless he received help upgrading his facilities. Difficulties working with an out-of-state owner the theater leases spaces from hindered negotiations. In recent weeks, Onesti has booked acts at the theater through most of 2018 indicating ongoing talks with the city have gone a long way in convincing him to stay.
Skillman unseats Ritter as
Former Fire Chief John Skillman was elected Carpentersville village president in April, unseating two-term incumbent Ed Ritter. The lifelong village resident had a handful of goals for his four-year term, including adopting an open-door policy, attracting new development, supporting local businesses and strengthening internal communications. Skillman is following in the footsteps of his father, also named John, who was elected village president in the late 1980s.
Batavia considers apartment,
We thought the One North Washington apartment-and-store development in Batavia was a done deal after the city council voted in February to let it be taller than city code allowed. The plan commission obeyed an order to rethink its opposition and begrudgingly approved the design, and buildings were torn down to make way. Then we learned, late in the summer, estimates to build the development had come in about 20 percent higher than expected, and the developer wouldn't construct it without more financial aid from the city and several design changes. A miffed council tied on whether to even consider that, but the mayor agreed, meaning the matter will come back for another vote in early 2018.
Elgin Tower Building nears completion
The long-standing project to turn the historic Elgin Tower Building into apartments is almost complete, and the property management company hopes the first tenants can start to move in in January. The 15-story building belongs to Capstone Development Group of St. Louis. The 1929 building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, contained offices until it fell into disrepair and was shut down in 2014. The project, which developers said cost $16.6 million, broke ground in September 2016.
Former school board president
Former St. Charles school board President Steve Spurling earned a Carnegie Medal for protecting a city resident from her husband, who opened fire on the woman from a public sidewalk in May. Spurling, who was walking his dog with his wife, tackled the man and held him until police arrived, likely saving multiple lives in the process.
House explosion rocks
A fiery gas explosion in Marengo this June set ablaze four houses, left nearly 20 homes uninhabitable and damaged dozens more throughout the neighborhood. The blast, which occurred in the 500 block of 7th Circle, rattled the town early one Sunday morning and caused the community to rally together for months after. Using the slogan "Marengo Strong," neighbors and businesses organized events, meals, fundraisers and other relief efforts to help the families affected.
U-46 officials underscore
safety in wake of attack
Elgin-area schools' officials underscored the security of the district's buildings and measures they have undertaken to ensure students' safety over the past several years. The report came on the heels of an attack in February on a Kenyon Woods Middle School student by a classmate. Henry Sembdner, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at the South Elgin school, was hospitalized shortly after the assault. Doctors induced a coma so he could recover from brain and skull injuries suffered when he was beaten. The 14-year-old student suspected of assaulting Henry was charged in juvenile court.
St. Charles plans new police station
St. Charles aldermen all agreed the city needed a new police station. But they couldn't agree on what the most practical and cost-effective location would be. Months of discussions behind the scenes resulted in an agreement to construct a new station in a struggling retail outlet that would maintain a police presence in the heart of the city's downtown.
District 301 to launch veterinary science program
Burlington Central High School will become a regional hub for veterinary science education starting next school year. It's the first veterinary program in the state at the high school level, officials said. Students from Elgin Area School District U-46 and Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 also will be able to take veterinary science classes at Central High. It marked the first collaborative effort between the districts.
Gun range approved on Elgin's west side
The Elgin City Council approved in a 5-4 vote in May a gun range on the west side. Dozens of residents from Elgin and neighboring communities and activists from Evanston and Chicago on both sides of the issue spoke during public meetings. Fox Valley Shooting Club is expected to open in summer 2018 at 780 S. McLean Blvd.
Kane County sues opioid manufacturers
A record-breaking number of opioid-related deaths in Kane County inspired officials to assign blame to opioid drug manufacturers and seek compensation through a lawsuit. The lawsuit is in the early stages of determining what damages and actual costs the county has incurred as a result of its responses to the epidemic.
McHenry County to offer pension alternative
The McHenry County Board is offering future elected leaders a private retirement plan with a matching contribution as an incentive for opting out of the state pension program. Under the plan created by two board members, nine countywide elected officials will be allowed to enroll in a 457 deferred compensation plan with a dollar-for-dollar county match of up to $8,000 per year -- as long as they pledge to not participate in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. The plan was developed as an alternative to board Chairman Jack Franks' proposal earlier this year to eliminate pension eligibility for future officeholders, the legality of which was called into question by IMRF leaders and other county officials.
Huntley alternative school helps students with anxiety
Huntley Community School District 158's new alternative school aims to fix students' social anxiety, an inability to focus or keep up with the expected pace, and lack of self confidence. The Huntley High School Alternative School, which began in January, helps students who are falling behind with earning credits to catch up, providing them individualized instruction in a smaller classroom setting, and extra social-emotional support.
Sycamore chief resigns after Elgin cop's DUI stop
Sycamore Police Chief Glenn Theriault, a former Elgin commander, resigned in June during an investigation into the release without arrest of an Elgin police sergeant who had been stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence. Sgt. Mark Whaley was off duty and driving an unmarked Elgin police pickup truck, and was let go without charges by Sycamore. Whaley was disciplined by his own department with a 10-day suspension for transporting alcohol, consuming alcohol within eight hours of driving a police vehicle, and general conduct.
New leader for Boys and Girls Club
Carpentersville native Mike Contreras was chosen this summer as the new president and chief executive officer of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dundee Township, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. He succeeded Curt McReynolds, who stepped down in May to take a new job in Arizona. Contreras, a Crystal Lake resident, served as the liaison for five years between the club and the Dundee Township Park District.
Elgin resident Wars honored for service
Elgin resident Joe Wars, 74, got the 2017 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award in January. Wars "is a phenomenal human being," said Danise Habun, a member of the city's human relations commission. Wars' contributions over the years include serving as board president and as interim executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Elgin, serving on the Elgin Image and Human Relations Commission, and coordinating the Martin Luther King Jr. food drive. He has played Santa Claus at the city's tree lighting ceremony and volunteered to teach computer skills at Hanover Township's senior center.
Changes abound at Charlestowne Mall
After years of unfruitful efforts to attract tenants to an increasingly vacant Charlestowne Mall, owners announced the closure of the interior of the mall, leaving only the remaining anchor stores and the movie theater open for business. The plan is to tear down much of the mall structure to make way for apartments.
Judson University cancels forum
For the first time, Judson University in Elgin canceled this spring's World Leaders Forum after planned speaker Ben Carson bowed out. The former Republican presidential candidate was unable to keynote the April 20 event because of his nomination to serve as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Lake in the Hills fires village administrator
Lake in the Hills officials fired administrator Douglas Petroshius in March barely three months after he was hired. Then-Village President Paul Mulcahy said Petroshius was the wrong fit and criticized his handling of communications related to the termination of a lease with Silver Lining Equestrian at 1109 Pyott Road. Trustees also took issue with certain decisions Petroshius made and policies he put in place.
Women rescued from Fox River in North Aurora
In late July, two 19-year-old women were rescued from the flood-swollen Fox River in North Aurora. They owe their lives to young bystanders who took their screams for help seriously, and to a downed tree in the river that snagged the raft on which they were traveling. It dumped them in, but they clung to the tree. A trained rescue crew happened to be nearby, reaching them within three minutes.
Huntley Outlet Mall closes after 22 years
After more than 22 years, the Huntley Outlet Mall closed in March. In its heyday, the 279,000-square-foot outdoor mall at Interstate 90 and Route 47 housed 40 stores. Experts say it succumbed to online shopping and not being on the "A List" of malls deemed worthy of reinvestment. Mall owners want to rezone the nearly 77-acre property for office, research and industrial use. The mall was purchased in April by Huntley Investment Partners LLC.
Elgin VFW building sold on Weld Road
Elgin VFW Post 1307 sold its building at 1601 Weld Road in July. The building had been home to the 1929-era post since the 1980s and an addition was built around 2009. The post had declining membership and the yearslong reconstruction of nearby Route 20 and McLean Boulevard negatively affected attendance. The post continues to hold meetings at a temporary location and is looking for a new, smaller home, possibly a storefront.
U-46, ECC consider partnership
Elgin Area School District U-46 school officials might partner with Elgin Community College to offer students a chance to earn college credit for free. They would become the latest Fox Valley school district to join ECC's Accelerate College program, which debuted last fall with 38 high school students from Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 and St. Charles Unit District 303. District 300's Accelerate College program, which allows qualifying students to take a full-year of college classes tuition free during senior year, became the model for a new state law. Now, community college districts can enter into an Accelerate College partnership with any school district within their boundaries. U-46 officials also are considering allowing students to take college credit-bearing classes at their own high school starting in the 2018-19 school year.
• Daily Herald staff writers Elena Ferrarin, James Fuller, Harry Hitzeman, Madhu Krishnamurthy and Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this report.