Chicago briefings: 44 violations at site of Little Village fire

 
 
Updated 9/1/2018 5:02 PM
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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration on Friday threw the book at the owner of a Little Village building where 10 children died in a fire that was Chicago's most deadly for children since the Our Lady of Angels fire in 1958.

A blitzkrieg investigation by the Chicago Department of Buildings' Strategic Task Force found 38 violations in the front building, including missing or defective smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, defective light fixtures and armored cable and electrical wiring and plumbing installed without permits.

Other violations included: junk and debris obstructing exits; a basement container filled with gas; porch and exterior door defects; evidence of rodent and roach infestation; an attic full of junk and debris that posed a fire hazard; and improper clearance for electrical panels.

Six more violations were found during a separate inspection of the rear coach house.

Based on those violations, City Hall is seeking to secure the rear building, post a watchman on the premises between the hours of 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. and "repair or wreck" it so it does not pose a threat to neighboring residents.

The children -- who were between three months and 16 years old -- died in the rear coach house of a building at 2224 S. Sacramento owned by Merced Gutierrez.

Raul Serrato, an attorney representing Gutierrez, but not on the building code violations, questioned the timing of the city's crackdown.

"I guess they want to cover their bases. They don't want to be seen as maybe that they had a hand in it [by] not aggressively enforcing whatever they needed to enforce against my client," Serrato said.

"The place is already burned. There was a fire. It's unoccupied. Now, you come in and make these citations? It's totally unfair to my client."

On the same day the tenth child died, Serrato told the Chicago Sun-Times that Gutierrez tried to evict Yolanda Ayala, who lost six of her seven children in the fire, for refusing to pay rent.

On Friday, Serrato disclosed that there was more to it than that.

"The reason why [my client] was trying to evict was because he was getting complaints from the alderman. The alderman had summoned him for what was alleged to be drug sales and gang activity at the property, so my client was then advised that he needed to abate the problem. The way to do that was to evict those tenants," Serrato said.

Penalty sought for Van Dyke interview

A judge will decide this week whether Jason Van Dyke lands in jail for giving press interviews just days ahead of his trial for the murder of Laquan McDonald.

At a rare hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, Judge Vincent Gaughan said Saturday he would hold off on ruling on whether to take Van Dyke into custody for violating the judge's "decorum order" barring Van Dyke and others involved in the case from talking publicly.

Gaughan set a hearing for Thursday -- the day after jury selection is set to begin -- on Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon's request to revoke Van Dyke's $1.5 million bond. The judge also ruled that once the murder trial is over, Van Dyke will have a separate hearing on a potential contempt of court charge.

Van Dyke, who had refused interview requests throughout the three years since he first was charged with McDonald's murder, last week granted interviews to the Chicago Tribune and WFLD.

Preckwinkle moves to end Shakman decree

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has filed a motion in federal court seeking to end the constraints placed on her ability to hire employees imposed by the legendary 50-year-old Shakman decree lawsuit.

"This is a significant moment for Cook County and I'm grateful to those who have made this momentous accomplishment possible," said Preckwinkle, who added that the motion is also being joined by the Shakman plaintiffs.

The move would apply to about 10,500 jobs under the president's office, including the inspector general, health and hospitals system and public defender. It would not apply to Cook County Clerk Dorothy Brown's office, which was assigned a federal monitor this summer.

The hearing on the motion will be held on Oct. 31.

Man on lawn mower hurt in hit-and-run

A person riding a lawn mower was seriously injured Thursday afternoon after they were struck by a car in the University Village neighborhood.

About 1:55 p.m., the 60-year-old person was riding a standing-style lawn mower in a crosswalk in the 1200 block of South Halsted Street when someone driving a Ford Crown Victoria struck them, Chicago police said.

The person riding the mower was seriously injured, police said. The driver of the Crown Vic drove away without stopping.

Botched autopsy led to 19 months in jail

Ronnie Winfield was accused of strangling his 76-year-old neighbor Leannia Hall during a romantic encounter inside her Humboldt Park home late one March night in 2014.

Winfield, then 65, unwaveringly maintained his innocence. And, after 19 months being held at the Cook County Jail, he was found "not guilty" of murder in 2015 by a jury that heard evidence that Hall actually died of natural causes.

As the verdict was read, Winfield was so relieved that he stood, sobbing, as sheriff's deputies formed a shield between him and a courtroom gallery filled with Hall's incredulous family members.

Three years after his acquittal, Winfield lives off Social Security and a small pension. He has moved from the neighborhood where he lived at the time of Hall's death to avoid any confrontation with her family but has found it difficult to move on.

Winfield says he's angry about what he went through.

• This report was assembled in collaboration with the Chicago Sun-Times.

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