Behind-the-scenes heroes honored for work that led to arrests in Oakbrook mall shooting

  • From left, Claire Dragovich, director of the DuPage County Crime Forensic Science Center, analyst Denise Young and administrative assistant Mary Dastych were among crime lab staff members honored this week for their work that led police to a pair of suspects in the Dec. 23 shooting at Oakbrook Center mall. With them are DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick and State's Attorney Robert Berlin.

    From left, Claire Dragovich, director of the DuPage County Crime Forensic Science Center, analyst Denise Young and administrative assistant Mary Dastych were among crime lab staff members honored this week for their work that led police to a pair of suspects in the Dec. 23 shooting at Oakbrook Center mall. With them are DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick and State's Attorney Robert Berlin. Courtesy of the DuPage County Sheriff's Office

  • DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick, right, hands a unit citation Wednesday to Claire Dragovich, director of the DuPage County Crime Forensic Science Center, for the lab's work that helped bring about the arrests of two suspects in the Dec. 23 shooting at Oakbrook Center mall.

    DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick, right, hands a unit citation Wednesday to Claire Dragovich, director of the DuPage County Crime Forensic Science Center, for the lab's work that helped bring about the arrests of two suspects in the Dec. 23 shooting at Oakbrook Center mall. Courtesy of the DuPage County Sheriff's Office

 
Posted1/14/2022 5:10 AM

DuPage County this week honored the behind-the-scenes heroes whose work played an essential role in the capture of two suspects in the shooting at Oakbrook Center mall two days before Christmas.

County board Chairman Dan Cronin presented a proclamation of commendation Wednesday and Sheriff James Mendrick issued a unit citation to the entire DuPage County Crime Forensic Science Center for their efforts -- sacrificing time with family over the holidays, no less -- that led to the arrests.

 

State's Attorney Robert Berlin said technicians at the crime lab were able to extract DNA from two guns recovered at the scene of the Dec. 23 shooting that left one of the suspects and four bystanders with gunshot wounds. The crime lab then was able to link the DNA with Steve L. Lane, 29, and Tyran Williams, 32, both of Chicago, within just a few days of the shooting.

"We couldn't do what we do, it would all be for naught, if we didn't have our crime lab," Mendrick said. "At the end of the day, we needed their scientific analysis to prove this case."

Cronin presented the proclamation to Crime Lab Director Claire Dragovich, analyst Denise Young and administrative assistant Mary Dastych. DNA analysts Mary Margaret Greer-Ritzheimer and Tamara Camp couldn't be there, but they were also recognized for their roles in the case.

"These are heroes, especially those who really stepped up over the Christmas holiday, worked quickly and diligently to provide expert analysis," Cronin said. "That evidence was a critical, critical component as (the state's attorney) worked to pursue charges and $1 million bonds just days after the Oakbrook Center shooting."

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Oak Brook praises its own

The Oak Brook village board Monday honored more than three dozen police and fire department workers for their work at the shooting.

Oak Brook this week honored eight members of its police department with Meritorious Service Awards and another 32 with Exceptional Duty Awards for their work in response to the Dec. 23 shooting at Oakbrook Center mall.
Oak Brook this week honored eight members of its police department with Meritorious Service Awards and another 32 with Exceptional Duty Awards for their work in response to the Dec. 23 shooting at Oakbrook Center mall. - Courtesy of Oak Brook Police Department

Former Police Chief James Kruger -- who was working what was supposed to be his last shift Dec. 23 -- presented the Exceptional Duty award to 32 officers, the Meritorious Service award to eight officers and the Medal of Life award to three of them. Several of the officers received two or three awards. Many, Kruger said, had been off duty but responded quickly to the call.

Officer Tanayry Campos-Perez, who got both Exceptional Duty and Meritorious Service awards, was stationed at the Nordstrom department store that night, Kruger said. She ran to the victims and started treating them while communicating to other officers what was going on.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Officer Joshua Pfotenhauer entered the mall, put a suspect in custody in his squad car, then went back in and helped treat victims. He received all three awards.

So did Officer Christian Bartnicki, who secured the scene and helped treat victims. Officer Timothy Walsh was the third recipient of the Medal of Life honor.

Kruger said he had watched the video recorded by officers' body cameras, particularly of those who rendered aid.

"In my nearly 40 years (of police work) their actions were heroic and (they) did a phenomenal job ultimately saving the lives of these individuals, at great peril to their own safety, not knowing if there was another shooter, not knowing if there was anything else that was going to attack them from around the area. But instead (they) stayed focused and did what they had to do," Kruger said.

The whole gold shift of the Oak Brook Fire Department received the Meritorious Unit Citation. Battalion chiefs Kevin Fleege and Jeff Marciniak, and firefighter/paramedics Robert Ebsen and Thomas Sinclair received Exceptional Duty citations.

Interim Fire Chief James Arie noted that the four had returned to duty when an "all available personnel" call-out was issued for a mass-casualty incident.

No new trial for Lake County killer

A former death row inmate convicted of abducting a woman outside a Gurnee bar in 1984 and raping and killing her has failed again in his effort to win a new trial.

Hector R. Sanchez
Hector R. Sanchez -

In a unanimous decision handed down Tuesday, the Second District Appellate Court of Illinois ruled that Hector R. Sanchez has no "nonfrivulous" arguments for getting a second trial on murder, kidnapping, rape and attempted murder charges.

And, in an unusual twist, it was his own court-appointed attorney who convinced appellate justices to reject Sanchez's request.

Sanchez, now 76 years old and serving a life sentence, was found guilty of abducting 21-year-old Michelle Thompson of Zion as she left a Gurnee tavern in the early morning hours of Feb. 4, 1984. A co-defendant shot Thompson's male companion and left him for dead nearby, but he survived.

Authorities said Sanchez took Thompson to his Zion home, where he sexually assaulted her then strangled her to death before dumping her body in Wisconsin.

Sanchez initially received the death penalty but was spared in 2003 when then-Gov. George Ryan commuted all death sentences in Illinois to life terms.

Sanchez's latest request for a new trial -- this one filed in March 2019 -- makes three claims: First, the evidence of his guilt was insufficient, since much of the testimony came from his accomplice; second, that recent scientific studies cast doubt on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony; and third, much of the scientific evidence against him at trial had since been discredited.

But after reviewing the evidence, Sanchez's attorney asked to withdraw from the case, saying, essentially, that he had no case. The appellate court agreed.

"After examining the record, the motion to withdraw, and the (appointed lawyer's) memorandum of law, we agree with counsel that this appeal presents no issue of arguable merit," Justice Mary S. Schostok wrote.

Sanchez is locked up at the Statesville Correctional Center in Crest Hill.

• Have a question, tip or comment? Email us at copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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