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Judge: Grandmother was insane

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

An Oak Lawn woman charged with first-degree murder has been found not guilty by reason of insanity in the killing of her 6-month-old granddaughter in 2013.

The facts of the gruesome case were not in dispute. But after presiding over a two-day bench trial in Bridgeview, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Collen Hyland on May 23 remanded Alfreda Giedrojc, 66, to the Illinois Department of Human Services. She said her attorney, assistant public defender David Dunne, had proved with “clear and convincing evidence” that she was “not criminally responsible” for the infant’s death.”

“I do find that the defendant did suffer from a mental illness and did lack the ability to appreciate the criminality of her conduct,” said Hyland.

Giedrojc has been in Cook County Jail since Oct. 6, 2013, the day her 6-month-old granddaughter, Vivian Summers, her daughter Amy’s child, died in her home in the 6600 block of West 91st Street.

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              Giedrojc

“There is no question nor does anyone dispute that on that Sunday morning, she killed her infant granddaughter during the 10- or 15-minute period that she was left alone with her, for the first time in the baby’s life,” said Hyland.

“It is clear that the baby suffered a horrific, brutal death at the hands of her grandmother,” said the judge.

According to testimony, Joel Summers, the baby’s father, dropped Vivian off at her grandparents’ home before helping Giedrojc’s son, Lester, with a home-improvement project at his house across the street. With the baby asleep on the couch, Giedrojc’s husband, Boleslaw, then left her alone for 10 minutes and went across the street too. During that short timeframe, Giedrojc struck the baby several times with a sledgehammer she had hidden in her bedroom closet and used a kitchen knife to slit her throat.

Joel Summers and Lester Giedrojc sat together during the trial and left without comment after Hyland explained her decision.

In explaining her findings, Hyland cited the testimony of the two doctors who testified as expert witnesses. Forensic psychiatrist Mathew Markos the director of Forensic Clinical Services for Cook County Circuit Court, testified about a mental health report that he completed on Giedrojc after interviewing her and reviewing reports submitted by several other psychiatrists who treated her since 2011.

Dr. Christofer Cooper, a Cook County psychologist who interviewed Giedrojc, also testified. Both men said that in their professional opinions she was not sane when she committed the crime.

The doctors said family members reported first noticing her sinking into depression in 2011. She became withdrawn and was first hospitalized in the psychiatric ward of Advocate Christ Medical Center in February 2012 following a serious suicide attempt. Markos said she drank a bottle of “Polish moonshine” and was found unconscious in her house with a blood-alcohol content of .356. Over the following year, she was treated for major depression with psychosis by several psychiatrists and spent time in Lakeshore Hospital’s psychiatric ward.

Family members told the doctors that she experienced delusional fears that she would be arrested for not paying her mother’s medical bills in Poland. She has been a legal United States resident since immigrating in the 1980s but quit her job at Walmart due to irrational fears of being arrested as an illegal alien. She eventually stopped taking care of herself and spent her time watching TV. Markos said she probably was not prescribed enough medication to treat her symptoms.

Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Deno had argued that she was not legally insane because some of her actions indicated that she knew what she did was wrong. These included getting the sledgehammer from the garage the night before and waiting until everyone left before committing the crime.

But the doctors noted that she had hidden other tools around the house as well, including a wrench and axe, and did not know she would be left alone.

Hyland said she agreed with Cooper’s belief that, “The factors of insanity outweigh the others in my clinical analysis.”

The judge ordered that Giedrojc, who only interacted with a Polish translator throughout the court proceedings, be held in “a secure facility,” for the next 30 days. This will give doctors time to compile a report on her treatment needs. The attorneys agreed to return to Hyland’s courtroom in July, after the report is submitted, when she will determine where she will be sent on a long-term basis.

“Where she goes and how long she is there will be up to the doctors. It will be a secure setting, At least she will get treatment and won’t be warehoused,” said Dunne. Due to her age and poor health, he said she likely will never be released.

“This is just a tragic case for the family. Nobody won. This doesn’t bring the baby back, and now they have lost their mother, too. She is just a shell of herself,” said Dunne.

Text-to-911 service is now widely available

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


 

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                                            Photo by Anthony Caciopo

Joann Wong works Tuesday morning at Southwest Central Dispatch in Palos Heights, which fields police and/or fire calls for more than a dozen departments in 11 communities including Chicago Ridge, Palos Hills, Worth and a portion of Hickory Hills.

 

Jason Roseen is one of four dispatchers fielding fire and/or police calls at Southwest Central Dispatch, located next to the police department in Palos Heights. The system can now handle 911 requests via text messages. Behind Roseen is fellow dispatcher Stefanie Baker.

Southwest Central Dispatch, the Palos Heights-based 911 center, is now offering text-to-911 service to the nine communities and three fire districts that it serves.

These areas include Chicago Ridge, Countryside, Crestwood, Indian Head Park, Lemont, Palos Heights, Palos Hills, Palos Park and Worth, as well as the areas covered by Palos, North Palos and Palos Heights fire protection districts.

Most major wireless customers within the coverage area can now send a text (up to 140 characters) to 911 in an emergency. Dispatch officials caution that this should only be used in an emergency situation, when placing a call is not possible. It is meant to be used by callers who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, speech impaired, or when speaking out loud would put the caller in danger.

Mary McIlvain, director of the Southwest Central Dispatch center, said the service became available on May 11, after a six-month setup process.

“We haven’t received any texts yet. But that is to be expected. We are reaching out to speech and hearing associations (to make their clients are aware of it). If it helps one person with a speech or hearing issue, it’s done its job,” said McIlvain.

The motto is “call if you can, text if you can’t.” For safety reasons, texting and driving is against the law.

When texting to 911, the instructions are as follows:

$1·         Enter the numbers “911” in the “To” field.

$1·         In the first text message send the location and type of emergency.

$1·         Press the “Send” button.

Users are advised to text using simple words and keep messages short without abbreviations or slang. They also should be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the 911 call taker.

Southwest Central Dispatch is not the first 911 agency in the area to offer texting. The Orland Park Police Department’s 911 system already offers 911 texting, and others will soon be adding it.

William Newman, director of the Orland Fire Protection District, which encompasses the villages of Orland Park and Orland Hills, and unincorporated Orland Township, said his district benefits from Orland Park PD having it.

“We handle fire and EMS (emergency medical service) calls but emergency calls go first to the police department, and they notify us,” said Newman.

Diana Tousignant, communications director of the 911 center based in Oak Lawn, said texting capabilities should be available there by the first quarter of next year. In addition to Oak Lawn, her center also handles 911 calls for Evergreen Park, Burbank, Bridgeview, Bedford Park, Central Stickney and Alsip.

“We have the software, it just needs to be implemented,” said Tousignant.                                                        

Hickory Hills Police Department has its own 911 center, and texting is not yet available there.

McIlvain said that the set-up process, in addition to training staff on software use, requires coordinating with the various telephone service providers.

A text or data plan is required to use the 911 text service. Other challenges include the fact that text location information is not equal to current location technology. As with all text messages, 911 messages may take longer to receive, get out of order, or may not be received at all.

Texting to 911 is also not available when roaming. If it is not available, temporarily or otherwise, users will receive a message advising them to contact 911 by other means.

Users who do not receive any response from 911 are also advised to contact 911 another way. Photos and videos cannot yet be sent to 911, and emergency texts cannot include any other number but 911 so they cannot be sent as a group text.

More information about where 911 texting is available may be obtained at www.fcc.gov/cgb/text-to-911-deployments.

Veterans feel the gratitude at annual Worth event

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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                                                                      Photo by Joe Boyle

Local singers (from left) Kim Ulrich, Pam Giera and Tammi Lontka perform for the veterans who attended the special brunch held in their honor Saturday at the Marrs-Meyer American Legion Post 991 in Worth.

 

Veterans and their guests sat down for a brunch and shared stories with other veterans and local residents.

But one veteran who preferred to remain anonymous said it was more than the food and the activities.

“They thanked me for my service,” he said. “That means a lot to me.”

He was one of large crowd of veterans and guests who attended the sixth annual Honoring Veterans Brunch that was held Saturday at the Marrs-Meyer American Legion Post 991, 11001 S. Depot St., Worth.

The annual event is actually sponsored by members of St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church in Worth. The first three years the brunch was held at the church, 11007 S. 76th Ave., but the event has grown in size since its inception. The last three years the brunch has been held at the Marrs-Meyer Post, with members of the auxiliary and post assisting to make this a special day for the veterans.

This year had the largest response yet, according to Vivian Falcone, a longtime member of St. Mark’s Church and one of the organizers of the event.

Richards High School was represented by two members who have been with the Navy JROTC drill team and entertained the crowd at the beginning of the brunch. Steve Grant, a 2015 graduate of Richards, was a member of the Navy JROTC drill team who took part in the activities. The other participant was Richards junior Luis Gabriel-Melendez.

Grant and Gabriel-Melendez, both Oak Lawn residents, said they enjoyed performing for the veterans.

“This was great and we are glad we had a chance to do this,” Grant said. “Of course, we had to watch it because we could not go to high because of the low ceiling.”

While the veterans ate their meals and desserts, they were entertained by three singers who volunteered to entertain the special guests. Kim Yulrich, Pam Giera and Tammi Lontka sang a variety of tunes ranging from “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” Happy Days Are Here Again” to more contemporary songs like “Sweet Caroline,” “You’ve Got A Friend” and “Let It Be.” Songbooks were passed to everyone in attendance who wanted to sing along.

Worth Boy Scouts 668 and Cub Scout Pack 3668 also attended the brunch and met many of the veterans. The scout groups are based out of St. Mark’s Church, where they hold their meetings.

Two members of Cub Scout Pack 3668 were later honored with Supernova awards for their achievements in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Kathy Frantzen, a Boys Scouts of America Supernova mentor who was not able to attend the event, said the award is special.

“It is a STEM award that takes a lot to earn and not many scouts in our area have completed this,” Frantzen wrote.

The two Cub Scouts who received the Dr. Luis Alvarez Awards were Roman Bruno-Rivera, 9, and Christian Bruno, 7. They were presented with their medals during a ceremony held near the Worth Boat Launch. They were presented with the awards by Mike Maddox, district chairman for the scouts, who was representing Frantzen. Cubmaster Ken Soldan was also on hand for the ceremony.

“This is a special award that not many scouts receive,” Maddox said. “This meant that you put in a lot of hard work.”

And to make day even more special for Roman was that it was his birthday as well. He told his mother, Donna Bruno, this was his best birthday. Christian is also Bruno’s grandson.

“It’s a big deal to do this,” said Donna Bruno. “They had to do a lot of activities during the year and learn a lot about science.”

The awards were presented in conjunction with the Honoring Veterans Brunch because the event at the Marrs-Meyer Post and the scouts are affiliated with St. Mark’s Church, which holds a close place in Falcone’s heart.

“It was a great event,” Falcone said.

She applauded the efforts of the sponsors who helped make the brunch become a reality. She thanked the staff at Jack and Pat’s store in Chicago Ridge for supplying all the food. She said they were “so gracious” to help out.

And the annual Honoring Veterans Brunch keeps becoming a larger event every year.

“It started out at our outdoor markets at St. Mark’s,” said Falcone, who lived in Worth for over 40 years before moving to Tinley Park. “Then we just started inviting veterans and honoring them. It sort of started there. The first three years we officially did this was at St. Mark’s Church and the last three here. It just keeps getting better. The veterans are very appreciative.”

Falcone said they had an abundance of prizes this year and every veteran went home with a prize.

“A few of us ladies will go out with the prizes that are left and bring them to the veteran’s at Mateno’s,” Falcone said.

Falcone said with the continuing success of the brunch, it will be back next year.

“Oh yes,” she said. “We just like to do this for the veterans and St. Mark’s. I just have a love for my church and my God.”

Oak Lawn pastor retiring with full heart

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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                                                                      Photo by Joe Boyle

Pastor Peg McClanahan, who has served as pastor of Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ Church in Oak Lawn for over 23 years, will be retiring next month.

 

Peg McClanahan said she has plenty of memories to share from over 23 years of service as pastor of Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ in Oak Lawn.

McClanahan, who will retire next month, said that many programs have been established and the church has dealt with topical issues ranging from racism and GLBT rights. But the pastor also said there have been moments of laughter and joy while serving at the church, 9411 S. 51st Ave.

“I do remember my first day here,” McClanahan recalled. “I arrived in December and got a chance to look around and get comfortable. My first sermon was on Christmas Eve. I met a lot of people before I came here. But the night before I was going to preach, I had a chance to meet more people and was going to answer some questions. My husband warned me that because this was the South Side of Chicago, that many people are White Sox fans.

“So, the first person to ask me a question was a man about my age and asked straight out if I was a Cubs fan or a White Sox fan? I was so nervous and it only doubled my anxiety. And I responded in a way I didn’t plan to. I responded to him by saying that I’m not really much of a fan and that I don’t know much about football.”

Her gaffe was met with laughter for several minutes.

“It broke up everybody, even the man who asked the question,” McClanahan said. “We would often bring that up over the years. It would always make us laugh.”

Despite long hours that range from 50 to 60 hours a week, McClanahan, 66, usually has a smile on her face. The reason for that is that people at the church are so engaged and involved, she said.

McClanahan had visited Pilgrim Faith several times and had been considered for the pastor position several months before a decision was made. She arrived with experience, serving as a pastor at churches in Iowa, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Chris Rapp is currently a moderator at Pilgrim Faith Church. She was on the search committee that was looking for a new pastor. The church was going through a transition at the time and someone had to come in to be a calming influence. When Rapp and other members met McClanahan, they believed they had the right person.

“Fortunately, Peggy took us on despite knowing she would have to help heal a lot of wounds and anger,” Rapp said.  “She showed her care and one of her greatest strengths was working with the church members to heal the wound and go on as a congregation. She is very compassionate and is at her best in helping people who are in crisis, like the death of a loved one or dealing with major illness.” 

McClanahan has been packing boxes and getting ready for the next chapter of her life. She was asked what is going through her mind these final days.

“Oh, it’s such a rollercoaster ride of emotions,” she admits. “It’s not only the end of my ministry here but it is the end of my years as a minister. Yes, there are lot of memories here.”

McClanahan began her ministry at the Oak Lawn church in 1994 and arrived here with a husband and two sons. Her husband, Michael Montgomery, who has also been a minister, had attended schools in Chicago and she became familiar with the city.

She said that in the beginning she maintained programs at Pilgrim Faith that were already in existence. But McClanahan believed that the church had to do more and reach out to the community. While keeping the food pantry program for those in need, McClanahan went a step further and opened up a homeless shelter in 1998.

“The church has a real heart and cares for people,” McClanahan said. “There have been things we have done in the past, like the food pantry. And then we opened a homeless shelter. It was not accepted by everyone at the time. But after some time, people stepped up and did what was the right thing to do.”

And she is most proud that Pilgrim Faith has become an Open and Affirming church in the past four years. Although the church is not directly affiliated with PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender People) of Northern Illinois, McClanahan supports the organization, which holds meetings at Pilgrim Faith. Rapp is the initial president of PFLAG.

“She has encouraged us to start a chapter that meets at the church,” Rapp said about McClanahan. “She’s also very good with the children. They enjoy her children’s sermons every Sunday.”

McClanahan said she had a basic goal while serving as pastor.

“Try to live out God’s love,” McClanahan said. “We should try and look out for everyone and look out for those on the margins who need love.”

She is pleased that younger members are joining the church and these people are active with the food pantry and other organizations. Some clubs have developed through the efforts of members, like a book club and STARS (Seniors Together Are Really Special). Men’s and women’s groups also meet, along with a “hot topic” club that discuss current issues.

McClanahan also mentioned that children were not allowed to receive communion before she arrived at the church and now they receive communion along their parents at special services.

Her last day will conclude with a special service at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, June 10 at the church, which will be followed with a catered luncheon in Colonial Hall. A lot has changed since she came here in 1994. Her two sons are adults and live in other parts of the country. She said she is looking forward to retirement and plans on just enjoying herself the first year.

McClanahan was asked what she will miss most when she leaves Pilgrim Faith. She had a quick response.

“The people,” McClanahan said. “I’ve been in love with the people since I’ve come here. They are just great people.”

Oak Lawn police urge schools to implement safety measures

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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                                                                 Photo by Joe Boyle

 

Commander Art Clark, coordinator of the Oak Lawn Emergency Management Agency, shows local school administrators and teachers the proper method of applying a tourniquet to a prop during the school safety meeting Tuesday morning at the Oak Lawn Village Hall.

 

 

     Oak Lawn Police Chief Randy Palmer said that from what everything he has seen the reports that the shooter accused of killing 10 people at a Texas high school was described as someone who was not viewed as a menace.

     “Our first line of defense is to find out who these kids are before this happens,” Palmer told an audience of mostly local high school, grade school administrators and teachers during a school safety meeting Tuesday morning at the Oak Lawn Village Hall. “In the latest shooting, he was described as a good kid who just decided to shoot the place up. Why do these things happen? I don’t know. Maybe some of them just want to be on TV.”

     Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, is accused of entering through an art classroom door with a shotgun and then starting his shooting spree at the high school in Santa Fe, Texas on Friday. When it was over, 10 people were killed. Eight of the victims were students and the other two were teachers. Pagourtzis was a student at the high school.

     Palmer said that local administrators and teachers have to take seriously any threats and incidents that take place at their schools. While challenging administrators and faculty to be more observant, he also stressed that in Oak Lawn he does see progress.

     “Oak Lawn is the leading agency in the area regarding school safety,” Palmer said. “I’m proud of that. Since the Columbine shootings, we have worked hard to keep schools safe. This is a very hectic situation. Officers also have to look for IEDs and booby traps. It sometimes takes days before anyone can return to the school.”

Palmer said that Oak Lawn works with other local agencies to insure safety and a quick response. The unit works as a team with local municipalities from Chicago Ridge, Hometown, Burbank and Bridgeview.

“We have our people react to situations that occur and you need to sometimes rehearse what you have to do,” Palmer told the administrators and teachers, “This way you react instead of thinking about what you have to do. I want you guys to have that mindset.”

     Palmer added that it is vital for school officials to come up with plans and specific tasks that need to be addressed when dealing with problem students. This could also include loners and students who appear to be withdrawn, Palmer said.

     Commander Art Clark, coordinator for the Oak Lawn Emergency Management Agency, said that a drill will take place on Sept. 23 to instruct not only administrators and teachers on how to react at a mass shooting, but businesses as well.

     “We will have over 147 responders who will be here for the drill,” Clark said. “We are going to be taking 50 ‘casualties’ to Advocate Christ Medical Center on that day and will be including businesses in the drill.”

Palmer said he would like to have these drills take place by October so that these steps will be fresh in the minds of school officials.

     The school safety meeting was planned in part to go over how to respond to the situation that occurred in Parkland, Fla. Palmer said it is important to develop a response due to the latest shootings.

Palmer said that it would be a good idea for teachers, middle school and high school students to create barricades in classrooms to thwart these shooters. By stacking desks up against doors, this can delay the actions of a shooter by several minutes. Palmer said these actions could save countless lives. Often school doors have windows that these offenders can look in. Stacking desks against the door can be a deterrent, Palmer said.

     Palmer and Clark were also joined by officer Joe Schmidt, who works with schools to make them safe, and Dave Wheeler, from the Oak Lawn Fire Department. Along with schools officials, Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury, Village Clerk Jane Quinlan and Trustee Bud Stalker (5th) were in attendance.

      Palmer emphasized to school officials that he would like to develop an active shooter response, law enforcement drill requirements under the Illinois School Safety Drill Act, lockdown, evacuation and reunification drills, and suggestions for potential training for staff and students. 

      Touring schools to look for potential “blind spots” would be beneficial, Palmer said. Many schools are gong digital and Palmer said this has to be addressed so they can be on the same wavelength with school officials after the slightest sense of danger.

       Clark later provided some lessons on making and applying a tourniquet to a prop at the end of the meeting. Tourniquets could be used to stop bleeding after someone is shot.

“We have worked with nursing staffs at local schools but we are willing to train teachers as well,” Palmer said. “It’s a life skill, a great skill, that can prevent someone from bleeding to death.”

     Palmer said that cameras could be an added asset, although costs would have to be weighed.

The Oak Lawn chief is not comfortable with the idea of having school personnel carrying weapons.

“I’ don’t think I’m comfortable with having teachers with guns in school,” Palmer said. “It takes a lot of training and believe me we don’t want to pull out that gun. That is a last resort. I don’t think we should have our teachers worrying about that. They have enough to do.”

     Bury said the meeting was informative and that everyone needs to work together.

“The first responders do a great job on keeping us safe,” Bury said at the conclusion of the meeting. “What a world we are living in. I think we need to look at doing more about mental health.”

Palmer added that with the series of shootings that have just occurred recently, school safety has to be taken seriously.

     “If we don’t take this seriously, it’s just a matter of when and not if, that this could happen in Oak Lawn,” he said.