By Dermot Connolly
Former Oak Lawn village manager Larry Deetjen made a brief appearance in a Bridgeview courtroom on Tuesday morning for a hearing on misdemeanor charges related to an Oct. 10 hit-and-run incident that severely injured a man in Chicago Ridge.
Deetjen, accompanied by his attorney, Michael Walsh, appeared before Judge Stephen Connolly, and entered a plea of not guilty to the charges of leaving the scene of an accident, failure to give information or render aid resulting in injury, and failure to give information after striking a person. He also was ticketed for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident and failure to exercise due caution, according to police.
But Walsh said prosecutors asked for and received a continuance of the case until Jan. 22, because they were still gathering police reports and other information related to the investigation.
The attorney told reporters outside the courtroom that a continuance was not unusual in these sorts of cases and was not entirely unexpected.
“This is what happens,” he said.
Deetjen, 70, had been put on administrative leave following the incident, and informed village officials by letter of his intention to retire immediately on Nov. 19, just before the Village Board was to meet to decide on his employment status.
Oak Lawn Police Chief Randy Palmer has been serving as interim village manager since Deetjen was placed on leave. Alcohol has been ruled out as a factor in the incident, which left Mark Berkshire, 48, of Worth, in critical condition with head and other injuries.
Chicago Ridge police said that at about 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 10 they responded to “a hit-and-run accident in the 10100 block of Harlem Avenue.” Berkshire was walking across Harlem when he was struck by an Oak Lawn municipal vehicle allegedly driven by Deetjen. He was transported in critical condition to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where he remained for weeks. He has reportedly been transferred to a nursing home.
After gathering information from several witnesses, the vehicle was identified as Deetjen’s and he was taken into custody at his home near 51 st Avenue and 96 th Street later the same night but was not immediately charged.
Reportedly, he told police he continued driving because he thought he hit a barrel in the road. He submitted to a breath test, which detected no alcohol. Shortly before the incident, he had left a wake at Schmaedeke Funeral Home for the father of an Oak Lawn village employee.
Police said a front headlight was damaged of his vehicle, which he drove to a health club and then to O’Hare Airport to pick up his daughter before coming home.