By Dermot Connolly
A lawsuit was filed Monday against the village of Oak Lawn and former village manager Larry Deetjen on behalf of a man who was severely injured in a hit-and-run incident last October in Chicago Ridge involving Deetjen.
The man injured was Mark Berkshire, 48, of Worth, who was crossing Harlem Avenue at 101 st Street about 8:30 p.m. Oct. 10 when he was allegedly struck by an Oak Lawn municipal vehicle driven by Deetjen. Ashleigh Cortes, named as the plaintiff in the lawsuit, is listed as his guardian.
Berkshire suffered a skull fracture, brain swelling and other injuries and remained in critical condition in Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn for some time. He is currently being cared for at a nursing home, according to reports. But before the lawsuit was filed, Chicago Ridge police said his family was not sharing information about his condition or whereabouts with them.
The lawsuit states that Berkshire “sustained permanent and severe injuries, has endured and will in the future endure pain and suffering.” The suit seeks at least $50,000 each from Deetjen and the village, plus costs and for an award of such other and further relief as deemed just and equitable under the circumstances.
The village manager, who had just come from a wake at Schmaedeke Funeral Home for the father of an Oak Lawn village employee, continued driving north on Harlem without stopping. According to reports, he worked out at a gym in Countryside and picked up his daughter at O’Hare Airport before returning to Oak Lawn. When Chicago Ridge police questioned him at his home that night, where his Crown Victoria was found with front-end damage, he reportedly said he thought he had hit a barrel or another piece of construction equipment on the road.
“After careful consideration, the family of Mark Berkshire decided to file suit against the village of Oak Lawn and Larry Deetjen. So far, the village has failed to contact the family to offer any assistance to Mr. Berkshire. The family regrets to report that Mark Berkshire remains hospitalized and in serious condition as his medical bills continue to mount each day. Mr. Berkshire has undergone several surgeries with more to come,” said the plaintiff’s attorney, Victor P. Henderson. “The family remains hopeful that the village and Mr. Deetjen will soon admit their role in this tragedy. Given Mr. Deetjen’s driving history, the village knew that this was an accident waiting to happen. Unfortunately, Mr. Berkshire is the victim of the Village’s willful negligence,” Henderson continued.
The “driving history” reference pertains to an incident in December 2013 in which another Oak Lawn-owned vehicle driven by Deetjen ended up in a ditch in the 11700 block of Southwest Highway. In that case, no one was injured but Deetjen left the scene before police arrived and called the Oak Lawn Public Works Department to have the vehicle towed.
Deetjen, 70, had been village manager of Oak Lawn since 2007. He was immediately placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation by Chicago Ridge police, and Police Chief Randy Palmer was appointed interim village manager.
Deetjen then announced his retirement after he was charged Nov. 15 with misdemeanor counts 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.
Chicago Ridge Police Chief Rob Pyznarski said he had personally asked Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Deno to file felony charges. But Deno, who serves as director of prosecutions for the 5 th District Court in Bridgeview, said that according to precedent, the case did not match the criteria to do so.
At a meeting following his retirement, the Oak Lawn Village Board approved a severance package that includes three months of salary. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his next court date on those charges is Jan. 22 in Bridgeview.
When Deetjen was placed on leave, Oak Lawn Village Attorney Paul O’Grady said a lawsuit was likely, so this was not unexpected. But a spokesperson for the village of Oak Lawn could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.