By Jean Lotus
Over all, Oak Park and River Forest crime has been on a downward trend, but 2013 incidents kept the villages' hard-working police forces on their toes.
While Oak Park experienced no homicides this year (there were two in 2012), two people were shot in the village.
James F. Wilson, 50, was shot in his basement apartment in the 900 block of North Taylor Avenue around 6 p.m. May 29. His landlady told police she heard two shots and Wilson came to her door bleeding. He was hospitalized with injuries to his shoulder and jaw.
Two siblings, Eric Lamar Anderson, 18, of Harvey, and his sister, Erica J. Anderson, 21, of Chicago, were arrested in connection with the shooting and charged with attempted first-degree murder, home invasion, armed robbery and aggravated battery. Police said Wilson knew his assailants. Both Andersons are being held in Cook County Jail with court dates in January.
Meanwhile, police said the man shot in an alley in the 900 block of North Humphrey Avenue, Aug. 22, was a reputed gang member. The 26-year-old Chicago man told police he was visiting a friend in the 1200 block of North Austin Avenue around 10 a.m. He said he was leaving the apartment by the front door when he recognized two Chicago men on the other side of the street. He told police he retreated through the building to the alley, but a gunman in a hooded sweatshirt waiting there shot him in the abdomen. No arrests were reported in this shooting.
Oak Park lost two students to Chicago gun violence in 2013. Demani Henard, 14, was shot and killed while he rode his bicycle on North Avenue around 12:45 a.m., July 3. He had been visiting friends in his old neighborhood. His mother had moved the family to Oak Park to escape gang activity and enroll her child in Oak Park and River Forest High School, which he never got to attend.
Alexander Mayo, 19, was shot dead in Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood, the afternoon of July 19. Friends said the OPRF graduate was escorting a female friend home near Roosevelt Road and Independence Avenue. He was returning to an aunt's house when he was gunned down in the 1300 block of South Ayers Avenue around 1:25 p.m.
Arson charges against Velvet Rope owner
After more than a year of investigation, Chicago police arrested Frank Elliott, 26, the former owner of the torched Velvet Rope gay nightclub, Nov. 2, and charged him with arson.
The bar at 728 Lake St. was destroyed by fire early in the morning of June 3, 2012.
At the time of the fire, Elliott said he found anti-gay messages scrawled on the walls and told reporters he thought the fire was a hate crime against the gay community.
Local police and fire investigators were suspicious and called in state arson investigators.
Elliott had opened a second nightclub, Bonsai Bar at 3503 N. Halsted St. in Chicago. As the summer wore on, the extent of Elliott's financial problems with the Velvet Rope became more apparent when he was sued for breach of contract on a promissory note for failing to make payments. Elliott was also sued by a food-service company who alleged that bills went unpaid.
Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley said investigators worked closely with the Cook County State's Attorney's Office to pursue the case for more than a year.
"This incident was a troubling one for our community, which prides itself on being open and welcoming to all. A hate crime just didn't make sense," Tanksley said after the November arrest.
If convicted, Elliott could face up to seven years in prison for each count of arson and 15 years for insurance fraud, in addition to fines of $25,000 or more.
Human remains found in Thatcher Woods
River Forest police helped Chicago and Cook County Sheriff's police recover human remains found in a plastic container in Thatcher Woods, Oct. 11.
Chicago police arrested Justino Correa, 19, of the Humboldt Park neighborhood in Chicago in connection with the murder of his girlfriend, Jasmin Salas, 20. Police said she was the mother of his child. Her family told reporters she was pregnant at the time of the slaying. Correa was arrested at Norwegian American Hospital in Chicago after he admitted stabbing Salas multiple times and placed her body in a plastic container, leaving it in the Cook County Forest Preserve. He was charged with first-degree murder and concealment of a homicidal death. Correa is being held at Cook County Jail and has a January court date.
OP crime numbers down
Police reported in August that crime for the first half of 2013 was down compared to the first half of 2012. The Oak Park and River Forest police present data twice a year to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. In Oak Park, crime dropped by 8 percent, according to the police, with 811 crimes reported, compared to 880 the previous year in the same time period.
Copper heists at parking garages
Copper downspouts on some of the villages' larger homes have always been a target for thieves, but copper cutters in Oak Park set their sights higher. Enterprising thieves stole 95 feet of copper piping worth $2,200, using a cutting device from the ceiling of the boiler room of the municipal parking garage in the 100 block of Forest Avenue, sometime between June 11 and 24. In October, thieves removed 75 feet of copper piping from the Oak Park and River Forest High School parking garage in the 100 block of Scoville Ave. between Sept. 2 and Oct. 14.
A "serial peeping tom" from River Forest was arrested for window peeping in North Riverside in January. Police arrested Stephan Myslicki, 50, after he reportedly admitted looking into the window of a house to repeatedly view a teenage girl inside. He had been arrested several times since 2006 for looking into windows. He was charged with felony disorderly conduct.
In June, Oak Park police arrested Christopher Meyer, 61, for allegedly filming up women's skirts at outdoor festivals in Oak Park with a micro camera attached to his shoe. Meyer also had a past history of arrests for making unauthorized videos of women since 2003. He was charged with unauthorized videotaping. Meyer is currently an inmate in Cook County Jail.
For 2014: Bike helmets and texting while driving
What new crimes can Oak Parkers expect in 2014? It becomes illegal for a child to ride a bicycle sans helmet in the new year. Cyclers under age 17 will be required to wear a helmet thanks to a new Oak Park ordinance, passed Dec. 2. Parents will pay $25 per violation, or kids can face four hours of community service. The proposal was initiated by the Oak Park Board of Health, which told the village board that bicycle accidents result in half a million emergency room visits a year.
As of Jan. 1, it will be illegal statewide to use handheld devices for texting or speaking on the phone while driving. Get caught by police with a phone in your hand, even while stopped at a red light, and police can write a ticket with fees starting at $75. Fines increase to $100, $125, $150 for second, third and fourth offenses.
Exceptions to the rule include persons using a handheld device to report an emergency, using the phone while traffic is obstructed, while stopped with the vehicle in Neutral or Park, using the device while pulled to the shoulder of a roadway, and using a dash-mounted device, such as a GPS system, with a screen larger than 10 x 10 inches tall.
Hands-free devices with a single earpiece are still allowed.