A man battered with a pipe while walking back from church last April and who drowned three months later, died from complications of the injuries suffered earlier, a Florida medical examiner has concluded.

Retired surgeon John Connolly, 71, of Orlando, Fla., was walking back to his daughter’s home on Columbian Avenue after prayers at St. Giles Church the morning of April 26, 2007 when he became the victim of one of several so-called “gooning” attacks reported last year. Connolly was struck on the head from behind by one of three young men who’d been following him as he walked on the 1000 block of Linden.

Police say Connolly refused medical attention at the time, and returned home to Florida, May 1. On July 30 he was found at the bottom of his swimming pool. An autopsy by the Orlando Medical Examiner determined Connolly had drowned, but stated, “in addition to these injuries, there is evidence of an injury to the brain.”

Connolly’s drowning, Orlando Associate Medical Examiner Sara H. Irrang concluded after consultation with a neuropathologist, was due to “delayed complications of blunt trauma of the head.” Irrang noted Connolly’s brain showed a “large left subdural hemotoma with compression effect,” clotting and liquid blood and left brain swelling and “fresh hemorrhage.”

Connolly’s wife, Anne, and his six daughters found out about the autopsy’s conclusions, Jan. 30, after their request for details was denied due to the autopsy being part of an ongoing criminal investigation. On Feb. 7, they were told Connolly’s death was being treated as a homicide by Oak Park police and the Cook County State’s Attorney.

Commander Clemet Harbour confirmed detectives here have been treating the case as a homicide since November. He said there was no clear motive.

“We can only surmise,” said Harbour, that the attack may have been an incident of what police refer to as “gooning,” in which a group, usually males in their teens or early 20s attack a victim for no particular reason except the thrill of hurting someone.

Didn’t get a good look

Connolly told police last April he didn’t get a good look at his attackers, but said three black males walked past him shortly before the attack. Police interviewed four people who witnessed the attack, all of whom said they saw three young black men. None observed Connolly being struck.

One woman said she saw the three running away from the scene. A second woman said she saw three young men following Connolly as she drove by in her car. She then turned her car around and saw Connolly on the ground with the three men standing around him.

A third witness saw three young men run to a white mini-van with faux-wood panels and drive eastbound on Berkshire Avenue. A fourth woman observed the three run past her classroom window. The largest of them, described as 18-20 years old, 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-4 and heavy, dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and black pants, was carrying what she thought was a pipe. The second was described as between 18 and 20 years old, 5-foot-8 or 9 and slim. There was no description of the third suspect.

The assailants did not say a word to Connolly and made no attempt to take anything.

Connolly’s daughter, Claire Michalec, said he refused medical treatment despite witnesses saying he was knocked off his feet. “The witnesses said his feet flew up in the air,” she said. “He was complaining about back pain and rib pain, and his face was bruised.”

“We want to call attention to the case,” said Michalec. “We want information from people.”

Other similar incidents

The attack on Connolly bears a resemblance to unprovoked street attacks in July. The afternoon of July 22, a 56-year-old man suffered a head wound that required nine stitches following an attack by three boys as he washed his car in an alley behind the 200 block of South Ridgeland Avenue. Three Chicago juveniles-two 14-year-olds and one 16-year-old-were arrested a short time later.

Three other Chicago teens were arrested later that day after matching the description of a trio who battered another boy in the 200 block of South Ridgeland Avenue.

The afternoon of July 25, Bruce Kraig, 57, was walking on Pleasant Street near Ridgeland Avenue when three boys, estimated to be 15-17 years old, ran out of an alley and attacked him. Kraig fended off the youths, but suffered a hard blow to the side of his head that left him with a black eye and a knot on his forehead.

The three assailants ran off when a motorist driving by stopped and honked and yelled at them. “They just ran up from behind and hit him,” said Theresa Cullen. “I slammed on my horn, swearing at them, and they ran away.” Except for one boy, who started over to Cullen.

“I said, ‘What are you going to do? I’m calling the police.’ He then ran off.

“Cullen described the young thugs as “pretty clean-cut looking, one of them wearing khakis.”

As with Connolly’s attackers, police say robbery did not appear to be a motive. “I struggled with them, but one of them landed a blow on the side of my head,” Kraig said. “They didn’t ask for money. It was obviously just an attack. They didn’t say anything.”

CONTACT: bdwyer@wjinc.com

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