'I've got to get my kids'

River Forest resident tells his story after carjacking in Oak Park

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

In early February, River Forest resident Jon Reith, a graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School and lifelong resident of the area, joined a growing number of residents who have been carjacking victims.

There have been at least six carjackings or attempted carjackings in Oak Park since the beginning of the year, and at least two other thefts of vehicles that were left running and unattended.

Reith wasn't the only victim of the armed carjacking that took place in the parking lot next to Kids Unlimited Therapy Services, 820 North Boulevard, on the evening of Monday, Jan. 4 – his two small children, ages 4 and 5, were in the back seat of the car when he was robbed of his vehicle at gunpoint.

"Give me you f---ing keys; we're taking the f---ing car. Get out of the car before I f---ing kill you," Reith heard screaming from behind as four juvenile males and a woman approached him from behind, sticking a hard, metal object in his back that he believes was a handgun.

This was at about 5:55 p.m., moments after he picked up his two children from Kids Unlimited and strapped them into their child seats in the back seat of his 2018 Subaru Outback.

"Someone else came and pushed me aside and got in the car and at that point I said, 'My kids are in the car,'" he said in a recent interview. "I opened the back door and jumped in the back seat and just started unbuckling them frantically."

Reith handed over his keys and cellphone to bide his time. "I just kept saying, 'I've got to get my kids. I've got to get my kids. I've got to get my kids."

Both children, not knowing what was happening, began crying. More than a week later they're still both traumatized by the event, he said.

Reith retrieved the kids and the four offenders piled in and sped off. Reith's wife was inside the Kids Unlimited during the majority of the event, coming out only in time to see the four strangers driving off eastbound on North Boulevard.

Police were on the scene in minutes, Reith told Wednesday Journal and less than 10 minutes later his vehicle had been located – the carjackers had crashed into another vehicle near the corner of Washington Boulevard and South Ridgeland Avenue.

The three juveniles fled the vehicle. They were captured within the next few hours by Oak Park police.

All three juveniles were Chicago residents and each was charged with one count of aggravated vehicular hijacking and two counts of aggravated vehicular hijacking for a person under the age of 16, Oak Park Police Chief LaDon Reynolds said in a telephone interview.

The woman connected to the crime, the only person over the age of 17 in the group, did not leave the scene of the crash and was not charged with a crime.

It is at least the sixth carjacking or carjacking attempt that's taken place in Oak Park since Jan. 1, most of them within a block or two of the CTA Green and Blue lines, including the following:

  • Feb. 4, in the 800 block of North Boulevard at 6 p.m.
  • Jan. 23, in the 1100 block of South Harvey Avenue at 6:33 p.m.
  • Jan. 20, in the 1100 block of South Taylor Avenue at 6:28 p.m.
  • Jan. 17, in the 700 block of Garfield Street at 10:26 p.m.
  • Jan. 8, in the 400 block of South Maple Avenue at 6:30 p.m.
  • Jan. 4, in the 200 block of South Oak Park Avenue at 8:20 p.m.

At least two other car thefts have taken place over the last six weeks, where individuals stole vehicles that were left running. Those took place in the 100 block of North Cuyler Avenue on Jan. 26 at 3:10 p.m. and in the 6800 block of Roosevelt Road on Jan. 8 at 6:17 p.m.

Reynolds told Wednesday Journal that although carjackings are on the uptick like this time last year, the good news is the Cook County Sheriff's Office's creation of a carjacking database has helped solve more crimes.

He said that through the database, established last summer, communities are better communicating about individuals involved in carjackings.

Reynolds called it a "Chicagoland problem" but working with other departments has led to the arrests of seven individuals in two of the cases. Oak Park investigators also have "very good leads" in two other cases, he said.

Arrests often don't happen for several months after the crime takes place.

"We have more intelligence, we have more information and we have a more enhanced structure in place to make arrests faster," he said.

Meanwhile, Reith is still trying to pick up the pieces of his life, and Kids Unlimited is trying to figure out how to make sure this never happens again.

Ken Kreis, business manager at Kids Unlimited, acknowledged the lack of decent lighting in the parking lot in a telephone interview, but he noted that the lot is owned by the village of Oak Park.

He said the business has put in a call to the village to figure out ways to make the lot safer, and they're talking with an Oak Park beat officer to get more information to staff on how to safely enter and exit the building.

Reith said he just wants to get the information out about his experience, so his friends and neighbors are aware of the potential danger in the village.

"The thought of them not knowing that the kids had to experience this, and the general public not knowing the kids had to experience this is a tragedy to me," he said. "They should know when it happened, where it happened, how it happened and who was involved. That's my only goal."

tim@oakpark.com

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: February 19th, 2019 1:50 PM

Wes: As much as I respect Brian for his service to our community and his insights regarding police strategy, I have to agree with you. The kids and the gangs they belong to are many things - but they are not stupid. From what I have read (and Brian I don't think will dispute) is that an armed juvenile car jacker faces little penalty. If caught, many are literally out on the street within 24 hrs. And as you point out if something "goes wrong" with the cops, all hell will break loose, so I suspect there might be some (subconscious) disincentive on the part of the police to go full out as well. I really don't know. But I do agree, what is happening here has to do with the politics of policing related to juvenile crime. What then is the remedy? I freely admit I do not have the answer or answers. That is why I know we're on our own here ...scary, but true.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: February 19th, 2019 9:20 AM

"unfortunately most of his context for handling today is based completely in the world he worked in. That world is gone." No that world is outside the door of your home every second of the day. The police failed to prevent the offense, the police failed to stop the event and the police so far have failed to catch the criminals. I answered the question of what can the police do to stop this problem and arrest the criminals.I have fully acknowledged in my first the larger issues in regards to the issue and for the most part police will have little to do with that.At this point nothing can or will be done until the criminals are identified and arrested. If you want to think outside the police aspect how about evening classes for all grade and high school students, and 12 month a year school schedule. How about a depression era CCC program where healthy kids are taken out of the city of a summer to do park service work in say Montana. Food,housing, shovels,pay provided.No fence required, run forever and you will only be 990 miles instead of a 1000 miles from where you want to go. Outward Bound maybe. I am an Eisenhower broad front strategy approach disciple. And cut the programs that don't work. Mr. Reith, your opinion please.

Wes Gathings  

Posted: February 19th, 2019 8:35 AM

Bruce, I know Brian is proud and passionate about his time in uniform. He should be. Unfortunately most of his context for handling today is based completely in the world he worked in. That world is gone. My tell me what the police can do comment was rhetorical. The volume of carjackings, car chases, and auto thefts with juvenile offenders is not caused by poor policing. It's happening county wide. The officers can't chase in many cases either in fear of civil suits and being prosecuted if not the fear of being disciplined by their own department. Even if officers could chase we all see the offenders being home the same day or soon after. There is no incentive to stop someone from doing carjackings. They have already decided it was a rational option to choose. We have no government enforcement countering that behavior and saying our society will not tolerate carjackings. What our society will not tolerate now is something going wrong when the cops catch Mr. Juvenile Car Jacker. Then...everything better go as planned or else. That's why the numbers are up. No police strategy is going to undo the politics that govern policing.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: February 18th, 2019 1:27 PM

If those teenagers could just afford to live in Oak Park, they wouldn't have to jack cars to drive home.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: February 17th, 2019 4:16 PM

Well Wes, that is why I always say "we are on our own." But it seems I might be wrong as Brian offers a menu of things the police can (?should) do.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: February 17th, 2019 9:57 AM

Have all management officers "teach" their best arrest and investigation work to patrol officers. Demand all uniform officers investigate hit and run accidents to the fullest extent. Any officer who can identify the perpetrator unknown to the victim in a hit and run can successfully do the same with a murder investigation. Institute a criminal offense complaint numbered on the scene work sheet detailing who and when did a neighborhood follow up, who checked trash cans for evidence, who called the ET, back check stops in area,tie up offense with other offenses,Ispern radio message number, etc., and hand off sheet to other officers to complete.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: February 17th, 2019 9:44 AM

Plot offense by time and location over the course of two years to determine what might be coming up down the road and adjust accordingly.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: February 17th, 2019 9:37 AM

The best I can tell is that restorative justice involves the institutions in which the offense takes place. Offenses at the school RJ takes place at the school, offenses in public RJ takes place, and probably a higher failure rate at the Cook County level. As far as what the police can do: Decoy cars with police officers in those cars, more plain clothes tactical cars, real tacticl cars not 4 door Dobge Chargers, units assigned to criminal issues not service calls Designate older, non performing criminal wise officers to .paper cars. Tell them you will get two 15 minute coffee breaks and lunch off the air and every paper, dog bite school crossing for seven hours.Reverse pin maps showing where the hijacked cars are dumped, and OP to check those areas from time to time especially after a jacking.Uniform legit stops on all multi occupied cars to record vehicle and photo occupants and their winter clothes if they refuse to show identity, scrap beat integrity and go with sweeping overlap, meaning many marked squad cars in and area and some areas having none on a changing time frame and different beats, expand the work sheets of uniform officers to indicate time spent on follow ups and case closed designations, contact the State Police and Cook County Sheriff and recruit new officers to homestead in Oak Park, Note: The over night parking ban specifically excludes emergency vehicles parked on the street over night. Foot patrol when the weather permits, Scrap Community Policing, single officer, to Team Policing with a group of officers dedicated to a beat 24 hours a day.Invite Chicago Tactical Officers to meet with OP Officers over dinner to trade information. Every white shirted exempt rank officer to have a mover, parker book and spend 4 hours a week on the street taking radio calls and waiting in line to eat and ask for permission to go to the toilet.If any of these are adopted by the OPPD, send a consultancy check to me.The brain trust didn't come up with this.

Wes Gathings  

Posted: February 17th, 2019 4:57 AM

Barbara you seem to get restorative justice already except there is no formalized one show fits all approach. It's a non punitive approach whereby the juvenile offender has non criminal consequences along the lines of community service, offering an apology, making restitution etc. The idea is to address and respond to bad behavior without arresting and charging the person. On a other note...I see people commenting that the police need to do something Can anyone explain to me what the police could do to stop this?

Barbara Purington from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2019 6:56 PM

Will someone knowledgeable about Restorative Justice give me an example of what it is and spell out the exact steps involved in the process? I have read and heard all about what it is in a broad, fuzzy manner. No one has ever been able to give me an example when I have asked. Please be specific and concrete. I will give set the scene of the crime: in a school setting, two fifteen year olds beat the snot out of random, fourteen year old student only because he is an easy target, younger, smaller. Are the police called? Charges filed? Does it go before a judge? Any sentencing? Probation? Diversionary program with Counseling? Apologies? Restitution for medical bills? Community Service? Spell it out for me in graphic details, please.

Julie Spyrison from Oak Park  

Posted: February 15th, 2019 11:17 AM

So sorry to hear this news but so glad everyone is safe! My son went to pre-school with Jon's son last year, so this hits very close to home.

Jacquelyn Jancius from River Forest  

Posted: February 14th, 2019 9:25 AM

This is horrible! So thankful that Jon and the kids were able to survive and were not physically hurt. But residents of this area must demand more be done to address carjackings! I have 2 little ones that require me to put them in car seats and be distracted while getting them in the car. From what Jon told us, these carjackers did not care about him or his kids - they were going to take the kids! That is horrifying! STOP these offenders - raise the criminal penalties! Put more cops out! Do more Oak Park River Forest!

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: February 14th, 2019 8:42 AM

Jon, I am just so glad you and your kids are safe. And know your story will make a difference.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: February 13th, 2019 11:25 AM

It's all a problem about boundaries. The Alt Left seems to want none set none that set, no boundaries on what citizens should be required to tolerate or what perpetrators should be held accountable for doing. The Alt Right wants the other extreme, over policing and punishment. We have to have boundaries on what abuses law-abiding citizens are expected to tolerate, and there must be meaningful consequences, punishments, and deterrents for violating the law. We are not there yet. Instead, we have an epidemic of victimization and lawlessness in many instances in various areas of the city. No one I know wants to live in a Police State but that is what it would require in Chicago in some neighborhoods to give law-abiding citizens the promise of the Constitution - Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, a promise broken in the case of hijack victims. Will anyone ever work to address these problems effectively? ...because they haven't so far. Mr. Slowiak, you sound like a very compassionate person. Unfortunately, we cannot allow people who have suffered horrendous abuse and deprivation to take out that horror of their lives randomly on innocent adults and children. Helping identifying and helping those people is the enormously challenging work of social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists, and the clergy. It seems impossible to predict who of these offenders is able to be rehabilitated and who will never be fit to reenter society. I don't know that there is definitive studies on this. Right now we have a hit or miss system and every day we can read or hear in the news, stories of theft and murder by repeat offenders. We have enormous problems to face and solve ahead of us. Time to get to it and to remember that promise in the Constitution, that guarantee of the right of EACH person to "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Let that be our guide.

Tim Caronti  

Posted: February 13th, 2019 10:09 AM

Jon and the kids were lucky that no one was injured. The criminals of today are fearing the consequences of their crimes less and less. Punishment is no longer a deterrent and the criminals are becoming significantly more brazen. It's pretty terrifying! Jon's fast thinking allowed him to keep his children and himself safe as well as aiding in catching the bad guys. Well done, Jonny! Sorry this has happened to you... again!

Alex Garcia  

Posted: February 13th, 2019 9:23 AM

Jennifer: If you voted for Foxx et al then you have the criminal justice system you apparently wanted. There should no longer be any surprise that carjackers and their accomplices are not being meaningfully prosecuted. Brian: In all due respect, I don't think that these carjackers are really interested in your empathy. They simply want your keys, phone and wallet and via whatever means possible. At this moment, some or all of them are probably free to do exactly that.

Chris Rogala from Oak Park  

Posted: February 13th, 2019 8:52 AM

Oak Park should probably RAISE OUR TAXES some more so they can provide better lighting and safety for our children.

Meg Reynolds  

Posted: February 13th, 2019 8:13 AM

There were an additional four armed carjackings in OP in December. What are the police doing about this? It's terrifying.

Wes Gathings  

Posted: February 12th, 2019 10:34 PM

Restorative justice probably fits better with stealing a car or maybe even breaking into a house. Carjacking people while having or inferring a gun and threatening to kill them?!?!?! Look at the increase in this Chicagoland problem and let me know who well restorative justice is going...more juveniles carjacking, more juveniles getting into police chases and more juveniles stealing cars. Justice is served.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: February 12th, 2019 5:55 PM

Reith has intense love for his children and it shows. I will wager that the young people who did this had no such love shown to them in their entire lives. I am not soft on this issue, but the problem has a beginning that goes back many years. A sad story about a parent, his love for his children and abject cruelty. I write a guy in prison doing a 60 stretch for killing his girl friend. I knew him before he went in. He now smiles, jokes ,laughs, goes to church. I knew him before he went in and he did none of that. Maybe the harshness of prison changed his life, Maybe the harshness of prison wont change the lives of others. If they are off the streets, there will be fewer Reiths.

Jennifer Malloy Quinlan  

Posted: February 12th, 2019 5:41 PM

I voted for her. I fully support restorative justice measures with juveniles. I'd like to know why the adult was not charged.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: February 12th, 2019 5:36 PM

Get used to it Jennifer. This is the state of Cook County. We can thank Kim Foxx for this. This is her idea of "criminal justice reform". I guess we have to respect her since she is doing what she said she was going to do when she ran for office.

Jennifer Malloy Quinlan  

Posted: February 12th, 2019 2:52 PM

The adult was not charged? The juveniles will be released, so it is especially curious to me that the only adult was not charged with a crime.

Zenobia Puckett from Oak Park  

Posted: February 12th, 2019 2:27 PM

Hats off to you Mr. Reith for staying Calm and Getting your kids out, I know that was a traumatic experience, thank you for putting the details out there for us. This seems to be to common these days and it really works my nerves. These kids are so young and risk their lives also like the Us Bank Incident and the Boy was killed by a concealed carrier. Just Sad they are making a hobby of this. WHERE ARE THEIR PARENTS?

Christine Vernon  

Posted: February 12th, 2019 1:54 PM

This kind of trauma is a bigger threat than the shock of high taxes could ever be. What a good and brave Dad to spare his children being taken. What are we going to do about this?

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