Lawyers: Ex-Mayor Not Competent to Testify in Tainted Water Case

Sunday, Jan 3, 2010  |  Updated 9:00 AM CDT
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Lawyers: Ex-Mayor Not Competent to Testify in Tainted Water Case

AP

Most Crestwood residents took the safety of their drinking water for granted.

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Former Crestwood Mayor Chester Stranczek is not mentally competent to testify in lawsuits arising from the village's years-long use of a tainted well to supplement its water supply, according to his lawyers.

Stranczek's lawyers filed a motion for the competency hearings, scheduled for this month, seeking to bar the former mayor's testimony because he suffers from a debilitating disease that has affected his mental capacity, said attorney Chris Gair, of the Chicago-based firm Jenner and Block.

Stranczek, who retired in 2007 after serving in the post for 38 years, now is living in Florida and is suffering from Parkinson's disease, a progressive brain disorder.

The former mayor, 80, is a defendant along with his son and current mayor, Robert Stranczek, the village and a former water official in nine lawsuits alleging they orchestrated the use of the tainted well for more than two decades.

A contaminant discovered in the well in 1986 was vinyl chloride, known to cause cancer as well as damage to the liver and the nervous system, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The lawsuits blame the toxin for various resident health problems and the deaths of Crestwood residents.

From 1986 through 2007, according to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, officials relied on the well for as much as 20 percent of the village's daily water needs.

When the agency first alerted the village to the well's contamination in 1986, officials pledged not to use it anymore. But they continued, while residents were led to believe they were drinking only Lake Michigan water, the IEPA has said.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and a long list of former and current Crestwood residents have filed lawsuits since the well's use was revealed in April. Insurance companies also have filed lawsuits denying the village coverage in those other pending complaints.

Gair described Stranczek as having Parkinson's dementia but would not elaborate further on his condition.

"He's not going to get any better," he said.

The hearings at Chicago's Daley Center are set for Jan. 13 and 14, when doctors will testify about the former mayor's condition, Gair said.

A decision in this particular hearing likely would set a precedent for the cases to follow. Stranczek has made few comments on the water scandal since it was revealed.

In April, he told the SouthtownStar the water was routinely tested on his watch, following IEPA regulations, and that reports showed the water was safe.

Crestwood has stood by a statement made by the state EPA that because the well water was diluted with lake water, residents' health never was at risk. However, the U.S. EPA maintains there is no such thing as a safe amount of vinyl chloride.

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