Vandals Torch Oak Forest Playground

Insurance company offers reward for info leading to arrest

By Anthony Ponce and BJ Lutz
|  Tuesday, Sep 21, 2010  |  Updated 3:15 PM CDT
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Vandals Torch Oak Forest Playground

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An insurance company is offering a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the vandal or vandals who torched a playground in Oak Forest.

Fire officials say an accelerant was likely used in the early-Saturday morning fire, which caused about $60,000 to the 4-year-old equipment at Convent Park.  Beer cans were found near the melted slide and charred wood chips, officials said.

Park district maintenance superintendent Steve Baldwin said he was not sure whether any of the equipment could be salvaged.  Some parts of the multilevel structure appeared to be undamaged; others were melted, twisted and distorted.

Baldwin said the park district will try to get the damaged equipment removed as soon as possible. But when new equipment could be ordered and installed depended on the city's insurance company, he said.

"It's really senseless," said Police Chief Gregory Anderson. "It really affects this neighborhood because now their park equipment is damaged. It just doesn't make any sense."

Neighbor Ed Senk said teens have used the park as a gathering spot for the last two months.

"We as taxpayers, we're paying for this. And they damage it. That's our money. And I resent that fact," he said.

Another resident, Sheri Roeske, said she took her nieces and nephews to the park about two times each week.  She called it "complete and utter sadness" that someone would destroy the property.

Officials said a portable toilet a couple of blocks away from the park was also set on fire.

Oak Park has an ordinance that allows it to pursue restitution if the people responsible for the fire are found, said Jim Emmett, the park district board president and an Oak Forest detective.  But the law most often is used in incidents in which there is minimal damage, such as broken windows.

The city could pursue the case in court, but if the people responsible don't have the means to pay, it's a waste of time, he said, according to the Southtown Star.

Orland Park used the state's Parental Responsibility Act to try to recoup about $70,000 in damage done to Grasslands Park after five teenagers set it ablaze in August 2008. The family of one of those accused paid $15,783, the total amount due. Two others have established payment plans with the village. The families of the remaining two failed to respond to the village's request for restitution, so the village filed a lawsuit against them. The case is pending, village officials said.

Anyone with information should call the Oak Forest Police Department at 708-687-1376.

In April, roughly $80,000 worth of playground equipment in New Lenox was also destroyed by fire.  Similar incidents occurred in recent years at other playgrounds at Haines School and Schoolhouse Manor Park.

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