<![CDATA[NBC Chicago - NBC 5 Investigates]]>Copyright 2018https://www.nbcchicago.com/investigations http://media.nbcnewyork.com/designimages/5-Chicago-Blue.png NBC Chicago https://www.nbcchicago.comen-usThu, 19 Apr 2018 11:05:22 -0500Thu, 19 Apr 2018 11:05:22 -0500NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Veterans Find New Ways to Manage Pain]]> Tue, 17 Apr 2018 23:19:07 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/BATTLE+OVER+OPIOIDS+-+00010915_31705701.jpg

Many veterans who served our country have found themselves at war against a common enemy: the overprescribing of opioids to manage their pain. But NBC 5 Investigates has found data that suggests one of the country’s largest health care systems is helping to slow a nation-wide epidemic.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said nearly a quarter of its patients were being prescribed an opioid in 2012. But due to the drugs’ potential for addiction and overdoses, the VA said it is now limiting its opioid prescribing.

The results are evident at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital in the Chicago Suburbs. The VA’s records show 14 percent of the veterans who visited Hines in 2012 were prescribed opioids. The number, as of 2017, has dropped to 9 percent.

“Our physicians, nursing staff, clinical pharmacists, they work together as a team,” said Dr. Raj Uppal, director of Hines Pain Services. “We wanted to address this so that we don’t have the menace of opioids.”

Hines VA currently serves nearly 59,000 veterans and last year had more than 850,000 outpatient visits at the main hospital and its Chicago-area clinics. There are currently 1,529 patients at Hines currently being prescribed opioids, down from 2,591 patients several years ago, according to Uppal.

The prescription of opioids at Hines VA is only one part of pain management, which now includes physical therapy, occupational therapy, acupuncture and mindfulness.

“All these measures have proved very effective in getting patients off the opioids and on their way to recovery,” Uppal said.

Bolingbrook native and Iraq War veteran Joseph Ciszczon, 38, sustained a neck injury in a vehicle accident shortly before deploying to Iraq. He said he was prescribed opioids to manage his pain for years by military doctors and later the VA.

Ciszczon, a medic who was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for bravery, said at the highest point he was being prescribed nearly 1,000 pain pills a month.

“If I did miss a dose, I would feel the effects of it,” Ciszczon said. “In a way, the opioids had me. They had me hooked.”

But he gives credit to the VA for introducing him to acupuncture and other treatment methods in recent years.

“I got my life back together and I’m completely off opioids,” Ciszcon said.

He said woodworking and other hobbies also help manage his pain.

VA data also shows opioid prescribing is down at Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago and Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago.

Ciszczon said if anything could be improved, it’s that more veterans need to be informed about the new pain management methods.

In addition to the VA’s own acupuncture services, veterans can also be referred to specialists across the Chicago area.

Jim Zotti owns Red Aspen Acupuncture in La Grange and his staff has treated many veterans for their pain. He said the VA should consider approving more acupuncture visits for veterans beyond the initial ten visits.

“When we request additional visits it usually gets approved, but after a break of care, our momentum has stopped and we are almost back to square one,” Zotti said.

The VA says continuing care is reviewed and may be approved based on medical necessity.

<![CDATA[10 Cops Associated With Alleged Frameups Deemed Not Credible]]> Thu, 12 Apr 2018 18:45:53 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/LMX___6P+PKG+WATTS+SENTENCING_WMAQ_000000004369448+%28Read-Only%29+Version1+-+00000125_30392113.png

It was a brutally fast fire that swept up the back porch of a Brighton Park two flat in March of 1993 that killed two older residents.

Hours after the fire, police interrogated then 14-year-old Adam Gray, winning a false confession from him with the promise he could go back to his eighth-grade class and his family.

"They made it clear to me--in no uncertain terms--that it was only going to get worse for me if I didn’t start changing my answers," Gray said Thursday.

Now 25 years later, after gaining his freedom, and a certificate of innocence, Gray is filing a civil suit against the city of Chicago and the police department that cost him decades of his life.

"I don’t think I had much hope … I wasn’t in custody thinking justice was going to come any day," Gray said. "I didn’t understand this amount of hatred toward me from the cops, why they were lying, why everybody was lying."

Attorney Jon Loevy says the phenomenon of false confessions is real and all too common in Chicago.

"People don’t understand the psychology of having your will overborne," he said. "It's obvious when you are 14 years old--or essentially 13--it’s a much different ballgame when you are an adult. If nothing else comes out of this, it can educate people that false confessions happen."

A confession and conviction that have taken its toll on Gray and his family.

"Its been a change for all of us," Michael Gray, Adam's brother, said. "For our adaptation and Adam’s adaptation, its been challenging."

Adam Gray is seeking monetary damages against the city and hopes other cops will learn from this experience.

"(I'm) trying to send a message down the line: if you are a dirty cop, these things are going to catch up to you, that’s the whole point of this," he said.

The city of Chicago said it had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it.

<![CDATA[Two Exonerees Picked Up On Heroin Charges]]> Wed, 11 Apr 2018 19:21:27 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/heroin0710.png

Two men who spent years behind bars on drug convictions, only to see them overturned are in trouble with the law again. NBC 5's Phil Rogers reports.

<![CDATA[Glitch in Benefits System Bogs Down Process, Workers Say]]> Thu, 12 Apr 2018 10:40:02 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/COMPUTER+GLITCH+-+00003518_31614082.jpg

Glitches in Illinois’ new multi-million dollar benefits eligibility system are to blame for continued delays in food, cash and medical benefits to people in need, according to Department of Human Services workers speaking on behalf of their union. 

Additionally, clients who depend on state assistance have contacted NBC 5 Investigates in recent weeks to complain about benefits delays and lack of communication from the DHS. 

“I applied for SNAP and medical benefits, which I just found out I lost due to the office not responding to any of my 8-10 messages for communication,” wrote one DHS client. 

One woman said her 96-year-old mother applied for her benefits before a March deadline, but has yet to receive an answer from the state. The woman said her mother has had a Link card for more than thirty years.

“Never has she been so desolate without her means to buy food,” she wrote. “Obviously, the current system is not running smoothly.” 

NBC 5 Investigates first reported the issue in December, when DHS employees who were representing their union explained that the state’s integrated eligibility system (IES) sometimes experienced shut downs. Unionized state employees have said cases that used to take fifteen minutes to complete can now take more than one hour. 

“I don’t think they actually notice how bad it’s affecting our clients and we’re here to serve them,” said DHS case worker Joseline Melendez, who spoke on behalf of her union.

The state acknowledged in December that it could have done a better job explaining its new system. Still, officials stressed that it is up to clients to meet important deadlines. The DHS also urges clients to manage their cases online without entering a DHS office. 

Fran Tobin of the Alliance for Community Services advocates for DHS clients and workers. He said applying online can be a problem for people without Internet access. 

“Even those who can do some of it, the system doesn’t work properly,” Tobin said. “We need enough case workers to actually give people the time and the attention that they deserve and so they can actually focus on the cases and make sure that things are handled properly.” 

In a statement, the Department of Human Services said it is committed to helping the people of Illinois receive the benefits and support for which they are eligible.

“Our new Integrated Eligibility System allows us to more accurately determine eligibility, but it also provides new resources for IDHS customers, allowing them to manage their cases online without visiting an office. Customers who are using the new features of IES and have signed up for Manage My Case online are able to receive messages immediately when they are available. 

Remember, IES replaced several antiquated computer systems that were more than 40 years old. Transitioning to a system this large and complex can present challenges and learning curves but it’s important to note that since the IES launch last October, more than 230,000 people have opened self-service accounts online through Manage My Case and over 112,000 people have renewed their benefits or reported changes through IES. Almost 20,000 people have opted to go-green and only receive notifications online. Over 2.5 million people are currently receiving their benefits through IES. 

We also recently launched a successful pilot that will soon roll out statewide that allows us to email and text our customers with upcoming important program dates and information. We highly encourage customers to sign up for Manage My Case and provide their email and cell phone numbers to take advantage of this new feature. We are confident that the system will continue to improve staff and customer experience.”

<![CDATA[New Bill Aims to Mandate More Training For School Cops]]> Mon, 09 Apr 2018 22:47:14 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/11A+SOTVO+OFFICERS+-+00004324_31596141+investigates.jpg

In the wake of mass school shootings across the nation, more schools are considering adding armed officers, even armed teachers. 

Tragedies like the Valentine’s Day deadly shooting that rocked the Parkland, Florida community have sparked national debates on gun control and school safety. And in Illinois, they frame the conversation for new legislation. 

“This can happen anywhere,” said Democratic State Senator Kimberly A. Lightford. 

Lightford said she favors having police officers permanently stationed in schools, commonly referred to as school resource officers or SRO’s, in every building. She has introduced a new bill in the General Assembly that would mandate SRO’s to undergo training to interact with the student population. 

“We require officers who work with dogs to receive canine training. We require officers who work with horses to receive equestrian training. Yet officers who work with children (in Illinois) receive no specialized training in how to interact with the student population,” said Michelle Mbekeani-Wiley, an attorney for the non-profit Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, who drafted Sen. Lightford’s bill. 

Mbekeani-Wiley does not agree that officers should be permanently assigned to schools but said if they must, training in certain areas, such as crisis intervention for youth, de-escalation, implicit bias, adolescent brain development, cyberbullying, is imperative.

“Police should only be contacted if there is a serious and immediate threat to the safety of our school personnel, the public or our students,” said Mbekeani-Wiley. “We find that we are funneling children, particularly children of color, into the criminal justice system.” 

Mbekeani-Wiley studied the effectiveness of school policing in Chicago Public Schools in a February 2017 report titled, “Handcuffs in the Hallways.” In it, she found Chicago SRO’s operate with little oversight and two-thirds have had at least one complaint filed against them. 

According to a CPS spokesperson, the district has 150 SRO’s in 75 of its schools. 

In Illinois, school districts contract with their local police or sheriff’s department for SRO staffing. NBC 5 Investigates found neither the Illinois State Board of Education nor the Illinois School Resource Officer Association keeps track of how many schools have SRO’s, which makes it difficult to know how many school resource officers there are and how they are trained. 

Sen. Lightford said she hopes this legislation will require not only a new training standard for SRO’s but also guidelines for collecting data about SRO’s statewide. 

“In Illinois, we do see a gap in officers who have come through the national training compared to those who have not,” said Mo Canady, Executive Director of the National Association of School Resource Officers. 

Canady estimates less than half of the nation’s school resource officers have been trained by the national organization. NASRO holds annual training conferences and also offers mobile training by working closely with North East Multi-Regional Training, which serves law enforcement in the Chicago area. 

“The number one goal of an SRO is to bridge the gap between law enforcement and youth,” Canady said. “Coming from being on the street or being an investigator into the school environment is a very radical change.” 

The Illinois Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police Associations would agree, but both groups said they believe state SRO’s are already getting much of the training that would be required under Sen. Lightford’s bill. 

“We are all for training our officers so they work at their highest potential,” said Oak Brook Police Chief James Kruger, who is also President of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. “But the cost of training, retraining, (we want to) make sure we don’t duplicate our efforts.” 

The NASRO training is $500 per officer. 

Mbekeani-Wiley, who as a civilian participated in the NASRO training as part of her research, said it is an investment into students.

“They deserve to have an officer that’s adequately trained to engage with them in a positive manner,” said Mbekeani-Wiley. 

In addition to Sen. Lightford’s bill on mandatory training, another bill, sponsored by state Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, also addresses SRO’s. It calls for federal grants currently used for school law enforcement to be re-allocated to fund more social workers and behavioral health specialists. The bill states police in schools criminalize students and contribute to the “school-to-prison pipeline.” 

The Illinois Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police Associations oppose HB 4208.

<![CDATA[Questions Remain over Crash Involving Chicago Cop]]> Mon, 09 Apr 2018 21:02:18 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/policestand2+%281%29.jpg

NBC 5 Investigates the mystery behind a deadly crash last June, when an off-duty cop was the subject of a police chase. Nearly a year later, investigators are still not offering details on the case. NBC 5's Phil Rogers has the story. 

<![CDATA[Drivers Report Pavement Problem on Highway]]> Fri, 23 Mar 2018 06:54:31 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/COFFEY+5P+TSE+-+00000120_31374962.jpg

Have you ever felt a slight jolt while driving in to Illinois from Indiana on I-80/94 just west of the state line? If so, it’s probably because of a slight dip in the road surface on the expressway above Burnham Avenue. 

First responder Mike Hull, of Hammond, said he routinely drives along the stretch of highway in his personal car and in fire department vehicles and said the dip is only getting worse. 

“With the ground being concrete, especially in the winter time, you get frozen conditions. One big dip like that will send any car out of control,” Hull said.

Hull said he’s responded to dozens of vehicle accidents in the area as a firefighter in recent years. He believes some of the wrecks were caused by the dip in the road surface.

"If they’re switching lanes to the inside, they’re gonna hit that inside wall," Hull said. “If you look in that area you’ll see car parts. You’ll see bumper parts. You’ll see mud flaps from semi-trucks,” Hull said.

Gouges in the road surface, according to Hull, occur when vehicles “bottom out.”

“Your vehicle has a suspension. There’s only so much that suspension can take before the bottom of your vehicles will actually scrape the pavement,” Hull said. 

Illinois State Police said it has worked crashes in or around that area throughout the years. However, a spokesperson said ISP could not confirm if any of those crashes were related to any road defects at or around that location. 

Hull said he contacted the Illinois Department of Transportation with his concerns, but said he was told that IDOT engineers could not find a problem. 

“I explained the skid marks, the gouges,” Hull said. “You won’t see it on any other stretch of this highway like that. It’s just undeniable.” 

Several Facebook users chimed in on the issue by acknowledging the dip in the surface. One person said the bounce gets worse depending on how fast you drive. 

A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Transportation told NBC 5 Investigates that a maintenance team was in the area Thursday, but did not experience any issues when traveling the speed limit. 

“The Department is certainly not aware of any pavement issues in that location that have created reoccurring problems,” the spokesperson said. “We will continue to monitor to see if any correction action is necessary.”

<![CDATA[School District Hit With Thousands in Fraudulent Phone Calls]]> Mon, 19 Mar 2018 23:30:05 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/SCHOOL+DISTRICT+PHONE+HACK+-+00003423_31323146.jpg

A small school district that takes pride it its school spirit is disputing thousands of dollars-worth of international phone calls after its landline phone system was compromised in an apparent hacking scheme.

The superintendent of Gardner Community Consolidated School District 72C, located in the village of Gardner along historic Route 66 in Grundy County, said Gardner Grade School was struck by malicious hackers last July 4th when officials were not in the building.

According to superintendent Ron Harris, someone remotely hijacked the school’s phones and forwarded hundreds of calls to high-toll international phone lines in Eastern Europe, South America and the Caribbean. By the time the hack was discovered, cyber criminals had racked-up nearly $8,000 in calls.

“We’re a public school,” Harris said. “There’s never been a time when we’ve made any phone calls to Bosnia or Ecuador or any calls like that.”

The malicious hackers even circumvented an international call block that the school’s local phone company, Call One, put in place with its long-distance provider, Level 3 (now called Century Link).

Gardner was in the process of switching phone providers last Summer when the hacks occurred. The change in providers, according to the school, was made for unrelated reasons.

Because the school said it risked losing access to its phone system, it stopped disputing its phone bill with the new provider in January and paid for the fraudulent calls. However, the school said it still owes its old provider, Call One, about $4,000.

Harris said the school typically spends less than $300 on its monthly phone bills. He said thousands of dollars meant for educational programs is at risk because of the fraudulent phone calls.

“For us to have to pay this takes away from that pot of money that we can use to provide those services for our kids,” Harris said.

Harris said he is sharing the district’s story with the public so other school districts can protect their phone systems.

Cyber security expert Nick Percoco said the attacks are most likely automated and come from well-organized criminal groups. He said malicious hackers create computer programs that call random phone numbers looking for voicemail systems with weak passwords. And once they are inside a phone, the criminals take control.

“Every time someone calls one of those phone numbers, they make money,” Percoco said.

The FCC said cyber criminals typically target business phone systems, but consumers with residential voicemail should also beware. Consumers and small businesses can protect their landline phones by choosing a complex voicemail password and disabling their call forwarding features.

If your landline is compromised, contact police and your phone provider. However, you may still be on the hook for paying for the bogus calls.

Gardner Grade School has since reconfigured its phone system and shut down remote voicemail access.

“We’ve worked to get some credits, but still feel that these charges were fraudulent and ultimately we feel that they should be removed,” said building and grounds supervisor Mike Cornale.

Call One said the district did not take actions necessary to help avoid the fraud.

“Call One notified the District right away when the underlying long-distance provider, Level 3, detected fraudulent international calls on the District’s phone system and Call One immediately worked with Level 3 to block all international calls through Level 3,” Keith Black of Call One wrote to NBC 5 Investigates. “Unfortunately, the District did not take prompt action to protect the integrity of its self-provided phone system, which allowed hackers to further compromise that phone system. Call One was charged for those fraudulent calls by the underlying long-distance provider, Level 3. We agreed to, and did, issue a substantial credit to the District, representing all charges other than what we were required to pay Level 3.”

School officials, however, argue Call One sent emails to two school employees who do not work during the summer months when the hack occurred.

“If someone sees that you go from $300 a month to almost $4,000 and you had 184 calls to Bosnia and Ecuador and Cuba in a three day period, something’s wrong,” Harris. “I would have hoped they would pick up the phone and make a personal contact with the customer.”

The long-distance provider, Century Link (formerly Level 3), told NBC 5 Investigates that because Gardner is not its “direct customer”, it could not comment further.

<![CDATA[8-Minute Gap From Pursuit to Discovery of Bauer's Body]]> Thu, 15 Mar 2018 19:28:01 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/bauer.png

Chicago police Cmdr. Paul Bauer died last month after being shot six times, twice in the head, according to autopsy results released Thursday by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Eight minutes elapsed from the time Bauer, who was on his way to a meeting at City Hall, first noticed suspect Shomari Legghette until an Illinois State Police officer discovered the body of mortally wounded police commander in a stairwell adjacent to the Thompson Center at Clark and Randolph.

Bauer was in full uniform on Feb. 13 when at 1:46 p.m., the ME’s report notes, he observed Legghette who was wanted by police for questioning. The call “officer down” occurred at 1:56 p.m. and an ambulance, only a few blocks away, was summoned.

The autopsy shows Bauer was shot twice in the head, twice in the chest and once to the neck and forearm. He was shot, the report states, in both the front and the back.

None of the wounds showed any “discernable gun powder” or “muzzle imprint,” according to the report.

A separate report filed by the Chicago Fire Department stated that Bauer’s gun was “still holstered & snapped” when first responders reached him.

Legghette, who is charged with first degree murder, has entered a plea of not guilty.

The ME’s report states there are several surveillance cameras visible at the location of the shooting but it is unknown if any video was captured.

<![CDATA[Losing Software Bidder Says U of I Making $100M Mistake]]> Fri, 09 Mar 2018 14:02:56 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/10P+PKG+U+OF+I+MEDICAL+CONTRACT+-+00000000_31188643.jpg

A Kansas City company which lost out on a major software contract with the University of Illinois Hospitals, says the winning company’s bid will end up costing taxpayers up to $100 million in excess costs.

Among the bidders, two of the nation’s biggest medical software providers, Cerner Corporation and Epic, slugged it out for the contract to provide medical record and billing systems for UI Health. Epic was the high bidder, but won the contract.

Now, Cerner is crying foul, contending the fix was in, and that the deal will cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars they don’t need to spend.

“I smell a rat here,” says Mara Georges, the City of Chicago’s former Corporation Counsel who is serving as Cerner’s Chicago attorney. “The taxpayers of the State of Illinois are entitled to an explanation, and an explanation has not been forthcoming!”

At issue, is what was supposed to be an all-encompassing contract, says Georges. And she says Cerner provided just that, in their bid for $60.5 million.

“It said ‘all in’ price,” she says. “Capital A, capital L, capital L!”

Georges contends the Epic bid of approximately $62 million will require additional implementation by another vendor, which will run between $75 and $100 million. And she complained that while Epic was allowed to demonstrate their software, Cerner was not.

“It certainly seems there was an attempt, a successful attempt, to steer the contract towards Epic,” she says.

Frustrated in their attempts to appeal the contract award, Cerner took the matter to the Illinois Procurement Policy Board, where both the Chief Procurement Officer for Higher Education, and a representative of the University of Illinois declined to provide input despite the fact that both were present. But recorded minutes of that meeting indicate that board members were troubled by how the matter had unfolded.

“I guess U of I doesn’t really care if there is a $75 to $100 million additional cost to taxpayers,” one member exclaims. “I just find this appalling!”

Board member Bill Black expressed outrage that no one from the University would explain how the decision had been made.

“The University of Illinois is a world class public university, and I get damn tired of them operating like just the opposite---like they are Harvard,” he said. “Every time the University gets in trouble, it’s because they won’t say what they’re doing!”

Epic did not reply to a request for comment, and the University of Illinois likewise refused NBC 5’s request for an interview. But the Chief Procurement Officer, Ben Bagby, did provide a copy of the denial letter he sent to Cerner in January.

In that letter, Bagby noted that a 17 member evaluation committee scored Cerner so low that they failed to meet the threshold to demonstrate their product.

“Epic’s proposal exceeded the minimum… and was found the most advantageous to the state,” he wrote. “Cerner simply did not submit a proposal that showed its technical qualifications at the minimum level required.”

Bagby insisted any additional costs on the back end would be incurred, regardless of vendor, a contention Cerner disputes.

Georges maintained that Cerner needed to demonstrate their software, to satisfy the technical questions which would have led to a higher overall score.

“For whatever reason, there was an interest in making sure Epic was awarded this contract,” Georges said. “It appears there was favoritism toward Epic, and that procedures were not followed to give everyone involved in the process a fair shake.”

In a statement, a University spokesman refused to address Cerner’s specific charges, only saying that the process had unfolded according to all procurement processes mandated by state law.

The Illinois Procurement Policy Board was troubled enough that they scheduled a session for the parties to come in and explain themselves. That hearing will take place March 20th in Springfield.

<![CDATA[Chicago Family Calls Out Hospital’s 'Shameful' Billing Practices]]> Thu, 01 Mar 2018 19:48:57 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/COFFEY+TSE+-+00003019_31073026.jpg

It started as a well-deserved vacation to for a close-knit Chicago family. But little did Angela Zamarripa, her cousin Louis Zamarripa and his fiancé Nicole Marx know that one of them would soon be fighting a life-threatening illness in a hospital thousands of miles from their home.

The trio were enjoying Cancun, Mexico, last November when Louis experienced breathing problems.

“If I walked three feet, I couldn’t breathe,” Louis said.

One week earlier, Louis said he was prescribed a medication after he had coughed-up blood. But Louis said he was feeling much better by the time his vacation rolled around.

Unfortunately, Louis was rushed to a hospital in Cancun on the third day of his trip. Doctors diagnosed Louis with severe pneumonia, which developed into acute respiratory distress syndrome. He was eventually placed in a medically-induced coma and needed a respirator to survive, according to his family.

Angela and Nicole soon learned how different Mexico’s health care system can be from hospitals in the United States.

“These people started demanding money from us,” Angela said. “If we didn’t pay them $3,000, they were going to take him off of oxygen and send him to the general hospital.”

Angela said Nicole made two payments of close to $3,000 each to hold Louis’ place at Amerimed Hospital.

“If we stood outside for a breath of fresh air they’d be standing at the door staring at us, making sure that we didn’t leave,” Angela said. It was insane the treatment that we received. No compassion. They were just money-hungry.”

According to Angela, hospital administrators explained to them that the “hold money” would be returned once Louis’ private health insurance information was verified.

More family members soon arrived in Cancun to support Louis after he was in coma. But they said Amerimed continued to demand money.

Louis’ uncle, Jose Zamarripa, told NBC 5 Investigates he paid more than $20,000 to Amerimed to help save his nephew’s life.

“I know medical stays are expensive, but he does have insurance,” said Jose. “Just wait a couple of days or wait till we get it all cleared-up. You are going to get paid.”

The US State Department warned travellers in 2016 that some hospitals in Mexico were engaged in price-gouging, including two Amerimed hospitals near Cabo San Lucas.

NBC 5 Investigates and its sister station, Telemundo Chicago, called and emailed Amerimed seeking comment. But the hospital has yet to respond with a statement.

After several days at Amerimed, Louis was transferred to another hospital in Cancun. Family members said the other private hospital was more accommodating and did not demand money up front.

Louis spent three weeks in a coma in Cancun before he was woken up and airlifted to Chicago on an air ambulance paid for by his employer. He spent more time recovering in a Chicago medical rehabilitation facility, before finally heading home in late January.

“Now it’s outpatient therapy,” Louis said. “I love being at home.”

Louis said he is feeling better. But his bills from Amerimed Hospital are mounting. He was sent to collections and was told he owes around $140,000.

Louis and his family are contesting the bills and NBC 5 Investigates has asked Louis’ insurance company if they can intervene to speed things up. Jose and Nicole said they are also waiting to be refunded nearly $34,000 in “hold money” from Amerimed Hospital.

Still, Louis said he is thankful for all of the support from his friends and family.

“Maybe God gave me a second chance to appreciate people more because in all honesty, they’ve done a lot for me,” Louis said. “I really got to thank my family for being there and taking care of stuff for me while I was sick and paying the money that they paid and that’s my biggest concern. I want to get them their money back.”

Chicago travel agent Giselle Laborde said travel insurance can help vacationing Americans visiting other countries. She said your private health insurance may not even be accepted in some hospitals outside of the US.

“Definitely check with your personal insurance, but travel insurance is highly-recommended. We always recommend it our customers that are traveling overseas,” Laborde said.

Laborde said a family of four should expect to spend about $200-$400 on travel insurance to be covered. She also said travel agents would be able to intervene on behalf of families who are facing a medical crisis while out of the country.

<![CDATA[Emails Suggest Election Played Role in Timing Of IPRA Firing]]> Tue, 27 Feb 2018 21:25:57 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/IPRA+EMAIL+V2+-+00001611_31056965.jpg

Three years ago, an Independent Police Review Authority investigator named Lorenzo Davis lost his job. Davis has long alleged he was fired because he refused to change his findings in a number of controversial police shooting cases where he had found against the officers involved. He is currently suing the city of Chicago over his dismissal.

Emails obtained by NBC5 Investigates through an open records request reveal the ouster of Davis from the IPRA ranks had been contemplated for months. Superiors accused him of clear bias, and of “cherry picking” facts in controversial cases. When his dismissal finally happened in July of 2015, it sparked a maelstrom of controversy.

And the emails suggest that the actual timing of Davis’s firing was no accident.

“Firing him has been in the works for almost a year,” IPRA administrator Scott Ando wrote the mayor’s press secretary, Adam Collins. “I’m glad I intentionally waited until after the election to fire him.”

The election, a hotly-contested race between Mayor Emanuel and challenger Chuy Garcia, was decided in April. Davis was fired three months later.

Three different current or former city department heads recalled a mayoral cabinet meeting in the weeks prior to the election, where Emanuel urged his lieutenants not to make any waves in their individual departments. Two of those officials told NBC5 they specifically recalled the mayor’s remarks. The third said he did not remember Emanuel’s actual comments, but said he remembered that sentiment as being the overall theme of the meeting.

“I created a big controversy,” Davis told NBC 5. “A big storm within the community when the information began to get out.”

While that controversy was certainly not welcome at City Hall, mayoral press secretary Collins insisted Ando was not doing the mayor’s bidding and that no one told him to hold off on firing Davis until after the election.

“Mr. Ando was clearly talking about a personnel decision he himself had made,” Collins said in an emailed statement. “I can’t speak for why he would think it would ever be appropriate to apply a political judgment to his decision-making process or what was going through his head. And Mr. Ando is no longer employed by the city.”

The actual email chain reveals that Ando had wanted to engage with WBEZ reporter Chip Mitchell, who had inquired about the Davis firing, but that his proposed response was squelched by City Hall.

“I don’t understand the fear of responding at this point since we are getting clobbered locally,” he wrote. “And since we didn’t nip it in the bud with Chip at the start, nationally.”

“Here’s what I would like to give Chip—the truth,” Ando wrote. “Having heard Mr. Davis’ comments in various print and visual media reports, I feel it is necessary for me to respond to his false and baseless allegations.”

Ando went on to say that Davis had dug in his heels about his police findings, despite the fact that other levels of review had found in favor of the officers in question.

“His narrative in the investigations for which we found his findings to be incorrect were based upon incomplete versions of all the available evidence,” Ando wrote. But Collins suggested in a reply that such an explanation would be futile.

“I understand how frustrating it can be to have your work scrutinized by the press,” he wrote, noting “the goal is to minimize any further coverage, because we’re not the most sympathetic entity in this story and as a result it’s highly unlikely we’re convincing anyone.”

Among the cases where Davis ruled against the officer in question, one involving a teenager named Cedrick Chatman yielded a settlement of $3 million.

For his part, Davis says he believes he was a victim of politics on many levels, and that decisions against police officers in heater cases were not welcomed by his superiors.

“Why are you trying to cover this up,” he asked. “Who does it benefit? What does the mayor want? Is this political?”

<![CDATA[Firefighters Have Unmet Emotional, Mental Health Need: Study]]> Sun, 25 Feb 2018 10:39:05 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/fdny1234.jpg

In his more than 25 years as a firefighter in Stamford, Connecticut, Capt. Jacques Roy thought he could handle anything – until the smoke cleared from a devastating fire that killed three children and their grandparents.

“I was the guy who couldn't hack it. I was the guy who needed help. I never thought it would be me. But it was me,” says Roy.

Roy and his team were among those who pulled bodies from the ashes of the fire on Christmas Day 2011 at the home of fashion executive Madonna Badger.

“When we respond to a call, we always have to suppress our emotions and use our logic and our past experiences to perform our job,” he explains. “If they’re very strong emotions, sometimes we never get to process them. So we wind up with fragments of an incident left over.”

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For Roy, the fragments of that day sent him into a spiral of anger and sleepless nights, an experience NBC New York discovered is common among firefighters – and can often be worse.

In partnership with the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), NBC New York and NBC Bay Area sent a confidential online survey to thousands of firefighters to hear directly from them about the impact of post-traumatic stress on their lives, and to learn what services are available when they need help.

From across North America, 7,000 firefighters responded, overwhelmingly reporting that stressful or traumatic experiences on the job have impacted their mental health. Among the struggles they say are directly connected to the job: 19 percent have had thoughts of suicide, 27 percent have struggled with substance abuse, 59 percent have experienced family and relationship problems and 65 percent are haunted by memories of bad calls.

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The IAFF says the survey is unprecedented and highlights a critical need.

“What this study does is really bring home the numbers that we already knew were out there, that fire fighters are suffering from PTSD and other behavioral health disorders,” says Jim Brinkley, director of Health and Safety for the IAFF. “And more importantly, there’s a stigma attached to seeking help." 

“It may seem contrary to everything you think of yourself, or want to believe,” says Roy, who recovered from his trauma through intensive therapy. “But we're human. We're not superheroes."

"We suffer from the same challenges the general public does -- financial issues, marital issues. Now you compound that with the horror that we see every day, day in and day out. It adds up and eventually takes a toll," he said. 

But firefighters say getting mental health assistance can be tricky. Of those who responded to the survey, 81 percent said they feared being seen as weak or unfit for duty if they asked for help. Additionally, 71 percent say they have not used services provided by their department’s employee assistance program (EAP) for mental health issues related to their job. Of those who did use their EAP, 63 percent did not find it helpful.

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“We’re going to take a hard look at this survey to determine what is it we’re doing right and more importantly, where are the gaps. What programming do we need to provide to make sure our members get the help they need?” says Brinkley.

The IAFF provides a vast array of services, the centerpiece of which is its Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery. The residential facility near Washington, D.C. treats union members struggling with substance abuse and related issues like PTSD.

“We don’t typically trust outsiders,” says Brinkley, explaining that the facility is staffed by firefighters and professionals who’ve received intensive training. “Having someone there who understands what we’ve been through is incredibly powerful.”

Another powerful tool are the teams the IAFF dispatches to disasters and tragedies like the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“Our intent is to get out and reach the members that have been affected, let them know what some of the signs and symptoms are that they are going to be experiencing and what services are available to them,” says Brinkley.

Members of the New York City Fire Department Counseling Services Unit, which has evolved and grown since 9/11, are often called to join IAFF teams in the field.

“The phone's ringing off the hook at the [Counseling Services Unit] because they know that we're here and that we want to be helpful,” says FDNY Capt. Frank Leto. “So it’s small departments from all over the country that are asking if they can have our protocols, can they have what we've developed. And the answer is always yes.”

But the goal is to get firefighters help where they live. That’s why the FDNY Counseling Services Unit also travels the country, training departments on what to look for and how to handle firefighters who are struggling.

“It's when the media goes away, it’s when everything quiets down that our members start to struggle,” explains FDNY Lt. Angelo Sacco. “We operate well in emergencies. It's when everything quiets down that things get difficult.”

Please visit the IAFF Recovery Center for mental health resources for firefighters. 

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<![CDATA[Records Reveal Troubled Past of Mothers House Director]]> Fri, 23 Feb 2018 21:17:51 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/DIXMOOR+BED+BUGS+-+00003227_31016212.jpg

Eunice Walker, the director of The Mothers House – which was shuttered by Dixmoor police early Friday morning – was recently found in contempt of court -- on behalf of The Mothers House -- by a Cook County Circuit Court judge for failing to respond to a $250,000 judgment against the facility, resulting from the death of a Mothers House resident in 2014, NBC 5 Investigates has found.

Walker and Mothers House also have a history of unpaid bills, and Walker herself has been convicted six times over the past three decades, for crimes involving forgery, deception, or ID theft, according to civil and criminal court records examined by NBC 5.

The $250,000 judgment came as the result of a civil suit filed in Cook County by Donna Jones. Jones’ 33-year-old son, William Reginald Jones IV – known as Reggie – lived at another Mothers House facility, located at 7804 Yates Boulevard in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood. In her suit, Jones says that Mothers House staff members knew that Reggie was schizophrenic and suffered from alcoholism. Despite this, Jones says, they allowed Reggie to become intoxicated on April 22, 2014, and he fell to his death from the facility’s second-story balcony.

According to court documents, in June of 2016, Cook County Arnette R. Hubbard found in favor of Jones and ordered The Mothers House to pay $250,000. A year-and-a-half later, however, that money has not been paid, and – according to the court docket -- Walker has not appeared at several court dates, in her capacity as the director of Mothers House, to show cause as to why the judgment cannot be paid. On Jan. 22 of this year, the court ordered that Walker be held in contempt, on behalf of the facility.

This is not Walker’s first time in court. NBC 5 Investigates has tracked more than a dozen small-claims court judgments levied against both Walker and The Mothers House, from 2014 to 2016, for unpaid bills totaling more than $42,000.

In addition, Walker has been convicted in courts in three local counties – Cook, Lake, and DuPage – in six separate criminal cases between 1990 and 2008:

Cook County case 90-CR-1161501:

• Walker was found guilty on one count of either felony forgery or felony theft (she was charged with both but it’s unclear which one she was found guilty on) – sentenced to 100 hours of community service; $1,566 restitution; and 30 months’ probation.

Cook County case 91-CR-0722201:

• Walker was found guilty on one count of felony forgery – sentenced to home confinement/probation for 30 months

Lake County (Illinois) case 94-CF-674:

• Walker was found guilty on one count of misdemeanor passing of a bad check (first offense) – sentenced to probation and conditional discharge

DuPage County case 1997-CF-001311:

• Walker was found guilty on one count of Illegal use of credit or debit card;

• Walker was also found guilty on one count of theft by deception (exceeding $300 but less than $10,000) – sentenced to unspecified time in Illinois Department of Corrections; plus unspecified amount of probation (sentence apparently ran concurrent with Cook County Case # 99-C-33023301 – see details on that case below)

Cook County case 99-C-33023301:

• Walker pled guilty and was found guilty on one felony count of passing a bad check over $150 and/or second offense – sentenced to a minimum of 30 months’ probation (sentence to run concurrent with DuPage case # 97 CR 1131 – see details on that case above)

DuPage County case 2008-CF-0002132:

• Walker was found guilty on one count of identity theft/using a stolen ID – sentenced to DOC (unspecified term) with credit for time served

<![CDATA['Un-edited' Blagojevich Tape is Heavily Edited in Rauner Ad]]> Wed, 21 Feb 2018 20:56:55 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/blago+investigates.jpg

A Bruce Rauner commercial featuring another undercover recording of former governor Rod Blagojevich bills itself as an “un-edited FBI wiretap”.

Problem is, it isn’t.

The ad, taken from a secretly-recorded conversation between Blagojevich and advisor Doug Scofield in the fall of 2008, claims to catch the former governor in a scheme to have current gubernatorial hopeful J.B. Pritzker raise millions in exchange for the Obama Senate seat.

“Ten-million dollars, $15 million, J.B. can do it couldn’t he?” Blagojevich asks. “I betcha J.B. could raise me money like that.”

In reality, Blagojevich is talking about a children’s charity he hoped to create, which he would then run after leaving office. In the recording, he is speculating with Scofield about tapping Pritzker for cash to get the new enterprise off the ground.

“Is it worth giving him the Senate seat?” Blagojevich continues in the ad. “Incidentally he asked me for it.”

In reality, that passage comes from earlier in the tape. And other recordings demonstrate that Pritzker really didn’t ask for the senate seat---he hoped to become Illinois Treasurer instead.

The conversation took place November 11th of 2008, not November 7th as the commercial claims. Blagojevich never did endow the charity---he was arrested a month later. And Pritzker never did become Illinois Treasurer.

Asked to explain the discrepancies, Rauner spokesman Will Allison insisted the facts were not blurred, and stuck with the Senate scenario.

“The ad accurately represents the phone call,” Allison said in a statement. “Rod Blagojevich knew that J.B. Pritzker could provide him large amounts of money for his own personal benefit and was considering appointing Pritzker to the Senate in exchange for that.”

Asked to explain the “un-edited” claim in the face of evidence that the recording as-presented was obviously edited, Allison did not respond.

<![CDATA[Kevin Quinn's Ex-Wife Says She Warned of Alleged Abuse]]> Sat, 17 Feb 2018 11:06:33 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/kevin+quinn+216.png

The estranged wife of high-ranking political operative Kevin Quinn told NBC 5 Friday that she sent a letter to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's office, desperately seeking assistance and detailing domestic abuse allegations against her husband, more than six months before Quinn was terminated from his role in the powerful Democrat's organization over claims that he had sexually harassed another woman. The abuse allegations were also included in court records.

Sarah McKay provided NBC 5 with a letter she said she faxed to Madigan's chief of staff Tim Mapes on August 3, 2017.

In it, she wrote that she was contacting Mapes because she believed she was "out of options" when it came to their divorce proceedings that began roughly three months earlier.

"I don't think anyone knows the severity of the current situation within our family," McKay wrote. "There have been 3 domestic situations at my home since February, the last on July 5, 2017, resulting in Kevin's arrest."

McKay wrote that she was granted an order of protection against Quinn. The existence of that order and her allegations of physical abuse was verified by court records obtained by NBC 5.

Quinn, 41, was arrested Thursday morning for violating the order of protection, according to Evergreen Park police. Quinn was taken into custody at his home in the 10300 block of South California Avenue at around 8:40 a.m., authorities said, after sending text messages to the protected party in violation of that order on Feb. 10.

Quinn's arrest came just days after a former Madigan staffer came forward with allegations of harassment against Quinn - whose termination had been announced the day before.

Now, the question remains: What did Madigan know and when did he know it?

"I reached out, pleading for help and they ignored me - and I have two children," McKay told NBC 5 in a phone interview Friday, saying her interactions with her estranged husband consisted of "verbal abuse, and then it became physical."

"Any intervention would be greatly appreciated but I do understand where your loyalty is," McKay's August letter to Mapes reads. "I hope you understand at this point I have to do whatever is necessary to protect my sons and myself."

"The speaker did not receive letter," Madigan’s spokesman’s Steve Brown said in an emailed statement late Friday night. "A review of possible locations where letter might be sent did not locate it."

Alaina Hampton, a political consultant who worked for Madigan's organization intermittently beginning in 2012, said Tuesday that Quinn harassed her for five months beginning in fall 2016, making multiple unsolicited advances and sending inappropriate text messages at all hours, even after she told him repeatedly that the relationship was strictly professional.

Kevin Quinn, who worked for the speaker for nearly 20 years, is the brother of 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn - perhaps Madigan's most senior operative and a figure that Hampton called her "mentor."

Hampton said she reported Kevin Quinn's inappropriate behavior to his supervisor, Ald. Marty Quinn, in February 2017, then sent a letter directly to Madigan himself in November.

"I immediately consulted with my attorney, Heather Wier Vaught, and directed her to conduct a thorough investigation," Madigan said in a statement announcing Kevin Quinn's termination on Monday. "Ms. Wier Vaught conducted numerous interviews, reviewed the evidence, and recently came to the conclusion that the individual engaged in inappropriate conduct and failed to exercise the professional judgment I expect of those affiliated with my political organizations and the Office of the Speaker."

Madigan said Kevin Quinn was fired from his roles in both the speaker's constituent service office and campaign organization based on those allegations, as well as a guilty plea to a charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct, which court records show was filed in connection with the July domestic incident McKay referenced in her letter.

Hampton accused Madigan and his associates of attempting to sweep her complaint under the rug and leading her on until the statute of limitations on her case expired. She claimed the organization would not have taken any action had she not spoken to the Chicago Tribune, which published Hampton's account, along with several pages of the text messages in question, Monday night.

Of Hampton's claims, McKay said Friday that she was "devastated to hear what he'd done to her."

"I mean, I was humiliated and felt terrible for her, because I’d been put through the same thing," McKay said.

McKay also claimed that when her estranged husband contacted her on Feb. 10, in violation of the order of protection, he called to tell her that he resigned and was already aware of Hampton's plan to go public with her allegations - a statement directly at odds with Wier Vaught's assertion that the speaker's organization was unaware of Hampton's actions when releasing a statement on Kevin Quinn's termination.

Kevin Quinn, Ald. Marty Quinn and Tim Mapes did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Madigan sent a letter to his Democratic caucus members Friday evening, announcing that his political organization has retained an independent counsel who is available to receive and investigate harassment allegations. 

"We haven't done enough. I take responsibility for that. I would never condone, sweep under the rug or refuse to take any step to ensure we did not eradicate any behavior of this kind," Madigan's note, sent on General Assembly letterhead, reads.

"I understand the 'knock it off' mentality is not enough, and we must, and will, do better moving forward," he continued.

"We must do better. We will do better," Madigan repeats. 

Photo Credit: Evergreen Park Police]]>
<![CDATA[Taxi Driver is Key Witness in Fatal Bauer Shooting]]> Fri, 16 Feb 2018 08:17:36 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/eddietaxi_30906832.jpg

A Chicago cab driver being hailed as a key witness in the shooting of police Cmdr. Paul Bauer, says he only did what any other citizen would have done in the same situation.

The driver, who asked that he only be identified as “Eddie,” works for Chicago City Services Taxi. He was driving south on Clark street, when Bauer and the suspect he was pursuing literally ran in front of his cab.

“I immediately pulled to the right which is on the west side of Clark Street, right in front of the Thompson Center,” he told NBC 5. “Suddenly as they were fighting, the suspect fell down the stairs, and at that time I was already outside my car.”

“I wanted to help the police officer,” he said. “But the police officer was going down the stairs towards him, the next few seconds what I heard was just the gunshots--it was about six to seven gunshots.”

After that--he described a frenzied scene which he captured with his cellphone.

“The other officers at the scene were running from the Thompson Center, from the Daley Center, all over,” he said. “They were pointing with their guns towards the suspect down the stairway.”

Eddie said he never saw any of the other officers fire their weapon. And as he continued photographing the scene, he watched as officers brought suspect Shomari Legghette up from the stairs.

“It took time by the time they arrested him--by the time they took him up again on the platform,” he said. “And you know, when they pulled out the gun from the suspect, the gun was still in the front pocket of his jacket.”

Legghette was put in a waiting car directly in front of him. He indicated the gunman displayed no emotion.

“He didn’t give any kind of--how to explain--movement of his face to say that he was sorry, no,” Eddie said.

In addition to his cellphone video, police say Eddie’s cab is equipped with cameras which captured the entire incident, including the sound of the gunshots. They hailed him as an important witness and a good citizen.

“The taxicab driver deserves a lot of credit for pulling over,” said Area Central Cmdr. Brendan Dennihan. “And for helping us in our investigation.”

The driver insists he is no hero.

“I’m just a citizen like anybody else who wanted to do the right thing,” he said. “And I’m very sorry for the commander. He lost his life, and I’m very sorry for his family.”

<![CDATA[Prosecutors Agree 3 More Were Framed As CPD Scandal Grows]]> Wed, 14 Feb 2018 00:15:31 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/chicago+police+generic.png

In what can only be viewed as an exploding scandal, prosecutors told a Cook County judge Tuesday convictions should be set aside for three more individuals, arrested at the hands of a tainted Chicago Police tactical team headed by Sgt. Ronald Watts.

Watts and one of his officers went to prison themselves on charges of shaking down south side drug dealers. The newest cases would mean at least 23 individuals have seen their convictions overturned, including 15 who were exonerated on a single day last November.

“This is a scandal unlike any other,” defense attorney Joshua Tepfer said outside of court. “People were being---like a factory---taking cases and pleading them out, because they knew they couldn’t beat them because you can’t beat corrupt and lying police officers.”

At least 15 officers are under investigation in connection with the case and are now assigned to desk duty.

“It’s like being trapped out there in the cold and nobody will let you in,” said Philip Thomas, who did over five years behind bars. “You guys, lawyers, judges, other police officers, are too quick to believe the word of the police---and all the time the police are lying!”

Thomas was one of nine exonerees who received official certificates of innocence Tuesday. That certification will allow them to pursue thousands of dollars in damages from the State of Illinois

“Equal protection under the law,” Thomas said after court. “Here today, we are being vindicated.”

Attorneys said they have over 30 similar cases waiting in the wings.

“What it means to me is that the system is finally taking seriously the claims of extremely serious police misconduct,” said attorney Joel Flaxman, who represents the latest exonerees. “I think it’s very important to have that redemption---you know that, ‘We hear you, you were correct the whole time.’”

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Troubling Clues in Case of Unsolved 1982 Chicago Kidnapping]]> Wed, 07 Feb 2018 23:42:23 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/TRICIA+KELLETT+-+00005925_30783690.jpg

Jill Kellett Smolios has always had one piece missing from her family’s story: the big sister who vanished without a trace.

“I just have pictures and stories,” she says. “And unfortunately, if those pictures and stories weren’t around, I wouldn’t really know who she was.”

On May 7, 1982, Jill’s half-sister Tricia Kellett was 8 years old, when she went outside after school in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood and never came home. No trace. No clues.

No resolution to a mystery which has now spanned 35 years.

“She was always on the go---she couldn’t sit still,” her sister recalls. “She would eat dinner as fast as she could, and go outside and play.”

Tricia was seen playing with puppies on a neighbor’s porch. Publicly, police released details that she was last seen getting into a car with a man, or maybe two men, near the corner of Leland and Malden.

But the case was never solved.

Now, NBC 5 Investigates has obtained the police reports from the troubling case, and they reveal facts which the family says they never knew: there was a suspect; he talked openly about Tricia, and at one point, even offered that “maybe” he was her killer.

That man was Marvin Pontarelli. The CPD reports indicate investigators first focused on him, after getting a description of the car Tricia got into the day she vanished.

“The auto is registered to Pontarelli, Marvin,” investigators wrote the day after Tricia’s disappearance. “Reporting officer checked this name and learned that this man has an extensive background including kidnapping, sexual assault, and rape.”

That officer said he obtained a photo of Pontarelli and showed it around the neighborhood. Many recognized him, including some who recalled seeing Pontarelli entering the nearby Malden Arms hotel with Tricia the day she was reported missing.

The very next day, Pontarelli was at what was then Area 6 headquarters at Belmont and Western.

“Marvin Pontarelli came into Area 6 Youth for questioning and agreed to take a polygraph test,” an officer wrote. “The test was administered with a finding of non-cooperative/guilty.”

On May 10, three days after Tricia vanished, witnesses were brought into the old Area 6 police headquarters to view a line-up.

“Wit#7 positively identified Pontarelli as the person he observed with the missing child,” an officer wrote. “Wit#3 positively identified Pontarelli as the person she observed in the company of the missing child. They then left in a car blue color.”

The officer added, “Wit#1 positively identified Pontarelli as the person he observed with the missing child.”

The reports indicate one of those witnesses said he saw Pontarelli entering the Malden Arms with Tricia and another man.

“He said that as Marvin Pontarelli (who he picked out of the lineup) walked past, Marvin threw a cigarette on his dog,” an officer wrote. “He told him not to do that because the dog started to bark at him.”

Tricia’s sister says today, she never knew there was a suspect.

“I’m shocked!” she said.

The reports reveal that police looked at numerous individuals in the neighborhood who seem to have had troubling pasts with children. They also show that Pontarelli did face charges the day of that lineup --- not for Tricia’s kidnapping, but other offenses relating to other neighborhood children: contributing to the delinquency of a minor, indecent liberties with a child, child pornography, and various weapons charges.

Six months later, without explanation, a separate report says those charges were dismissed. But police weren’t done with Pontarelli. Nearly two years after Tricia’s disappearance, a new lead involving a new name came in, from a new place---Tucson, Arizona.

“As recorded in prior reports, Pontarelli was overheard to want a young blonde white girl to be photographed with Larry Fassler while having sex with him for the purpose of blackmail,” police from Arizona said.

That information is included in a heavily redacted report. But a police source confirmed that Fassler is the name mentioned underneath many of those redactions.

Fassler, who is now deceased, reportedly was a former inmate Pontarelli met during a previous stay in a California prison. And he reportedly was someone who Pontarelli owed a lot of money.

Investigators further stated in the Chicago police report that a search of Fassler’s address book showed an entry for Tricia, with her Chicago address.

“Right under her name, the name of Marvin Pontarelli was listed,” the officers wrote. “The entry in the book was dated October of 1982.”

In July of 1984, the Chicago reports indicate Fassler called Arizona authorities asking to be interviewed. At that time, he indicated that he had written the information into his address book after being interviewed about Tricia by other officers.

“(He) felt that if Pontarelli were a suspect in the case he would be a likely offender due to his history of violent crime and his propensity for young children to satisfy his sexual habits,” the officers wrote in that report.

A year would pass, and Chicago Police were contacted again by their counterparts in Arizona. This time, Phoenix police said they had Pontarelli in custody on an unrelated case.

“Immediately after his arrest, Pontarelli was questioned as to the disappearance,” they wrote. “He began to cry and state, in summary, that he believed she is dead and barried (sic) on some property in Illinois that his family owns.”

“When questioned further he said, in summary, that he believes one Larry Fassler was responsible for the death,” they continued in that document. “Pontarelli then refused to continue with the interview.”

Weeks later, the reports indicate Pontarelli changed his story. This time, he speculated that Fassler had taken Tricia to Mexico.

“He did not elaborate on this theory,” the report states. But one Arizona investigator noted that he had developed information that Pontarelli had a propensity for traveling to Mexico with underaged girls.

Pontarelli was convicted in Maricopa County of Arizona on a variety of felony burglary and drug charges. And his pre-sentence report in that case, the report submitted to the judge, reveals troubling references to Tricia Kellett.

“The defendant made detailed notes describing the physical characteristics of young girls and their school bus arrival times,” a Maricopa County police captain reported. “In reference to the missing Kellett girl (he said), ‘Maybe I have a split personality—the one I’m not aware of is the one that killed her.’”

Most troubling of all, was a reference in the Arizona report’s final pages. A Chicago detective was quoted as saying he wanted to know where Pontarelli had buried Tricia, who he said had been kidnapped for prostitution purposes.

“The defendant was the last person seen with the child,” that Chicago detective reported. “Her three friends, ages 11 and 12, picked the defendant out of a lineup and gave statements leading to his indictment.”

“They reported he took them to his apartment, gave them beer and narcotics, copulated with them, forced them to engage in other sexual acts, and photographed them.”

The Chicago officer stated that a search of Pontarelli’s apartment produced 66 pieces of child pornography on which the girls and other children appeared, as well as firearms and a wide variety of sexual paraphernalia, knives, brass knuckles, tear gas, cattle prods, and handcuffs.

“The girls failed to appear in court,” he said in the report. “Their families… subsequently acquired expensive, late-model automobiles. There were multiple instances of apparent payoffs and tampering with the system. The case was dismissed.”

The report further states that the Chicago officer believed “the Kellett child’s body lies in the foundation of Pontarelli Apartments; the cement was being poured at the time of her disappearance.”

Pontarelli died in prison in 1994. Contacted by NBC 5 Investigates, his half sister Louise Cosmano said she did not want to believe he could have been involved in such a tragic crime.

“If he was involved in any way---or if he was not—I feel terrible that someone had to go without their daughter,” she said. “If it was Marvin, it breaks my heart.”

She added that since NBC 5 first contacted her with information about what was contained in the files, “I’ve been praying for that family.”

Through the reports, there are no references to Tricia’s family ever being advised of a suspect. Speaking now, Jill Kellett Smolios says her father died in 2009 having never known what happened to his daughter.

“He thought he would hear Tricia walking through the house and she wasn’t there,” she said. “If we did bring up her name, you could see it was too painful for him to talk about---he’d just kind of walk away.”

In a statement, Chicago police said it would be imprudent to speculate on why the case ended the way it did.

“However,” the statement continued, “in hope to provide her family members some level of closure, CPD detectives will review the case to potentially generate and explore new leads. We urge anyone who may have information on Ms. Kellett's disappearance to contact Area North Detectives at 312-744-8261 or to contact us anonymously, visit www.CPDTip.com.”

Jill says she hopes the Arizona report causes CPD to fully re-open her sister’s case. Maybe they can find that building. And if they do, maybe, just maybe, they’ll find Tricia.

“At least we’ll have answers and we’ll know something and not always be worried, is she still alive, is she dead,” she says. “She can be put to rest, that her name hasn’t just gone under the radar, under a rug for the last 35 years.”

<![CDATA[City in Settlement Talks With Man Shot By Chicago Police ]]> Wed, 24 Jan 2018 17:52:57 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/6PM+PKG+POLICE+SHOOTING+EVIDENCE+-+00000304_30483511.jpg

Less than a week before the scheduled beginning of what promised to be a turbulent and troubled trial, lawyers revealed in federal court this morning that the city of Chicago has entered into talks to settle a lawsuit involving a shooting by a Chicago police officer nearly three years ago.

The case involved 16-year-old Jaquise Evans, who was shot by police officer Richard Salvador, who insisted he saw Evans point a gun at him. Evans contended he never had a gun, and that a weapon found a considerable distance from where he fell was planted by police.

The charges against Evans were thrown out by a Cook County judge, and the youth sued Salvador for his injuries.

During the last week, Evans’ lawyers appeared repeatedly before federal Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, alleging last minute surprises, hidden evidence, and untendered dirt from the officer’s past.

Indeed, just last week, the attorneys said they had discovered another lawsuit in the officer’s past which had never been revealed by city lawyers---even though Salvador had testified under oath he had never been sued. The city’s defense, was that they didn’t know they represented Salvador in the suit, and that he didn’t know he had been sued.

Federal Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer was furious.

“You’re representing him and you don’t know that?” she asked. “Who, as a matter of professional ethics does this?”

Then, on Monday, Evans’ attorneys said the city informed them that the officer had actually responded to questions, known as interrogatories, as part of the prior lawsuit. And that happened nearly two months before the deposition where he claimed he had never been sued.

“We believe there are perjury issues here,” attorney Michael Oppenheimer told the judge Monday. “Mr. Salvador might need criminal counsel.”

An assistant corporation counsel said the office was in the process of reviewing the latest revelations. But Evans’ lawyers asked for a hearing to determine if Salvador committed perjury. It was during a Wednesday hearing to consider that request, that Oppenheimer revealed that the settlement talks had finally begun.

<![CDATA[Train Crossing Stirs Up Frustration, School Tardies]]> Wed, 17 Jan 2018 23:51:43 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/TRAIN+CROSSING+TSE+-+00003123_30501316.jpg

A single train crossing in Will County has the potential to make thousands of kids late for school, according to parents, a school official and bus drivers who spoke to NBC 5 Investigates.

The Oakland Avenue train crossing in suburban Crest Hill is adjacent to the bus depot used by First Student, a company responsible for transporting children to seven school districts across Will County. A First Student spokesperson said in recent months many school buses exiting the depot during morning and afternoon runs have been blocked at the crossing by slow or stopped trains.

First Student district manager Steven Merner said the random delays happen two or three times a week and can last up to forty-five minutes.

“We notify the districts. Unfortunately, it’s become such a frequent occurrence that they dread our phone calls when we do have the call them that the buses are late because of trains,” said First Student district manager Steven Merner.

The bus company said it is increasingly concerned about children waiting longer in the cold weather.

Melissa Miranda is a Joliet mother of eight who said her kids have been delayed recently.

“They wait inside the house now because it’s too cold to stand outside,” Miranda said. “It takes terribly long for the buses to get here sometimes in the morning.”

A district administrator for Will County School District 92 said delays are causing safety concerns and interrupting class time.

“We have some classmates that are here. Other classmates that are not here. The teacher then has to turn around and go back from the beginning on a lesson plan,” said assistant superintendent Teresa Bishop.

According to state records, the Oakland Avenue train crossing arm was activated for ten minutes or longer on 26 occasions in January 2017. The activations were recorded at various times of the day, however.

Still, things don’t seem any better a year later.

“We don’t want our kids standing out on corners for ten or fifteen minutes longer than they need to,” Bishop said.

Canadian National owns the tracks near the bus depot. A railroad spokesperson said stops are not planned. But they could be the result of trains slowing down, speeding up or crew changes.

The railroad also moved a safety device in recent years from Plainfield to an area closer to Crest Hill. The device, called a hotbox detector, monitors for overheating wheels and can stop a train. The decision to relocate the hotbox detector was made after residents of Plainfield complained about delays at several crossings.

“By removing the problems we were having with the north bound trains that caused tremendous headaches in Plainfield, it improves the overall traffic,” said CN spokesperson Patrick Wharton. “CN can continue to operate and serve Chicago and the American economy, but be sensitive to the needs of motorists in these communities.”

Wharton said school buses exiting the First Student depot can drive the opposite direction on Oakland Avenue and still make their runs on time. Additionally, the mayor of Crest Hill said the city has a good relationship with First Student and buses would be allowed to go through neighborhoods in the case of long train delays.

The bus company said it would prefer not to create so much noise in the neighborhoods.

“When you’re talking about five-thirty, six in the morning, you have a large number of diesel buses going through the community, it’s rather disturbing to all of our neighbors,” Merner said.

The Chicago area continues to be the busiest rail hub in the country and there are dozens of projects in the works to speed up traffic.

You can contact the Illinois Commerce Commission if you have an issue with a train crossing.

<![CDATA[Lawyers For Man Shot By CPD Say Evidence Withheld By City]]> Wed, 17 Jan 2018 00:17:21 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/6PM+PKG+POLICE+SHOOTING+EVIDENCE+-+00000304_30483511.jpg

Lawyers for a man shot two years ago by Chicago police, say they have been surprised twice in the last week by eleventh-hour evidence which was never turned over by city attorneys.

The case in question involves a man named Jaquise Evans, who was 16 years old when he was shot by police in August of 2015. The officer who shot Evans, Richard Salvador, said the boy pointed a gun at him. But when the case went to trial, Evans was aquitted of the gun charge, and he sued Salvador for his substantial injuries.

The matter is set for trial at the end of this month, but Evans’ attorneys Michael Oppenheimer, Sam Adam Jr., and Ronak Maisuria, say they were told only last week of a video depicting Salvador cursing and seemingly giving rough treatment to another man eight weeks before the Evans shooting.

“Officer Richard Salvador (engaged) in what can only be described as brutal, violent, unlawful, and arguably racist conduct towards a young African American citizen,” they wrote. “The speed with which Defendant’s counsel was able to send the link suggests that the video was readily available and simply had not been produced.”

The video, posted on facebook by another person who was present during the incident, appears to show Salvador screaming at a handcuffed arrestee, daring him to lash out.

“I am not f***ing with you, you understand?” he asks “Make a move like that towards me again. I will f***ing show you, exactly, what I can do!”

In a hearing in Federal Court, Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer made no effort to hide her disgust at the video, which she called “disturbing”.

“To call what happened on that video nothing more than use of profanity is just—nobody in this room believes that,” Pallmeyer said. “It was threatening physical violence on an arrestee. It was suggesting to the arrestee it was his personal affront to the officer that rendered him liable.”

Pallmeyer warned the city lawyers they had an obligation to follow their own code of professional conduct.

“The lawyers who represent the city are responsible to take that seriously, and to say, you know, we have to think seriously about the credibility of our own witness,” she said. “Because this witness engaged in this kind of conduct in a situation like this and hasn’t been disciplined for it, and so far as we know, hasn’t really owned up to it.”

Pallmeyer told the attorneys they might want to remember, “This is the guy we are representing---we might have a little bit of a problem.”

Salvador reported alleged that the man in the video had attempted to head-butt him. Ironically, that man, who NBC 5 is not naming, was released without charges.

Pallmeyer asked the city attorneys when they became aware of the video, and they admitted it had been called to their attention last April.

“Did that trouble you at all?” she asked. “I am not asking you as a judge. I am asking you as somebody who cares deeply about the city of Chicago.”

Pallmeyer called the credibility of another witness in the case, a Lieutenant who had reportedly signed off on the incident as merely foul language, “very, very, poor.”

“That makes anything he says about what—about his views about Officer Salvador’s conduct in this case very suspect,” she said.

City lawyers insisted they had advised Evans’ attorneys about a reported social media video last year.

“I absolutely disclosed the existence of this video in April of 2017,” said city attorney Scott Cohen. “I never heard anything…they were on notice…”

Evans’ lawyers countered that it was the city’s responsibility to tender any potentially damaging evidence.

What I would like clarified is, did he watch the video then?” asked attorney Ronak Maisuria. “Because they should have known then that they should have produced this to us long ago.”

The very next day, the same Evans lawyers filed still another motion, saying they had just been advised of three more complaints from the officer’s history, which had never been revealed before.

“It is essential that we know exactly what defense counsel was aware of with regard to the additional complaint registers at the court hearing just one day prior,” Maisuria wrote. “It is difficult to wholeheartedly trust that defense counsel just became aware of this information this afternoon!”

Late Tuesday, the Chicago Law Department said in a statement that they had done their best to keep defense counsel apprised of everything in the officer’s record.

“The Department of Law provided a complete list of complaints to the plaintiff’s attorneys in May 2016,” the statement said. “Since that time, additional complaints have been made against the defendant officer, and Law is making a good faith effort to obtain them and produce them. We will continue to argue that sanctions are unwarranted as we continue to defend against this lawsuit.”

A hearing on the matter was set for Tuesday morning. In the meantime, 21st ward alderman Howard Brookins, expressed concern about the allegations that city attorneys might have hidden evidence, or at the very least, bungled their legally mandated obligation to tender any and all evidence to their opposing counsel.

“There’s no excuse for that,” Brookins told NBC 5. “It is a systemic problem, and we’ve got to get to the bottom of it because it’s costing us too much money, and it’s costing our reputation.”

<![CDATA[Follow A Mysterious Chicago Police Chase From the Beginning]]> Fri, 12 Jan 2018 01:19:41 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/The+crash+investigates.jpg

Early in the morning of June 27, 2016, two Chicago police officers chased a Jeep, often at high speeds, for 12 blocks, until the Jeep crashed into another car, killing both drivers. It turned out that the driver of the Jeep was also a Chicago police officer. More than six months later, the city still has not provided any answers about what happened in this mysterious chase.

NBC 5 Investigates compiled video from city red-light and speed cameras, plus surveillance video, to map the chase from beginning to end. The video of the actual crash is graphic. NBC 5 is showing it with the permission of the victim’s mother, who is desperate for answers about how she lost her daughter in this one horrible moment.

<![CDATA[Months After Police Chase Tragedy, Questions Remain]]> Fri, 12 Jan 2018 00:53:10 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/policechaseinvestigatesbug.png

In the early morning hours last June 27, Chicago police officer Jamie Jawor and her partner said they believed they had spotted a black Jeep Cherokee involved in a carjacking a few days before. They gave chase to that car, down Roosevelt Road.

The car was not the one involved in the previous crime, but rather a Jeep driven by a fellow Chicago police officer, Taylor Clark. In a case shrouded in mystery, Clark was pursued for 12 blocks, before colliding with a car driven by 27 year old Chequita Adams. Both Clark and Adams were killed instantly.

More than six months later, virtually nothing else is known about the violent crash, or the chase, which was captured by multiple cameras along Roosevelt Road.

“At least as far as the public’s concerned, there are no more answers today than there were six months ago,” says attorney James Montgomery Jr, who represents Ms. Adams’ mother. “We saw what was clearly an unusual set of circumstances leading to the death of my client’s daughter. And we’ve received nothing.”

Indeed, a visit to the public files of the Chicago Office of Police Accountability (COPA) shows multiple video clips from the night of the tragedy, but only a single report, which is largely blank.

Montgomery, who filed a suit against officer Jawor and the City on behalf of the Adams family, notes the city has not even identified the second officer who was in the car with Jawor that night.

“We don’t even know his name,” he said. “I find that extremely unusual if this were an incident that occurred in the ordinary course of police work.”

The newly-created COPA has the lead on the case, but reportedly the Chicago Police Bureau of Internal Affairs is or will be investigating as well. Officially, both the police department and COPA refused comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

“As we stand here today, we don’t even know if an accident reconstruction report was done,” Montgomery said.

The public version, immediately after the tragedy, stated that the officers had been made aware of the Cherokee involved in the carjacking. Shortly before the chase is made known, the officers make a radio call, “I just had a black Cherokee take off.”

Video from surveillance cameras shows that during much of the chase, the officers proceeded without turning on their emergency lights. Shortly after the lights are first seen, the first references to the violent crash are called in.

“This car is completely totaled,” the officers report. “Somebody’s going to need to be extracted, and it’s on fire.”

Moments later, the officers modify that initial report.

“Looks like there was two cars involved in this accident,” says an officer, believed to be Jawor. “It’s so mangled we can’t make out what kind of car the other car is.”

About seven minutes after the crash, a dispatcher calls, asking the officers if they rolled up on the crash, or actually saw it happen.

“We witnessed the crash,” the officer believed to be Jawor reports.

“The real question comes down to, did the officers in the SUV who were chasing Taylor Clark, know him,” Montgomery said. “That’s the real question.”

<![CDATA[Exonerated Individuals Ask Court to Declare Their Innocence]]> Tue, 09 Jan 2018 19:48:24 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/LMX___6P+PKG+WATTS+SENTENCING_WMAQ_000000004369448+%28Read-Only%29+Version1+-+00000125_30392113.png

Fifteen Chicago men whose convictions were thrown out in November are now asking for formal certificates of innocence.

All of the men said they were framed by disgraced former Chicago Police Sergeant Ronald Watts and the tactical team he once commanded on Chicago’s South Side.

“If they show up for jobs, for housing, any other sort of opportunities, those arrests, those wrongful convictions still show up on their records,” said attorney Joshua Tepfer, who represents the group. “A certification of innocence allows that to be wiped clean.”

Certificates for the former suspects would also be the first step in recovering damages from the state.

Tepfer noted that even the state agreed the charges against the men, 18 convictions in all, should be dismissed, and that prosecutors said they will not intervene in this effort.

“In these cases, we concluded, unfortunately, that police were not being truthful,” Mark Rotert, the head of the State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit said when the cases were overturned two months ago. “We couldn’t have confidence in the integrity of their reports and their testimony.”

Watts and his tactical team worked the South Side for more than a decade. Even some fellow officers made allegations of illegal behavior, including frameups and shakedowns.

Watts and one of his officers, Kallett Mohammed, eventually went to jail themselves. But others from the crew remained on the force.

At least 20 individuals, with 26 convictions among them, have been exonerated by the courts. Shortly after the latest convictions were overturned, seven remaining members of Watts’ tactical team were placed on desk duty.

Tepfer suggested many more convictions could be in the pipeline.

“Every single one of their arrests, every single one of their investigations that led to convictions needs to be vetted,” he said. “What that number is, I’ve said many times, is at least 500.”

<![CDATA[Chicago Police Sergeant Challenges Testing System as Rigged]]> Mon, 08 Jan 2018 19:00:00 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/chicago+police+generic1.png

A longtime Chicago police sergeant is suing the city of Chicago and others, including Supt. Eddie Johnson, challenging the lieutenant’s promotion system as rigged on behalf of favored candidates.

A formal investigation by the city’s Inspector General found no evidence of wrongdoing, but Sgt. Hosea Word alleged in the suit that actions took place which enabled competing sergeants to be promoted “who had not fairly and honestly earned that right.”

“It became common knowledge in the ranks that the chiefs decided to scrap the 2006 test results, in order to administer a new test so they could secretly give their wives and girlfriends the test answers, which helped them to get high scores, promotions, pay raises, and pension increases that they didn’t deserve,” Word said in a statement. “I and others feel cheated and betrayed.”

In his lawsuit filed Monday, Word alleged Johnson, former first deputy Al Wysinger, and former Chief Eugene Williams, intentionally leaked answers to the test to benefit their wives or girlfriends.

“Williams was a ‘senior subject matter expert’ for the lieutenant’s examination and had access to the test before it was administered,” Word alleged, saying the women in question formed a “study group” for the lieutenant’s examination where he contends they were given access to exam materials.

“With access to the test materials in advance, the wives and girlfirneds were able to dramatically improve their performance on the lieutenant’s exam,” the suit states.

“Defendant Wysinger’s wife was ranked first on the 2015 examination, improving from a rank of 280 on the 2006 examination,” Word argued. “Such dramatic improvement on the exam was statistically improbable without advance access to the testing materials.”

In early 2016, city’s Inspector General Joe Ferguson initiated an investigation into the allegations of cheating on the lieutenant’s exam. But last June, Ferguson said he concluded there was no evidence that the women in question had received an unfair advantage in the testing procedures, and Williams was cleared of helping to rig the exam.

“In the course of its investigation, OIG interviewed 20 individuals,” Ferguson wrote in his report. “No first hand witnesses or accounts of cheating emerged prior to or during the course of OIG’s investigation.”

Ferguson said his office reviewed some 300,000 emails and searched another 600,000 computer files as part of the inquiry.

“Overall, the analyses did not reveal any trends supporting the allegations of fraudulent behavior,” he wrote.

But in the statement accompanying his suit, Sgt. Word said he felt “cheated and betrayed” by the testing procedures.

“I can remain quiet and fearful of retaliation,” he said. “Or I can speak up about the injustice and break the code of silence.”

Word’s attorney Victor Henderson, noted the city’s long history of nepotism and patronage.

“This history is especially harmful when it spills over into the police department,” he said. “If the police are not honest and trustworthy with each other, then the rest of us don’t stand a chance of consistently being treated fairly when we run into them on the street.”

<![CDATA[City Data Reveals Surge in Chicago Carjackings]]> Fri, 29 Dec 2017 22:38:26 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/CARJACKINGS+RISE+-+00000000_30264893.jpg

A construction worker resting in his personal vehicle near a job site early Tuesday morning at Walton and State experienced what he calls the “scariest” moment of his life when he said a hooded man pointed a gun at him and stole his Honda Civic.

“You don’t expect things like that to happen when you’re in your own vehicle,” said Steve, who asked for his identity to be concealed.

Steve was preparing for his shift as an iron worker at a Near North Side building project when he became one of the latest victims of a crime that is soaring in Chicago: carjacking.

NBC 5 Investigates examined all reports of carjackings in the city and found 898 incidents have occurred in 2017. That’s up from 663 in 2016 and 339 in 2015. The incident impacting Steve happened in police district 18, which experienced a near three-fold increase in carjackings between 2016 and 2017.

“A lot of it is gang-related, so we know that they use these vehicles to commit smash and grabs, we know they use them to commit drive-by shootings and we also know that they do it sometimes just for the thrill of doing it,” said Chicago police Supt. Eddie Johnson.

Johnson said juveniles are often being directed by adults to steal the cars. Still, Johnson said arrests are increasing as the number of carjackings increase.

“I think that one of the ways we’ll attack it is to hold the older people accountable for when they have these younger guys go out and steal these cars for them,” Johnson said.

Johnson is urging the public to be aware of their surroundings and to not exit their vehicles with the keys still in the ignition.

Steve said his Honda Civic was found the next day, thanks in part to smartphone and iPad location features left “on” while the suspects apparently took his car for a joy ride.

A spokesperson for Chicago police said the case is still under investigation and no offenders are in custody.

<![CDATA[Renowned Illinois Coach Banned From USA Gymnastics]]> Tue, 12 Dec 2017 18:21:23 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/COACH+BANNED+-+00002926_30026647.jpg

The gymnastics community let out a collective “shock” and “disbelief” on Monday upon learning the news that former elite gymnast Todd Gardiner of the Illinois Gymnastics Institute and one of the most decorated Illinois coaches in the sport was found by USA Gymnastics to have violated their code of ethical conduct.

According to the USA Gymnastics governing board, Gardiner was cited with violating provisions concerning sexual misconduct and a sexual relationship with an athlete. On Dec. 7, Gardiner was placed on the list of coaches permanently ineligible to coach in USA Gymnastics.

USA Gymnastics sets the rules and policies governing the sport in the United States which selects and trains over 148,000 athletes, including Olympians and those competing in World Championships.

In response to NBC 5 Investigates inquiries, USA Gymnastics said: “An individual is placed on the list based on a complaint and following an investigation and hearing process. Each accused member has the right and opportunity to participate in the investigation and hearing process. An individual who is on the Permanently Ineligible for Membership List may not be employed or associate in any way with a USA Gymnastics member club, nor may he/she participate in any USA Gymnastics-sanctioned event.”

Former Team USA national gymnast Kristina Comforte, who was coached by Gardiner from beginning at the age of 12, expressed disbelief.

“It doesn’t add up,” the former UCLA gymnast told NBC 5, saying she had never experienced or witnessed any wrongdoing by Gardiner, her coach of seven years.

A gymnast from Hinsdale, Gardiner was a five-time national elite champion competing at the Olympic level before coaching elite gymnasts the past 38 years out of Illinois Gymnastics Institute in Westmont.

He started the “Chicago Style Meet” held at Navy Pier and considered one of the largest gymnastic meets in the world. Gardiner is not the subject of any criminal complaint or investigation and did not return our request comment.

<![CDATA[Kratom: It's Legal, But Could it Be Deadly?]]> Wed, 06 Dec 2017 23:43:30 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/KRATOM+DANGERS+-+00012600_29963835.jpg

Chances are you’ve never heard of a substance called Kratom. It is variously described as a dietary supplement, or an herb, or an outright drug. To many, it’s a miracle cure.

And there’s an effort to ban it in Illinois.

“It’s actually a leaf from a southeast Asian tree that looks somewhat similar to an evergreen,” says Dennis Wichern, Special Agent in Charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Chicago. “It’s ground up and some people believe it has some form of medicinal value.”

Kratom is legal in Illinois. But now it’s front and center in the growing debate over opioid abuse. That’s because the drug works on the same receptors in the brain. And while proponents believe it can help those fighting to wean themselves from opiates, many regulators say it may do just the opposite.

“We have to let science dictate as to whether it’s a good drug or not,” says Wichern. “And so far, science hasn’t.”

Kratom users argue they’ve seen its positive effects first hand.

“I was on pain pills for a long time, I mean years,” says Rhoni Silva of Moline. “As long as I get the right dose, I don’t feel the sickness that I do get from pain pills.”

Silva claims Kratom’s pain relief is faster and smoother than any other drug she has tried.

“Instantaneous,” she says. “Five minutes!”

Long found in smoke shops, even service stations and online sites, Kratom is now mainstream enough that there are three retail stores in the Chicagoland area.

“It helps people get through withdrawal,” says Matthew Warren, manager of CBD Kratom in Bucktown. “We do get a lot of people who use it for that.”

Warren’s store features dozens of strains of the southeast Asian plant, labeled red for euphoria, white for pain relief, and green for stimulation.

“I have first-hand experience of giving kratom to friends of my own going through opioid withdrawal, and I physically saw a difference within about five minutes,” Warren said. “It really helps a lot of people, and I think there’s a lot to learn from it.”

The FDA disagrees. Last year, the drug agency retreated from an effort to brand kratom a schedule one menace, akin to cocaine, after over 50 congressmen protested that its purported medicinal values deserved greater study.

But just lasts month, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a new public health advisory, citing “mounting concerns” about kratom’s risks.

“Kratom has similar effects to narcotics like opioids, and carries similar risks of abuse, addiction, and in some cases, death,” Gottlieb wrote. “At a time when we have hit a critical point in the opioid epidemic, the increasing use of kratom as an alternative or adjunct to opioid use is extremely concerning.”

The FDA advisory cited a tenfold increase in kratom-related calls to poison control centers, and reports of 36 deaths associated with the drug.

“We must ask ourselves whether the use of Kratom, for recreation, pain, or other reasons, could expand the opioid epidemic,” he said.

Back at the kratom shop, Warren said he believes his product is as safe as coffee.

“I’ve been selling this for about two years,” he said. “I haven’t had anyone ever have any kind of dangerous reaction to kratom.”

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office told NBC5 Investigates they’ve seen five kratom-related deaths in the last two years. But advocates of the substance argue virtually everyone nationwide reported in a kratom-related death had other drugs in their systems.

The author of a study commissioned by the American Kratom Association suggested that regulation of kratom should not go beyond what is currently done with “coffee, tea, and related extracts.”

Dr. Jack Henningfield of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine wrote that banning kratom “is not warranted from a public health perspective, and is more likely to cause public health problems that do not exist.”

Indeed, an article last year in Forbes magazine argued that reports of overdoses and deaths were overblown. Yes, there had been 660 calls to poison centers related to kratom exposure, contributor Jacob Sullum wrote. But that amounts to .004 percent of the 3 million calls the centers receive each year, he noted, compared with some 300,000 calls involving analgesics.

A recent study by doctors from Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood also found that “serious toxicity is rare, and usually involves relatively high doses or co-ingestants.”

But that same study warned of kratom’s potential for addiction, a point conceded by Silva, the kratom user from western Illinois.

“I will agree that there is a potential to be addictive,” she said. “It works on the same receptors.”

Silva, while enthusiastic about the drug’s pain relieving qualities and its potential for opioid relief, conceded she had experienced some withdrawal symptoms when she had tried to stop using it.

“I did have to back down a little because I could feel where I’d be out somewhere and I’d really want to take my kratom.”

Some have compared those urges to feelings of caffeine withdrawal. But the DEA’s Wichern argues there is simply too much which isn’t known.

“This isn’t a drug that you want to take by yourself without medical supervision,” he said. “Nobody’s submitted any research to show the value of this drug.”

Kratom is currently banned in five states, including Wisconsin and Indiana. A bill is pending in Springfield which would make it illegal in Illinois as well. Repeated calls and emails to the legislation’s sponor, Rep. Katie Stuart of Collinsville, went unanswered.

“I think they should concentrate on the real opiate problem,” Silva said. “And leave kratom alone.”

<![CDATA[Computer Glitches Impact Illinois Families Waiting For Aid]]> Wed, 06 Dec 2017 18:34:27 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/dhs+illinois+investigates.jpg

Concerned social workers and their clients tell NBC 5 Investigates a new computer system that is supposed to assist Illinois families could spoil the holidays for tens of thousands of residents who are applying for food and medical benefits.

NBC 5 Investigates has also learned the state went ahead with the $193 million system, despite early warnings.

The first phase of the Integrated Eligibility System (IES) used by the Department of Human Services rolled-out in 2013. It worked in conjunction with a forty-year-old system used by case workers to determine client eligibility until October, when the older software was completely replaced by the second phase of IES.

However, a state audit revealed the first phase of IES in 2013 went live with known problems. According to the audit, the lack of due diligence and an effective and controlled project management process over IES led to additional project expenditures for revisions and a system that did not completely meet the needs of the state.

Since October, case workers have said IES has experienced glitches and shutdowns that are creating delays and crowded waiting rooms. Case workers said client meetings that used to take minutes can now take one hour.

“We took these jobs because we want to help people and right now it seems like we have one hand tied before our back and especially ahead of the holidays, it’s not a good feeling as workers,” said DHS case worker Brian Poncin, who represented his union during an interview with NBC 5 Investigates.

The delays are impacting DHS offices from Englewood to Skokie. Some describe it as chaos just ahead of the holidays.

“It affected my last month and I’m trying to see if it’s going to affect this month as well,” said a DHS recipient outside of the Englewood office.

Maria Perez is a DHS supervisor who also represented her union in an interview with NBC 5 Investigates. She said clients are getting angry.

“What we keep telling them is the workers are trying to help you. Unfortunately, the system either keeps kicking them out, it’s working too slow, we’re getting stuck on glitches,” Perez said.

The DHS acknowledges a shaky start, but said the process will improve.

“It’s supposed to be more efficient and in time it will be,” said DHS local office administrator Ramon Ortiz. “Just like with any new technology when you first roll it out, there are issues. There’s a learning curve.”

A spokesperson for IES designer, Deloitte, said there have been some temporary delays in service as caseworkers and staff adjust to the new technology and new business processes. Deloitte said it is also making improvements and enhancements to the system.

“We worked with the State to prepare for these scenarios and we have teams in place to resolve outstanding issues, minimize any inconvenience to customers, and get people the benefits for which they are eligible as quickly as possible,” said a Deloitte spokesperson.

Clients can use the new system to manage their benefits online. A DHS spokesperson said 2.5 million people have used IES to apply for benefits since 2013.

A social services computer system from Deloitte that is used in Rhode Island has caused backlogs for case workers since it went online in 2016. A spokesperson for Deloitte said the Illinois IES is a completely different system than Rhode Island’s Unified Health Infrastructure Project, which combined a state-based health insurance exchange with an Integrated Eligibility System.

Deloitte also said Illinois IES is based on a transfer solution that was successfully implemented in Michigan and then customized to meet the specific needs of Illinois residents and to comply with Illinois state policies, rules and regulations.

A DHS spokesperson said the state selected Deloitte in 2013 through a competitive procurement process.

“We cannot speak to what information was known by the previous administration when this decision was made but we understand the systems implemented by Deloitte in other states are different types of systems with different needs than Illinois’,” said a DHS spokesperson.

The DHS said it is also processing an “unusually high” volume of applications for health care because the federal government reduced the Affordable Care Act’s 2017 Open Enrollment period from three months to just six weeks – Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, 2017.

<![CDATA[Can Busy Shoppers Cut Wait Times With Click And Pickup?]]> Thu, 23 Nov 2017 00:18:54 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/coffeyshopping_29794454.jpg

If you would rather skip long store lines and delivery times, grab your smartphone or computer for what retailers are calling a speedier way to shop online.

A growing number of retailers now offer “buy online, pickup in store” shopping experiences for their customers, in which everything you order is ready for same-day collection. That means no more browsing store aisles, searching for sizes, or waiting several days for an online purchase to be delivered.

Retailers say they’ll have orders complete within a few hours. But is the process as easy as they make it out to be?

NBC 5 Investigates, along with CNBC and our NBC sister stations in San Diego and Dallas, ordered dozens of items for same-day pickup. We purchased merchandise from six retailers and waited for alerts to say the items were ready.

The idea was to see how easy the process is overall for consumers and how much time it took from online check-out to when the order was ready for pickup.

Thirty-seven minutes after NBC 5 Investigates ordered two sweaters, a glass candle holder, a card game and lotion from Target’s website, we received a pickup alert from the store in suburban Hodgkins. Once inside the store, we were asked to show identification at the customer service counter. All of our items were included in the bag.

“We’re proud that Order Pickup consistently receives high satisfaction marks from guests, and that more than 95 percent of Order Pickup orders are ready in less than an hour for guests at their local Target store,” said a Target spokesperson.

We received a notification from Kohl’s in Hodgkins less than one hour after confirming a purchase for bedding and baby items. Our identification and a barcode from a confirmation email were required for the pickup.

Pick-up alerts from Home Depot in Broadview and Macy’s in Oak Brook came within two hours. Both stores required order confirmations and everything we ordered was at the stores’ customer service desks.

It took nearly three hours for us to hear that our order was ready at Wal-Mart in Hodgkins. We walked to the back of the store to the online pickup counter and entered our email address in a computer kiosk. All of our items were handed-over to us within a few minutes.

Still, consumers should be prepared to adjust their orders when shopping online for same-day pickup because some items may not be available at your store of choice.

A spokesperson for Home Depot said the retailer has approximately 35,000 SKUs in the store but more than one million online.

NBC 5 Investigates ordered a shower caddy, Christmas tree stand, tree skirt, and surge protector for same-day pickup at the Lowe’s location on North Narragansett Avenue in Chicago. About two hours and fifty minutes after clicking the online purchase button, we received a call from a store employee telling us that the tree stand and skirt would not be available.

“We’re always working to improve the customer experience,” said a Lowe’s spokesperson. “In 2018, we will introduce new capabilities to our buy online pick up in store program, including dedicated parking spots, specific pick-up desks and at high volume stores, employees dedicated to filling orders.”

Overall, our combined shopping experiences from across the country resulted in the following “ready for pick-up” rankings for the six retailers:

1. Target-order ready averaged 33 minutes

2. Kohl’s-order ready averaged 46 minutes

3. Home Depot-order ready averaged 1 hour 15 minutes

4. Macy’s-order ready averaged 2 hours 11 minutes

5. Lowe’s-order ready averaged 2 hours 45 minutes

6. Wal-Mart-order ready averaged 6 hours 32 minutes

Our Dallas affiliate placed its order with Wal-Mart just before 5 p.m with same-day pickup as a stated option, but the email and text notifying the team it was ready for pickup didn’t come until after 9 a.m. the next day.

A Wal-Mart spokesperson said “while we don’t share our average order time externally, we can say it’s quite a bit less than what the CNBC/NBC affiliates experienced.”

A recent study by JDA Consumer Survey found a 44% increase in “buy online, pick-up in store” shopping since 2015.

“I can go out and pick it up after I get off work, before I pick up the kids from school,” said Dr. Jim Mourey of DePaul University. “That’s the sort of convenience that they’re reaching out to. Just sort of steal those customers back from companies like Amazon.”

Mourey, who studies consumer psychology, said this marketing method is not entirely new. However, he said retailers are giving more options to customers who prefer convenience and those who enjoy browsing.

“If companies like Target continue to change in this very innovative way, I think everyone can benefit,” Mourey said. “My guess is for retail stores that are going to be around the next five or ten years, they’re gonna have to do the same thing.”

While a 2015 survey showed 40% of consumers who picked up online orders say they experienced some sort of service issue, such as a long wait, the retailers we recently visited said they are working hard to provide a fast and easy experience for shoppers and they are making more items available for same-day pickup.

“It’s so popular that we’ve tripled the number of items available,” said a Wal-Mart spokesperson.

The Target spokesperson said about one-third of the shoppers who come in for Order Pickup orders also make additional purchases.

<![CDATA[Mother, Daughter Targeted in 'Elaborate' Scam]]> Wed, 22 Nov 2017 18:57:20 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/226*120/elginscam_29793981.jpg

South Elgin police told a suburban mother and daughter that it is one of the most detailed and elaborate scams they've seen.

On Monday morning, Tina Pelinski was at work when she got a phone call from her daughter's number.

The call was pure terror.

"Two males voices on the other end, explaining to me they had my daughter and that I needed to get ransom money or they were going to rape or kill her," said Pelinski.

Pelinski was given strict orders: stay on the line, don't call police, purchase pre-paid money cards from local businesses. She complied with all three, even as merchants raised questions about what the cards were for.

"In the moment when you think your daughter is going to be killed, you're not going to let them know what you're going through," said Pelinski. "I just said it's for a Christmas party at work...and I'm getting reassurance from the alleged kidnappers (on the phone), saying 'that's a good job. That's a good story you're telling them.'"

Pelinski said she didn't for once think the call was a scam because of the personal stories the scammers detailed: a memory of hearing 2-year-old Hannah play with the Velcro strap on her new shoes; a specific tattoo Hannah has on her right wrist.

How did the scammers know those details? Turns out, daughter Hannah Kosek, 18, was simultaneously swindled by the same scammers.

In her case, she got a call about 7:45 am from someone purporting to be with the Kane County Sheriff's Office that she would face severe consequences for missing jury duty.

"I hadn't been summoned," Kozek said. "I'm freaking out. I'm newly 18. I didn't know. I've never gone to jury duty."

Out of fear, Kozek also obeyed the scammers' commands: purchase pre-paid cards and read the card numbers as "bail money," stay on the phone, pass along an emergency contact number.

"That makes sense if I'm about to go to jail, I supposed they would need (my mom's emergency contact)," Kozek said. "That was when they were asking me very personal things about me and my mom, asking me things that only she would know, so it seemed real to me for some reason."

Hannah said she stayed on the phone for nearly 4.5 hours. No one in her family could reach her during that time.

The plan unraveled when Pelinski's co-worker called police. Pelinski said officers found her still on the phone at a local business, and they had to convince her that it was a scam.

The mother and daughter paid $5500 to scammers. The family has set up a GoFundMe account to recoup their loss. 

"I'm just so angry that they're laughing right now," Pelinski said. "They preyed on our fear. Her fear of going to jail, my fear of losing her."

The South Elgin Police Department issued a community alert Wednesday, warning the public that incidents like this are on the rise in the Chicagoland area.

The release said two phone scams occurred on Nov. 20 in which "the victims were led to believe that there were warrants for their arrest by the Kane County Sheriff's Office and the Internal Revenue Service" and directed to purchase money cards.

Police said government agencies do not accept money cards as forms of payment for fines or bonds.

<![CDATA[Calls For Freedom in Another Watts Case]]> Wed, 22 Nov 2017 21:20:44 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Ronald_Watts_10-9.jpg

Cook County prosecutors say they are at least considering the petition of still another defendant who says he fell victim to disgraced Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and the tactical team he ran on Chicago’s South Side.

Last week, prosecutors vacated the convictions of 15 men who had long contended they were framed by Watts and his crew. “In good conscience,” said assistant State’s Attorney Mark Rotert, “we could not let these convictions stand.”

But there are plenty more defendants waiting in the wings. Among them, a man named Anthony McDaniels, who was arrested on gun charges in November of 2008.

McDaniels has long contended the gun was planted by members of Watts’ team.

“There’s three officers who testified,” defense attorney Joshua Tepfer said Wednesday. “Those three officers have all been tied to many of the 26 convictions overturned, based on allegations that those officers were involved in the day to day corruption of Sgt. Watts.”

Initially, prosecutors balked at McDaniels’ petition. But in court Wednesday, they suggested that position might be changing.

“In light of the events of last week, we are reviewing this case again,” assistant State’s Attorney Carol Rogala told judge Arthur Hill. “We are still looking into this case.”

After court, Tepfer praised prosecutors for their willingness to keep an open mind.

“We’re really pleased with the way everything is progressing,” he said. “We’re certainly disappointed Anthony is not going to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving with his lovely sisters and his mother, but we do hope he’s home by Christmas.”

It is likely Watts and his crew were responsible for many hundreds of arrests during the years they operated in the former Ida B. Wells housing project. Many critics have argued that none of those arrests should be allowed to stand.

Tepfer conceded the McDaniels case involves a gun charge, as opposed to the drug cases tossed out last week. But the facts, he notes, bear one important similarity.

“They key factor is that it revolves around the credibility of these officers,” Tepfer said. “And that credibility is nil.”

<![CDATA[Spelling Error Has Major Implications When Shopping Online]]> Tue, 21 Nov 2017 23:51:21 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/TYPO+PRIVACY+-+00000511_29777134.jpg

An online shopper thought he was doing business with a national store. He later learned that – because of a typo – he had given his credit card information to a stranger. Marion Brooks reports.

<![CDATA[CPD Had Ample Warning of Allegations Against Officers]]> Fri, 17 Nov 2017 20:05:06 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/McDanial+Court+Rogers+int+2+-+00013119_29279907.jpg

In the wake of Thursday’s mass exonerations of 15 individuals who said they were framed by rogue police officers, Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson suggested the department had limited knowledge of those officers’ alleged activities.

“It did happen years ago,” he said. “But unfortunately, CPD was not in charge of that investigation, so a lot of that information we just don’t have.”

Six officers and one sergeant were removed from street duty Thursday night, pending a review of the roles they played in the arrests of the 15 men. And suspicions about the officers in question have swirled publicly for years.

A former officer from the Internal Affairs Division tells NBC5 the officers, headed up by Sgt. Ronald Watts, were on IAD radar as far back as 2009. Former police officer Shannon Spalding says she and her partner discovered corruption by Watts and his team shortly after being assigned to the narcotics division. And, she says, when her complaints fell on deaf ears, she and her partner called in the FBI.

“Officers and supervisors were involved in running the narcotics trade within Ida B. Wells (housing project) and surrounding areas,” she told NBC5 in January of 2016. “There was a sergeant, and his crew, that were shaking down the drug dealers and they were paying them ‘taxes’ so that they could operate their narcotics trade with impunity.”

Spalding said she and her partner only went to the FBI after “it became very clear there was not going to be an unbiased investigation of these officers.”

That larger investigation was compromised at the federal level. Only Sgt. Watts and one other officer Kalatt Mohammed were charged. But Spalding said everyone involved in that investigation knew it went much further.

“I believe Watts, Mohammed, and the majority of his tactical team at the time that he was found guilty, or he admitted to being guilty, should have and would have been arrested as well,” she said.

Indeed, at the time of Watts arrest in February of 2012, NBC5 Investigates reported that many other officers were also under investigation and suspected of being involved in the wrongdoing. Then-Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy insisted there was no larger scandal.

“No,” he said. “There’s nobody involved except the two officers who were arrested.”

But the allegations wouldn’t go away. Spalding and her partner said they were blackballed within the department, eventually filing a very public whistleblower lawsuit which was settled by the city in the summer of 2016 on the eve of trial for $2 million.

Thruout, Spalding publicly insisted more officers had been guilty of wrongdoing. And there were numerous lawsuits, all naming the names of many of the very officers who were removed from duty Thursday night.

“They still have their badges, some of them them promoted,” Spalding marveled in the January 2016 interview. “It’s just mind-boggling to me that the Chicago Police Department was involved in this investigation, they were all aware that these other targets existed, yet they’re still on the street!”

Finally this week, after 15 more defendants walked free, the seven officers were removed from street duty and are now the targets of a formal investigation.

<![CDATA[Gang Conflict in Rogers Park Killed Popular Teacher: Ald.]]> Sat, 18 Nov 2017 11:35:33 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/teacher+funeral.JPG

It would be easy to say Friday night Oct. 13 was unlucky for Cynthia Trevillion.

The reality is the tragic event that occurred that night impacted so many more people and highlights an often-overlooked aspect of Chicago’s gang violence: it is not just the south and west sides that feel the painful sting of violence.

Cynthia Trevillion was the innocent victim of gang violence in the far north neighborhood that night, according 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore, struck down as she walked to the Morse train station with her husband.

Early in the evening of that Friday night, in a hail of gunfire, the 64-year-old math teacher was fatally shot, shell casings littering the street in the aftermath of the drive-by shooting.

A long-running gang conflict, says Moore, is to blame. “It was the result of conflicts between a bunch of different rival gangs.”

“I just saw flashes of light,” John Trevillion remembered weeks later, sitting in his second-floor apartment. He was walking with his wife to the Morse Street El that night to catch a train and join friends at dinner.

Trevlilion said he hit the ground as Cynthia was struck. The recognition of what had just happened was immediate. The look on her face, he said, told him the injury was likely fatal.

The two were married in 1988, educators, who moved to Chicago 14 years ago to teach at the Waldorf School in Rogers Park.

Cynthia loved to cook. “Everybody knows her as butter is better queen,” he said. And she loved the Cubs, he noted, holding a picture of the two of them in front of Wrigley Field not long after the team won the World Series.

On occasion, he said, they heard gunshots from their apartment. “But we just took them as well, normal,” he said quietly.

The drive-by shooting that killed Trevillion was the by-product of a long-simmering gang conflict in Rogers Park. The irony is, according to former 24th District police commander Bruce Rottner is, “they are all part of the same gang.”

Rottner was born in Rogers Park and served as commander from 2005 to 2008. He, and others believe, the gang feud is fueled by a 2012 shooting that took the life of Anton “Pooh Bear” Sanders.

“There is what is known as the Pooh Bear gang,” he said and its main rival is LOC City, which stands for Loyalty Over Cash. Police believe both are part of the Gangster Disciples.

The violence in Rogers Park, Rottner said is not surprising. “It’s, I would say, all over the city in varying degrees,” he acknowledged.

On the evening Cynthia Trevillion was shot and killed, gang violence also ended the life of a 15-year old Sullivan High School student.

A recent immigrant to this country, he was shot in the back because the gang members were trying to recruit him into their gang, according to alderman Moore.

“It’s a relatedly new recent phenomenon,” he said. “I think the gangs are very, very small in our neighborhood…maybe a dozen to 18 hardcore members and they are looking for new recruits.

“And they are looking at the vulnerable immigrant population. We’ve got a lot of recent refugees and immigrants who have come to our neighborhood,” he said, “the ones that they appear to be targeting are coming from Africa.”

Ironically, even as the two murders occurred, homicides and shootings, according to police statistics are down significantly in the 24th police district from the same period last year.

“And then this flairs up,” said Moore.

At the intersection of Morse and Glenwood, where Cynthia Trevillion was shot, flowers and notes mark a make-shift memorial.

Your death has affected us all, please stop hate, one reads.

And in letters sent to John Trevillion, 8th grade students honor their teacher, his wife.

In the four short years that I knew Mrs. T, one student wrote, I really learned how much a teacher could care for you.

Cynthia Trevillion now joins a long list of innocents killed as a result of gang violence in Chicago: Blair Holt, Hadiya Pendleton and on and on.

“I’ve already sensed in myself the tendency towards resignation,” John Trevillion said. Still he wills himself forward, he says, to try and turn an unspeakable act into what his wife would call, a positive deed.

“And I cannot shrink from that,” he said.

The untimely death of his wife he notes is both a gift and a burden. But more power rests, he hopes, in the gift born of tragedy on a Friday the 13th.

<![CDATA[ 7 Cops Removed From Duty Following Historic Exonerations]]> Fri, 17 Nov 2017 00:20:57 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WRONGFUL+CONVICTION+PRESSER+CAM+-+09570715_29715057.jpg

Seven members of a former Chicago Police tactical team have been placed on administrative duty, after a Cook County judge threw out the convictions of 15 individuals, which even the State’s Attorney’s office said were tainted cases.

Six officers and one sergeant were taken off the street late Thursday, pending a police department review of the roles they played in the cases of 15 men, vacated earlier in the day by the Cook County State's Attorney's Office.

“In these cases, we concluded, unfortunately, that the police were not being truthful,” Mark Rotert, the director of the conviction integrity unit said after court. “We couldn’t have confidence in the integrity of their reports and testimony.”

Moments earlier, Cook County judge Leroy Martin threw out the felony drug convictions of the 15 men, who all say they were locked up for no other reason except that they refused to pay Sgt. Ronald Watts.

“I’m not a historian,” defense attorney Joshua Tepfer said, “but as far as I know, this is the first mass exoneration in the history of the county, perhaps the state.”

Watts and one of his officers, Kallatt Mohammed eventually went to prison themselves. But the remainder of the tactical team went uncharged, and many of the officers remain on the force. Those were the officers removed from duty Thursday evening.

"Everyone knew if you're not going to pay Watts, you were going to jail. That's just the way it was going,'' said Leonard Gipson, 36, who had two convictions tossed out.

The practice, they recalled, was all the more chilling because the officer was so open about it.

"Watts always told me, `If you're not going to pay me, I'm going to get you.' And every time I ran into him, he put drugs on me,'' he said. ``I went to prison and did 24 months for Watts, and I came back home and he put another case on me.''

He and others said there was nothing anyone could do about it. They watched Watts and his crew continue to extort drug dealers and residents, a practice that lasted for years, despite complaints to the police department and statements made during court hearings.

Finally, in 2013, Watts and another officer pleaded guilty to stealing money from an FBI informant, but Watts' sentence of 22 months was shorter than those being handed out to the men he framed.

“Myself and the Chicago Police Department, we just have no tolerance for that type of behavior,” Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson insisted to reporters following a luncheon appearance. “You will all be hearing something from me again soon, but I just want you to know we are taking a hard look at the events that unfolded.”

While a formal investigation was welcomed by those who have long been critical of Watts and his crew, complaints had raged for years about the tactical team. Two undercover officers publicly alleged that the great majority of the team was corrupt.

Those two officers, Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria, sued the city alleging retaliation for the work they had done uncovering corruption in the case. Last summer on the eve of trial, the City of Chicago settled with the two officers for $2 million.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys suggested that Thursday's order may be just the beginning.

The University of Chicago's Exoneration Project is examining another 12 to 24 cases, but the problem is much larger because Watts was involved in about 1,000 cases and perhaps 500 convictions over eight years.

Chicago has paid more than a half billion dollars to settlepolice misconduct cases in a little more than a decade.

Tepfer would not discuss what the men might do next, but it is almost a certainty that at least some of them will sue the city and the police department. He offered a hint about what those lawsuits might contend.

These convictions stick with you,'' he said. ``You can't get back the time you served. It affects your ability to get jobs, housing. You get thrown off of public aid with a felony conviction.''

<![CDATA[The Biggest Killer of Firefighters is Not Fire]]> Thu, 16 Nov 2017 00:16:42 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/firefighterscancer_29703262.jpg

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Matt Montague knew that what his dad did for a living was dangerous.

After all, his father was a San Francisco firefighter.

Montague’s father developed cancer shortly after his retirement. Proudly following in his dad’s footsteps, Montague also became a firefighter, now serving in suburban Naperville.

And like his dad, Matt got cancer too.

“Almost five years ago now, I was diagnosed with acute leukemia,” he says. “I was working here.”

Montague is firmly convinced that his family’s chosen profession led to both cancers. And the evidence is overwhelming that he’s right.

“The petroleum based products, a lot of plastics, when they burn, they emit a toxic soup,” says Naperville’s deputy chief Andrew Dina. “And it’s a toxic soup full of carcinogens.”

Dina, the Illinois representative of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, speaks from personal knowledge. He got cancer too, when he was just 46 years old.

“We fight fire in teams, we go on ambulance calls in teams,” he says. “We’re going to fight cancer in teams---we’re not going to let any firefighter fight cancer alone.”

The studies are overwhelming. Alarming rates for a variety of cancers, from brain and bladder cancer, to testicular and thyroid cancer, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and breast cancer.

The International Association of Firefighters says that a shocking 60% of members memorialized on its fallen firefighters memorial wall, died of cancer.

“Two to three times more likely for our firefighters to get cancer than the general population at large,” says Tim Walsh, the chief of safety for the Chicago Fire Department. “And six times more likely for female firefighters to get breast cancer.”

That “toxic soup” in which firefighters do their work, has become the centerpiece of intensive research. Multiple studies by Underwriters Laboratories and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health have focused on what’s in the smoke from burning building materials, and the soot which firefighters often wear back to the firehouse on their skin and clothing.

“Smoke is made of a whole lot of different things,” says Dr. Gavin Horn, of the Fire Service Institute at the University of Illinois, where much of that research is being done. “And the smoke depends a whole lot on what’s burning.”

Go back 100 years, and far too many firefighters were killed by fire or building collapse. But back then, the smoke mostly consisted of burning wood, or cotton and wool fabrics from upholstery. Today, firefighters have better safety equipment and better training to hopefully avoid the greatest dangers of the fire itself. But what’s burning in the buildings is heavily made up of plastics and petroleum based products which often give off extremely toxic byproducts.

“Some of these chemicals are known carcinogens,” Horn says. “Firefighters, even when they wear all the gear, everything that is provided for them, there is a potential for exposure and for some of these chemicals to get into the body.”

And it isn’t just buildings.

“Some of the most toxic burning materials are in an automobile fire,” says Chicago’s Deputy Fire Commissioner Don Hroma. “With all of the plastics, and air shocks, and steering columns that are filled with different types of magnesium and just a bunch of chemicals, all in a small box.”

Flame retardants for upholstery and carpeting have long been an area of concern---and ironic concern at that. Designed to make fabrics more fire-resistant, researchers have learned some of those chemicals give off extremely toxic gases when burned. And all of that can end up in the soot which covers firefighters when they leave a burning building.

“We find a significant concentration on the gear,” Horn says. “And that gear can go back into the apparatus or the station if it’s not properly cleaned.”

That leads to two of the biggest concerns: breathing toxic smoke, and soot which can be absorbed through the skin. And that means not only new practices, but a new culture in firefighting. After all, that soot has traditionally been proof that a firefighter did his job.

“Guys liked that, their dirty coats, their dirty helmets,” says Hroma. “They used to show pictures with dirty firefighters, that’s all changed. That culture’s gone away. Now we’re preaching clean.”

Hroma says the fire community has an eye to manufacturers of their personal protective equipment, or PPE’s. They are aware, he says, of the increased focus.

“They’re actually buying into it,” he says. “They understand it, and hopefully there will be some changes in our equipment, which will protect us even more.”

Now, the two biggest changes are for firefighters to keep their air masks on well thru teardown at the fire scene, and to wipe soot off their hands, faces, and necks, as soon as possible.

“Being dirty on the fire ground was a badge of honor,” Hroma says. “Guys are still going to get dirty in the fire---we just have to get them cleaned up as soon as possible.”

Naperville is among area departments that have taken major precautions. Every firefighter at the community’s ten firehouses is now given two sets of gear---so that one can be washed if they catch a fire early in their shift. Gear washers are now at every firehouse, and signs are posted cautioning firefighters about areas where soiled fireclothes are not permitted.

“We want to keep the carcinogens out of the living quarters,” says Dina, the Naperville deputy chief. “The number one thing you can do is to prevent.”

While the cultural change is significant, experts say the evidence of cancer danger in the fire ranks is so overwhelming, that precautions have not been a difficult sell.

“We have to change the way we do our work,” says Chicago’s Walsh. “We have to change what we do, so that you can survive, and go home to your family.”

<![CDATA[Sexual Harassment in Cook County Jail Runs Rampant: PDs]]> Wed, 15 Nov 2017 20:53:36 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/6P+PKG+PUBLIC+DEFENDERS+SUE+JAIL+CLEAN+3+-+00010110_29701573.jpg

The Cook County jail is a toxic environment where inmates expose themselves, act out sexually, harassing, attacking and threatening female public defenders and female correctional officers. The allegations are detailed in court papers.

Four assistant Public Defenders, along with their two civil rights attorneys, appeared in federal court to allege they are sexually harassed by inmates at the Cook County jail, who expose and sexually gratify themselves as the lawyers simply try and do their jobs.

“It’s about domination, harassment, degradation of women and our position is it has to stop,” said attorney Robin Potter.

“It’s been going on, it’s getting worse and nobody knows what to do about it,” echoed attorney Nieves Bolanos.

Sixteen female public defenders have filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging the abuse.

In the complaint the Public Defenders state they “have been battered by detainees in the lockups and jails.”

Been “grabbed…by the legs or buttocks;”

and “on at least one occasion…bodily fluids” were thrown onto one of the women.

Among the defendants in the case: Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and Public Defender Amy Campanelli, who has ordered her staff to stay out of the lockups.

That, says the assistant Public Defenders, denies inmates due process and does nothing to correct the abuse.

“The employer (Campanelli) and the sheriff must create a safe workplace where they can do their jobs. That’s it,” said Potter.

But it’s not just Public Defenders. Attorneys for female Cook County correctional officers say their clients believe jail policies restrict their ability to control indecent behavior.

“You can tell them to stop but if they don’t stop you are not allowed to restrain them to stop it,” said attorney Marni Willenson.

“Nobody should go to work and have to fear that somebody else is going to masturbate at or on them,” replied co-counsel Joshua Karsh.

Cara Smith, Director of Cook County Jail, cited the importance of staff safety but also noted inmates languish in jail too long. And some additional penalties like putting them on the Sex Offender Registry—would be a deterrent but require legislation.

Inside the Cook County jail, according to a court document, inmates have formed a gang called Savage Life.

Attorney Robin Potter said the group remains somewhat mysterious. “We are not totally sure but we understand it is a group of inmates who compete to exercise their sexual prowess and to harass the women by masturbating and they get rewarded,” she said.

The assistant Public Defenders are asking for an independent federal monitor to take control of the situation. All sides will be back in court at the end of November.

<![CDATA[Gag Clause May Hit Your Pocketbook at Pharmacy]]> Wed, 08 Nov 2017 19:30:56 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/pillz_29598287.jpg

If there was a way to get your medication cheaper, wouldn’t you want to know?

Chicagoan Shalunda Williams would.

“I have one [prescription], out-of-pocket, is $300 with insurance,” Williams said.

“There are times when a prescription can be cheaper to the consumer without the insurance,” said one Chicago-area pharmacist who has been in the business for more than 30 years. He only agreed to talk to NBC 5 Investigates if his identity could be protected. But, he said, “It can be less, a lot less, yes.”

That’s a surprise to consumers like Janie Trigo from Cincinnati, Ohio.

“I had no idea,” Trigo said. “I just assumed I was getting the best price” by using insurance.

You may be paying more because of a practice called “clawbacks,” where money is clawed back by middlemen known as Pharmacy Benefit Managers, who negotiate the price your insurance company pays for a drug.

“Some plans claw back on all brands and generic. Some claw back only generics. Some — brands only. It totally depends on plan the patient has,” the pharmacist said.

These contracts can include a gag clause, prohibiting your pharmacist from letting you know if you could pay less by not using your insurance.

“It’s a bad practice,” said Kurt Florian, the CEO and President of the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago. ”It’s unconscionable that it exists.”

A dozen states have outlawed clawbacks outright, or, at the very least, the gag clause. Illinois is not one of them.

“We are going to be reaching out to legislators in Illinois to see who is willing to sponsor legislation to get rid of this bad practice,” Florian said.

One way consumers can protect themselves is to speak up. There is one question you need to ask when picking up your medication: “Can I get this cheaper without my insurance?” That unlocks the gag clause, and the pharmacist can answer.

“They can come in and ask what is the cash price, and then go from there,” the pharmacist said.

The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association represents America’s Pharmacy Benefit Managers. When NBC 5 Investigates asked about the gag clause, the association responded with the following statement:

“Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) typically reduce prescription drug costs by 30 percent for more than 266 million Americans enrolled in private and public plans, most notably Medicare Part D. PBMs use their substantial scale and expertise to negotiate aggressive rebates, discounts, and other price concessions from drug manufacturers and drugstores on prescription drugs. We support the patient paying the lowest price available at the pharmacy counter for the prescribed drug.”

While the practice of clawbacks continues, the Illinois pharmacist watches in disgust.

“I’m here because I want to help the patient. I’m here because I see an injustice to the consumer and to the pharmacy profession,” he said.

Bottom line: Don’t assume that going through your insurance will get you the best price on your prescription medication. If you simply ask for the lowest price a pharmacy can offer, that could reduce what you pay.

<![CDATA[Police Investigate Alleged Missing Scrap Recycling Proceeds]]> Tue, 07 Nov 2017 22:19:09 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/scrapgetty.jpg

A suburban township’s road district is facing serious questions about its record keeping upon allegations that proceeds from its scrap metal recycling went missing.

The Illinois State Police confirms it is investigating allegations of missing money at the Oswego Township road district. It is not clear if any charges will be filed.

Concerned resident Leah Philpot said she received a tip about the township’s scrap metal recycling methods. She later filed open records requests asking for information about the road district’s cash deposits. Philpot said her research compared the value of street signs being purchased to the value of scrap metal being recycled the township.

According to Philpot, there are missing deposit records for nearly $2,000 in scrap metal recycling proceeds.

“Everyone understands losing receipts, but losing all of them is a problem,” Philpot said.

Philpot brought up the issue at a July meeting of the Oswego Township. According to the meeting’s minutes, the township attorney explained that the township could not comment due to the ongoing investigation.

NBC 5 Investigates contacted the township supervisor for comment. While he declined to provide a statement due to the open investigation, he said he is guessing that there will be answers within several weeks.

The $65 billion scrap recycling industry is taking a stand against potential theft, especially as the price of copper remains at around $3 per pound.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries said it works with law enforcement to limit potential theft.

“That is the problem we have is identifying what is legally generated as scrap and what could have been stolen,” said ISRI member Frank Cozzi of Cozzi Recycling.

Cozzi, who owns a scrap recycling plant, said his workers are trained to spot potential stolen theft such as sewer grates and other public works metals.

Photo Credit: Getty]]>
<![CDATA[Health Apps Raise Medical, Privacy Concerns: Experts]]> Sat, 04 Nov 2017 13:35:11 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/bodytrackerz_29547745.jpg

More than 165,000 health-related apps are available to download on smart phones, but a majority of them are unregulated, raising concerns for both doctors and those in the legal community.

Health apps run the gamut from fitness to fertility, mental health to diabetes. Consumers often input their most intimate information without knowing the full story of where their data is going, according to Lori Andrews, a professor at IIT-Chicago Kent College of Law.

“These are miniature surveillance devices,” said Andrews. “(Our phones) are on us at all times.”

Andrews studied a random sample of the top 400 health apps and says she found alarming holes in data privacy. For one, Andrews said an overwhelming majority of the apps did not have privacy policies.

“We found over 70 percent shared that intimate health information with data aggregators, some of them who provided that information to life insurers and health insurers,” Andrews said.

What’s problematic, Andrews said, is app developers aren’t breaking the rules by doing so. While doctors and medical institutions are bounded by federal HIPAA laws to safeguard data privacy and health-related information, those same regulations do not apply to a majority of app developers.

“The consumer might get the impression that she’s just monitoring her own health. She may not realize there are real downsides to that information being shared with third parties like life insurers who might then deny her insurance because she’s not keeping her diabetes in check or she’s had too many miscarriages or things that might indicate a larger health problem,” Andrews said.

According to a July 2016 Consumer Reports study, findings found the popular Glow Pregnancy App had security flaws that “would be easy for stalkers, online bullies or identity thieves to use the information they gathered on Glow’s users.” The report said Glow worked quickly to correct the vulnerabilities and updated the app.

According to Andrews and doctors, a chief concern of health apps is that many are not backed by sound science. A minority of medical apps consult a physician or healthcare provider in development, according to Dr. Sherif Badawy, a hematologist and oncologist at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

In Badawy’s published report on health-related smartphone apps, he highlighted some risks, including one example where inconsistencies were found in apps that purported to help with opioid conversion calculations.

“That can be dangerous and lethal,” said Badawy. “No one is supervising it so a patient can download an app, open it, but maybe that information is inaccurate.”

The Food and Drug Administration only regulates mobile apps that function as a medical device, for example, an app that hooks up to an EKG heart monitor.

“The FDA focuses its regulatory oversight on only a small subset of mobile applications that may impact the performance or functionality of currently regulated medical devices and may pose a risk to patients if they don’t work as intended,” said an FDA spokeswoman in an email.

In recent years, the Federal Trade Commission has cracked down on apps for false advertising.

In 2015, the FTC settled with one app developer whose “Mole Detective” family of apps instructed users to take a photograph of their moles, then purported to determine the users’ risk of melanoma. The company settled the complaint with the FTC and agreed to stop making claims concerning the app’s ability to detect melanoma without having sufficient evidence to back up those claims. 

“You just need to know what you’re getting yourself into and understand the risk and benefits which many of these companies don’t explain,” said Badawy.

<![CDATA[Drivers Play Waiting Game at Chicago-Area Rail Crossings]]> Tue, 31 Oct 2017 22:59:55 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/10P+VO+HOUR+TRAIN+TSE+-+00000701_29509884.png

Chicago-area drivers may be accustomed to waiting five or ten minutes for trains to pass at rail crossings. But imagine those delays stretching upwards of forty-five minutes to one hour.

Motorists on the far southeast side of Chicago said it’s not uncommon to see trains sitting on the tracks for long periods of time at the rail crossing south of the intersection of Brainard Avenue and Burnham Avenue in the Hegewisch neighborhood.

“There’s so many people on their way to work, on their way to school,” said driver Jeannie Conlin. “I just don’t understand why this allowed.”

NBC 5 Investigates watched as one freight train sat motionless on the tracks and blocked the crossing for nearly an hour on a recent Thursday afternoon. Drivers who grew tired of waiting turned around and headed for other roads that could take them across the tracks.

“A lot of the old timers, they just stop over there and sit there and wait for them to go by. Not me,” said Chester Skinbinski of Hegewisch.

While there are five tracks owned by three different railroads at the Brainard and Burnham crossing, Norfolk Southern said it owns the tracks in question.

“In order to serve customers and coordinate the movement of passenger and freight rail operations over these tracks, some crossings can be blocked at times,” a company spokesperson said.

According to a motorist delay analysis by the Illinois Commerce Commission, Chicago area drivers get delayed at least 7,800 hours every weekday at rail crossings. The study shows some of the longest waits occur at crossings in LaGrange, Des Plaines, Blue Island and Downers Grove.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) created an interactive map showing grade crossings with reputations for long wait times. Check here to see if the crossing near you makes the list. 

But if you think local governments can prevent trains from blocking rail crossings, think again.

A decision by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2008 essentially removed all power from local and state governments in Illinois to issue citations to trains that delay traffic. The decision was based on the argument that railroads are part of interstate commerce and therefore can only be regulated by the federal government.

There is currently no federal rule that prohibits trains from blocking public grade crossings.

The Illinois Commerce Commission said drivers can still reach out to state and federal agencies with their rail crossing concerns.

“We can help with the coordination efforts with the Federal Railroad Administration and then it’s getting together with the parties to see if it was an isolated incident or if it’s something that’s a continuing problem and maybe there are solutions to it,” said ICC senior rail safety specialist Brian Vercruysse.

One solution could potentially be for a railroad to adjust either the speed or the length of its trains in order to prevent rail crossing blockages. Those are also subject matters covered by federal law.

A public-private partnership called CREATE is currently working to improve rail crossings and decrease driver wait times. So far, CREATE has spent $1 billion on 28 projects. There are a total of 70 planned projects, although many still need funding.

You can see if a rail crossing near you will be improved by clicking here.

Norfolk Southern said drivers who prefer not to wait at the crossing near Brainard and Burnham can use the underpass at Torrence Avenue and 130th Street. The new underpass, which was funded by CREATE and completed in 2015, is located a mile and a half away.

“Based on the number of vehicles crossing the tracks, railroad volume, traffic delays and potential growth in the area, CREATE selected the Torrence Ave. and 130th Street crossing as the location that would have the biggest impact,” said the Norfolk Southern spokesperson.

Still, drivers who may be unfamiliar with the area may not see any signs pointing them to the new underpass.

So many keep waiting.

<![CDATA[CFD at O’Hare Practices a Different Kind of Firefighting]]> Fri, 27 Oct 2017 17:07:28 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/217*120/ohare+fire.png

At O’Hare airport, Lt. Leonard Edling of the Chicago Fire Department notes one big difference about what he does for a living.

“Our fires arrive at 150 miles an hour,” he observes. “Our number one priority is the passengers and crew on that aircraft.”

The skills of firefighters like Edling and dozens of others at O’Hare were called upon a year ago, when the number two engine of an American Airlines 767 exploded on takeoff, engulfing the right side of the aircraft in burning jet fuel.

“Fuel was just gushing out,” recalls Ass’t. Deputy Commissioner Tim Sampey. “You have a burning aircraft that is loaded with fuel. So the potential for explosion is enormous!”

Firefighting at O’Hare and Midway is a unique calling, with extremely unique equipment. On a recent morning, Edling took NBC5 for a ride in an Oshkosh Striker fire vehicle---a mammoth rig specifically designed to fight fires on burning airplanes.

“We can actually pump and roll with this apparatus up to about 50 miles an hour,” he said, “while we are actually rolling up to the aircraft.”

The truck is enormous --- so big you can stand up in the cab behind the steering wheel with plenty of headroom. An operator inside uses a joystick to fire either a front mounted cannon-type nozzle, or a giant boom, which can deliver hundreds of gallons a minute.

“Fighting an aircraft fire, you’re working in a small confined space with a lot of people in there,” he observes. “It’s like working a fire in a hallway.”

Trucks like the Striker carry 4500 gallons of water, another 620 gallons of fire retardant foam, as well as a chemical known as halatron and 500 lbs of a dry agent called “purple k”.

Jet fuel floats on water. The foam smothers the burning fuel, and cools it at the same time. If need be, the trucks can roll back through their firehouses, re-fill their tanks in minutes, then return to the fire.

“We start by starting at the fuselage of the aircraft and working our way out,” Edling said. “We’re trying to separate the fuel and the fire to create a rescue path.”

In the sprawling Rescue-1 firehouse at midfield, the central feature of a windowed control room is a single red phone---a hotline from the O’Hare control tower. If controllers ring that phone and declare a “crash alert”, all aircraft traffic is stopped on the field to allow the fire crews to get where they need to be.

The goal---the center point of any runway within 3 minutes.

“If all goes well they’re going to most likely have most of the passengers off the aircraft as we’re arriving,” Edling said. That was the case with the American Airlines fire. The flight attendants were so efficient with that evacuation, every passenger was off the plane in less than 2 and a half minutes.

“People were screaming, running away from the fire,” firefighter Bob Gembala recalled. “As they came down from the slides, I just had them come towards me, out of harm’s way.”

The crews train constantly. In O’Hare’s “burn pit”, a giant steel aircraft can be set ablaze with propane, so crews can practice the most effective ways of putting it out. When American 383 erupted in flames, it was a scenario all of the firefighters knew by heart.

“The entire staff out here at O’Hare had just finished this training to the exact letter, with the same incident that just happened with the aircraft engine fire,” observes Kevin Murphy, a live fire training specialist with the Chicago Fire Department. “When our members got out to the scene, we fought it just like we trained the week prior.”

Of course, if all goes well, their expertise is never needed. In fact, one firefighter working flight 383 that day was marking his last official day on the job.

In over three decades with the Chicago Fire Department, it was his very first aircraft fire.

Photo Credit: Hector Cardenas]]>
<![CDATA[One Year After Jetliner Fire, Memories Linger, Mysteries Remain]]> Thu, 26 Oct 2017 23:01:01 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/217*120/ohare+fire.png

One year after she nearly died on a flaming jetliner at O’Hare, Kathy McLoyd says she still fears something will happen. 

“I didn’t die in an airplane,” she says. “I kind of cheated death, but I can’t get over this fear that it’s going to happen some other kind of way.” 

Kathy and her husband Peter were sitting in row 29 of American Airlines flight 383 last October 28, bound for Miami, when the right engine exploded on takeoff. With the right side of the aircraft engulfed in flames, the captain managed to stop on O’Hare’s runway 28 right, just as the giant jetliner reached takeoff speed. 

Had the explosion happened just a few seconds later, after the plane lifted off the runway, the results almost certainly would have been catastrophic. 

“There was an explosion, and then fire immediately,” Peter recalled. “You could tell it was pretty intense, and you could see it moving toward the rear of the plane.”

Inside the giant Rescue 1 firehouse in the center of the field, firefighters actually saw and heard the engine explode.

“You heard a big bang,” firefighter Bob Gembala told NBC5. “I just ran out the door, and jumped in my truck.” 

At that very minute, the firehouse’s red hotline from the control tower began to ring. Controllers declared a “crash alert” and stopped every airplane on the field, giving the O’Hare firefighters the run of the airport. 

“As soon as those doors opened, and I saw that big ball of smoke and flame, it was a first for me,” said fire captain Jonathan Ross. “When we arrived on scene, it was really burning!” 

Investigators would later learn that a fan disk inside the engine had flown apart, a catastrophe known as an uncontained engine failure. One piece had flown thru the wing, and ended up crashing though the roof of a cargo facility thousands of feet away. 

When that happened, it severed a fuel line. And with the wing loaded with 3,000 gallons of jet fuel, fire was gushing everywhere as the first crews arrived. 

“It was a flowing liquid fire, so the fire was burning as it was flowing out of the plane,” deputy commissioner Tim Sampey recalled. “You have a burning aircraft that is loaded with fuel, so the potential for explosion is enormous.” 

Inside the aircraft, Peter and Kathy McLoyd were scrambling for the exits with 159 other passengers, as fire roared outside. 

“I hear Peter like, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go,” Kathy said. “We gotta move!”

“I was thinking that we might not make it, that we probably were not going to make it,” her husband remembered. “Because I could see how fast the fire was moving to the back.”

Just ahead of them, an off-duty pilot managed to open the left over-wing exit. The National Transportation Safety Board says that door was the first to open, just ten seconds after the aircraft came to a stop.

“I really had doubts that we would get off the plane,” McLoyd says. “And you could hear the people around you screaming.” 

The McLoyds did escape the aircraft, along with all other passengers and nine crew members.

“I wasn’t scared when I was in the plane,” she says. “I was scared going down the slide!” 

Kathy McLoyd landed in a heap at the bottom and said she couldn’t get up. Her husband slid down just behind her, got her to her feet, and hurried her to edge of the runway as the fire roared behind them. 

At that point, he collapsed in the grass, doubling over in pain. Somehow, he had managed to lead his wife to safety, running on a broken foot. 

“I can still hear the sound,” he says. “What I imagine must have been fuel leaking and hitting the fire, pop—pop—pop!” 

Official reports say the last person off the plane escaped just 2 minutes and 21 seconds after it stopped rolling. 

For the O’Hare firefighters on scene, who train for such an event every day, it was their first real aircraft fire. 

“The entire staff out here at O’Hare had just finished this training to the exact letter, with the same incident that just happened with the aircraft engine fire,” says fire instructor Kevin Murphy. “So when our members got to the scene, we fought it just like we trained.” 

The incident is still under investigation. The engine in question, a General Electric CF6 80C2, is a workhorse for the world’s jet aircraft. Preliminary reports point to cracks radiating from anomalies in the metal of the stage 2 fan disk which failed. That disk is about 2 feet in diameter, but when it flew apart, the shrapnel flew out at enormous speed. 

Other disks in similar GE engines have suffered failures in the past, but this was the very first explosion involving that stage 2 disk. Investigators grew so concerned, they actually tracked down an aircraft containing the only other disk from the same metal casting as the part which failed in Chicago. 

But that disk passed inspection. 

GE spokesman Rick Kennedy says a similar call went out to examine all stage 2 disks in all CF6-80 C2 engines in service during routine maintenance. All appeared normal. 

A final report on the crash is expected from the NTSB early next year. 

In the meantime, the McLoyds have moved on. Peter still has trouble with his foot, and receives treatment for PTSD. Both have flown again, but say they find it difficult. 

“It gets a little easier,” he says. “I don’t think takeoffs and landings will ever be the same.”

Photo Credit: Hector Cardenas]]>
<![CDATA[Chicago's Rat Tree Comes Tumbling Down]]> Wed, 25 Oct 2017 23:01:49 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/RATSINVESTIGATES_29371717.jpg

The rat tree is gone. Reduced to a mere hollowed out stump sitting in the 1900 block of North Mozart. Early on Monday morning, a crew from the city Bureau of Forestry pulled up in front of Jennifer River’s house and began chopping away.

Four hours later, the tree that residents said was a high-rise rat condo was no longer.

“So, it turns out the rat tree was really a rat tree?” The question was put to Wanda Goin, who also lives on the block. “Yes, we didn’t make it up. We really didn’t,” she said.

No, they didn’t.

But let’s back up, to last Thursday and what Rivera and Goin said at the time.

“I think this past year is probably the worst I’ve seen for rats,” Goin said.

“I see them a lot during the day time,” exclaimed Rivera.

Crawling in and out of that nasty old tree, some the size of small kittens, according to Goin.

“The rats have hollowed into and are nesting there,” she said as she poked a stick into one of the many holes in the tree.

That was Thursday. Then came Friday---hours after our report--- and the city was baiting the tree with rat poison, said Goin.

On Monday morning a city crew was back in a big blue Streets and Sanitation truck with a lift to hoist a worker with a saw and big reddish-orange pinchers to pick up the detritus.

But wait! The city just a few weeks ago balked at cutting the tree down, Goin originally told us.

“They came out and said the tree is healthy, we won’t cut it down,” she said.

It’s not that the residents on the block don’t like trees, they do, she stresses, just not ones with rats in them.

The stump that now remains contains the residue of those dirty rotten rats and holes, that Goin says, still lead into resident’s yards. “They’ve dug a tunnel under here and then from that house under to the next yard,” she said, adding residents “can’t see the tunnel but they can hear the rats.”

Still the tree is gone and people on the block are pleased. “I think its kudos to everyone who was involved in this, NBC 5, our alderman who backed us and got it down and definitely to the forest service who finally took it down,” she said. “Well thank you guys, all of you very, very much.”

So, take that you dirty rotten rats!

<![CDATA[Judge Baffled After Being Told She Was on ‘Terrorist List']]> Wed, 25 Oct 2017 18:48:11 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/JUDGE+NO+FLY+-+00000502_29440875.jpg

Yolande Bourgeois does not fit the standard description of a terrorist.

After all, she’s a Cook County judge.

“If you’re looking at me, then who’s looking at the real terrorists out there?” she asks. “What could I possibly have done, to be put on a list?”

The story begins Oct. 13, as Bourgeois was flying back from Cancun with two friends. Because of weather, her flight was diverted to Indianapolis where she had to spend the night. But when it came time to re-board the next day for the short flight to Chicago, things changed. That’s when she received a boarding pass with the designation “SSSS” in the upper left and lower right corners. And that set off alarms with the first TSA agent she met.

“He looked down at it and he looked up at me, and he looked down again and he looked back up at me.” she said “And then he goes, ‘I need a supervisor over here!’”

Bourgeois, who was in Cancun celebrating her 65th birthday, says the supervisor arrived quickly.

“He hands her my documents, she looks at it and she goes, ‘Her?’,” she recalled. “She said, they’ve got you on a known terrorist list, and I said---what??”

What ensued was a full body pat-down, a search through her suitcase, and a demand that she switch on all electronics.

“You know, it’s kind of hard to concentrate on what’s going on over there when you’ve got somebody feeling all over your body,” she said. “And by this time they’ve got six or seven TSA agents, all for me!”

The judge says she had barely noticed the “SSSS” designation on her boarding pass.

“I’m like, who did this to me, who put me on a known terror list? And they all said, it’s the airline.”

“SSSS” stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection. A spokesman for American Airlines referred NBC 5 Investigates to the Transportation Security Administration, where spokesman Michael McCarthy said the Indianapolis agent “misspoke”, that it was not the airline which branded the judge with the disheartening security designation, but rather the TSA’s own Secure Flight protocols.

McCarthy said he could not discuss why someone receives the SSSS mark, noting that TSA intentionally keeps its security methods random and unpredictable. While some receive that brand because of certain security triggers, he said, others are selected purely at random.

“I want my name off that list,” the judge said. “That’s what I want---I want it off!”

That might be easier said than done. If her selection was purely random, she might not ever be chosen again. But if there was something about her flight, or her background, which caused her to actually be put on a list, her only choice is to apply for “redress” from the TSA, where travelers can receive a Redress Control Number which can help reduce their chances of making the SSSS list in the future.

Until then, McCarthy said, a traveler’s best bet may be to see if they are chosen again on their next flight.

While Bourgeois, who’s been a judge for ten years, can laugh about her episode, she grows serious when she speaks of the potential ramifications.

“Is anyone safer because I’m on a terror list?” she asks. “I don’t think so!”

<![CDATA[Gas Station Knew of Leak Before Suburban Explosions: IEPA]]> Tue, 24 Oct 2017 19:52:59 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Strg_+APARTMENT+BUILDING+EXPLOSION++-+00011120_29383155.jpg

A west suburban gas station knew about a gas leak issue several days before explosions and fires rattled a neighborhood and injured two people, according to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

It is not the first time the Speedway located at 6241 South Cass Avenue in Westmont has reported a leaking underground tank, state records show.

Last Friday, gas explosions rocked an apartment complex on Knoll Wood Road in Willowbrook. The incident displaced residents and sent an 81-year-old woman to the hospital.

Authorities traced the source of the explosions a mile away to the Speedway in Westmont.

State environmental officials said the Speedway reported it had become aware of an issue with loss of product on October 16th and began pumping its product tanks on October 19th. However, the Illinois EPA said it only received notice of the incident on October 20th.

The gas station has since been isolated from the sanitary sewer and was shut down.

The Illinois EPA has referred an enforcement action to the Illinois Attorney General against Speedway LLC for releasing gasoline into the sanitary sewer system in DuPage County. The agency is seeking an order that would require the company to immediately control any additional gas station at the site, investigate the cause of the release and remediate contamination and continue air monitoring on the sewer line.

A spokesperson for Speedway said an investigation into the incident is ongoing and the company is working closely with all appropriate local and state agencies to address and resolve the incident. Speedway has also assembled an emergency response team of more than 100 employees who are currently in impacted neighborhoods visiting with residents and businesses.

A state database shows leaks from the Speedway’s underground tanks were also reported in 2009 and 2016.

NBC 5 Investigates has learned the state has issued 5,699 citations for leaking underground tanks in Greater Chicago since 2013.

The Chicago Department of Public Health said as of September 2017, a total of 3,959 leaking underground storage tanks within the city have been cleaned up while 797 remain.

Cleanup is the responsibility of the property owner or operator and managed by the Illinois EPA.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal does not regulate “residential” underground storage tanks.

Photo Credit: Captured News]]>
<![CDATA[City Trims 5 Hazardous Trees After NBC 5 Investigates Report]]> Fri, 20 Oct 2017 20:06:50 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/BUCKTOWNTREE_29340658.jpg

There are five fewer potentially hazardous trees standing in the city of Chicago two days after NBC 5 Investigates reported a backlog of open service requests for tree trims in the city.

On Friday, Bureau of Forestry workers and a ComEd crew removed the five trees from city parkway near the 4500 block of W. Agatite, including a tree that had been leaning on power lines and resting on a building owned by the family of Karl Slowiak.

Slowiak said he had repeatedly voiced his concerns to the city in order to protect pedestrians from possible danger and to keep his building from being damaged.

“Hats off to the Channel 5 news team. The tree removal crew removed all five trees from the property today. Your prompt action has indeed made my day and Chicago a safer place to live,” Slowiak said.

A spokesperson for 39th Ward Ald. Margaret Laurino said the alderman helped expedite the tree removal process after NBC 5 investigates contacted the office for comment.

City data shows 10,492 open service requests for “tree trims” since May. It’s important to note that some requests may have been made for the same trees.

The Department of Streets and Sanitation said it works diligently to remove or trim trees that are dead or hazardous. A spokesperson said when the tree removal or trimming involves electrical lines, the department must collaborate and coordinate with ComEd to avoid any hazard to tree-trimmers and other passersby.

<![CDATA[Oh Rats! Neighbors Want City to Remove 'Rat Tree']]> Thu, 19 Oct 2017 23:00:43 -0500 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/RATSINVESTIGATES_29371717.jpg

In the 1900 block of North Mozart, with a mixture of new and older housing---and foliage readying for fall---Wanda Goin readies for the battle of the day.

“I think this past year is probably the worst I’ve seen for rats,” she says.

On this block, it’s not just rats in the alleys that have residents up in arms. It’s rats---are you ready for it?---living in a tree. It is a regular run-of-the-mill tree but with some ugly exceptions.

There are holes in the bottom.

Holes in the trunk.

And what appear to be holes way up.

Call it a high-rise rat warren, with some rats, says Goin, the size of a kitten. “About like that,” she says, her hands together as if holding a kitty.

“The rats have hollowed into and are nesting there,” she says as we tentatively approach the tree with a four foot stick she intends to poke into one of the holes.

“I am just terrified that something’s going to run out,” she says, but this time nothing does.

The tree is emblematic of Chicago’s rat problem, which once again, saw a hefty increase in rat complaints over the summer months.

One year ago we chronicled rat complaints and this year asked the city for similar numbers for the summer months of June, July and August.

In 2014 there were 10,563.

In 2015: 10,741.

In 2016: 13,520.

And this year: 14,840.

That’s a whopping 40% increase in rat complaints in those months from 2014 to 2017.

Last year we asked Charles Williams, who heads Streets and Sanitation about the numbers:

“The only way to manage their population is by killing the rodents. Nothing else is going to work,” Williams said at the time.

Last year the city said it added 10 new crews and baiting increased by 40%.

This year?

The city would not speak on camera but replied to our inquires with a statement reading in part, “the increase in reports may be attributed to the increased outreach for residents to report rodent sightings.”

And the Emanuel administration announced just last week five additional crews will be added in the battle of the rodents.

The rats, as many people will tell you, have broken curfew. They are no longer just nocturnal nuisances.

“I see them a lot during the day time,” says Jennifer Rivera. The rat tree sits in front of her house and she has captured video of a baby rat running around the tree with her cell phone camera.

“They come out during the day, they come out at night,” the mother of small children says, and she is not at all happy with what transpires on her block.

Residents say they went to their alderman---Proco Joe Moreno---who called the city’s Forestry Department.

They (the Forestry Department) came out and said the tree is healthy, we won’t cut it down,” Goin recalls. “I went back again and said ‘it’s got rats in it.’ ”

Citywide officials have tried dry ice to kill rats and a poison to make them infertile. But one group says the city is really barking up the wrong tree.

“Those remedies will work to some degree but I think when they problem is as widespread as it is right now, we need alternative solutions as well,” says Darlene Duggan.

She is with Tree House Humane Society, a group that promotes the use of feral cats to control rat populations. But she says her group hasn’t had much interaction with the city.

“Conversations haven’t happened yet,” says Duggan.

Back to the rat tree, residents say they aren’t asking for much…just a city crew…and a saw---so they can say so-long to the dirty, rotten rats terrorizing their neighborhood.

“They are bolder, they’re bigger and we know at least one home that they are living in,” says Goin.

A home---in a tree--- right in front of Jennifer Rivera’s, which is decorated for Halloween.

“Which is scarier, the rats or Halloween stuff,” she is asked?

“Definitely the rats.”