Hit-and-Run

Emails Show What Chicago Police Did in Hit-and-Run Case Only After NBC 5 Investigates Started Asking Questions

NBC Universal, Inc.

Newly obtained emails reveal the steps Chicago police took in a deadly hit-and-run case — only after NBC 5 Investigates started asking questions.

Linda Mensch, 70, was leaving the Garfield Park Conservatory at around 3:50 p.m. on Aug. 26 when she was struck and killed by a driver that fled the scene.

That crash was one of more than 37,000 hit-and-runs across Chicago in 2021 — a year that saw just 306 arrests on charges related to fleeing the scene of a crash, according to city data analyzed by NBC 5 Investigates.

No one has been arrested for the crash that killed Mensch, even though police had surveillance photos of the van that hit her and a license plate number from day one.

As NBC 5 Investigates previously reported, CPD had not even interviewed the registered owner of the car about the accident.

Chicago saw more than 37,000 hit-and-run crashes in 2021, but over that same time period, just 306 people were arrested on charges related to fleeing the scene of a crash, according to city data analyzed by NBC 5 Investigates. Phil Rogers has the story.

NBC 5 Investigates filed an open records request for emails sent to and from the officer in the Major Accidents Investigation Unit who was assigned to the crash. Some of those emails indicate there was a flurry of activity immediately following the accident — and that things picked up again after NBC 5 Investigates began looking into the case.

The very day of the crash on Aug. 26, the emails show that police indicated the owner of the vehicle is "known to be armed and dangerous."

The investigator requested an all-call message to warn officers to "use extreme caution when approaching and securing the vehicle, as the owner of this vehicle is believed to have access to firearms."

After receiving a tip from an anonymous caller less than 24 hours after the crash, police located the car abandoned in an alley and obtained a search warrant in order to impound it and swab the interior, the emails show.

On Aug. 28, the investigator told MAIU supervisors, "The suspect is the owner of the vehicle."

"Members of the community keep relating it is him but nobody wants to cooperate with the police," the email reads. "Therefore, this is a DNA case."

Mensch's daughter told NBC 5 in February that she couldn't understand why the owner wasn't at least being questioned.

The owner was arrested less than a month after the crash, but on an unrelated weapons charge — not the crash that killed Mensch. The arrest report for that incident shows no evidence that the owner was questioned about the crash while in police custody.

At 12:50 p.m. on Feb. 9, NBC 5 Investigates sent an email with specific questions pertaining to the ongoing crash investigation to CPD's office of News Affairs.

Almost exactly six hours later that very day, the Major Accidents investigator sent a case summary to the unit's supervisors, noting at the top of the email, "This case has the potential of becoming newsworthy with NBC 5 Phil Rogers."

The officer wrote that DNA analysis of the interior swabs of the vehicle "revealed three contributors, and the profiles were inconclusive."

"Numerous attempts" to contact the owner had been unsuccessful, the email reads, revealing that when the officer called the owner on Oct. 15 - nearly two months after the crash - his "tone was agitated, and he refused to make any arrangements to meet" with police.

The officer noted that the owner "also has denied being involved in the crash and claimed to be out of town."

Friends of one Chicago hit-and-run victims have reached out to authorities, asking for action in a seemingly stalled case where police had plenty of leads. NBC 5 Investigates’ Phil Rogers reports.

In that same email, sent six months after the crash, the officer said "moving forward," the plan was to enter an investigative alert for the owner in CPD's computer system — something that would have flagged him when he was arrested for the unrelated gun charge in September.

The officer also noted plans to draft a search warrant for the owner's cell phone GPS records, noting that it was unclear if probable cause could be established without identification or admission. The officer also planned to request a meeting with the Cook County State's Attorney's office to "go over the facts of the case."

On Feb. 14, a lieutenant in CPD's Bureau of Detectives forwarded the officer's email to one of the department's spokesmen, among others, saying he's "hearing rumblings this case may hit the news tomorrow night on a piece… on how MAIU is not doing anything on this case."

"As you can see, that's obviously not true," the lieutenant says.

The day after NBC 5's report aired on Feb. 15, the lead investigator on the case sent a link to the story to a deputy supervisor in the state's attorney's office, which has not charged anyone in the crash.

CPD has declined multiple requests for comment on this case and several other hit-and-runs, citing the ongoing nature of the investigations.

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