On Christmas Eve last year, a frightening thing happened to Renee Freemond-Woods on her way from the northern suburbs to a holiday celebration in the city and it started with a gun at her car window.
“The next thing I hear screaming, ‘Get out of the car! Get out of the car! I turn my head this way and there’s a gun—a real gun…I mean—a gun, gun with a barrel,” she said.
Freemond-Woods, who had pulled her car over to text a friend for directions, says her instincts kicked in immediately.
The former middle school teacher says the gunman ordered her to leave her purse in the car and then sped off in her beloved Mercedes, a retirement gift she gave herself after 33 years of teaching. Leaving the 4-foot-11 woman alone, with no phone, on a dark, frigid winter evening.
Freemond-Woods got herself to a friend's house and called police. It would be four days until Chicago police found her car in an alley off Irving Park Road. The ensuing investigation revealed her car was used in five more robberies during the alleged crime spree. When she got her car back, Freemond-Woods says it was trashed.
“Smelly, marijuana everywhere, it was just nasty. I found a butcher knife under the seat when I got the car back,” Freemond-Woods says.
Freemond-Woods says she ultimately sold the car and tried to move on, but her progress was interrupted by a letter from the city.
“I got some stuff from the city—two violations. They had accrued two red light tickets while they had my car,” she told NBC 5 Responds.
Two red light violations, captured on camera during the time her car was stolen. Armed with the police report, Freemond-Woods says she thought this would be an easy, open-and-shut ticket appeal--- until she got the city's response weeks later.
“A judge denied my innocence. And said I failed to prove the car was stolen. The only other recourse I had was to sue the city of Chicago in a civil suit…Oh, I was crying…Seriously, I didn’t do anything wrong. It wasn’t me,” she said.
Freemond-Woods then called the Chicago police detective who worked on her case.
“She said, you know what Renee? Maybe you have to call Channel 5 investigative reports,” Freemond-Woods said.
NBC 5 Responds took a look at all of her proof, including reports related to the carjacking which she said she uploaded in her ticket appeal to the City. We asked the Department of Finance spokesperson why an Administrative Law Judge would deny an appeal that involved a stolen car, which is an acceptable defense to a parking or red light ticket, as listed on the city’s website.
After looking into her case, a spokesperson said Freemond-Woods’ documentation was not properly uploaded with her appeal, though her narrative did include mention that her car was stolen. We asked why the ALJ did not table the decision until Freemond-Woods could properly re-submit the proof, but did not get any response to that question. The city did, however, immediately vacate the fines against Freemond-Woods - which had, in the interim, doubled.
Freemond-Woods said she was thrilled to leave the entire episode behind her, though still heart-broken about the alleged offender in her case: a 14-year old boy. The same age as the middle school students she used to teach.
“If I could meet him, I would shake his hand and thank him for not killing me dead,” she said. “But then I would tell him, ‘You have to go to jail now. You are going down the wrong path. This is not going to end well for you.’”