Orland Park

Retired Priest Charged in Orland Park Hit-and-Run Said He ‘Blacked Out’ Before Crash: Prosecutors

Rev. Paul Burak told police he had a glass of wine and a Manhattan before Wednesday's deadly hit-and-run

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The retired priest charged with a deadly hit-and-run that killed one teacher and injured a second as they were leaving a Christmas party in Orland Park told police he "blacked out" before the crash, and didn't know how it happened, court documents revealed. 

Rev. Paul Burak, 73, the retired pastor of St. Michael Parish in Orland Park, was charged with aggravated DUI and leaving the scene of an accident, both felonies, after attending the same "Christmas card" party as the victims in Wednesday night's incident.

Burak appeared in bond court Saturday where prosecutors released details about the series of events that happened surrounding the hit-and-run. The retired priest was being held on a $10,000 bail, and the process to get him released was underway Saturday evening, attorneys confirmed. 

The incident took place at around 8 p.m. Wednesday night, according to police, who said two women were walking out of the Square Celt Restaurant, located near the Orland Square mall, when they were hit by a vehicle.

Rone Leja, a 61-year-old technology instructor at St. Michael, died from injuries she sustained in the hit-and-run, authorities said. The second victim, a 54-year-old woman, was hospitalized in serious condition, and later released. 

At approximately 8 p.m. on the night of the incident, a witness asked the defendant - identified as Burak - if he was okay to drive home just before the retired priest left the party, according to court documents. Burak ended up getting into his car, a gold Buick, reversed out of his parking spot and allegedly hit the vehicle next to him before driving northbound through the lot. 

Prosecutors revealed that he then turned onto an access road and struck both victims whose backs were facing his vehicle. A witness noticed two bodies lying in the access road and decided to follow the suspect's car. 

Following the crash, Burak drove over a curb, entered the drive-thru lane at a Panda Express and continued through without ordering any food, documents revealed. The restaurant had a plate reader that captured the suspect's license plate.

The witness who followed the suspect's car eventually approached Burak, told him he took a picture of his license plate and suggested he return to the scene of the hit-and-run.

In the following minutes, the suspect returned to the scene where police officers and firefighters had since arrived. Burak approached the exit of the Square Celt parking lot in his vehicle where officers told him to stop, according to court documents. They didn't know he was involved in the crash at the time, the documents alleged, and Burak didn't identify himself as the driver.

Another priest ended up approaching Burak who was still inside his car in the parking lot. The suspect tried to make a three-point turn, but hit another car. The priest then asked Burak if he was okay, and ended up driving the suspect home in his car as two others followed behind.

Burak didn't know his address to get home, so the driver had to pull over and get his insurance card out to look up the address, court documents showed. Once they arrived, the priest and one of the other witnesses walked Burak to his apartment. 

While officers were reviewing surveillance video on the day following the incident, an officer noticed a gold Buick in the video was similar to one he saw in the parking lot the night of the hit-and-run. 

Following the investigation, officers went to Burak's home where he admitted to being "drunk" and driving his car, but said he has Parkinson's disease and had two drinks, a Manhattan and a glass of wine, the night of the incident.

The 73-year-old revealed he thought he had too much to drink because he "blacked out," and the last thing he remembered was being helped into his car by two people, documents showed. 

Burak claimed he knew one of the victims was hit, but didn't know how, adding he thought he hit a curb. After thinking he hit something, the retired priest gunned the car, and then hit what he thought was a parking block before attempting to head home. 

Burak's attorneys expressed their condolences following his inital court hearing. 

"This is a tragedy that has a lot of layers of grief, and we ackowledge that, and we wish everyone peace," said Cambry McNabb, Burak's attorney. 

His next court hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 10 in Bridgeview. 

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