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Suburban crime escalates, unsettles community

Spiro Kass, Editor-in-Chief

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While walking north along Ashland Avenue toward Cossitt Elementary School on Sept. 14, 2017, La Grange resident Laura Reilly suddenly heard the faint sound of sirens approaching from the distance. Soon enough, bright police lights were flashing far up the street, and it was not long until Reilly spotted several police cars chasing a vehicle with a detached bumper dragging along the pavement, emitting a terrible screeching noise. She did not comprehend a chase was occurring until the group of cars sped past her, making a large thud against a parked car on their way past.

Struck with fear, Reilly traveled to the back of the car to notice that the wheel of the suspect’s vehicle had fallen off and crashed into the rear end of the parked car. Luckily, that car was there to protect her; otherwise, Reilly could have been severely injured.

“Within the blink of an eye and without even realizing what’s happening in front of me, I totally could have gotten nailed by that tire,” she said. “It seemed like it was happening in slow motion. I was in disbelief.”

After nearly injuring Reilly, the Chicago Tribune reported that the police chase continued until the subject vehicle crashed into a motorcyclist on Plainfield Road adjacent to Fuller’s Car Wash, which prompted the four culprits to escape the car and run away on foot. The police were able to capture three of the four suspects, meaning there was a fugitive on the loose within the LT district. This led LT and proximal district administrators to commence a soft lockdown for the safety of the students, Principal Brian Waterman said.

“When things like that happen, we get our leadership team together–Dr. Kilrea, myself and the associate principals–and we discuss the information we have and make an informed decision using student safety as our number one priority,” Waterman said.

Beginning at around 12:30 p.m., the lockdown continued until the Western Springs police notified the school that the fourth fugitive was captured. School was then dismissed at 3:10 p.m.

Crime Continues

Police chases and crimes that put the lives of residents in danger are extremely rare occurrences in La Grange, Western Springs and surrounding towns, according to the Neighborhood Scout. Relative to other parts of the country, the crime index of LaGrange is 73, meaning that La Grange is safer than 73 percent of U.S. cities. The same source gives Western Springs a crime index of 95. Although it is rare to hear about violent crime in both communities, criminal activity continued to stir the local area after the police chase in mid-September. The LaGrange Police Department was contacted for this story, but did not comment and clarify whether or not recent crimes display an increase compared to the general crime level in the area.

On the night of Nov. 27, 2017, the Chicago Tribune reported that there were 23 car burglaries in LaGrange and four in Western Springs, one of which happened to the car of LaGrange resident Mary Carroll Dougherty; however, it wasn’t until later when she finally put the pieces together and realized her car was broken into.

“The glove compartment was open, everything was out, and ,because we have four teenage daughters, we assumed that one of the girls who drives had quickly jumped out of the car and left it in a disarray,” Dougherty said. “Later that night, I heard people talking that there were a lot of cars burglarized, and we then put it together. It was kind of scary.”

Unfortunately, this was not the first time the family experienced burglary, Dougherty said. Years ago, there was a crime spree where five to six houses were broken into and burglarized, she said. The criminals attempted to break into the Dougherty house but were scared away by the family dog.

“It all kind of brought that memory back,” she said.

Safety Stays

Although frightened by the burglary, Dougherty does not feel any less safe as a LaGrange resident, but now there are more things to consider, she said.

“I’m just more aware,” Dougherty said. “It is interesting that the town has grown so much with the businesses and everything and you notice that a lot of people come to La Grange now as a destination. You used to walk around downtown and you would know everybody, but now you have people coming in from all over, which is great for the businesses but there is that feeling that you don’t know as many people. There’s something safe about being able to just know everybody. Now, we are more aware about locking doors and making sure our kids are home when they should be.”

Similarly, Reilly also believes that her experience with the police chase did not affect her sense of safety, but rather made her more conscious of the unexpected, she said.

“I feel like [the police chase] was an isolated incident,” she said, “but I would say it probably raised my awareness of how quickly those types of things happen right in front of you.”

No matter the situations that occur within the community, LaGrange and Western Springs will always be home to Lyons Township High School. Instead of worrying about the dangers to come, Waterman puts the recent crimes in perspective and shares his faith that the safety procedures implemented at LT will ensure the safety of all students and staff in any future circumstance.

“I think all of those situations are great reminders that we live in a dynamic society,” he said. “Whether we’re in the western suburbs, rural areas or in a city, our society is dynamic. That’s one of the reasons we conduct emergency drills is so that we better prepare ourselves for emergency situations, because we can’t always control what emergency situations come up.”

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Suburban crime escalates, unsettles community