Short Cut Leads To Winding Trip Through Bureaucracy

<p>Sheriff’s officer zips wrong way down one-way street, collides with driver – who finds government a nightmare to deal with as she tries to get compensated for her car.</p>

<div>&nbsp;Main photo courtesy of Linda Reedy</div>

Scene of 2014 accident between Maywood resident Brianna Reedy and Cook County sheriff's officer.


Sheriff’s officer zips wrong way down one-way street, collides with driver – who finds government a nightmare to deal with as she tries to get compensated for her car.


Cops are supposed to follow the “rules of the road” like the rest of us when they’re not responding to emergencies.

But that’s not what’s happening near the Cook County courts complex in Maywood, where sheriff’s employees are cutting through a residential neighborhood and driving the wrong way down a one-way stretch of 2nd Avenue dozens of times a week – not because they’re headed to a 911 call, but apparently because they want to avoid back-ups along 1st Avenue and quickly reach the Eisenhower Expressway.

Maywood resident Brianna Reedy, 27, said she learned of this “short cut” the hard way: Her 1994 Chevy Corsica was totaled and she ended up in the hospital after colliding with a sheriff’s officer traveling south on the northbound-only street, according to records and interviews.

Linda Reedy, left, with granddaughter Brianna Reedy. Photo by BGA

Linda Reedy, left, with granddaughter Brianna Reedy. Photo by BGA

“I’m from this area and I know no cars should be coming from that way,” said Reedy, a mother who at the time was working at a local fast food restaurant. 

The accident ended up costing her dearly.

Aside from her bumps and bruises, Reedy said she lost her job as a result and, when she couldn’t come up with towing fees, her car was crushed, with personal items inside.

But perhaps the biggest take-away was a tough lesson on how local government operates and, too often, seems intent on protecting its own interests over those of taxpayers.

When she submitted a claim to county government to get reimbursed for the value of her car and her possessions – less than $2,000 in total – Reedy said county bureaucrats dragged out her request so long, past a one-year statute of limitations, she no longer qualifies for a payout. And then they blamed her for the crash, despite strong evidence that the sheriff’s officer was at fault.

“They waited until my case was a year old and I could do nothing about it,” Reedy said.


A total loss
 

The accident occurred the morning of Oct. 20, 2014, as Reedy drove from home to work. Heading east on Congress Parkway, she collided with a marked sheriff’s squad car that was traveling south – the wrong way – on 2nd Avenue, according to police records and interviews.

The officer’s lights and sirens were not on, and he seemed to be traveling at least 35 mph, Reedy said.

She was transported by ambulance to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood for a sprained neck and contusions, and her car was hauled away by Area Towing, Inc., which the Village of Maywood uses to handle municipal towing, according to records and interviews.

Reedy was released later that day, and she said she asked her grandmother to help get personal items from the car, including a jacket, a pair of shoes and a phone charger. But the towing company would not let them “remove anything from the vehicle until the tow and clean up and storage charge was paid,” about $700 in all, Reedy said. The car was a total loss and not drivable, but Reedy still wasn’t permitted to get into the car, she said. The tow firm also relayed that once the fees were paid, she “would have to immediately remove the car from their lot,” Reedy said. 

A Cook County sheriff&#039;s vehicle goes wrong way down one-way street in recent days in Maywood. Photo from FOX Chicago


A Cook County sheriff's vehicle goes wrong way down one-way street in recent days in Maywood. Photo from FOX Chicago

Reedy said her grandmother contacted Maywood police and “confirmed that this was a policy and there was nothing that could be done.”

The president of Area Towing, Frank Varchetto, told the Better Government Association he doesn’t know the specifics of Reedy’s case but noted it’s allowable under the law – and standard procedure – to prevent the recovery of personal items unless there is payment, except if there’s something important in a vehicle such as medicine or credit cards.

“We did everything by the law,” Varchetto said.

Without enough money, and not knowing what to do with the mangled Corsica anyway, Reedy left the car in the tow yard, and it was crushed two weeks later.

Meanwhile, Reedy said she lost her fast-food job some weeks after the crash because she said she was in pain and could no longer perform certain tasks such as lifting. 

Reedy said she hired an attorney to get the county to at the very least pay for the estimated value of the car, about $1,500, plus another couple hundred dollars to compensate her for the lost personal items. (Reedy said she had insurance, but it didn’t cover the loss of the car.)

The attorney tried “for months” to work with the county but told Reedy “he was having a problem” with the county “being responsive,” Reedy said.

The attorney eventually left the case, she said.



‘Not acceptable’

Overall, the family or attorney had contact with officials from the sheriff’s office, the county’s Risk Management agency and even Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin in recent months.

Reedy’s grandmother, Linda Reedy, said that on Oct. 20, 2015, a Risk Management contractor called her to say the county wouldn’t be paying anything because the sheriff’s officer’s lights and sirens had been activated at the time of the crash, so Brianna Reedy was at fault. The contractor also indicated the one-year window had closed to make her case.

A spokesman for County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who oversees Risk Management, said the sheriff’s paperwork indicated the officer in the crash was on official business and “his lights were activated.”

The sheriff’s officer told a responding Maywood police officer that he had been going down the one-way street as he “attempted to catch up” with a wrong-way driver, according to the Maywood police report.

Reached by a reporter Wednesday, the sheriff's officer said, “I prefer not to say anything.”

“We take any claims of county liability seriously,” Frank Shuftan, the Preckwinkle spokesman, said. “We are obligated to investigate all claims and in this case, all proper outreach and protocol occurred. Further, the report from the sheriff’s office contradicts Ms. Reedy’s claim.”

Brianna Reedy insists the officer had no lights and sirens on and noted she likely would have been ticketed if that’d been the case.

The Maywood police report detailing the crash makes no mention of lights and sirens, and one of the Maywood cops who responded to the scene told the BGA it was clear the sheriff squad’s emergency equipment had not been activated. 

Just after the claim was denied, Linda Reedy got in touch with Dana Wright, first deputy chief of police for Sheriff Tom Dart. Wright said she hadn’t known about the family’s troubles until the call.

Wright sent an investigator to 2nd Avenue to see how often sheriff’s employees were going the wrong way down the one-way street, which is lined with homes. Turns out it was a frequent occurrence – something the BGA and FOX Chicago confirmed separately through surveillance, and from interviews with neighbors, who relayed this practice has been going on for years.

Roughly 20 sheriff’s officers have now been given written reprimands for taking the short cut, Wright said.

“It’s not acceptable, we have a standard,” Wright said.

The officer involved in the 2014 accident was not among them, but Wright also is reviewing the circumstances of the crash and statements he made about his lights and sirens. If it turns out he lied, he also could face discipline, Wright said.

Beyond that, sheriff’s officials are now reviewing paperwork related to Brianna Reedy’s compensation claim, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Cara Smith.

The sheriff’s office, which serves as Maywood’s inspector general, also plans to look into Area Towing to see whether it improperly prevented Brianna Reedy from accessing her car after it was towed, officials said.

Wright said she apologized to the elder Reedy for the troubles the family has gone through and now is working to “get to some closure.”