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Woman sues after radio station contest goes awry
By Bob Susnjara | Daily Herald Staff

Travis Harvey Jr.

 

Photo courtesy Lake County Sheriff's Office

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Published: 11/21/2008 7:17 PM | Updated: 11/21/2008 8:10 PM

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A woman who won a radio station contest has sued the station for setting her up on a date with a man who then sexually abused her.

The woman, a Fox Lake resident, claims in the suit that a simple background check by WXCL-FM in Waukegan would have uncovered the fact that her "prize" was in fact a man who had earlier been convicted of felony and misdemeanor violations of orders of protection.

Travis Harvey Jr., 46, of the 900 block of Knowles Road in Gurnee, pleaded guilty Monday to a criminal sexual abuse charge stemming from his one and only date with the woman, who won the "Win a Date with Travis" contest in January 2007 on WXLC 102.3-FM.

The plea deal was entered Monday in Lake County circuit court, where Harvey was placed on probation.

On Thursday, attorneys for the woman sued WXLC and its parent company, NextMedia Group Inc., accusing the company of negligence and wanton and willful misconduct.

NextMedia Group's president and chief operating officer, Jeffrey Dinetz, declined to comment Friday. WXLC General Manager Karl Wertzler didn't return telephone calls.

Chief among the lawsuit's accusations is that WXLC failed to order a background check for Harvey before the "Win a Date with Travis" promotion at a Waukegan restaurant Jan. 30, 2007.

"It's pretty shocking," said Robert Baizer of Highland Park, one of the woman's attorneys, who said WXLC could have had a background check done for $25 or $50.

"I don't know if they did anything to see what his background was."

Lake County court records show Harvey had felony and misdemeanor convictions for violating domestic violence orders of protection, according to the civil suit.

The idea for the contest came about when Harvey e-mailed the radio station in January 2007, asking for help in finding a date. He said he was a 39-year-old marketing executive and a divorced dad of three children, and that attempts to find a date on the Internet or via speed dating were unsuccessful.

"Living in Lake County, it's really tough to meet other single parents like me," he told the Daily Herald before the contest. "I'm looking for someone who is fun, has a great heart, but more than anything, loves kids."

The station set up a meet and greet for Harvey and potential dates on Jan. 30, 2007, at a Waukegan restaurant.

The woman, then 23, was selected by Harvey as his date after they talked privately for a little while.

"She reasonably believed that if she were lucky enough to be the winner of the event, he would be a safe date," says the suit.

Lake County Assistant State's Attorney Ken LaRue said it came out in the criminal trial that Harvey and the woman were supposed to have their date at the House of Blues in Chicago on Feb. 3, 2007.

However, said LaRue, Harvey called her to say he was too tired to visit House of Blues and offered to make her dinner at his house, which she accepted.

LaRue said Harvey never got around to making a frozen pizza, which apparently was the only dinner he had planned.

The lawsuit accuses Harvey of making an alcoholic drink for the woman with a drug in it, which made her "sleepy, weak and defenseless," according to court papers filed by Baizer.

LaRue said there is no physical evidence the woman was drugged; he said she did not report the incident to police until five days after the date when tests would no longer be valid.

Harvey admitted to fondling the woman, LaRue said.

As part of his plea bargain, Harvey will spend 24 months on felony probation and must register as a sex offender for 10 years. He will not have to serve 12 months of periodic imprisonment in the Lake County jail if he doesn't commit any crimes in the next three years.

Harvey was named alongside NextMedia and WXLC in the woman's lawsuit. She seeks more than $50,000 in damages.

• Daily Herald Staff Writer Lee Filas contributed to this report.

Suit: Man asked station to help him find date