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Herald staff pick DuPage Co.'s top stories of 2009
Daily Herald Staff Report

Former Bolingbrook police sergeant Drew Peterson was charged with the murder of his former wife.

 

Richard Drury

 

Brian Dugan was sentenced to death for the 1983 murder of Jeanine Nicarico.

 

The controversial William Ayers was scheduled to speak in Naperville, but pressure from some segments of the community forced both a school and bookstore to rescind their invitations.

 

Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

Red-light cameras sprouted like dandelions in summer across the suburban landscape.

 

Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

Itasca formally unveiled its $1. 5 million River Walk in September.

 

Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

There were 2,009 flags on display during the week of Veterans Day along Rotary Hill in downtown Naperville.

 

Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

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Published: 12/31/2009 12:00 AM

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The year 2009 was like a teenager's room: often confusing and frequently messy.

Look in one corner and you see new schools and bridges and underpasses taking shape. Look in another and you see endless legal battles, ill-fated e-mails and mysterious departures. Sort through the endless piles of controversies and you'll find plenty of good deeds and celebrations, but dare to peek in the closet and you'll discover monsters that make you afraid of the dark.

Gaze back into 2009 and, like that teenager's room, you'll be reminded of what makes DuPage County a fascinating place to live and work. You'll also come away scratching your head and wondering: What were we thinking?

The good news is this: Somehow we made it through. The better news: In a few days we'll be able to stash our dirty laundry and start all over again with a clean slate.

Maybe in 2010 we'll be able to keep our room a bit more orderly, a tad more tidy.

Maybe.

The top story

Nicarico saga ends:

After nearly 27 years, convicted killer Brian Dugan was sentenced to death Nov. 11 for the 1983 abduction, rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville. Two other men, including Rolando Cruz, spent years on death row before being exonerated of the crime, which led to the moratorium on executions and death penalty reforms that forever changed Illinois law.

Controversies

Smile, you're on camera:

More than a dozen DuPage communities installed cameras to help nab motorists running red lights. Supporters said the cameras increased safety at treacherous intersections; opponents said they were designed simply to increase revenues. The debate continues, but a Daily Herald investigation found most of the $100 tickets are issued for right-turn on red violations, not straight-through or left-turn maneuvers. And in a number of cases, cameras are installed or planned for intersections with minimal red-light-related crashes.

Video gambling gets royal flush:

In August, DuPage County became the first in the state to prohibit video gambling machines after the state legislature approved the devices as a way of plugging a budget gap. The county board voted unanimously to prohibit such devices in any establishments with liquor licenses in unincorporated areas. The ban affected just 19 businesses and cost the county about $350,000 in potential revenue. However, the board's actions spurred many municipalities to follow suit.

On the chopping block:

Municipal employees throughout the area suddenly found themselves looking over their shoulders as many communities began cutting staff and implementing furlough days to offset lost revenues from the still-soft economy. More cutbacks are expected after the start of the new year.

Library upheaval:

Oak Brook Public Library lost its head librarian, two additional full-time and two part-time staffers to budget cuts. This followed weeks of controversy that started with talk of privatizing the library as a last resort, and heated up when Oak Brook resident Constantine Xinos raised hackles by telling library supporters to stop whining and pay to support their "hobbies" themselves. The remaining librarians turned to the Teamsters for bargaining help.

Metzger hits send button:

Indian Prairie Unit District 204 school board President Mark Metzger stepped down from the post in early March after he used vulgar language in an e-mail he inadvertently forwarded to district officials and the father of a boy who authorities say was sexually assaulted by two classmates. Metzger remained on the board.

No to Overshadowed:

After talks with the Itasca village board in October, Overshadowed Productions, a nonprofit theater company, withdrew a request for about $450,000 in hotel tax revenue to purchase a permanent home in Itasca. The company operates out of donated space in Itasca Baptist Church and is run by Reba Hervas, wife of Village Attorney Chuck Hervas. The proposal hit roadblocks when trustees worried how tax revenues used for Overshadowed's new home could benefit Itasca if the building was sold. They also questioned if giving money would violate separation of church and state.

Garden plots cause a stir:

After months of debate, Naperville's city, school and park district officials reached an agreement on plans to build athletic fields on part of the West Street garden plot site while building new plots at DuPage River Park on the city's south side. But in September, the park board backed out of the deal citing concerns from neighbors near the park as well as rising costs. Officials plan to do additional studies on potential sites for new plots. District 203 still will be allowed to build its athletic fields on part of the current garden plot site, meaning some gardeners will only get one plot next spring.

No merger for District 94:

The most recent talk of West Chicago Community High School District 94 merging with its three elementary feeder districts was silenced in March when a consultant advised against consolidation. Consulting and Resource Group recommended no changes at this time to District 94, Winfield Elementary District 34, Benjamin Elementary District 25 and West Chicago Elementary District 33. The consulting firm concluded the four districts are doing such a good job individually they don't need to merge into a single system.

They said it couldn't be done:

In the 24 years John Geils led Bensenville with an iron fist, the village president had a hard-charging style of doing things his way without compromise. In the end, that may have led to his undoing. Voters ousted Geils' in a 2-to-1 ratio in his quest for a seventh term. In a stunning upset, Frank Soto convinced a majority of folks he's the change Bensenville needs to prosper, leading to a long overdue settlement in the village's O'Hare expansion dispute.

They said... part 2

Years of turbulence between Bensenville and Chicago over O'Hare International Airport ended in a peace treaty in mid-November with the village dropping litigation in exchange for $16 million from the city as part of a settlement agreement. The settlement did not sit well with many former village officials who fought the expansion for nearly 30 years.

DuPage seeks ethics reform:

DuPage County Board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom formed a special committee to look into ethics and transparency reforms for county government, but the proposals suggested by the group in March have been shelved ever since. Suggestions included whistle-blower protections, campaign contribution limits and technology upgrades. Some board members attempted to add new ethics provisions, which seemed to mire the proposed changes even more by having the issue sent to the state's attorney for review.

When push came to shove:

Naperville and City Councilman Richard Furstenau inked a settlement agreement in July. The councilman agreed to drop his federal lawsuit and those he sued will not try to recoup an estimated $1 million in legal fees. The suit stems from a 2006 incident in which Furstenau was accused of shoving a police officer but later acquitted. Several city employees, police officers and the city itself became part of his subsequent civil rights suit.

Dueling gun forums:

An April forum in Wheaton about gun violence resulted in gun owners' rights advocates hosting their own event a month later. The first forum, sponsored by several League of Women Voters chapters and the Illinois Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, was organized to educate area high school students about "sensible gun laws." But the crowd of more than 170 people was dominated by gun-rights advocates who voiced displeasure over what they called the "one-sided nature" of the event. So they held their own forum about the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms.

Commission spends reserves:

The DuPage County Water Commission revealed late in the year that it had accidentally been spending its reserve funds on operational costs for nearly two years. The $19 million error was discovered when a former finance administrator was asked to fill in for current officeholder Max Richter, who had gone on sick leave. Richter eventually resigned after the mistake came to light and the commission had to borrow $30 million to close the gap. More borrowing is expected as construction bills come due, and there is also talk of increasing water rates to make up the loss.

Tree-trimming tussle:

Utility giant ComEd came under fire from the DuPage County Board and area trail enthusiasts in the summer because of an aggressive campaign to keep tree branches out of power lines. Board members and residents complained the company's contractor was cutting too much, leaving more than 3,000 trees along the Illinois Prairie Path and Great Western Trail as long stumps. ComEd agreed to replace some trees, but county officials said negotiations on future work broke down and they have since asked the state legislature to pass laws mandating utilities replace vegetation they remove.

Under the weather:

Naperville North High School canceled an appearance by Bill Ayers, an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who was a co-founder of the Weather Underground in the 1960s. Ayers was scheduled to speak to students attending a session with their parents' permission, but complaints from several facets of the community led Naperville Unit District 203 to pull the plug on his appearance.

Library gets $3 million:

Library officials in Glen Ellyn successfully pleaded for $3 million to pay for repairs they say were long overdue. They said the company that built the library for $6.7 million in 1995 cut corners and this resulted in nearly $300,000 in damage over the years. This year's tax levy increase also will allow the library to establish its first-ever maintenance fund, with prior repairs usually paid for with reserve funds.

Bricks & mortar

Metea Valley opens doors:

Indian Prairie Unit District 204 opened its $124 million Metea Valley High School to 1,300 freshmen and sophomores on Aug. 20. The 87-acre campus at 1801 N. Eola Road in Aurora is the district's third high school. The opening came after lengthy debate about the need for the school and disagreements about the best location for the campus. The school's final phase, including a pool, auditorium and other academic areas, is scheduled to be complete in early 2010.

Driscoll loses battle:

The Christian Brothers of the Midwest announced in April they would close 43-year-old Driscoll Catholic School at the end of the 2008-09 school year due to financial woes and falling enrollment. A group of parents and alumni gathered nearly $1 million in 20 days in an effort to keep the Addison school from closing, but the operators balked. Now a group of alumni and supporters are raising money for a permanent exhibit of Driscoll memorabilia in Addison village hall.

Wheaton Theater still kicking:

A scaled down plan to renovate the Wheaton Grand Theater in downtown Wheaton is being considered after a consultant determined in November that a $19.3 million proposal is viewed as risky by experienced venue operators. For the next few months, a small group of city officials, business owners and theater representatives will meet in an effort to develop a proposal that restores the Wheaton Grand without burdening taxpayers.

Hubble Middle School debuts:

A new Hubble Middle School opened its doors in August to about 850 students in Warrenville. The 190,000-square-foot facility is the culmination of 16 months of construction and more than five years of often heated debate about whether the old Hubble in downtown Wheaton should have been renovated. Voters in February 2008 gave Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 the OK to proceed with the $58 million building, which is located on roughly 18 acres at 3S600 Herrick Road.

Itasca unveils River Walk:

Itasca's River Walk officially was unveiled in September. The $1.5 million concrete path is more than a mile long and runs adjacent Spring Brook Creek southeast of Irving Park Road and I-355 to Walnut Street. It opened after some delays, but officials said it came in $50,000 under budget.

Big splash in Lombard:

Lombard Park District opened its $9 million Paradise Bay Water Park, featuring the 140,000-gallon Hurricane Cove leisure pool and the Wipeout bowl slide for Wisconsin Dells-like thrills. The project, completed on time and under budget, won the Illinois Park and Recreation Association's Outstanding Facility and Park Award in December. Pool attendance totaled 93,000 despite the chilly summer.

Winfield begins underpass:

Winfield started work in September on a long-sought pedestrian underpass that will open in 2010. As part of the roughly $4 million project, the 110-foot-long underpass will run beneath the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. It's expected to be completed by October 2010. Village officials said the project was in the planning stages since 2001.

Carol Stream's water deal:

After a year of coming up dry at the negotiating table, Carol Stream and Wayne Township in September inked a deal that will allow Benjamin Middle School and neighboring homeowners to get Lake Michigan water. The intergovernmental agreement gives the village permission to extend its water main along North Avenue and up St. Charles and Fair Oaks roads.

Bridge project begins:

Wheaton secured roughly $9.7 million in state grant money in January for its long-awaited Wesley/Manchester bridge project. The Illinois Commerce Commission funding was the final piece the city needed to start construction this year on the new bridge to carry Wesley Street over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Replacing the aging bridge has been on the city's to-do list for years.

Navistar or bust:

Truck maker and defense contractor Navistar Inc. began laying the groundwork in September for plans to overhaul the former Lucent Technologies campus in Lisle to include a massive research center with other features and start moving in by April. Opposition by neighbors and the potential for DuPage County to withdraw a land deal may still derail the plan.

Aurora cops unveil new home:

Aurora police won't call it home until January, but they unveiled their new $108.2 million headquarters and branch court facility in early December at 1200 E. Indian Trail Road. The 152,000-square-foot headquarters will house the department's 300 officers and close to 100 civilian employees.

Wheaton Christian campus:

Wheaton Christian Grammar School started building a 92,000-square-foot facility at a 35-acre campus in Winfield in March. The goal is to start classes by August 2010 at the site, which is south of St. Charles Road along Taylor Drive. Once completed, the school will feature state-of-the-art classrooms to accommodate up to 650 kindergartners to eighth-graders, a library, a dedicated fine arts wing and athletic facilities. The building will be nearly twice as large as the 1951-era structure the school occupies at 530 E. Harrison Ave., Wheaton.

Omnia project falls flat:

Members of the Omnia nonprofit group in Naperville went public with their proposal for a performing arts center near the downtown train station but were rejected by city councilmen. Much of the funding for the $190 million center and commuter parking garage would have come from the city issuing $130 million in bonds through a tax increment financing district. Councilmen said they couldn't risk losing taxpayer dollars if the development didn't go according to plan. The proposal also called for condos, townhouses, stores and restaurants that would have been built and paid for by a developer.

Ardmore bridge closes:

After a structural inspection showed the aging Ardmore Avenue bridge was so far gone most SUVs would exceed the recommended weight limit, Villa Park officials decided to close it to all vehicles staring Aug. 25. The bridge is still open to pedestrians, but motorists traveling north-south must use either Villa Avenue or Addison Road. Construction of a replacement bridge won't start before spring and the work will take a year. The good news is federal funding is expected to cover 80 percent of the $3.5 million cost.

District 203 renovations:

Naperville Unit District 203 was busy with a variety of facilities projects. It finished a $7 million renovation and addition at Mill Street Elementary School as well as a handful of projects at Naperville North High School that included new parking lots, a synthetic turf football field and an improved pool. The district also broke ground on an $87.8 million major renovation of Naperville Central High School and a new $11 million early-childhood center.

Route 59 gets funding:

Naperville and Aurora rejoiced when they learned the state's $31 billion capital plan includes $125 million to widen a three-mile stretch of Route 59 between Aurora Avenue and Ferry Road. The project has long been a priority for the area. Construction isn't likely to begin for several years due to time needed for engineering work and property acquisition.

Comings, goings

Wheaton's mystery man:

Weeks of speculation came to an end in October with Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 school board members announcing the resignation of Superintendent Richard Drury. Drury's last day with the district will be March 9, 2010, according to a resignation agreement the board approved. Drury will spend his remaining time with the district serving in "an administrative capacity performing educational work of value to the school district." The board named Charles Baker the acting superintendent so it can conduct a search for Drury's replacement. No one would say why Drury is leaving.

Back home again in Indiana:

Indian Prairie Unit District 204 Superintendent Stephen Daeschner ended his two-year relationship with the district and accepted the top administrative post in the Greater Clark County School District in Jeffersonville, Ind. He was replaced by Kathy Birkett, a veteran of 30 years as a teacher and administrator.

Dist. 203 hires new leader:

Naperville Unit District 203 hired Seattle-area educator Mark Mitrovich to take over as superintendent to replace retiring Alan Leis. The move was not entirely without controversy as some residents complained when they learned Mitrovich's doctorate is from the now-defunct University of Santa Barbara, which was not accredited by a regional agency. The school board stuck with its pick and Mitrovich took the job July 1.

Law & order

Family mystery stuns town:

They seemed like the perfect family. The father coached his sons' sports teams. The mother volunteered in their schools. Folks saw no warning signs before Thomas Mangiantini awoke the morning before Thanksgiving and fatally shot his wife, their two sons and then killed himself in their Addison home. He left behind a suicide note, but police have not revealed its contents.

Nursing home death:

In a shocking case of neglect, 87-year-old Sarah "Sally" Wentworth froze to death early Feb. 5 after wandering outside while a resident at The Arbor of Itasca. A young nurses assistant later admitted she was watching back-to-back episodes of "Dog the Bounty Hunter" and didn't bother to check on a door alarm. She received probation after pleading guilty. The Wentworth family's lawsuit is ongoing.

The hunt for a fugitive:

Robert Maday's 26-hour bid for freedom ended Sept. 18 after an eagle-eyed West Chicago police officer nabbed the fugitive, wanted after he overpowered two Cook County state's attorney investigators during a Rolling Meadows court appearance on bank robbery charges.

Mom abandons newborn:

A 24-year-old Myanmar native named Nunu Sung is accused of abandoning her newborn son after his June 12 delivery outside of her apartment. A neighbor and his dog discovered the baby, who survived and is in foster care.

Cop takes wrong turn:

A veteran Wheaton police officer smashed her squad car through the front door of a house on the city's south side Wheaton about 4 a.m. Sept 24. The squad traveled between a bush and tree, over the front step and came to a stop several feet inside the foyer. The front door and part of the surrounding wall were knocked over. No one was injured. Police have yet to say officially what caused the officer to drive off the road, but preliminary indications are she fell asleep.

Two perish in fire:

A house fire in Keeneyville killed two people and injured four in November, and investigators still have not discovered the cause. Steven Elliott, 32, and Lori Ann Breese, 37, both were killed while trying to escape the flames inside the home at 24W630 Lawrence Ave, southeast of Gary Avenue and Lake Street in Bloomingdale. Also injured in the blaze were Cesar L. Euan, who authorities say lived in the home; Edith L. Hernandez of Bolingbrook; Breese's 11-year-old daughter, Tiffany; and her 5-year-old son, Matthew. The children's grandmother, Marjorie Breese of Florida, was caring for the children after the blaze and clothing and funds were collected for both victims' families.

District 204 learns of assault:

The parents of an 11-year-old boy who said he was sexually assaulted by classmates broke their silence in February, pleading publicly for the alleged assailants to be removed from Gregory Middle School. The other students eventually agreed to move to other schools, one in Naperville Unit District 203 and one in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, and to seek sexual abuse counseling.

Air Angels grounded:

The Bolingbrook-based Air Angels ambulance service, involved in an October 2008 helicopter crash that killed four people in Aurora, laid off all 33 of its employees and ceased operation in late February. Pilot Del Waugh was killed in the crash along with flight nurse William Mann, 31, of Chicago; paramedic Ron Battiato, 41, of Peotone; and their 1-year-old patient, Kirstin Blockinger of Leland.

Out of the wild:

A Bolingbrook teen had to be rescued by helicopter when he got lost for three days in the Alaskan wilderness after setting out to find the "magic bus" made famous in the book/film "Into the Wild." It was the second time Dan Carroll got lost last summer and had to be rescued, prompting Alaskan rangers to threaten him with arrest if he went hiking again. Carroll, a culinary student, was in Alaska to work at a resort as a line cook.

Wheaton hero:

Anson Yeganegi in September saved the life of a motorist who drove a 2008 Bentley convertible into pond at Prairie and Gary avenues in Wheaton. Yeganegi dove into the pond and pulled the motorist to safety. Wheaton police and fire officials called the 2005 graduate of Wheaton North High School a hero.

Fire at Oak Meadows:

The 86-year-old clubhouse at the Oak Meadows Golf Course in Addison was destroyed in a fire sparked by a lightning strike in February. The lightning strike ignited one of the facility's older roofs that had been built upon over the years and spread quickly and quietly in the eaves before DuPage County Forest Preserve police officers responding to a tripped burglar alarm noticed smoke. No one was hurt in the fire and the forest preserve district's insurance carrier agreed to pay $5.6 million to cover the loss of the building in December.

Kudos

Wheaton 150th anniversary:

Wheaton's 150th Birthday Gala raised more than $150,000 for 15 charities during a Feb. 21 black-tie event at Arrowhead Golf Club. The gala was organized as part of Wheaton's yearlong sesquicentennial celebration, which included a kite-flying event and Poetry in the Park. The entire celebration concluded with the Fourth of July parade.

Healing Field honors veterans:

The Naperville Exchange Club and Naperville Park District teamed up to create a Healing Field of Honor. For a week in November, Rotary Hill was filled with 2,009 American flags in recognition of people who have served in the military. Flag sales benefited construction of a Fisher House near the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Hines that will be a place for families of patients to stay while visiting loved ones.

Park districts honored:

Three DuPage park districts - Lombard, Itasca and Fox Valley - all captured the National Gold Medal for Excellence from the National Recreation and Park Association.

Carol Stream turns 50:

The village of Carol Stream celebrated its 50th anniversary and gave residents several history lessons at board meetings. Village Trustee Rick Gieser invited local school district and public group leaders to speak to the village board at each of its meetings and give historical information. Also, events throughout the summer mentioned the anniversary.

Animal stories

Cougars running wild:

There was never any hard evidence to support their claims, but several DuPage residents said they spotted cougars running wild - first in some Wheaton parks and later near the DuPage Airport in West Chicago and the Morton Arboretum in Lisle. Experts said the sightings most likely were false alarms, but no one was ready to close the cage door entirely.

The end

Hello, I must be going:

Anuj K. Shahi, 36, of Brookfield was caught speeding along Naperville's Diehl Road in September. Police say he was going 96 mph in a 40 mph zone. According to police, when asked why he was driving so fast, Shahi told him he "had to use the bathroom very badly."