A key executive in the Wirtz Corporation has died in a freak swimming accident off the coast of Mexico.
Arnie Piechocki, 47, of Des Plaines, ran Wirtz Realty for the prominent Chicago family, overseeing its 27 buildings and 2,000 apartments on Chicago's north lakefront, as well as warehouses in Bensenvilile, Wood Dale and Elk Grove Village that house Wirtz Beverage operations, along with that operation's headquarters in Schaumburg.
"I can't believe he's not here," said Rocky Wirtz, chairman of Wirtz Coporation, calling from the Wirtz Realty office in Chicago. "I trusted him implicitly."
Mr. Piechocki had been vacationing in Cabo San Lucas with his wife and two children, and three other Northwest suburban families over spring break when the accident occurred.
According to friends, last week Mr. Piechocki and his son, Brent, as well as their friends had taken a water taxi out to Lover's Beach, a secluded island and popular destination point where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean.
Commenting on the heat, Mr. Piechocki asked the others if they wanted to take a dip in the ocean, and when everyone else declined, he dove in himself.
"It was 15 seconds and he didn't come back," said his friend, Joe Mangiamele of Arlington Heights. "We thought he was playing a joke on us."
Mr. Piechocki's son reportedly spotted his father drifting further out, and he screamed and ran in after him. Mangiamele followed, attempting to bring both of them back.
"The waves were real violent," Mangiamele said.
With the aid of others, including Michael Tuccori of Des Plaines and Jim Malapanes of Arlington Heights, they were able to retrieve both father and son and immediately began CPR on Mr. Piechocki.
The group had to flag down a small boat to bring Mr. Piechocki to the mainland. Later, he was transferred to a San Diego hospital, where he died Sunday. Doctors said he had suffered a broken neck. They theorized that the force of the waves had slammed his head on the ocean floor, causing the fatal injury, friends said.
Mr. Piechocki joined Wirtz Realty in 1988 as a building manager and worked his way up the ladder, eventually being named vice president in 1997. He left the company for two years to work as a project manager for Doherty Construction, based in Bull Valley and run by his brothers-in-law, where he learned the construction industry.
"Arnie was devoted to the Wirtz family," his wife, Eileen, said. "He thought of Bill Wirtz as a mentor and father figure, and he had just as much respect for Rocky."
A favorite memory of Mr. Piechocki's was driving one night with Bill Wirtz in his Cadillac right out onto the ice in the United Center, to view its new eight-sided video play scoreboard.
Besides his wife, Mr. Piechocki is survived by his daughter, Kristana, a junior at St. Viator High School, and his son, Brent, an eighth grader at St. Emily's School in Mount Prospect.
Visitation will take place from 1-8 p.m. Sunday at Cooney Funeral Home, 625 Busse Highway in Park Ridge, before an 11:30 a.m. funeral Mass Monday at St. Emily Church, 1400 E. Central Road in Mount Prospect.