Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts

Redflex execs out as scandal grows in red light camera firm

The president, chief financial officer and top lawyer for Chicago's red light camera company resigned this week amid an escalating corruption scandal that has cost Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. its lucrative, decadelong relationship with the city.

The resignations came as Redflex said it was winding down a company-funded probe into allegations of an improper relationship between the company and the former city transportation manager who oversaw its contract until 2011, a relationship first disclosed by the Tribune in October. A longtime friend of that city manager was hired by Redflex for a high-paid consulting deal.

The company recently acknowledged it improperly paid for thousands of dollars in trips for the former city official, the latest in a series of controversial revelations that have shaken Redflex from its Phoenix headquarters to Australia, the home of parent company Redflex Holdings Ltd.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration banned the company from competing for the upcoming speed camera contract and went further last month by announcing that Redflex would lose its red light contract when it expires in June. The Chicago program, with more than 380 cameras, has been the company's largest in North America and is worth about 13 percent of worldwide revenue for Redflex Holdings. Since 2003 it has generated about $100 million for Redflex and more than $300 million in ticket revenue for the city.

In an email addressed to all company employees, Redflex Holdings CEO and President Robert T. DeVincenzi announced the resignations of three top executives in Phoenix: Karen Finley, the company's longtime president and chief executive officer; Andrejs Bunkse, the general counsel; and Sean Nolen, the chief financial officer. Their exits follow those of the chairman of the board of Redflex Holdings, another Australian board member and the company's top sales executive who Redflex has blamed for much of its Chicago problems.

"Today's announcement of executive changes follows the conclusion of our investigation in Chicago and marks the dividing line between the past and where this company is headed," said DeVincenzi, who took over as CEO of the Phoenix company. "This day, and each day going forward, we intend to be a constructive force in our industry, promoting high ethical standards and serving the public interest."

The company also held town hall meetings in Arizona to unveil reforms, including new requirements to put all company employees through anti-bribery and anti-corruption training, hiring a new director of compliance to ensure that employees adhere to company policies and establishing a 24-hour whistle-blower hotline.

The resignations and a second consecutive halt to public trading of the company's stock are the latest in a string of events that followed Tribune reports last year regarding 2-year-old internal allegations of corruption in the Chicago contract that the company previously said were investigated and discounted.

The scandal now enveloping the company centers on its relationship to former Chicago transportation official John Bills, who retired in 2011 after overseeing the company's contract since it began in 2003.

A whistle-blower letter obtained by the Tribune said Bills received lavish vacations directly on the expense report of a company executive and raised questions about improper ties between Bills and a Redflex consultant who received more than $570,000 in company commissions.

Bills and the consultant, a longtime friend, have denied wrongdoing.

The company told the Tribune in October that its investigation into the 2010 letter found only one instance of an inadvertent expenditure for Bills, a two-day hotel stay at the Arizona Biltmore expensed by the executive. Redflex lawyer Bunkse told the newspaper that the company responded by sending the executive to "anti-bribery" training and overhauling company expense procedures.

But after additional Tribune reports, the company hired a former Chicago inspector general, David Hoffman, to conduct another investigation. Hoffman made an interim report of his findings to company board members this month. That report prompted the company officials to acknowledge a much deeper involvement with Bills, including thousands of dollars for trips to the Super Bowl and White Sox spring training over many years.

The chairman of the company's Australian board of directors resigned, trading on company stock was temporarily suspended and the company acknowledged that it is sharing information with law enforcement.

Trading was halted again this week pending more details about the company's latest actions.

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Tax on pack of cigarettes sold in Chicago up $1 to $6.67

On the eve of a $1-per-pack Cook County cigarette tax increase, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle stood in the glow of X-rays showing damaged lungs, surrounded by some of Stroger Hospital's top pulmonary specialists as she discussed how smoking shortens people's lives.

The setting and talking points made clear the message Preckwinkle wanted to convey Thursday: This is a public health problem, one she plans to fight by giving smokers an incentive to quit and teens a reason not to start.

But the county's tax increase is more than just a campaign to protect people from emphysema and lung cancer. Preckwinkle is counting on $25.6 million this year from the move to help balance the budget. The history of cigarette tax increases suggests the county will be lucky to get that much in 2013 and should expect diminishing returns in the years ahead.

Smokes are a financial well that public officials have gone to repeatedly to shore up shaky finances at the local and state level. When the county tax increase takes effect Friday, a pack of cigarettes purchased in Chicago will come with $6.67 tacked on by the city, county and state. That's just behind New York City's nation-leading $6.86 in taxes per pack. It will also push the cost of a pack of cigarettes in Chicago to as much as $11.

Recent cigarette tax increases have had only a short-term benefit to the government bottom line. Some people quit, while others buy cigarettes online or outside the county or state.

When the county last raised the cigarette tax — by $1 per pack in 2006 — collections initially shot up by $46.5 million, hitting $203.7 million, county records show. But by 2009, the county collected $20.4 million less than it had in 2005.

Mayor Richard M. Daley bumped up the city of Chicago's share of the cigarette tax by 32 cents in 2005 and another 20 cents in 2006, to 68 cents per pack. He saw collections rise from $15.6 million in 2004 to $32.9 million in 2006, according to a city report. But city cigarette tax revenue fell to $28.4 million in 2007, and continued dropping to $18.7 million by 2011, records show.

At the state level, Quinn pushed through a $1-a-pack hike in June.

Before that, state lawmakers and Gov. George Ryan agreed on a 40-cent increase in 2002. Cigarette tax proceeds went up by more than $178 million in 2003, to $643.1 million, and rose to $729.2 million in 2004. The revenue then fell steadily to $549 million by 2010 before edging back up to $580 million last year, according to state records.

The county is preparing for the windfall from the $1 increase to be strong this year, then decline. County officials project that after bringing in $25.6 million for the remainder of this budget year, the increase will net about $29 million for 2014, $21 million in 2015, $15 million in 2016 and just $9 million in 2017.

Preckwinkle says that's OK with her.

"My hope would be that over the long run this is no longer a way in which governments look to raise money, because fewer and fewer people are smoking," she said. "So I would hope that we have the effect of reducing our revenue because more people quit."

The county could end up saving money as cigarette tax revenue falls because uninsured people with ailments related to smoking are such a heavy financial burden to the public hospital system, Preckwinkle said.

In the meantime, Preckwinkle pledged to hire more staff this year to crack down on stores selling untaxed packs and large-scale tobacco smuggling from surrounding states. "We anticipate that there may be some noncompliance, as there always is when you institute an increase like this," she said.

Preckwinkle also acknowledged that the higher tax rate will push some smokers into surrounding counties or Indiana to pick up their packs, but she predicted such cross-border runs will not last.

"While people may initially, when the prices rise, go to other states — Indiana, Wisconsin or wherever — over time that trek gets very tiresome and time-consuming, and they return to their former habits of buying their cigarettes nearby," Preckwinkle said.

But David Vite, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said he thinks the cigarette taxes in Cook County are now so high compared with surrounding areas that smokers will continue to make the longer drive, and Illinois stores near jurisdictions with lower taxes will struggle even more.

"You might see people return to their old patterns if we were talking about a slight disparity, say 25 cents a pack," Vite said. "But now we're talking about a difference of nearly $3 a pack compared to Indiana, almost $30 a carton. You're going to see guys working in factories saying, 'It's my week to make a run,' heading to Indiana and coming back with $1,500 worth of cigarettes for all their co-workers."

Twitter @_johnbyrne

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Chicago archdiocese to close 5 schools in cost-cutting move

Budget cuts announced Wednesday by the Archdiocese of Chicago signal that the area's Roman Catholics are entering a period of austerity when there will be less money for their parishes and schools.

The cuts, which were officially announced as Cardinal Francis George and other leaders of the church gathered at the Vatican to select a new pope, include closing five schools, eliminating 75 positions at the archdiocese's headquarters and placing a moratorium on loans to parishes from the archdiocese bank for three years. Other changes include creating stricter guidelines for local parishes applying for subsidies and reducing the number of the agencies in the archdiocese.

George, who spoke publicly about the cuts when asked by reporters in Rome, said they are needed to address the archdiocese's chronic financial problems. The archdiocese has run deficits of more than $30 million annually over the last four years, including being $40 million in the red for the fiscal year ending in June 2012.

All told, the measures will save tens of millions of dollars over the next few years, officials said.

“The expenses have gone up, and the income is pretty well flat,” George said after a news conference in Rome about Pope Benedict XVI's last audience Wednesday in St. Peter's Square. “We tried to ride out the recession without making any changes — and we can't do that. We're giving more grants to parishes and schools that need more money. The budget is not balanced. Not just layoffs, but a lot of other things being done, other ways to use the resources we have.”

The archdiocese sold $150 million in bonds in 2012 that helped it get through a cash-flow problem, but ultimately that wasn't enough, George said. He hopes the cuts will enable the archdiocese to balance its budget in two years.

Although the cardinal's announcement made headlines, the archdiocese's financial situation has been no secret to its priests. Several clergymen said they knew the archdiocese had planned to scale back loans to parishes.

“We have already made adjustments,” said the Rev. Dennis Ziomek of St. Barbara Parish in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood. “We have to be responsible stewards with the money.”

In a letter posted on the archdiocese website, the cardinal thanked parishioners for their generosity and asked them to pray for the employees now out of a paycheck.

At the archdiocese's Pastoral Center headquarters on Wednesday, people funneled in and out of the building during their lunch breaks but declined comment on the layoffs. Before the announcement, staffers received memos asking them to report to their desks early Wednesday.

Of the 75 positions, 55 were full-time jobs. Sixty people were let go, while the remaining posts had been vacant. Those cuts are expected to save $11 million to $13 million annually by fiscal 2015, George wrote in his letter.

Employees who received pink slips will get job counseling, extended health benefits and generous severance packages.

“We're keeping up counseling for helping people find jobs, looking for places where they might look for jobs,” George said.

Along with the layoffs, the archdiocese will reduce the number of capital loans and grants it gives parishes, while creating “stricter criteria” for them to qualify for the financial assistance.

A Parish Transformation initiative in the works for at least two years will also try to save money by laying out measures to provide more financial stability, though the letter did not give details.

Those cuts are expected to save an additional $13 million to $15 million annually by fiscal 2015, the letter states.

By next year, the archdiocese will reduce its aid to Catholic schools by $10 million. It plans to give scholarships to children affected by the five school closings so they can attend nearby Catholic schools. Officials said low enrollment was a key factor for closing the schools: St. Gregory the Great High, St. Paul-Our Lady of Vilna Elementary and St. Helena of the Cross Elementary in Chicago, plus St. Bernardine in Forest Park and St. Kieran in Chicago Heights.

Now, Catholic schools will start relying on scholarships for student financial aid instead of grants from the archdiocese to make tuition affordable, Superintendent Sister Mary Paul McCaughey said.

She pointed to a new partnership with the Big Shoulders Fund, a charity supporting urban Catholic schools, that will help families pay for school with scholarships.

McCaughey did not expect tuition at other Catholic schools to immediately rise because grants from the archdiocese have been reduced. About two-thirds of schools already have posted their tuition rates for the upcoming school year, she added.

“Although things are challenged, I think (Chicago) is a Catholic community that's always supported its schools,” McCaughey said. “I think the support will be there.”

Outside of St. Bernardine Elementary in west suburban Forest Park, one of the schools that will close this summer, Maria Maxham said she was devastated when she heard last month that she'd have to send her children, one in second grade and the other in fourth grade, to a different school.

Maxham, who lives in Forest Park, said she is not sure the two will attend another local Catholic school because some lack what she thought was St. Bernardine's strength.

“There is so much diversity at St. Bernardine, and that's part of what makes it so fantastic,” Maxham said. “It was a special place and a second family for us.”

The school, which has been open since 1915, has about 100 students currently enrolled in its preschool-through-eighth-grade classrooms.

Administrators, teachers and parents were notified of the closing in January, when McCaughey led a meeting at the school and explained the large amount of money that the archdiocese needed to reduce from the schools budget, Principal Veronica Skelton Cash said.

One family left the school shortly after hearing the news, she added.

Cash, who joined the school in the fall, said there was much frustration among staff members afterward. Many believed they would have at least a few years to turn things around.

“I could see a lot of things changing for the better at this school,” Cash said. “The culture of the community is changing, and we were getting more and more inquiries about the school. There was momentum going forward.”

Current employees were given guidance on severance and benefits by the archdiocese's human resources officials, Cash said. Teachers without jobs will also be placed on a priority list for future employment with the archdiocese, she said.

“I'm incredibly disheartened,” said Daniel Kwarcinski, who hopes to find a job at another private school after teaching art for seven years at St. Bernardine. “There's a need for a school like this where we are at.”

In Rome, George said the decisions to let people go and reduce aid were not easy. But he reiterated that the archdiocese's financial situation drove the decision.

“We have to balance the budget, especially if it's precarious,” he said. “The growth being very slow means we can no longer ignore the kinds of deficit situations that have been imposed on us. We have to take action.”

Tribune reporter Manya A. Brachear reported from Rome, with Tribune reporters Bridget Doyle and Jennifer Delgado in Chicago.

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Kelly easily wins Democratic race to replace Jackson Jr.

Former state Rep. Robin Kelly easily won the special Democratic primary Tuesday night in the race to replace the disgraced Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress, helped by millions of dollars in pro-gun control ads from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's political fund.

A snowstorm and lack of voter interest kept turnout low as Kelly had 52 percent to 25 percent for former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson and 11 percent for Chicago 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale with 99 percent of precincts counted.

Kelly will formally take on the winner of the Republican primary in an April 9 special general election in the heavily Democratic district. In the GOP contest, less than 25 votes separated convicted felon Paul McKinley and businessman Eric Wallace.

Kelly framed her win as a victory for gun control forces.

"You sent a message that was heard around our state and across the nation," Kelly told supporters in a Matteson hotel ballroom. "A message that tells the NRA that their days of holding our country hostage are coming to an end.

"To every leader in the fight for gun control ready to work with President (Barack) Obama and Mayor (Rahm) Emanuel to stop this senseless violence, thank you for your leadership and thank you for your courage," she said.

Halvorson told supporters to rally around Kelly as the Democratic nominee. But Halvorson also made it clear she believed her biggest opponent was the mayor of New York, whose anti-gun super political action committee spent more than $2.2 million attacking her previous support from the National Rifle Association while backing Kelly.

"We all know how rough it was for me to have to run an election against someone who spent ($2.2) million against me," Halvorson said at Homewood restaurant. "Every 71/2 minutes there was a commercial."

Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC was the largest campaign interest in the race and dominated the Chicago broadcast TV airwaves compared to a marginal buy by one minor candidate.

Beale also called Bloomberg's influence "the biggest disservice in this race."

"If this is the future of the Democratic Party, then we are all in big trouble," Beale said.

Bloomberg, an Emanuel ally in the fight for tougher gun restrictions, called Kelly's win "an important victory for common sense leadership on gun violence" as well as sign that voters "are demanding change" in a Congress that has refused to enact tougher gun restrictions, fearing the influence of the NRA.

But as much as Bloomberg sought to portray the Kelly win as a victory over the influential NRA, the national organization stayed out of the contest completely while the state rifle association sent out one late mailer for Halvorson.

Be it the TV ads or a late consolidation toward Kelly in the campaign, the former Matteson lawmaker made an impressive showing with Democratic voters in suburban Cook County, where the bulk of the district's vote was located, as well as on the South Side.

Despite the size of the field, Kelly got more than half of the votes cast in the two most populated areas of the district. Halvorson won by large percentages over Kelly in Kankakee County and the district's portion of Will County, but those two areas have very few votes.

The special primary election, by its nature, already had been expected to be a low-turnout affair — an expedited contest with little time for contenders to raise money or mount a traditional campaign.

Adding to the lack of interest was the fact that there were no other contests on the ballot in Chicago and most of the suburban Cook County portion of the district. Few contests were being held in Kankakee County and the portion of Will County within the 2nd District.

Turnout was reported to be around 15 percent in the city and suburban Cook. More than 98 percent of the primary votes cast in Chicago were Democratic, as were 97 percent of those cast in suburban Cook.

On the Republican side, the unofficial vote leader was McKinley, 54, who was arrested 11 times from 2003 to 2007, mostly for protesting, with almost all of the charges dropped. In the 1970s and '80s, McKinley was convicted of six felony counts, serving nearly 20 years in prison for burglaries, armed robberies and aggravated battery. He previously declined to discuss the circumstances of those crimes but has dubbed himself the "ex-offender preventing the next offender" in his campaign.

Records show McKinley also owes $14,147 in federal taxes, which might explain his answer at a forum when asked if he would cut any federal programs. "Certainly," he said. "The IRS."

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Chicago could see 6 inches of snow in Tuesday storm

Abundant sunshine and temperatures close to 50 degrees in the past few days teased sober Midwestern sensibilities.

Encouraged perhaps by spring training photos, some people deliberately ventured outside. Some even hopped on bicycles for spins. Maybe they dared to think that spring could break a little early this year.

But on Tuesday morning, for the second time in less than a week, a blustery mix of freezing rain, sleet and snow is forecast to hit the Chicago area. Accumulations could reach 6 inches.

Sure, weather predictions being what they are around here, many will shrug off the warnings and be brazenly optimistic. But it might be best to recall the adage that those who ignore history are sure to be victimized by it.

Chicago has plenty of late-season snow history and, regardless of what materializes, the prudent will keep their salt dry, snow shovels handy and snowblowers primed for the next couple of months.

National Weather Service records from 2011 show that 54 of the previous 139 years — nearly 40 percent — experienced at least one day with an inch or more of snowfall on or after March 25. A total of 17 of those years brought multiple days with more than an inch of snow to Chicago.

One year, 1926, included six days when more than an inch of snow fell after March 25.

And, like some cruel trick, the later in the season the snow falls, the heavier and deadlier it tends to be. On the other hand, it also generally melts faster.

Among the grimmest of those late snowfalls was the deadly storm of April 15-17, 1961, when a rainy low-pressure system stalled and kept looping over the Chicago region. It transformed cold rain into nearly 7 inches of snow. Six people died from the storm's effects; four were victims of snow-shoveling heart attacks.

That storm remains the latest major snowfall of 6 inches or more in the Chicago area.

More recently, the area was hit with nearly 2 inches of snow on March 27, 2008. On March 29, 2009, 1.2 inches accumulated. A week later, more than 2 inches of snow fell.

Tuesday's forecast, which calls for heavier snow north of Interstate 80 and winds whipping up to 35 mph, weighed on Jason Marker's mind while he stood at the Downers Grove Metra station Monday.

"I have a job interview tomorrow," said Marker, 30, of Downers Grove. "It's going to be tough getting there because I have to ride my bike."

Still, he said the winter has been a moderate one so far, "but maybe it will catch up with us tomorrow."

Ashley Feuillan and Bernard Thomas, also of Downers Grove, will be commuting in opposite directions Tuesday morning. Thomas commutes to a job in Aurora, which he starts at 7 a.m. Feuillan hops the train to Columbia College Chicago three times a week.

Both said they plan to leave earlier Tuesday.

"I actually like the snow," said Feuillan, 24, "but it can be a hassle when you're trying to get someplace."

Rather than focusing on what could be a nasty storm, Thomas, 40, kept an upbeat perspective.

"It hasn't been a bad winter," he said. "We haven't really had any big snowstorms."

If the forecast is accurate, Jake Weimer could receive a little relief.

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State lawmaker's bill seeks to limit use of drones to fight crime

SPRINGFIELD — As the Obama administration comes under fire for its use of unmanned drones in foreign lands, a state senator is pressing to have Illinois join the national debate on whether states should regulate drones to ensure the high-tech snooping isn't used to invade the privacy of ordinary citizens on U.S. soil.

Democratic Sen. Daniel Biss has introduced legislation that would require police to get a search warrant before using a drone to gather evidence. Along with banning the use of lethal and nonlethal weapons on the drones — except in emergencies — the proposal would require information a drone gathers to be destroyed unless it is part of an investigation.

Under the legislation, Illinois would step up to combat the issue of drones flying over U.S. airspace. President Barack Obama signed a Federal Aviation Administration mandate last year requesting the agency integrate unmanned aircraft into the national system.

With the possibility of drones becoming the latest aircraft traversing the skies, Biss said this is "the exact moment states should be looking into" unmanned aircraft legislation.

"We're heading into a world where technology surveillance is unreal," the Evanston lawmaker said.

More than 20 states are pursuing similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. While some states are trying to regulate unmanned aircraft use, others are trying to impose moratoriums that ban them, Biss said.

Virginia lawmakers approved a two-year moratorium on the aircraft in the state last week to allow time for a study. The legislation awaits the governor's signature.

In Illinois, authorities in Cook and Champaign counties are considering the use of drones to combat crime.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is in the "exploratory stages" of looking into drone technology for future operations, spokesman Frank Bilecki said. If the county were to employ any drones, they would be "specifically for law enforcement use" and not to invade personal privacy, Bilecki said.

Dart's thinking is that drones would be cheaper to use and cost less taxpayer money than using helicopters for aerial operations, Bilecki said. A small, unmanned aircraft used for search and rescue can cost on average between $38,000 and $50,000, much less than in years past, said James Hill, president of AirCover Integrated Solutions, a California-based drone manufacturer.

To gain traction at the Capitol, Biss potentially might have to overcome resistance from law enforcement leaders. To that end, Biss said he's talking with police chiefs, the Illinois State Police and other police agencies to iron out any wrinkles.

The American Civil Liberties Union thinks the time is ripe to look at drone regulations.

"Technology is changing," said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the ACLU's Illinois chapter. "And the idea is we need to get ahead of the technology to be better prepared."

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2 hurt, 19 arrested in melee near Ford City Mall

Two people suffered minor injuries and police arrested 19 teenagers during a disturbance involving crowds of young people Saturday at Ford City Mall on the Southwest Side, authorities said.

About 4:45 p.m., a large group of disruptive teens ran yelling through the mall, which is located at 7601 S. Cicero Ave., according to a mall official.

Officials closed the mall minutes later, but the chaotic scene continued outside, where police found between 100 and 200 people damaging vehicles in the shopping center's parking lot, according to a police report.

Two people were taken to hospitals, according to Chicago Fire Department Chief Joe Roccasalva, a department spokesman.

A CTA bus driver suffered minor injuries and was taken to Holy Cross Hospital, said Roccasalva, who added he did not know what happened to him.
A “kid’’ was also hurt, and that person was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, also in good condition, Roccasalva said.

About 50 police squad cars assigned to multiple South Side districts, including Chicago Lawn, Englewood and Deering, and a helicopter responded to the scene, police said.

Traffic came to a standstill as teenagers jumped on cars, both parked and moving, according to a police report obtained by the Tribune. Many of those involved ignored orders to disperse, and police arrested 19 people between the ages of 13 and 17, according to police.

The teenagers all face minor misdemeanor charges.

Officers did their best to control the disturbance, "trying to get everyone out of there safely," Chicago Police Department News Affairs Officer Veejay Zala said.

During the disturbance the CTA had to reroute the No. 79 buses, which travel on 79th Street, as well as other buses in the immediate area.

Earlier in the afternoon, members of the teen band Mindless Behavior had appeared at the mall food court from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. to promote their new release, "All Around the World," said John Sarama, the mall's senior general manager.

The band's autograph signing drew approximately 1,000 parents and children, primarily mothers and girls between the ages of 6 and 13, Sarama said.

About 45 minutes after the band left, the chaos began, Sarama said.

"A group of older youths came into the mall with the intent of causing havoc and chaos and were running through the mall, screaming, yelling and so forth," he said.

Security staff contacted the police department, and mall officials closed the mall about 5 p.m., Sarama said.

The mall did not sustain any property damage apart from a single broken planter, and it will reopen Sunday at 11 a.m. as usual, Sarama said.

In the meantime, mall officials are at a loss as they try to understand what happened.

"Ford City is a family-oriented mall," he said. "We have not had an incident like this [in the past], and I’m still in a little bit of a state of shock actually.

"What would make these youths comes here to try and cause this kind of commotion and trouble?" he continued. "I don’t know. But they did have a plan in mind."

Tribune reporter Adam Sege contributed.

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Jail officers accused of ordering an inmate beaten

Two Cook County Jail officers overseeing a psychiatric ward ordered two inmates to beat up another inmate who had angered them and then tried to cover it up by claiming the battered victim attempted suicide, prosecutors said Friday.

"This is what happens to you (expletive) when you step out of line. You disrespect us, we disrespect you," prosecutors said the officers announced to the entire tier after the beating last February.

Delphia Sawyer, 31, and Pamela Bruce, 30, both six-year veterans with the sheriff's office, were charged with official misconduct, obstructing justice, perjury and mob action. Judge Edward Harmening set bail at $50,000 each and ordered them to turn over any firearms.

A photograph taken of the victim, Kyle Pillischafske, on the day after shows he sustained two black eyes and severe swelling on his face. Prosecutors said the damage took place despite the officers yelling for the two inmates to hit Pillischafske with "body shots" so his injuries would be less visible.

The inmate's mother, Morgan Pillischafske, of Mount Prospect, told the Tribune that she was shocked when she learned about the beating and later heard from her son that he thought he was going to die. He had been doing well there, receiving treatment for his bipolar disorder while awaiting trial on an aggravated battery charge, she said.

"Not only did these guards mistreat Kyle, they took advantage of two other inmates as well, all because they were supposedly called a name," she said Friday in a telephone interview. "You have to have thicker skin than that."

Sawyer and Bruce were working the 3 to 11 p.m. shift in the psychiatric tier in maximum-security Division 10 when inmates tried to light a makeshift cigarette in an electrical outlet, sparking a small fire and cutting power to part of the tier, Assistant State's Attorney Nicholas Trutenko said.

The officers, believing Pillischafske was partly to blame, confronted him, prompting a heated exchange, the prosecutor said.

The officers instructed "two of the larger inmates" to go into his cell and beat him, Trutenko said.

Sawyer and Bruce are alleged to have stood watch while the two inmates struck Pillischafske in the face and head. They then joined in, hitting him with their radios and kicking him in the side, the prosecutor said.

To cover up their misconduct, the officers misled a supervisor to believe that Pillischafske hurt himself by banging his head against a shower wall during a suicide attempt, the charges alleged.

The two later lied repeatedly to a grand jury investigating the beating, Trutenko said.

After their arrest Thursday, both officers were stripped of police powers and suspended with pay pending an internal disciplinary hearing next week, said Frank Bilecki, the sheriff's spokesman.

A lawsuit filed by Pillischafske against the officers, the county and Sheriff Tom Dart is pending in federal court.

Bruce, of Chicago, and Sawyer, of Justice, are both married mothers of two and have no criminal records or disciplinary history with the Sheriff's Department, according to their attorneys.

Peter Hickey, Sawyer's attorney, noted she was in charge of a very volatile tier of "psychiatrically disturbed patients."

"These aren't choir boys from St. Patrick's parish," Hickey told the judge.

Pillischafske, now 19, was jailed at the time of the beating on a charge he intentionally caused a car crash in a botched suicide attempt, injuring a woman in the other car. He pleaded guilty a few weeks later to aggravated battery and was sentenced to probation, court records show.

Pillischafske's mother said despite her son's mental health issues, he is a "pretty likable kid" who loves music, plays bass guitar and is hoping to go to college.

"Kyle needs to move on from this," she said. "The whole thing was very unfortunate."

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Storm begins to coat Chicago area with snow

Between and inch-and-a-half and two-and-a-half inches of snow has fallen across much of the Chicago region, though the snow is expected to turn to freezing drizzle in the next couple hours.

Meteorologists have scaled back their predictions on snow fall totals from the storm, though.

Illinois State Police described conditions as "horrible" and have responded to about 15 crashes already.

State Police are in a "snow plan" and aren't responding to accidents without injuries - those are supposed to be reported later.

"It will be tapering off from the south in the next couple hours, possibly some freezing drizzle across whole area," said Mark Ratzer, meteorologist for the National Weather Service. "We may end up coming in a little less."

The city of Chicago has sent 199 plows to work clearing main thoroughfares, according to the streets and sanitation department.

Check back for more information.

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

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Tribune exclusive: 'We were just regular parents who were slapped in the face'

The parents of slain teen Hadiya Pendleton talk about her life and death and the issues raised after she died. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune)

Hadiya Pendleton’s parents haven’t had much time to reminisce about their daughter’s life and death before Wednesday, when they sat down for an exclusive interview with the Tribune.

Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton recalled getting the phone call on Jan. 29 that her 15-year-old daughter had been shot, and rushing to the hospital only to find out it was too late, her daughter was dead.

A whirlwind of activity followed as Hadiya became a national symbol of gun violence and her parents traveled to Washington for President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech.

“I’m not going to be extremely political, but if I can help someone else not go through what we’ve gone through, then I have to do what I can,” Cowley-Pendleton said. “These are the cards we have been dealt. If these are the shoes I need to walk in, I don’t mind walking in them.”

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Cops shoot suspect they say is wanted in string of heists

Chicago police officers shot a man near a busy Bucktown neighborhood intersection after a pursuit that stemmed from an armed robbery at a Subway restaurant on the Near North Side, police said.

Police said the suspect is the same man wanted in more than a dozen robberies of North Side convenience stores and restaurants.

Police said the man shot tonight, about 11:50 p.m., fled from a Subway at 816 N. State Street and the pursuit ended when his SUV crashed into a car outside a Walgreens at 1601 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Police said the suspect did not respond to commands and made suspicious movements inside the vehicle before he was shot.

The other robberies police are investigating happened most often between 11:30 p.m. and 2:15 a.m.

Among the pair: two within hours of each other at 2200 N. Lincoln Avenue and 300 W. Chicago Avenue early in the morning of Feb. 6. 

It’s unclear if the man was shot inside or outside the vehicle and his condition is not known. He was taken to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County and is expected to survive, police said. 

Police from a number of nearby districts responded to the scene after officers called "10-1," a radio term used to signal an officer, firefighter or paramedic in distress. Detectives from two of the three city detective areas also responded to the scene.

Detectives approached people inside and out of the numerous bars that line the intersection asking if anyone saw anything. 

Traffic in the area, including CTA buses, is being rerouted through the neighboring side streets.

Hours after the shooting, as the bars wrapped up for the night, people stood outside smoking and exchanging stories of the cop cars they saw speeding toward the scene.

Check back for updates.
Twitter: @peternickeas

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Rose returns to 5-on-5 drills for first time since injury

A sense of doubt has evolved into a hint of optimism about Derrick Rose's comeback from knee surgery.

The Bulls guard, who last week mentioned the possibility of sitting out the season, appeared to take another step Monday as he participated in 5-on-5 drills during practice.

"He was able to get out there, and it's good," teammate Kirk Hinrich said. "It was something that (we) as a team needed, as far as every individual coming off the (All-Star) break needed to scrimmage a little bit. And I'm sure it was good for (Rose), helpful to ... give him a good gauge of where he's at."

Coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose did "what everyone else did'' and said his participation wasn't out of the ordinary based on the previously stated outlook. The plan all along was to have Rose return to 5-on-5 action after the break.

Rose cited his inability to dunk as the reason he knew he hadn't fully recovered, and Joakim Noah said Rose still wasn't dunking Monday. The Bulls went through three scrimmages of seven to eight minutes, during which Rose ran full-court. It was unclear how much contact Rose endured or how much pressure he put on his left knee.

"He's doing what he should be doing,'' Thibodeau said. "He's focused on his rehab, doing more and more. We just have to be patient. When he's ready, he'll go.''

Thibodeau reiterated how his players need to pick up their intensity after dropping five of the last seven games and six of the last 10. A Rose return would instantly inject life into the 30-22 Bulls, although they've performed admirably at times in his absence while currently holding the Eastern Conference's fifth seed.

Until Rose steps on the court for a game, his teammates have to lean on each other.

"When we're right and we're playing the right way, we've proved that we can beat everybody,'' Noah said. "We've also proved that if we don't come with the right (attitude), don't play together, we can lose to anybody.''

The return of Hinrich to the lineup for Tuesday night's game in New Orleans should provide a boost. The Bulls went 2-5 with Hinrich sidelined by a right elbow infection and committed 15.6 turnovers per game in the losses.

With all due respect to Nate Robinson and his scoring ability, Hinrich runs the offense more efficiently and is a better defender.

"He's a huge part of what we do, and it just feels good to have Kirk back,'' Noah said. "What he brings to our team, it's hard to measure. His defensive intensity, the ball movement ... it's all big.''

The Bulls have lost two straight and take on a 19-34 Hornets team that has won its last two and is 5-5 over the last 10. Four of the Bulls' next six opponents have sub-.500 records, but the Heat (36-14) and Thunder (39-14) are in that stretch too.

"We have to clean some things up offensively and defensively,'' Thibodeau said. "But the biggest challenge is going to be the level of intensity, to get that back.''

Twitter @vxmcclure23

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CPS officials taking note of feedback on school closings

Chicago Public Schools officials gathering input on school closings started taking notes when the director of a local Boys and Girls Club of Chicago spoke up on behalf of West Pullman Elementary School at a hearing on the Far South Side late last week.

Then a local pastor spoke about the changing culture and the positive effect of a new principal at Whistler Elementary, which like West Pullman is on the preliminary list CPS released last week of 129 schools that could be closed. Another pastor talked about the problems with gangs near Lawrence Elementary, and CPS officials wrote some more notes.

School communities across the city are pulling out all the stops to make their case as the district prepares to make a final decision, due by the end of March, on what schools will be shuttered. Parents, teachers and community leaders are bringing healthy amounts of data and emotion to the meetings in their effort to convince district officials which schools should stay open.

The meetings will continue over the next several weeks. The district says it needs to close an as yet unknown number of under-enrolled schools to help address a projected deficit of $1 billion in the coming year.

District chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett has set specific criteria for the closings, and schools that don't want to be on the final list will have to show how they plan to build enrollment or improve academics. Security concerns will also play a role in deciding what schools to close.

Among the schools on the preliminary list were six that are part of the politically connected Academy for Urban School Leadership, which takes over schools known as turnarounds that are deemed in need of academic recovery.

CPS has invested nearly $20 million in capital improvements at the six AUSL Schools. AUSL, which runs 25 schools throughout the district, replaces teachers and administrators at its schools with AUSL-trained staff.

AUSL parents have appeared at meetings to speak about changes at schools being considered for closing.

"We know this has to run the course through the community meetings," said Shana Hayes, managing director of AUSL's external affairs department. "When CPS comes out with the new list, we hope our six schools will come off the list. We see significant positive changes in enrollment."

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the school closing process is "far from complete."

"We expect to get significantly more feedback from the community that will continue to guide this process and remove other schools from consideration," Carroll said. 

The schools on the preliminary list are mostly on the West, South and Southwest sides. In all, more than 43,000 students attend the 129 schools still under consideration.

For many parents and educators, the meetings have provided an opportunity to vent their frustration and anger with the district. They've complained about being denied resources, increasing class sizes and the growth of privately run but publicly funded charters schools.

"You've taken our students away from us — that's why (the school is) under-enrolled," said Tonya Saunders-Wolffe, a counselor at the pre-kindergarten to third grade Owens Elementary in Roseland, referring to the growth of charter schools.

Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education, said the meetings have allowed parents to come out and voice what's happening in their schools and what they need to get better. Woestehoff said she thinks the number of schools on the preliminary list will be far lower when the final list is released.

"Given the powerful push-back from schools and communities that has already happened, (the district) ought to be concerned about an exponential increase in the level of anger that is sure to explode if they announce the closure of anything like 100," she said.

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Hutchinson expected to drop out, endorse Kelly in Jackson Jr. contest

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson is expected to drop out of the 2nd District special Democratic primary on Sunday and throw her support behind former state Rep. Robin Kelly in the contest to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress, multiple sources said late Saturday.

The move, expected to be announced in a morning news release, shakes up the Democratic field just nine days before the Feb. 26 primary election.

Hutchinson recently experienced a pair of setbacks during the short campaign. A super political action committee run by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg started airing a TV attack ad backing Kelly and attacking Hutchinson and another candidate, former one-term U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson of Crete, for past support from the National Rifle Association. Gun control has loomed as a big issue in the contest.

In addition, Hutchinson had to deal with a recent news report detailing how she paid her mother as a campaign consultant. Hutchinson also was not listed as a participant in upcoming WTTW-Ch. 11 candidate forums.

Hutchinson's camp began contacting supporters tonight telling them of her intention to drop out of the contest, said two sources with knowledge of the decision. Word of Hutchinson's plan to endorse Kelly on Sunday via a news release also surfaced, according to a source familiar with the situation.

If Hutchinson exits the contest, there will be three major Democratic candidates left in a 15-candidate field: Kelly, Halvorson and 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale of Chicago.

Hutchinson got an early boost in the contest when Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle endorsed her instead of Kelly, who served as a top aide to Preckwinkle.

As of Feb. 6, Kelly trailed Hutchinson in cash available to spend. Kelly reported $88,820 available while Hutchinson had more than double at $199,901. Hutchinson’s campaign has engaged in a significant direct-mail campaign since that time. For the entire campaign, through Feb. 6, Hutchinson reported raising $281,106. Hutchinson has been endorsed by Preckwinkle, who gave her $1,000.

Overall, campaign disclosure reports showed Kelly has raised more than $303,725 since the start of the short campaign through Feb. 6. Campaign aides to Kelly said she has raised $417,727 for the campaign cycle through Wednesday.

Tribune reporter Bill Ruthhart contributed to this report.

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1 dead, 3 wounded in 90 minutes Friday night

Chicago police were flagged down by a man on the street as they responded to the sound of gunfire Friday night and found a woman lying on the ground, bleeding from gunshot wounds to her upper body.

She and three others were wounded between about 5:55 p.m. and 7:20 p.m. on the South and West sides, according to Chicago police, among a total of six people shot Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. 

The woman, whose age wasn't available, was shot in the 1100 block of North Pulaski Road, just a bit south of Division Street in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood about 7:05 p.m. Officers in the area heard the gunfire and headed toward it - that's when they were flagged down. 

The woman was talking when taken away in an ambulance but suffered a wound to her back and a second below her armpit and was pronounced dead at Mount Sinai Hospital. She may have been stepped on as people fled the scene, police said. 

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Four others survived shootings Friday night and Saturday morning. 

Before 3 a.m. a man was shot in the arm at a party in the 1100 block of South St. Louis Avenue in the Homan Square neighborhood. 

About 7:20 p.m., two men were shot in the 7800 block of South Merrill Avenue in the South Shore neighborhood. One was shot in the knee and the other in the ankle. The pair, 19 and 20, were at a party when someone crept up a gangway and opened fire, police said. 

The older was shot in the knee and the younger in the ankle, police said. It's not clear what hospitals they were taken to. 

About 5:55 p.m., a man sitting in his car near his home was shot in the leg by one of three guys who approached him on foot, police said. The 29-year-old was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center, where his condition had stabilized.

Earlier Friday, a 17-year-old was shot in the hand in the 7800 block of South Morgan Street in the Gresham neighborhood.

Check back for more information.
Twitter: @peternickeas
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Passengers leave crippled ship

MOBILE, Alabama—

A crippled cruise ship that lost power for more than four days in the Gulf of Mexico was pulled into a port in Mobile, Alabama, late on Thursday as passengers cheered the end of a "hellish" voyage marked by overflowing toilets and stinking cabins.

Tugboats pulled the Carnival Triumph into port in a drama that played out live on U.S. cable news stations, creating another public relations nightmare for cruise giant Carnival Corp. Last year, its Costa Concordia luxury ship grounded off the coast of Italy, killing 32 people.

Exhausted passengers lined the ship's decks, waving towels and flashlights and cheering as it pulled into dock, while hundreds of people watched from the shore.

Carnival officials said it could take up to five hours for the more than 4,200 people on board to disembark the ship, which has only one working elevator.

Once on solid ground, many passengers still had a lengthy journey ahead. More than 100 buses were lined up waiting to carry passengers on a seven-hour bus ride to Galveston, Texas, while others had elected to stay overnight in hotels in Mobile before flying home, Carnival said.

An engine fire on Sunday knocked out power and plumbing across most of the 893-foot vessel and left it adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship, which went into service in 1999, was on a four-day cruise and on its way back from a stop in Cozumel, Mexico.

Over the last four days, passengers described an overpowering stench on parts of the ship and complained to relatives and media by cellphone that toilets and drainpipes overflowed, soaking many cabins and interior passages in sewage and turning the vessel into what some have described as a giant Petri dish.

"The thing I'm looking forward to most is having a working toilet and not having to breathe in the smell of fecal matter," said Jacob Combs, an Austin, Texas-based sales executive with a healthcare and hospice company.

Combs, 30, who said he had been traveling with friends and family on the Triumph, had nothing but praise for its crew members, saying they had gone through "hell" cleaning up after some of the passengers on the sea cruise.

"Just imagine the filth," Combs told Reuters. "People were doing crazy things and going to the bathroom in sinks and showers. It was inhuman. The stewards would go in and clean it all up. They were constantly cleaning," he said.

Officials greeted passengers with warm food and blankets and cell phones. Carnival Cruise Lines Chief Executive Gerry Cahill told reporters he planned to board the ship and personally apologize to passengers for their ordeal.

"I know the conditions on board were very poor," he said. "I know it was difficult. I want to apologize for subjecting our guests to that," he said.

"We pride ourselves with providing our guests with a great vacation experience and clearly we failed in this particular case."

Operated by Carnival Cruise Lines, the flagship brand of Carnival Corp, the ship left Galveston a week ago carrying 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew. It was supposed to return there on Monday.

A Coast Guard cutter escorted the Triumph on its long voyage into port since Monday, and a Coast Guard helicopter ferried about 3,000 lbs of equipment including a generator to the stricken ship late on Wednesday.

Earlier in the week, some passengers reported on the poor conditions on the Triumph. They said people were getting sick and passengers had been told to use plastic "biohazard" bags as makeshift toilets.

Smoke from the engine fire was so thick that passengers on the lower decks in the rear of the ship had to be permanently evacuated and slept the rest of the voyage on the decks under sheets, passengers said.


Cahill has issued several apologies and Carnival, the world's largest cruise company, says passengers will receive a full credit for the cruise plus transportation expenses, a future cruise credit equal to the amount paid for this voyage, plus a payment of $500 a person to help compensate for the "very challenging circumstances" aboard the ship.

Mary Poret, who spoke to her 12-year-old daughter aboard the Triumph on Monday, rejected Cahill's apology in comments to CNN on Thursday, as she waited anxiously in Mobile with a friend for the Triumph's arrival.

"Seeing urine and feces sloshing in the halls, sleeping on the floor, nothing to eat, people fighting over food, $500? What's the emotional cost? You can't put money on that," Poret said.

Some passengers said conditions onboard improved on Thursday after the generator was delivered to the ship, providing power for a grill to cook hot food.

Carnival Corp Chairman and CEO Micky Arison faced criticism in January 2012 for failing to travel to Italy and take personal charge of the Costa Concordia crisis after the luxury cruise ship operated by Carnival's Costa Cruises brand grounded on rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio. The tragedy unleashed numerous lawsuits against his company.

The cruise ship mogul has taken a low-key approach to the Triumph situation as well, even as it grabbed a growing share of the U.S. media spotlight. His only known public appearance since Sunday was courtside on Tuesday at a game played by his Miami Heat championship professional basketball team.

"I think they really are trying to do the right thing, but I don't think they have been able to communicate it effectively," said Marcia Horowitz, an executive who handles crisis management at Rubenstein Associates, a New York-based public relations firm.

"Most of all, you really need a face for Carnival," she added. "You can do all the right things. But unless you communicate it effectively, it will not see the light of day."

Carnival Corp shares closed down 11 cents at $37.35 in trading on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares closed down 4 percent at $37.46 on Wednesday after the company said voyage disruptions and repair costs related to Carnival Triumph could shave up to 10 cents a share off its second-half earnings.

The Triumph is a Bahamian-flagged vessel and the Bahamas Maritime Authority will be the primary agency investigating the cause of its engine room fire.

Earlier this month, Carnival repaired an electrical issue on one of the Triumph's alternators. The company said there was no evidence of any connection between the repair and the fire.

For all the passengers' grievances, they will likely find it difficult to sue the cruise operator for any damages, legal sources said. Over the years, the cruise industry has put in place a legal structure that shields operators from big-money lawsuits.

(Additional reporting by David Adams and Kevin Gray in Miami, Writing by Tom Brown; Editing by Peter Cooney and Lisa Shumaker)

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Anxiety grows as Chicago Public Schools narrows closing list

After trimming the number of schools that could be closed to 129, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's school administration on Wednesday entered the latest and what is likely to be the most intense phase so far in trying to determine which schools should be shut.

Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett is expected to pare the preliminary list before unveiling a final one at the end of March. She said administrators will determine which schools are saved in the coming weeks amid a final round of community meetings to hear arguments from parents, teachers and community groups about why their schools should stay open.

If a hearing Wednesday night in North Lawndale was any indication, CPS still has a long way to go to gain the public's trust.

"Our schools don't need to close," Dwayne Truss, vice chairman of CPS' Austin Community Action Council, said in front of hundreds of people packed inside a church auditorium in the West Side neighborhood. "CPS is perpetrating a myth that there's a budget crisis."

CPS initially said 330 of its schools are underenrolled, the chief criterion for closing. Members of a commission assembled to gather public input on the issue told CPS officials earlier this year that closing a large number of schools would create too much upheaval. The Tribune, citing sources, said the commission indicated a far smaller number should be closed than initially feared, possibly as few as 15.

CPS then started holding its own hearings and on Wednesday, while following many of the formal recommendations made by the Commission on School Utilization, said 129 schools still fit the criteria for closing.

The new number and the latest round of hearings sets the stage for the administration to counter questions about the district's abilities to close a large number of schools and the need to do so.

For many who have already turned up to school closing meetings, this final round of hearings will be even more critical. School supporters must show how they plan to turn around academic performance and build enrollment, and also make the case for any security problems that would be created by closing their school.

"We are prepared now to move to the next level of conversation with our community and discuss a list of approximately 129 schools that still require further vetting and further conversation," Bryd-Bennett said. "We are going to take these 129 and continue to sift through these schools."

In the past, political clout has played a role in the district's final decisions. Already this year, several aldermen have spoken out on behalf of schools in their wards.

On the Near Northwest Side, for instance, the initial list of 330 underused schools included about six in the 1st Ward. Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno helped organize local school council members, school administrators and parents to fight any closing. He also took that fight to leaders in City Hall and within CPS' bureaucracy. Nearly all of the schools in the ward were excluded from the list of 129.

"It is effort and it's organizing and not just showing up at meetings and yelling. Anybody can do that," Moreno said. "Those schools that proactively work before those meetings and explain what they are doing, what they need and that they are willing to accept new students, that's when politics works.

"My responsibility in this juncture was to focus on these schools," he said. "I had to work on the inside, with CPS and with City Hall, and with my schools on the outside."

Most of the schools on the list of 129 are on the West, South and Southwest sides, many in impoverished neighborhoods that saw significant population loss over the last decade. Largely spared were the North and Northwest sides.

In all, more than 43,000 students attend those 129 schools on the preliminary list, according to CPS records.

The area with the most schools on the list is a CPS network (the district groups its schools in 14 networks) that runs roughly from Madison Street south to 71st Street and from the lake to State Street. The preliminary list includes 24 schools in that area.

The Englewood-Gresham network has the second-largest number, 19, while the Austin-North Lawndale network where Wednesday night's meeting was held still has 16 schools on the list.

CPS critics said the preliminary list is still too large to be meaningful and that the district's promise to trim it before March 31 is only a tactic to make the final number seem reasonable.

"They started out with such a far-fetched, exaggerated list of schools, many of which are nowhere near underutilized," said Wendy Katten, co-founder of the parent group Raise Your Hand. "They might appear to be looking like they're listening, but they're not. They have not done a thorough and substantive assessment of these schools."

Following the commission's recommendations, CPS last month removed high schools and schools performing at a high level academically from consideration. On Wednesday, the district said schools with more than 600 students or utilization rates of at least 70 percent have also been taken out of consideration for closing.

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Dorner case: Human remains found in debris of burned cabin

Charred human remains have been found in the debris of the burned-out Big Bear area cabin where police believe fugitive ex-cop Christopher Dorner was holed up, authorities said.

Investigators will attempt to identify the remains through forensic means, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.

Dorner, whose alleged crimes have kept Southern California on edge for days, is wanted for the slayings of an engaged couple and two law enforcement officers. He was believed to have shot at pursuing law enforcement officials, then fled into a cabin shortly before it ignited Tuesday afternoon near ski resorts in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Authorities had lost track of Dorner since late last week. Then, on Tuesday, two maids stumbled upon a man resembling Dorner as they arrived to clean a vacant cabin.

The suspect was found close to where law enforcement officials had held news conferences over the weekend concerning their search for Dorner, 33, and near where Dorner’s car was set aflame last week.

The suspect tied the two maids up, took a car from the residence and left, according to a law enforcement official. One of the maids was eventually able to break free at the residence in the 1200 block of Club View Drive, close to Snow Summit and Bear Mountain Resort, and called 911 at 12:20 p.m.

Then, at 12:45 p.m., according to state Fish and Wildlife officials, the suspect was allegedly driving a purple Nissan on California 38 when he passed a marked vehicle driven by the agency’s law enforcement officers.

The officers recognized the suspect as he passed and swung their vehicle around in pursuit.

The suspect attempted to evade them by turning off onto Glass Road, and at some point crashed and abandoned the small car.

With officers still in pursuit, the suspect then stopped a truck driven by another resident and ordered him out of the vehicle.

Behind the wheel of the stolen truck, the suspect was once again careening down Glass Road, and once again he passed a Fish and Wildlife vehicle coming from the opposite direction. Again an officer recognized the suspect. That driver radioed his colleagues traveling behind him that the suspect was heading in their direction in a silver pickup.

When the suspect saw the second Fish and Wildlife truck approaching, he rolled down his window and took aim. The suspect opened fire into the cab as the vehicles passed just two feet apart, shattering the driver's side window and strafing the state truck with a handgun.

The badly damaged truck skidded to a halt and a game warden, a 35-year-old former Marine, fired 20 rounds from a high-powered rifle as the suspect fled in the hijacked truck.

The suspect subsequently crashed that truck and ran into the woods. He ended up in the cabin. A firefight ensued. Two San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies were shot; one was pronounced dead at a hospital, while another is undergoing surgery. Hundreds of rounds were fired in the firefight.

For days, multiple law enforcement agencies from across Southern California laid out a dragnet for the man accused of going on a revenge-fueled rampage following his termination from the LAPD in 2008. In addition to the San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy who was fatally wounded Tuesday, Dorner allegedly killed the 28-year-old daughter of a former LAPD captain, her fiance and a Riverside police officer.

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Hadiya's dad: 'Thanking God that these two guys are off the streets'

Two reputed gang members were out for revenge from a previous shooting when they opened fire on a group of students in a South Side park last month, killing 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton in a heartbreaking case that has brought national attention to Chicago's rampant gun violence, police said.

Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, were each charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm in the Jan. 29 attack that also left two teens wounded.

Ward confessed to police that he and Williams mistook a Pendleton companion for rivals who had shot and wounded Williams last July, police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said at a news conference Monday night at the Area Central police headquarters.

Ward told police that he and Williams got out of their car, crept up on the group and opened fire in Harsh Park, McCarthy said. Williams then drove them from the scene, he said.

"The offenders had it all wrong. They thought the group they shot into included members of a rival gang. Instead it was a group of upstanding, determined kids who, like Hadiya, were repulsed by the gang lifestyle," said McCarthy, flanked by two dozen detectives and gang investigators who worked the case.

Detectives arrested the two Saturday night as the suspects were on their way to a suburban strip club to celebrate a friend's birthday, McCarthy said. Pendleton had been buried only hours earlier in a funeral attended by first lady Michelle Obama.

"I don't even know what to say about that," McCarthy said. "They were going out to celebrate at a strip club."

Williams did not confess and police have not recovered a weapon, McCarthy said. Both are due in bond court Tuesday.

Hadiya's father, Nathaniel Pendleton, said Monday night that news of the charges marked the first time since his daughter's slaying that he had a "legitimate" smile on his face.

"I'm ecstatic that they found the two guys," he told the Tribune during a brief telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where he and wife Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton will attend the State of the Union address Tuesday as guests of President Barack Obama. "(I'm) thanking God that these two guys are off the streets, so that this doesn't happen to another innocent person."

Danetria Hutson, 15, who held Hadiya in her arms after she was shot, said she and others in the group have had nightmares since the shooting.

In addition to waking up in the middle of the night, Hutson, also a sophomore at King, said she and other in that group also haven't been able to bring themselves to hang out at parks since that day.

"A lot of us were actually paranoid because the guys were still out there," Hutson said in a telephone interview. "They knew where we went to school."

On Monday night, Hutson was a little frustrated because of the "ignorance" portrayed in social media, where some people are suggesting that Ward and Williams weren't involved in Hadiya's slaying. But Hutson felt a sigh of relief today when charges were announced against them.

"I just want to see how her family reacts," she said. "It gave me some closure, but I don't think (Hadiya's) family will get closure."

McCarthy said that two days before the killing, police had stopped Ward in his Nissan Sentra as part of a routine gang investigation. That information wound up being the starting point for detectives when witnesses in the shooting described seeing a similar car driving away from the shooting scene, he said.

Through surveillance and interviews — including several fruitful interviews with parolees in the neighborhood — detectives were able to home in on Ward and Williams, McCarthy said. On Saturday night, the decision was made to stop the two if they were spotted. Police watched as they departed in a caravan of cars headed to the strip club in Harvey. They were stopped near 67th Street and South King Drive and taken in for questioning.

McCarthy said Williams was shot July 11 at 39th Street and South Lake Park Avenue, and an arrest was made. But that gunman was let go after Williams refused to cooperate, McCarthy said.

McCarthy also noted that at the time of Hadiya's slaying, Ward was on probation for a weapons conviction. McCarthy said weak Illinois gun laws allowed Ward to avoid jail time because of the absence of mandatory minimum sentences.

"This incident did not have to occur," McCarthy said. "And if mandatory minimums existed in the state of Illinois, Michael Ward would not have been on the street to commit this heinous act."

In announcing the charges, McCarthy praised the "meticulous" detective work that led to the arrests, but he also expressed frustration that despite a $40,000 reward for information in the shooting, no one who had knowledge of the crime came forward.

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Obama coming to Chicago to 'talk about the gun violence'

President Barack Obama will visit Chicago on Friday, when he will discuss gun violence as he focuses on his economic message from Tuesday's State of the Union address, according to the White House.

Obama will "talk about the gun violence that has tragically affected too many families in communities across Chicago and across the country," a White House official said in a statement.

The president's visit answers calls from Chicago anti-violence activists that Obama talk about the recent spate of gun violence in the city, several of the activists said.

"This is an important issue," said Cathy Cohen, founder of the Black Youth Project, which attracted about 45,000 signatures by Sunday night in an online petition that urges Obama to speak up. "We think of this as a victory for all of us."

The group posted the petition on shortly after Hadiya Pendleton, 15, was shot to death last month at a South Side park. The King College Prep student was slain about a week after performing with her school band at Obama's inaugural festivities.

Since Hadiya was shot about a mile from the president's Kenwood neighborhood home Jan. 29, during the deadliest January for Chicago since 2002, pastors, parents and activists have demanded that more be done about the city's violence.

First lady Michelle Obama attended Hadiya's funeral Saturday. Hadiya's mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, will also attend the president's State of the Union speech on Tuesday, family spokeswoman Shatira Wilks said late Sunday.

Hadiya's godmother, LaKeisha Stewart, said she hasn't heard whether the president will spend time with the Pendletons during his trip to Chicago.

Stewart said she's happy about Obama's plans. "Any awareness that can be brought to this issue that can prevent any family from ever feeling the pain that we as a family have felt … is awesome," she said. "This city is in pain right now."

Nathaniel Pendleton, Hadiya's father, said his family didn't know much about the president's Chicago trip, but "if he decided to speak with us, we'll be more than happy."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said the president's remarks in Chicago will play a different role than Michelle Obama's attendance at Hadiya's funeral. The first lady didn't speak publicly about the events surrounding the teenager's death.

"Her being there is very important since it was her neighborhood," Jackson said. "I think the president's coming is important because she did not deal with the politics. … She dealt with the calming concern for a broken-hearted family," he said.

Jackson made a public appeal this month for the president to speak to the bloodshed in Chicago.

Because of the upcoming visit, parents of children who have been shot to death in the city will finally feel heard by Obama, said Annette Nance-Holt, who lost her son Blair Holt in 2007 after he was shot on a crowded CTA bus.

"This sends a message to the parents here that their kids are important too," Holt said. "It may not have been a big shooting with an assault rifle. But to see (Obama) come and hopefully rally some support here means a lot."

The White House said the president's visits to Asheville, N.C., Atlanta and Chicago this week will also press issues that he will raise in his State of the Union speech Tuesday.

"The president will travel to Chicago for an event amplifying some of the policy proposals included in the State of the Union that focus on strengthening the economy for the middle class and the Americans striving to get there," a White House official said in a statement.

Clergy on Sunday praised Obama's decision to speak in Chicago, arguing his speech could bring greater attention to the killings plaguing communities here.

"Hopefully and prayerfully, his coming will make a real impact," said the Rev. Kenneth Giles of Second Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in the South Austin neighborhood. "Now that the nation is focused on (gun violence), maybe they will hear his voice and hear what he has to say."

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, senior pastor of the South Side's St. Sabina Catholic Church, said he's grateful the president is "zooming in" on the issue.

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