By Adam Sege and Naheed Rajmani
CHICAGO — An off-duty Chicago police officer on his way home from work was killed early this morning in the West Chatham neighborhood when his car was struck by a van that had been fleeing police officers from Calumet Park, police said.
The van left the Dan Ryan Expressway at 87th Street around 12:55 a.m. after a pursuit involving police from the south suburb, Police News Affairs Officer Hector Alfaro said.
The white van struck a black Lexus driven by the off-duty Chicago police officer at the corner of 87th and South Lafayette Avenue, authorities said. The officer, 42 and a 10-year veteran of the force, died on the scene. His name was not released.
Police said he had been headed home after a shift on his saturation team, a unit tasked with patrolling particularly high-violence areas. He was believed to still be in uniform. He leaves a wife and two children.
Leah Gomillia said she and her friend were driving on the expressway when they noticed a police car following a white van that had sped by. The driver of the van, a woman, kept getting on and off the expressway as she was being chased, Gomillia told reporters at the crash scene.
"There is no way (police) can catch her because if they were to merge in front of her, that would have been a big accident as well," Gomillia said.
She added that she was curious and sped up to keep track of the chase.
"I sped ahead. . .to see who was driving the van and then we saw that it was a female driver and as she drove. . . she scratched the van on the side of the road and she got off on 87th," Gomilla said. "If I went a 100 to get past the (police) to see what was going on. . .she had to be going 120, 135. That's how fast she was going.
"There is no way (police) can catch her because if they were to merge in front of her, that would have been a big accident as well. She was merging on and off the expressway and then she got off here," Gomilla said.
"I just want to know what was so serious that you had to drive that fast and totally lose control of the wheel and kill another police officer, so I just really want to know what she was chased for," she added.
Riding with Gomilla was Florence Johnson. "I feel it was unbelievable because this is stuff you see on TV," she said. "I'm like, this is real. . .When I saw it was a female, I was like, she's running from something.
"Now that somebody's dead because of this whole thing, it's just shocking," Johnson said. "That could have been us, it could have been a mother. It could have been anyone. It was sad, it was really, really sad. I could tell that, from the way she was driving, she was very inexperienced and very young."
Police closed down the bridge spanning the expressway and blocked traffic on Lafayette, a southbound one-way street three blocks north of the crash. Near the exit of the expressway, a line of red flares stretched across the street.
Uniformed and plainclothes officers gathered near their colleage's mangled vehicle, which had come to rest at the southwest corner of 87th and Lafayette, between the white van and a light pole.
Police draped a sheet over it, shielding the wreckage from view. Later, after television crews arrived, police widened the perimeter of the crime scene by stringing red tape across the corner of a strip mall parking lot where reporters were gathering.
Police cars escorted the ambulance carrying the officer's body to the morgue, where a line of officers was waiting.
The circumstances of the crash remained unclear. An order to stop pursuing the van was apparently given and obeyed prior to the crash, Calumet Park Police Chief Mark A. Davis told WGN-TV.
The woman driving the van was taken into custody, as was a male passenger, Davis told WGN-TV. Police found a small quantity of marijuana inside the van, he said.
It was not immediately known why police officers were pursuing the van. A trooper for the Illinois State Police said they did not participate in the pursuit.
Copyright 2014 the Chicago Tribune
McClatchy-Tribune News Service