Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen was involved in a minor traffic accident last week when he drove a village-owned Crown Victoria Ford into a ditch in Palos Park.
According to a Palos Park police report, an officer discovered an unmarked car with municipal plates in a ditch in front of Standard Bank at 11901 Rt. 7 (also known as Southwest Highway), around 9:15 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 12.
The officer ran the plate and the registered owner came back as the Village of Oak Lawn. No driver or passengers were on the scene.
Police spoke to a teen who was standing by the stranded 2000 Crown Vic. While the teen did not actually witness the accident, he did report that a man wearing an older Navy pea coat, later identified as Deetjen, exited from the driver’s side. A well-dressed female carrying flowers emerged from the passenger side of the car.
The teen asked “if they were okay” and Deetjen responded that they were and he would call for a tow, the report said. Deetjen and the woman then walked northbound on Rt. 7 toward Rt. 83.
The police officer checked a CVS store and the area along Rt. 83 for anyone on foot to no avail. The officer then checked Palos Community Hospital ER and the area along 80th Avenue for the man and woman. Police were unable to locate the driver or passenger.
Police said an attempt was made to contact a Standard Bank representative to review the bank’s security video to verify the driver and passenger’s well-being.
The village-owned vehicle was unoccupied and appeared to have some undercarriage damage where the bottom of the car made contact with a cement block in the ditch. The Palos Park police officer was preparing to call the police department’s towing service when a Village of Oak Lawn truck and tow truck arrived, the officer said.
According to police, two Oak Lawn public works employees, including a supervisor, said they were called to pick up the car for the village.
Palos Park police officers photographed the scene and vehicle before allowing the village tow truck to remove the car. The Crown Vic was turned over to the public works employees.
Palos Park Police Chief Joe Miller confirmed with Oak Lawn that the assigned driver of the car was Deetjen, according to the police report.
The police chief spoke to the Oak Lawn village manager at 11:06 p.m. that night, who said he was on village business looking at property “related to a land/property matter in Oak Lawn,” that was “moving to the site of Rt. 83 and Rt. 7.”
Deetjen told the police chief that he was not familiar with the area at night and as he made a U- turn with the village car, he missed the driveway off of Rt. 7, the report said.
According to the report, the village manager said he walked to the CVS store with his wife, the passenger in the car, and contacted Oak Lawn Public Works to pick up the vehicle. He also called for a ride home.
The Palos Park police report also included an attachment stating that a man who identified himself as a trustee for the Village of Oak Lawn, came into the police station late Saturday evening looking for “copies of reports pertaining to the an accident involving a Village of Oak Lawn vehicle” last Thursday.
A police sergeant met with the individual “who identified himself as Robert Streit, Oak Lawn Village Trustee.” Streit told police he became aware of an accident involving “a person in a management position” with the village through 911-dispatchers who had contacted him, the report said.
Streit also alleged that the “Oak Lawn Police Chief reported to the scene and picked up the vehicle’s driver” and that public works towed the car from the scene.
Oak Lawn Police Chief Michael Murray told Patch that he did not drive Deetjen home. Deetjen said any accusations that he called the police chief for a ride home were false.
After inquiring how he could get copies of the reports, Streit informed police that he was receiving calls from several Oak Lawn 911 dispatchers asking him what happened and seeking “justice,” police said.
The village trustee also allegedly told police that “sometimes incidents like these can easily disappear” and “he wanted to make sure this did not happen.”
Palos Park Police Chief Joe Miller told Patch that he received a call from his sergeant around 11:30 p.m. Saturday, saying that an “Oak Lawn village trustee” was demanding to see the police report from the Dec. 10 ditch incident.
Miller said he called the Oak Lawn watch commander that evening to verify Streit’s credentials. Streit was provided with Freedom of Information Act forms.
Deetjen confirmed to Patch that he drove into a ditch last Thursday while using a village vehicle, but there was no truth to the rumors floating around that he had totaled the Crown Vic.
“[I] miscalculated the curb cut and got hung up in the snow in the ice covered swale,” he said. “I called the public works night shift and got a ride home so I could deal with an overflowing kitchen sink with the building superintendent.”
The village manager said he spoke with Palos Park police after the accident so they could prepare their report. Deetjen further added that he was fully aware of Streit’s nocturnal visit to the Palos Park police department last Saturday.
Deetjen was not arrested nor was he cited with a traffic citation. The Palos Park police chief told
Patch there was no indication that alcohol was involved. It was also not uncommon for people to drive off the village’s roads, especially after dark.
“There are no streetlights in Palos Park,” Miller said. “It’s not uncommon for drivers to go into a ditch and call for their own tow.”
Miller said he reviewed the matter with the Palos Park village attorney because it involved an unmarked municipal car.
“We wanted to make sure we weren’t doing anything askew,” the police chief said. “The car wasn’t involved in an accident and it was not obstructing the highway.”
It was a lot of excitement over a ditch incident for Palos Park, a village whose council meetings are generally pleasant affairs.
“What’s going on in Oak Lawn,” Miller asked. “I’ve seen the videos online.”