Friday, May 11, 2012

Bullets or rocks; they both can be scary

There is a portion of Interstate 57 just across the county line from Cook that always manages to put a chill in my spine.

Would you climb high above the industrial Southeast Side of Chicago to fling rocks down upon the Skyway? If you would, you're nuts! Photograph provided by Library of Congress collection.

It is the place where Stuenkel Road passes over the Interstate. There’s nothing unique about the road itself, it is just a country road with nothing around it (unless you get excited by the nearby Governors State University campus). Completely rural and uneventful a place.


I still recall an incident from my police-reporter and court-reporter days just over two decades ago when a crime occurred at that site.

Local kids who were bored and had nothing better to do thought it would be fun to go to the overpass and fling rocks down upon the cars driving at 55 miles per hour (most likely faster) on the interstate.

Their idea of fun, and what some people at the time tried to dismiss as a stupid prank, became a crime when one kid threw a chunk of concrete that hit the hood of a truck, then bounced into the windshield.

AS I RECALL it, the shattered glass managed to decapitate the driver. He died there at Stuenkel Road, and it is a miracle in my mind that his vehicle didn’t manage to take out a few other drivers.

I couldn’t help but recall this moment (which I covered as a police reporter and later as the trial of the teen-aged twits took place in Will County court) when I heard the reports about the incident along the Chicago Skyway that caused Chicago police to shut down traffic and even had them asking Indiana state troopers to help with cutting off traffic in the Hoosier state).

The incident got reported as gunfire coming from a bridge that passes over the Skyway route, with motorists endangered. Hence, police were anxious to keep as many automobiles as possible off of the toll road until they could gain control of the incident.

The area Times of Northwest Indiana newspaper had the headline 6 cars shot on Skyway on the front page of their Thursday editions.

BUT, …

That same newspaper used its website on Thursday to publish the headline Skyway was shut down by rock throwers. Along with a brief story about how a three-mile portion of the Chicago Skyway was affected by people with nothing better to do than fling rocks at passing cars.

Chicago police told the newspaper that their initial call of “shots fired” were later determined to be rocks flung that hit about a half-dozen cars. All the TV-types who got all worked up Wednesday night about gunfire seemed to slink away and say next to nothing when it turned out to be rocks. Even though personally, the latter can be even more deadly.

All of which means some things don’t change. Despite the passage of a couple of decades, it seems some people think it is amusing to fling objects at automobiles, which truly is something I don’t comprehend the point of.

I USED TO have an aunt and uncle who, along with two cousins, lived in the East Side neighborhood (within walking distance of Calumet Park) where we could see the Skyway above us, just a few blocks to the south.

Walking around the neighborhood there invariably involves taking a stroll underneath the road. It is a part of the non-effete nature of the working-class neighborhood. Yes, I realize the neighborhood is a bit rough (which is why those particular relatives now live in the area around Valparaiso, Ind.).

Yet I obviously don’t see the point of the activity of the people who did this (police as of Thursday afternoon didn’t have anyone in custody. Whether they know who they’re looking for is a different question).

It is one of those things that I must admit, whenever I find myself driving along I-57 and passing Stuenkel Road, I find myself thinking about that truck driver and wondering what could have become of his life – had some area kids not been bored.

I ALSO WONDER how this incident will turn out. Because I recall in the Will County case, the judge ultimately found them guilty of a lesser charge so that they would only have to serve a couple of years in prison – even though their victim died.

That was a move that never sat right by me. Personally, I’d like to think that if there really is a “Chicago Way” of doing things (use your best Sean Connery accent imitation when reading that line), that it would involve cracking down as harshly as possible on anyone who ever gets arrested for this incident.

Maybe nobody died Wednesday. But some forms of “fun” need to be cracked down upon to make sure other people learn how stupid they are. Although I must confess that there is a part of me who thinks the ultimate (and appropriate) punishment for these people might have been if they had fallen from their perch above Chicago with a perfect perspective of the Illinois-Indiana state line.

Because that’s quite a climb above ground. At the very least, the fall might have knocked some sense into them!


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