Worth Village officials did little to dispel the public’s perception that Worth Police had botched, or are in the process of botching, the death investigation of an 18-year-old woman who died from injuries she sustained by falling out of a car last November.
Family and friends of Brittany Wawrzyniak marched from the boat launch parking lot at 115th Street and Beloit Avenue, the scene of Brittany’s death, to a nearby park district field house where the Worth Village Board agreed to meet for its regular meeting on Tuesday to accommodate the standing room only crowd.
Before members of the public were allowed into the Terrace Field House, police searched attendees and looked into pursues, due to a death threat made prior to the meeting on the “R.I.P. Brittany Wawrzyniak” Facebook page, family members said.
According to Brittany’s grandmother, Becky Lane, someone left a message threatening to shoot everyone at the meeting.
It was a meeting over which Worth Village President Mary Werner quickly lost control, culminating with angry family members and residents shouting questions and demanding answers about the death investigation.
On Nov. 8, 2013, Brittany Wawrzyniak was found bleeding and unmoving in the parking lot after a car had screeched away. In the hours following the discovery of the gravely injured woman, and before many knew that she had died, youths began discussing the “accident” on Facebook, accusing two other young adults of murdering her.
Two days after Brittany’s death, police charged Eric Steven Johnson, 20, of Midlothian, with unlawful delivery of a controlled substance in connection to the death probe. At a bond hearing held the next day, Cook County prosecutors termed Brittany’s death as a “drug deal gone bad,” and said that she had fallen out of Johnson’s car after paying $200 for Clonazepam.
Prosecutors further alleged that Brittany was counting the pills when Johnson started to drive away. She opened the door and fell out of the moving car, hitting her head on the pavement.
Brittany’s parents, grandparents and others who knew Brittany, described her as a wholesome young woman who did not abuse drugs, and whose reputation had been tainted by prosecutors' "drug deal gone bad" allegations. The 18-year-old had graduated from Shepard High School last may, and was attending classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. At the time of her death, she was looking for another part-time job that would give her more hours so she could pay for school.
Worth Mayor Mary Werner informed residents that the death investigation was still ongoing, and not likely to be closed for another eight to ten months. She also stated that once the investigation was completed, Brittany’s parents, Rebecca Tully and Patrick Wawrzyniak, would have complete access to police reports and other investigative documents.
“We are taking this case very seriously. You are welcome tonight to address the board, however, you need to know our police department cannot publicly comment on an ongoing criminal case. We also cannot answer any of your questions in this matter until the case is closed,” Werner said.
The mayor warned residents of “misinformation” being spread on Facebook and through the local media, which added to the frustration of investigating the case.
Tully, Brittany’s mother, in her public comments to the Worth Village Board, laid out the facts of the night her daughter was killed as she knew them.
Another young woman, Johnson’s girlfriend, had allegedly sent out a mass text earlier in the day that she had drugs for sale. Knowing there were issues between the girlfriend and another of Brittany’s friends, Brittany set up a meeting at the boat launch, presumably so the two girls could fight.
At one point during the meeting at the boat launch, her daughter was ejected backwards out of the car, Tully said.
“My daughter was not a drug addict,” Tully sobbed. “Her toxicology report came back 100 percent clean but the damage had been done when the press had been told that this was another drug deal gone wrong.”
Tully also said that in the days following Brittany’s death, Worth police told them that she was holding a bag of pills in her hand. Yet two neighbors that lived across the street from the boat launch who had heard the commotion and called 911, weren’t interviewed until four months later, until it was reported by a local newspaper.
According to Tully, the neighbors that placed the 911 call told Tully four months after the fact that Brittany had nothing in her hands when they checked her pulse.
“If all these questions continue to go unanswered how can we believe that the investigators have done their jobs properly,” Tully said.
Brittany’s cousin, Al Zuccarello, said the he lives 70 miles away from Worth, and had gone door to door in the neighborhood by the boat launch, asking residents if police had interviewed them.
“They were not,” Zuccarello said.
Another friend of Brittany’s told the village board that she had information about Brittany’s death, and had repeatedly called the Worth Police Department, but her calls were never returned.
Despite attempts to end public comments and proceed with their board meeting, the angry crowd continued to shout Werner down, and grabbed a microphone that had been placed in front of the Worth village manager.
Werner continued to repeat that village officials and police were not allowed to comment on the ongoing criminal investigation, except to say that police were “following the standards of of investigative protocol.”
A woman in the audience asked, “why are we here then?”
“I don’t know,” Werner said, and motioned to recess the meeting.
Anyone with information about the death of Brittany Wawrzyniak is urged to call the Worth Police Department at 708-448-3979.
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