5-year-old’s death tops 2012 news stories
Modesta Sacramento Jimenez and Tomas Santos de Jesus, parents of Jaclyn Santos Sacramento, attend their daughter's funeral. The 5-year-old girl was killed when a teen driver struck her, her mother and brothers. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Top web stories
The five most-viewed stories in 2012 on the HIGHLAND PARK NEWS website:
1. Car jumps curb in Highland Park killing 5-year-old girl.
2. Girls death stuns community.
3. Highwood Pumpkin Fest grabs HGTV attention.
4. Highland Park teen found beaten unconscious in Chicago.
5. Two Deerfield teens charged in armed home invasion in Highland Park.
Updated: January 28, 2013 6:08AM
HIGHLAND PARK — Highland Park residents stay attuned to local events and aren’t shy about giving an earful to the policy makers that affect their lifestyles and pocketbooks.
The year that ends at midnight Monday offered no shortage of news to follow, from the January stroke that sidelined U.S. Senator Mark Kirk of Highland Park to the fall elections that will send newcomers Scott Drury and Julie Morrison to Springfield in January to replace retiring State Rep. Karen May and State Sen. Susan Garrett, respectively.
Highland Park citizens let their elected leaders know they were stretched to the max on property taxes, and their concerns were a pervasive thread in nearly every public debate.
In February, an advisory group concluded that if North Shore District 112 continued to live beyond its means, the district in the next two to five years “will pass the tipping point beyond which its financial failure may well become inevitable.” An expanded group is now examining whether the district has too many schools and would be bettered served by grade-level centers.
Over at Township High School District 113, school officials and dozens of citizens worked all year to come up with a new facilities plan that might be palatable to voters, who rejected the district’s referendum in 2011.
Though what constitutes a “top story” in any given year is open to debate, here are five that provoked strong public reaction in 2012.
1. Rousso awaits trial in 5-year-old’s death
An errant vehicle accident that killed 5-year-old Jaclyn Santos Sacramento on Labor Day became even more heart-wrenching as news unfolded that the 18-year-old driver may have been huffing computer dust cleaner at the time of the accident.
Jaclyn was walking with her mother and two younger brothers on Central Avenue near Green Bay Road when a Lexus Coupe driven by Carly A. Rousso of Highland Park swerved onto the sidewalk.
Toxicology results revealed that difluoroethane, a compound found in computer dust cleaner, was in Rousso’s bloodstream at the time of the accident. The compound matched the cleaning product found in Rousso’s car.
Rousso is awaiting trial on four counts of aggravated driving under the influence of an intoxicating compound and one count of reckless homicide. According to the police report, Rousso was traveling east on Central when the car careened across the westbound lanes and onto the parkway, striking the four pedestrians. The car backed up, striking one or more of the pedestrians a second time, and began moving forward again. The car then started to back up when a witness reached into the car and put the gear shift into park, according to the police report.
Three days after the horrific accident, hundreds of marchers made a pilgrimage from the Highwood train station to the spot on the 700 block of Central Avenue where the accident took place. A half-dozen girls carried a banner with Jaclyn’s photo that read, “Justice for this angel.”
At a funeral mass at St. James Church in Highwood, the Rev. Thomas Balbonieri described Jaclyn as a joyful child who loved to play and dress up in pink like a princess. “Even now, we see how many people were touched by Jaclyn’s life and her tragic death, even though they may not have known her,” Balbonieri said.
The Santos-Sacramento family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Rousso.
2. D. 112 teachers, board lock horns over pay
Teachers in North Shore District 112 called the district’s first teachers’ strike in October after months of negotiations and some finger-pointing did not produce a meeting of the minds.
On Oct. 16, teachers walked picket lines at the district’s Green Bay Road headquarters and five schools across the district, even as negotiators headed back to the table at noon for a marathon, 17-hour session. At 5 a.m. Oct. 17, the two sides announced that a deal had been struck and that teachers would be back in their classrooms that day.
The North Shore District 112 School Board entered negotiations resolved to break the cycle of annual pay increases that outpace tax-capped revenue and what workers in the private sector have been receiving.
The North Shore Education Association fought back, saying that if teachers accepted the School Board’s compensation package, the district would become a revolving door of less-experienced and well-educated teachers who would use their time in the district as a stepping stone to better-paying jobs.
The deal that ended the strike froze the salary schedule for the next two years, while allowing teachers their usual step increases averaging about 2.7 percent. Teachers close to retirement are still eligible for raises of 24 percent over four years if they announce soon, but those raises won’t be offered in the future. The board will allow teachers who’ve completed coursework to receive their expected pay increases, but teachers will need to complete more courses for pay upgrades in the future.
3. Outcries fail to stop Rosewood Beach plan
Between May and December, residents living near Rosewood Beach threw up many reasons why the Park District of Highland Park should scrub its plans for an interpretative center, while moving forward with dune restoration and amenities to replace a beach house that was demolished during the last decade.
But on Dec. 10, the park district’s plans received a conditional go-ahead from the Highland Park City Council. The council’s only involvement in the project was to affirm the Natural Resources Commission’s findings that the structures and proposed use met the standards of the Lake Michigan Protection Zone. The issuance of a building permit is conditioned on final drainage and elevation plans.
Park officials say the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also is on schedule with its plans to expand the beach, renourish the habitat and replace the steel groynes with stone wave breaks to protect shoreline vegetation and prevent erosion. The park district would contribute 35 percent of the cost, or about $2.5 million, toward the $7.1 million project.
4. Fate of theater still in question
City officials tempered their exuberance with some hard-nosed realism in late August when they announced a pact with two developers interested in preserving the historic Highland Park Theater as an entertainment venue as part of a mixed-use retail and condominium project.
“It is an incredible opportunity to save a treasured landmark, while strengthening the downtown business district and building on the vibrancy and progressiveness that has made Highland Park the jewel of the North Shore,” said Mayor Nancy Rotering at the time. Council members were quick to acknowledge, though, the project’s financing had to work. “To me, it is something of a math equation,” said Rotering. At year’s end, the parties were still firming up details required for city consultants to complete their financial analysis.
The agreement with Alycon LLC expires Feb. 27, 2013. The City of Highland Park paid $2.1 million for the theater in 2009 to prevent the property from unwanted development. In May, the city was forced to close the theater at 445 Central Avenue due to fire code violations discovered on inspection by the Highland Park Fire Department.
Alcyon LLC and developers Steve Korol and Daniel Slack are proposing to convert the theater into an entertainment and meeting venue with 500 to 600 seats. A municipal parking lot adjacent to the theater would be developed into a 45-unit, six-story condominium building with ground-floor retail space. To offset the lost parking, a single-story deck would be added to another city-owned parking lot across the street.
Korol, of Highland Park, and Slack, of Deerfield, took their name, Alcyon LLC from the theater’s original nomenclature in the late 1920s.
5. Restaurateur dies in house fire
The victim of a Sept. 24 fire in west Highland Park was so badly burned in the blaze that it took another month for DNA tests, sent to the Illinois Crime Lab, to confirm that the man was Giacomo Ruggirello, the owner of an Italian restaurant in Highwood. The cause of death was smoke inhalation.
Ruggirello’s house at 1788 Midland Avenue, at the corner of Sherwood and Midland, was completely engulfed in flames when Highland Park Fire Department crews responded to the fire call at 12:42 a.m. The fire was so hot it started burning an adjacent home to the south.
As of early December, the Illinois State Fire Marshall was listing the cause of the fire as undetermined. Ruggirello, who was 61 at the time of his death, owned the Trattoria Giacomo Restaurant in Highwood, which was located in a strip mall across from Fort Sheridan. He had immigrated from Palermo, Italy, where his family operated a bakery and cafe.