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‘This is what we warned about’

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Neighbors furious over pedestrian death on Cicero 

By Tim Hadac

            For as long as two years, Southwest Side neighbors have warned that unless the Lightfoot Administration puts an end to drag racing and drifting along the Pulaski Road and Cicero Avenue corridors, innocent men, women and even children would wind up getting injured or killed.

It happened four months ago, when a 22-year-old man was shot twice in a parking lot near 71st and Pulaski.

It happened again, just days ago.

At 1:37 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 28, a woman standing near 65th and Cicero was struck and killed in a crash caused by what several witnesses said were two cars drag racing.

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Ms. Meireis

The victim, Shawman Meireis, was from Naples, Fla. and reportedly was visiting the area to attend the Sacred Rose music festival at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview.

According to published reports, she and her boyfriend were on foot, attempting to cross the street to get a late-night meal when two Corvettes which witnesses and police said were speeding south on Cicero crashed into a third vehicle, which hit Meireis.

At the scene, her boyfriend reportedly grabbed the driver of the red Corvette that may have caused the crash, pinned him against a traffic light pole and hollered, “You killed my girlfriend!”

Meireis was taken by ambulance to Advocate Christ Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead at 2:04 a.m., a day before her 41st birthday.

She was described by family members as a woman of achievement and good cheer. She worked as an independent consultant specializing in pharmaceutical safety, research and management.

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The red Corvette said to have caused the fatal crash sits at the southwest corner of 65th and Cicero, as police and paramedics at the scene investigate and render aid. –Screenshot from a television news report

The driver of the red Corvette, a 27-year-old man, told police he was speeding because he was fleeing men who had tried to carjack his vehicle. Witnesses at the scene cast doubt on that claim, saying they saw him stopped at a nearby stoplight, revving his engine repeatedly before speeding south.

A police officer who asked that his name be withheld told the Greater Southwest News-Herald he, too, doubted the claim. He said the “fleeing carjackers” claim is increasingly used by drag racers to rationalize reckless driving to police who stop them. In fact, the gunman in the May shooting near 71st and Pulaski reportedly told police he was fleeing a carjacker.

The driver of the red Corvette at 65th and Cicero was given citations for failure to exercise due caution with a pedestrian in a walkway, as well as having an obstructed windshield.

Police did not say if they ticketed the driver of the other Corvette, a 19-year-old woman.

Citizens astounded, disgusted

Upon hearing that, a woman who witnessed the aftermath of the crash said she could not believe her ears.

“Shouldn’t the driver of [the red Corvette] be in jail?” asked Kathie Gentry, a guest in a hotel in the complex at 65th and Cicero. “All he got was a ticket? Shouldn’t he be charged with reckless driving or endangerment, or homicide or whatever the law is [in Illinois]? So he goes free while that poor woman died a painful and horrible death? Who’s to say he won’t be behind the wheel of another car next week, driving the same way again? Who’s his next victim? Is this the message Chicago sends to visitors?”

Fidelina Trujillo, who lives within walking distance of 65th and Cicero, said, “This is what we warned about. Everybody over here knows that after dark, you don’t want to go near Ford City or anywhere near Cicero Avenue. We can’t go out after a certain hour. We’re prisoners in our homes after dark. We’ve told this again and again to anyone we thought might listen. But nobody has listened; or if they did, it went in one ear and out the other.”

The day after Meireis’ death, CPD Supt. David Brown initially avoided blaming drag racing as the cause of the crash.

He also asked the people of Chicago to have patience in letting enforcement of a new city ordinance take effect. The new law allows CPD to track and impound vehicles used in reckless driving incidents. But the impoundments may not occur until days, weeks or even months later, Brown added.

He likened it to arrests made after the George Floyd riots of 2020—how some rioters and looters were not arrested until months and even more than a year after their crimes.

He also said that drag racing and drifting are problems in big cities across the nation.

When he heard the superintendent’s comments, Archer Heights Civic Association President Thomas S. Baliga expressed disgust and called Brown “impotent.”

“Anytime a major catastrophic incident such as this occurs, all he ever does is call a press conference and makes bold proclamations about how the CPD is going to crackdown on the crime dujour,” he told the Greater Southwest News-Herald. If in reality he walked the talk, this drag racing and drifting problem would have been solved two years ago.”

“I’ve had enough of [Mayor Lori Lightfoot] and her do-nothing police superintendent,” he continued. “People in Archer Heights, as well as Jason Huff and the Scottsdale Neighborhood Watch, have been jumping up and down and waving red flags about drag racing and drifting for more than two years. The people of the neighborhoods have been ignored, and now a visitor to our great city has paid for it with her life.

“What a horrendous situation for this woman, in the prime of her life, to have her existence snuffed out by such an outrageous act of stupidity committed by two drivers deliberately speeding down Cicero Avenue only to stroke their selfish egos. It’s beyond time for this mayor to get rid of this superintendent and appoint someone from the Deputy Superintendent rank and file that knows all neighborhoods and knows how to deal with this mess the city now faces. ”

Baliga said the same night Meireis was killed, drag racers and drifters staged a takeover of the intersection at 50th and Cicero. He obtained and released cellphone video of what he said was the takeover. He added that he visited the site during daylight hours Sunday and saw “all kinds of skid marks on the street” where the drag racing and drifting reportedly occurred.

Other ideas

Beyond tracking down reckless drivers after the fact, police officials said they may start using other city departments to prevent drag racers and drifters from gathering. One such idea is to use large city vehicles such as salt spreaders to block or at least restrict access to certain streets and large parking lots.

That idea was raised months ago by Huff, who back then said city officials told him they would not dedicate the resources to do that.

In an email the day after Meireis died, Huff sent an email to two Southwest Side aldermen, suggesting that the City’s Gang Loitering Ordinance be expanded to what he called “mob loitering,” which he said would enable police to issue fines to spectators who gather to cheer on drag racers and drifters.

“In addition, send notices to the State of Illinois suspending the licenses [of drag racers and drifters] until fines are paid,” he wrote to 15th Ward Ald. Raymond Lopez and 23rd Ward Ald. Silvana Tabares, both foes of reckless driving.

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