Palos Heights among a group of five south suburbs that have joined forces with the Village of Orland Park to keep communities safe from inebriated drivers on New Year's Eve.
The Village of Orland Park has offered the free Safe Ride Home Program for nearly 20 years, with Palos Heights, Mokena, Tinley Park and New Lenox all coming on board over the last several years.
"It's one of those nights for the whole year that the community thinks of as a special event. Our concern is that they get home safely," said New Lenox Deputy Chief of Police Bob Pawlisz.
Bordman made a point to say that participation in the program is never a strike against the individual. There are absolutely no criminal ramifications associated with a decision to stay safe through the Safe Ride Home program.
"It's a 'no questions asked' program, he said.
The limousines will only take callers home, said Pawlisz. Transportation between parties is not an option.
New Lenox Police have participated for about 12 years, and Mokena Police Department has been onboard for at least 10 years. Last year, New Lenox responded to 16 calls for assistance between the hours of 11 p.m. Dec. 31 and 4 a.m. Jan. 1, while Mokena Police answered 44 calls for assistance. "There's been a steady increase in ridership over the years," added Mokena Police Officer Dennis Bordman.
“We had more than 150 people take advantage of this service last year,” said Orland Park Village Trustee Carole Griffin Ruzich, chair of the village’s Public Safety Committee, in a release. “People who know that they’re too impaired to drive on New Year’s Eve should leave their cars where they are and call for a ride,” she added.
“Safe Ride Home is a great example of area municipalities working together to keep the roads safer on New Year’s Eve,” said Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin, in a release. “We’re grateful to our neighboring communities for joining us and are especially appreciative to the Michael P. Gordon Memorial Foundation for helping to make this program possible,” the mayor added.
Residents of the participating towns may call Stretch Limousine’s toll-free number at 1-855-230-1637 to arrange for a free ride home during the designated hours on New Year’s Eve.
“If you’ve had too much to drink on New Year’s Eve, Safe Ride Home will do just that—get you home safely,” said Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy, in a release. “Plan ahead now. Designate a driver for your holiday celebrations or if you know you’re not able to drive on New Year’s Eve, call the toll-free number. No questions asked. Just don’t get behind the wheel of a car.”
The program is funded by each of the participating municipalities and with a grant from the Michael P. Gordon Foundation. The Village of New Lenox pitched in $600 to offset the cost. In Mokena, the businesses community stepped up to the plate to help sponsor the stretch limo ride home, said Mokena Police Officer Dennis Bordman.
The foundation is named after a former Chicago police officer, who was struck by a drunk driver in 2004, while in a marked police car. Gordon was ejected from the vehicle and died.
Michael Gordon's brother John Gordon created the foundation in 2005 to educate about the dangers of drunk driving, and to assist in active efforts such as Safe Ride.
John Gordon was recognized for his work at the Dec. 17 Orland Park Village Board meeting.
"I always stress the importance of calling for a ride. We all make mistakes," John Gordon said at the Dec. 17 meeting. "I did it myself in high school. There were times when I drank and I shouldn’t have drank. Don’t be afraid to call your parents for a ride. Your parents would much rather hear from you, and maybe punish you, than pick you up from the hospital. My brother was in a clearly marked police car. Nobody is safe from a drunk."
Ben Feldheim, local editor of Orland Park Patch, contributed to this story.