Mayor Mary Werner says she feels the pain of Brittany Wawrzyniak’s family. Two weeks after Brittany’s family and 150 supporters packed the Terrace Park fieldhouse in an angry confrontation with the Worth Village Board, Werner said the investigation remains active and “has not been put on a shelf.”
“My granddaughter is good friends with Brittany’s sister, she went to Brittany’s wake. I feel horrible for the family,” Werner said. “In the beginning a lot of the information was truthful. Some of her friends were there and gave statements to the police. They cooperated. Now it has morphed into something quite different.”
Wawrzyniak is the 18-year-old woman who was ejected from a car in the parking lot at a public boat launch on Nov. 8, 2013. Her family has accused Worth Police of botching the death investigation, that police won’t answer their questions or follow up on leads that Brittany may have been pushed out of the car.
The same supporters plan to march to the village board’s meeting on Tuesday. Brittany’s day, Patrick Wawrzyniak, vowed that they will “shut down 111th Street” in front of Worth Village Hall.
From day one, Mayor Werner claims, Worth Police have said that Brittany Wawrzyniak arranged a fake drug deal with a young man and young woman, so that Brittany’s friend and the other girl could fight. At some point during the fake drug deal, Brittany was ejected from the couple’s car and killed when her head struck the pavement.
The driver, Eric Johnson, 21, of Midlothian, was arrested a few days later on a felony charge of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance. Brittany’s mom alleges that Johnson sent taunting texts to her daughter’s cell phone while she lay dying at Christ Hospital.
During Johnson’s bond hearing, Cook County prosecutors termed Wawrzyniak’s death “a drug deal gone bad.” Brittany is alleged to have paid Johnson $200 for a prescription clonazepam, an anti-anxiety medication.
Johnson has not been charged with anything related to Brittany’s death.
Less than 30 hours after residents’ angry shout-down with the Worth Village Board on April 1, a Chicago Lawn teen -- the girl Brittany allegedly arranged the fight for -- was arrested.
Lilyanna Arboleda, 18, of the 6800 block of South Kedvale Avenue in Chicago, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit battery in a public place. Prosecutors say the charges do not mean that Arboleda was responsible for Wawrzyniak’s death.
A memorial Facebook page -- R.I.P. Brittany Wawrzyniak -- maintained by Brittany’s cousin, declared Arboleda’s arrest “a small victory in the grand scheme of things.”
Werner told Patch that police had spoken to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and that Arboleda’s arrest had been imminent for weeks.
“I know [Brittany’s supporters] want to take credit for the arrest and that’s fine,” Werner said.
“But they need to deal with their own grieving. This is not helpful.”
She blamed Facebook and a local newspaper for “fueling a terrible fire.”
“The sad thing is, if you go to the R.I.P. Brittany page, it’s vilifying her friends, saying that they scattered like rats in the night, and the dog-walking people showed up and found the body,” Werner said.
The same local paper has reported the family’s claims that police waited four months before interviewing Agnes Smyk and Adam Wilczek, two Burbank residents that regularly use the boat launch to walk their dogs, as they did last November.
“We have their statements from [Nov. 8, 2013]. Prior to that I couldn’t tell anybody,” Werner said. “The dog walkers had no idea what Brittany and her friends were doing several minutes before they got there.”
Werner says she is “dumbfounded” by some of the statements Smyk has made that Worth Police never talked to her until four months later, or that Brittany was killed elsewhere and dumped in the parking lot.
“It’s so irresponsible,” Werner said. “There were seven people who say they saw Brittany get into the car at the boat launch.”
The mayor alleges that seven of Brittany’s friends had gone to the boat launch hoping to watch Arboleda fight the other girl. It was the same friends that called 911 after Brittany had been ejected from the car, and asked Smyk, the dog walker, if she could help “our friend,” Southtown Star reported.
“Somewhere in December and January, the idea came out that [Brittany’s friends] were too afraid to go to police,” Werner said. “That everyone got scared and covered their own butts. We talked to everyone that night. They were cooperative.
Brittany’s mother, Rebecca Tully, says her daughter did not abuse drugs and that her toxicology reports came back clean.
“We never called Brittany a drug user, ever,” the mayor said. “No where does it say that she was using drugs.”
What is making the investigation take so long is wading through the hundreds of comment threads on social media.
“When you subpoena Facebook and Twitter, you have to wait in line,” the mayor said. “You have to wade through hundreds of messages, and then you decide to look at another person, so you file another subpoena.”
The investigation is anticipated to go on for another eight to ten months, when evidence is expected to come back from the Illinois State Crime Lab. Until then, the mayor stands behind her police department.
“I have all the confidence in our police department," Werner said. "Our chief has been on the South Suburban Crime Task Force for over a decade. He’s probably investigated over 100 deaths easily. One local paper makes it sound like our police are Barney Fife.”
There is one fact nobody in the news media has reported since charges were filed against Lily Arboleda, Werner said.
“I don’t think her family is aware that Brittany is the other co-conspirator.”