Vandals destroy the fun in Worth park

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Police chief believes work not child’s play

by William Jones
From The Reporter

Playground equipment at two parks in Worth was set on fire last week in acts of vandalism the village’s police chief is calling “vindictive.”

The playground at Gale Moore Park, 109th Street and Nordica Avenue, and Penny Park, Home and Normandy avenues, was set ablaze between 11 and 11:30 p.m. Nov. 10, according to Worth Park District director Carlo Capalbo. Gale Moore Park suffered between $30,000 and $40,000 in damage, while Penny Park, the first act of arson that night, suffered only $900 in damage to a slide because the fire department was able to extinguish it quickly, Capalbo said.

Worth Police Chief John Carpino said his department has no leads or suspects, but does not think the fires were set by children. The fact the arsonists traveled from one park to another and targeted the two without security cameras lead him to believe it was a “vindictive” act, Carpino said.

“It’s a tragedy for the youth of our community,” Capalbo said of the fire that claimed most of the playground equipment at Gale Moore. “It’s a shame someone decided to destroy one of our more marquee parks in the district.”

Capalbo said the equipment had apparently been doused with an accelerant and set on fire, though he did know what accelerant was used. The park district is working on insurance claims, and is planning to remove the old equipment and purchase new gear as soon as possible.

“We are working on it diligently,” he said.

The park district has experienced vandalism in the past, but has seen nothing like the two incidents last week, Capalbo said. The same night, someone drove a vehicle through Homerding Park, 116th Street and Oak Park Avenue, and tore up the soccer field, Capalbo added.

Carpino said it is odd the burnings occurred following a summer and Halloween with no major acts of vandalism. He thought the crimes may have been committed by people with a grudge against the park district, and noted it was brand new park equipment that was destroyed.

In Hickory Hills, Prairie View Park, 82nd Avenue and 85th Street, was hit Nov. 11 with “a tremendous amount” of graffiti, Hickory Hills Park District executive director Jennifer Menard said. Vandals hit every piece of playground equipment in the park including slides, panels, roofs, stairs, benches and the gazebo, Menard said. The park district spent roughly $600 to clean the equipment, she added.

The graffiti followed an incident Sept. 1 that required the complete removal and replacement of the playground’s mulch and cleaning of much of its equipment after a powdery substance was spread on the mulch as well as a water fountain and two slides in the 5-to-12-year-olds section, Menard said. At the recommendation of the Roberts Park Fire District, a hazardous materials team was called in to clean the park and examine the powder, she said.

Several people who were at the park when the powder was found were taken to the hospital and could not use their vehicles as a precautionary measure, but no one suffered any injuries, Menard said. The powder contained five substances including molybedenum and teryllium — substances found in Dutch Boy paint and certain auto shop chemicals — she explained. The fire district originally considered the substance to be hazardous, but the Environmental Protection Agency determined it was not an immediate hazard, she said. The park equipment still had to disassembled and cleaned, she added.

Park officials believed someone spread the material as an act of vandalism, Menard said. Prairie View was closed following the incident but reopened Sept. 29. Menard said she is unsure of the total cost incurred from the incident because bills are still being submitted.

Hickory Hills police Lt. Mark Zvokel said police collected several items from the scene and sent them to the Illinois state police crime lab for examination and are still awaiting the results. Hickory Hills police are patrolling the park more frequently since the incident.

Menard said the district is asking residents in the area to keep an eye open for activity at the park and call police if they see anything suspicious. She said the park likely experiences frequent vandalism because it is at a dead end.

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