News - McHenry County

Crystal Lake girls rescued by mother’s boss, coworker

Two had decided to explore a drainage tunnel Tuesday afternoon

Crystal Lake Fire Rescue Department, with help from police, public works and residents, rescued two girls who entered a storm drain and got lost inside the system on Tuesday, June 21, 2022.

Danielle Leschuk asked her daughter if she was trying to be “The Goonies” when she and a friend entered a Crystal Lake drainage pipe on Tuesday afternoon.

“When she said ‘Who are the Goonies?’ I may have failed as a parent,” Leschuk laughed.

The laughter came easier following a frightening hour-plus on Tuesday. The two girls, ages 12 and 13, were lost in stormwater sewers before getting pulled out of a manhole at Congress Parkway and Federal Drive.

Leschuk credited the fast thinking of her employer and coworkers in helping bring the girls out safely.

While her daughter did not know the 1985 movie about children and teens following a treasure map into caverns, her daughter did learn a lesson about the dangers of going into the unknown, Leschuk said.

Leschuk’s daughter and three friends were dropped off at a nearby trampoline park at 2 p.m. by another mother that afternoon, Leschuk said. Instead of waiting to be picked up, the four girls decided to walk back to a store at 5580 Northwest Highway where the other mom was shopping and meet her.

While walking to the store, they noticed a large drainage pipe opening behind the shopping center, Leschuk said.

The storm drain opening has a grate across the top, but a 12- to 15-inch gap runs along the bottom to allow debris through, Crystal Lake Fire Rescue Department Battalion Chief Heidi Olsen said Tuesday.

That is where the girls decided to enter and explore, Leschuk said.

Crystal Lake Fire and Rescue, with help from police, public works and residents, rescued two girls who entered a storm drain and got lost inside the system on Tuesday, June 21, 2022.

“They thought it would be interesting. They thought that if they went in one end they would pop out the other end,” Leschuk said.

Instead, once they lost sight of the drainage pipe’s opening, the pair quickly got lost. When they tried to backtrack, they got more lost, she said. Their phones would not get a signal under ground and while they also used one phone’s flashlight, both batteries were getting low.

The other two girls in the group decided to wait and not go exploring with their friends, she said. When the two were inside for 20 minutes, the other girls called Leschuk’s boyfriend, Charlie Martinez, who then called Leschuk and 911.

When 911 was called about 5 p.m., the girls had been underground for at least 40 minutes.

Leschuk works at Peterson Paving. Her boss, Gary Peterson, shut down the office and everyone headed to where they girls were last seen.

Police and rescue arrived at the sewer entrance just after them, Peterson said. But no one could go in until the air was tested for toxic fumes, Leschuk said.

Working for a paving company, Peterson knew where the drainage pipes led. He picked up a pick axe from the truck, and he and coworker Zach Ciochon walked to the street and started pulling up manhole covers, Peterson said.

Peterson and Ciochon pulled up six manhole covers and yelled for the girls, he said.

On the last one, when they yelled, they heard a voice yell back, Peterson said.

The girls saw light from the open manhole and crawled towards it, Leschuk said. Peterson and Ciochon pulled them out.

Peterson thinks the duo were further from the original sewer opening than the fire department’s 850 feet estimate. The girls were under ground for more than an hour, Leschuk said.

Both girls were taken to area hospitals to get checked out, Olsen said.

The first thing the hospital staff did was make the girls take showers. They were covered in dirt from head to toe with scrapes and cuts to their knees, Leschuk said. Both had recent tetanus shots so did not need another one, she said.

They are otherwise OK, Leschuk said.

“We went through every possible scenario” with the girls’ adventure, from running water washing them away to wild animals to toxic air that could suffocate them, she said. “That is why you can’t explore stuff like that. It is extremely dangerous.”

The girls had a lapse in judgement, Leschuk said. Her daughter has apologized constantly for scaring them, she said Wednesday morning.

For Leschuk, it was the “scariest hour of my life,” she said. “The best word would be relief and that it turned out OK when it could have gone much worse.”