2022 in Review: McHenry County’s top stories of the year

Among the top stories: Shootings by McHenry County sheriff’s deputies, Amazon warehouse opening in Huntley and a fire at a Crystal Lake banquet hall

People talk as they wait for election results during a Republican election night watch party Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, at Niko's Red Mill Tavern, 1040 Lake Ave. in Woodstock. The event was hosted by Illinois State Sen. Craig Wilcox, McHenry County Board Chairman Mike Buehler, McHenry County Coroner Michael Rein, and McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio.

A crash that left an entire Rolling Meadows family dead, a contentious election focused on crime and abortion, and two shootings – one fatal – by McHenry County sheriff’s deputies all made headlines in McHenry County this past year.

So did the opening of an Amazon warehouse in Huntley, vandalism of a Lake in the Hills bakery and subsequent hate crime charges, the retirement of a longtime McHenry car dealer, and a fire at D’Andrea Banquet Hall in Crystal Lake.

Here are 10 of McHenry County’s top stories of the year:

More COVID-19 restrictions lift, including masks in schools

Children hold signs during a Cary School District 26 anti-mask rally Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, along Three Oaks Road at Cary-Grove Park. The event was attend by about 100 people and organized by the Illinois Parents Union Cary.

A six-month mask mandate ended at the end of February, resulting in the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in indoor spaces, including schools.

Initially, the lifting of the school mask mandate was expected to take place several weeks after the end of the other restrictions, Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker said in a news conference earlier that month on Feb. 9.

During that speech, Pritzker cautioned that “COVID-19 has not gone away” and “the equation is different for schools than the general population,” despite the fact that the omicron variant had peaked and COVID-19 cases were in decline statewide.

However, following a ruling by a Sangamon County judge invalidating the mask mandate in public schools, hundreds of school districts in Illinois pulled back their mask mandates and on Feb. 15, a state legislative panel decided not to renew the rules.

Within McHenry County, over 100 residents gathered in Cary-Grove Park on Feb. 16 to protest the mask requirements in Cary School District 26. The district had already suspended in-person meetings dating back to September 2021 following disagreements with parents over COVID-19 and masking.

District 26, along with Algonquin-based Community School District 300, both announced masks would be optional on Feb. 22, and District 26 returned to in-person meetings in March.

Fatal crashes take lives of Rolling Meadows family on I-90, Cary toddler hit by school bus

An informal memorial was held Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at Oriole Park in Chicago by friends of Thomas Dobosz. The 32-year-old father of four died from his injuries caused by a fiery crash on Interstate 90 near Hampshire on Sunday. Dobosz's wife, their children and family friend died in the crash.

McHenry County saw a string of deadly traffic crashes in 2022 that stunned the area.

In May, three-year-old Samuel Huddleston of Cary was killed when he was hit by a school bus operated through the Transportation Joint Agreement shared the Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 and Crystal Lake-based Community High School District 155.

The driver of the bus was issued two petty offense citations, and the family has sued the school district. Both the traffic case and the civil case are pending.

Then, on July 27, Angelo Pleotis, 65, of Crystal Lake was left paralyzed after a SUV driven by Connor C. Kirkpatrick, 27, also of Crystal Lake, slammed into his home at nearly 100 mph. Pleotis was in the shower when the crash occurred and is now in nursing care, according to his family.

Kirkpatrick pleaded on not guilty on Dec. 16 to criminal damage to property over $100,000, a Class 2 felony, and aggravated reckless driving and reckless conduct, both Class 4 felonies. He also faces a civil lawsuit.

A crash on Interstate 90 near Marengo on Aug. 1 reverberated through the region.

The early morning head-on crash immediately killed most of the Dobosz family of Rolling Meadows, including the mother, Lauren, and her four children, Emma, Lucas, Nicholas and Ella. A family friend, Katriona Koziara, 13, who was going with the family on a vacation, was also killed, as was the driver of the other vehicle, Jennifer Fernandez, 22, of Carpentersville.

Then, days after the crash, the sole survivor, father Thomas Dobosz, also died from his injuries.

Fernandez was found to have had a blood alcohol content of .164 percent, more than twice the legal standard for intoxication, the McHenry County coroner said.

The day after the I-90 crash, on Aug. 2, Riely Jacob Teuerle of Lake in the Hills died at Northwestern Medicine Hospital in Huntley after he was involved in a rollover crash.

The 10 p.m. crash occurred on Rakow Road between McHenry and Pyott roads. Three vehicles, a Honda Civic, a Nissan Sentra and a Volkswagen Passat, were involved. Teuerle was in the front passenger seat of the Volkswagen at the time of the crash, authorities said.

A wrongful death lawsuit was filed against the driver of the Volkswagen, Bryan Davis, and a settlement of $265,000 was approved this month, court records show.

Amazon opens first of two facilities in Huntley

Amazon plans to open one of its two buildings in Huntley on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. The new site in the coming months will employ about 500 people.

After being delayed, one of the two Amazon facilities in Huntley opened up this year.

Originally scheduled to open in the summer, the building, a 1.1 million-square-foot fulfillment center at 11400 Venture Court, opened in mid-November.

The building is set to bring 500 jobs in the coming years, but was also touted by village officials as a major piece to Huntley’s development of its I-90 and Route 47 corridor.

Amazon has a second location as well located next door to the facility, totaling about 630,000 square feet, but it has not yet opened.

The sites are primed to open as Amazon has scaled back its expansion plan across the country, including plans to open a facility in Crystal Lake, which fell through. Another planned for Hoffman Estates did not progress either. A plant was closed in Mundelein too, and plans were in the works to close on in Elgin as well.

D’Andrea Banquet Hall destroyed in fire

Crews responded to a fire Saturday, April 16, 2022, at D’Andrea Banquets and Conference Center, 4419 Route 14 in Crystal Lake. The building suffered a partial roof collapse and was considered a total loss, fire officials said.

No one was killed in an April fire that completely destroyed D’Andrea Banquet Hall in Crystal Lake, but the site had been a popular event venue for decades.

The banquet hall and conference, located just east of the intersection of Routes 14 and 31, had officially closed a few months prior despite a few events held following the February closing date.

According to the Crystal Lake Historical Society, the banquet hall was owned by the Spentzos family since 1983. The site had first been used as a gas station and barbecue going back to 1934, the historical society said, and had since changed names from Branded Steakhouse, to the Hob Nob, to D’Andrea.

An investigation into the cause of the fire was still active as of this past week, the Crystal Lake Fire Rescue Department said.

McHenry County sheriff’s deputies cleared of using deadly force in two separate shootings

Investigators held up tarps on either side of the driveway of a home in the 200 block of Manchester Lane in Port Barrington, after McHenry County Sheriff's Office deputies shot and killed a person after the person allegedly opened gunfire on a woman and deputies in the early morning hours of Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.

McHenry County sheriff’s deputies were cleared of using deadly force in two separate incidents in 2022, one in Port Barrington and a second in Harvard.

McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy Nicholas Arnold shot and killed Nicholas Sebastian, 43, at his Port Barrington home during an early morning exchange of gunfire on Jan. 11.

Sebastian’s wife told police Sebastian threatened to kill her and had been acting “like a demon.” Her husband shot her in the leg before Arnold returned fire, authorities said.

Despite having a chemical intoxicant in his system, Arnold’s actions were determined to be “justified,” according to a report issued by the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office in June that was based on findings of an internal investigation led by the McHenry County Major Investigations Assistance Team.

Arnold did what he had to do “from the perspective of a reasonable officer in the same situation” to save the life of Sebastian’s wife and his own, according to the report.

A second shooting at a home set on a wooded lot along a rural road in Harvard involving Deputy Gabrielle Valencia also was deemed justified.

When deputies responded to Randall B. Little’s home on April 1 for a well-being check, authorities allege he came out of the house pointing a .300-caliber blackout short barrel rifle at Valencia, yelling for deputies to leave his property and threatening to kill Valencia, according to court records.

Initial reports said three McHenry County sheriff’s deputies were involved in the shooting and two fired. Little suffered a serious eye injury and other injuries as a result of the shooting.

Both Arnold and Valencia remain on the force and faced no disciplinary action for the shootings, McHenry County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Emily Matusik said.

Little, who has since been released from the county jail after posting $50,000 in bail, faces Class X attempted murder and other serious felony charges.

U.S. holds midterm elections, with new county officials sworn in, state passes SAFE-T Act

People watch election results during a Democratic election watch party Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, at The Cottage, 6 E. Crystal Lake Ave. in Crystal Lake.

Illinois, along with the rest of the United States, saw an eventful election cycle in 2022, with many races, including the governor, attorney general, one U.S. Senate seat, two state Supreme Court seats, secretary of state, comptroller and treasurer all on the ballot.

Crime and abortion dominated the races, in particular the state’s new Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today, or SAFE-T, Act, which, among other provisions, eliminates cash bail across the state.

Much remained the same in Illinois as Democrats took not only each of those seats, but maintained their margins in the state’s General Assembly as well.

In McHenry County, much stayed the same as well, although it was the Republicans maintaining control. Each of the County Board’s 18 seats were up for grabs – reduced from 24 – with the Republicans holding on to 13 of them.

Of the 18 board members, nine are new, after several incumbents lost their races and eight opted not to run again. Other races included county clerk and treasurer, which Republicans held onto as well.

Also on the ballot was a measure to codify Union rights into the Illinois Constitution, which passed.

Across the U.S., 36 governor seats were up for grabs, along with the U.S. House of Representatives and one-third of the U.S. Senate. The Republicans ultimately took control of the House, while the Democrats held onto the Senate.

Longtime auto dealer Gary Lang retires, sells McHenry dealership

A man walks into the former Gary Lang Auto Center in McHenry on Oct. 11, 2022, The longtime McHenry Dealership was recently sold and has become the Castle Autoplex McHenry.

In September, long-time McHenry businessman and philanthropist Gary Lang announced his retirement in a double-page advertising spread in the Northwest Herald.

A week later, on Sept. 29, the sale of the Gary Lang Auto Group he had grown became known.

While the signs noting the new management and owners, Castle Auto Group, are expected soon, company CEO Joe Castle said a few changes are planned at the dealership group Lang founded 39 years ago.

Plan are in the works to erect two new buildings on the campus sprawled out on the west side of Route 31 on McHenry’s south side.

The new buildings planned would expand the dealership’s imported brands. Castle also plans to ask for changes to the 20-year tax rebate deal Lang had negotiated with the city of McHenry.

Mariano’s grocery store in Crystal Lake sells for $36 million

The Crystal Lake Mariano's, 105 Northwest Highway, on Oct. 17, 2022. The franchise location sold for $36 million last week, a 41% increase over its initial value.

The Crystal Lake Mariano’s, located along the busy Route 14 corridor, sold for $36 million in early October.

The sale represented a 41% increase in value after the store first opened in 2018, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. The store was sold by New York-based investor Michael Tsoumpas to an unknown buyer.

At the time of the sale, Mayor Haig Haleblian touted the sale as a sign that Crystal Lake, and the stretch of Route 14 that runs through town, was “open for business.”

Sales broker Jason Meier, a senior director at Manhattan-based Stan Johnson Company, praised the Mariano’s brand and said shoppers should not expect any changes to the store itself as a result of the sale.

Since the story first ran in the Northwest Herald, Mariano’s parent company Kroger and Albertsons have moved forward towards a potential $25 billion merger, and a deal is expected to close in 2024.

UpRising Bakery hit by vandalism following plans to host family-friendly drag show

Jacqui Murk, right, of Crystal Lake, and her daughter, Izzie, write notes of support on the boarded up window at Uprising Bakery & Cafe in Lake in the Hills, on Monday, July 26, 2022, after the store reopened Sunday after its front windows were smashed and epithets written on the walls, to long lines and enthusiastic community support. The cafe, which was planning to host an all-ages drag show Saturday night, had experienced backlash over the previous few weeks.

Plans to host a family-friendly drag show at UpRising Bakery and Cafe in Lake in the Hills was met with a plethora of harassment in the form of angry social media posts and phone calls, protests, and feces left at the store.

The July event was ultimately canceled after the store was vandalized the night before the planned show, resulting in an outpouring of support for the bakery, including a visit by Gov. JB Pritzker.

Joseph Collins, 24, of Alsip was charged with a hate crime and criminal damage to property in connection with the vandalism. Collins has since pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The bakery ultimately hosted the drag show in August and has since hosted several other drag-style events. However, earlier in December, it pulled the plug on another drag show event citing a terrorism bulletin from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Inflation hits business, residents’ pocketbooks

Kathy Wendhack prepares dinner for her husband, Kurt, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, using leftover barbecue chicken and strawberries that she purchased with a digital coupon at their home in Del Webb's Sun City neighborhood in Huntley. Wendhack is trying to fight inflation by using coupons and tricks to make meals last longer.

While by mid-December, signs indicated that inflation was slowing down and gas prices had fallen, its fast increases earlier in the year weighed hard on area businesses and residents.

High inflation also led to a 8.7% increase in Social Security benefits, announced this year to offset rising prices. Those who receive the federal benefit are set to see that increase this January.

Senior Services Associates Executive Director Micki Miller said she heard from older residents who are grateful for the increase but worried about future ramifications from it. She planned to lobby state lawmakers on senior tax freezes, to ensure the increase Social Security payments don’t knock seniors out of programs meant to cap their tax liability.

Some restaurants told the Northwest Herald that inflation increased their costs to buy food and subsequently what they needed to charge customers. Those customers said, in turn, they were finding ways to reduce their food costs, including clipping coupons and cutting how often they eat out.

A survey earlier this year from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that 67% of small businesses raised prices by an average of 6%. In addition, the chamber found 41% had reduced staff and 39% took out a loan in response to inflation.