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Revenge fueled Thursday's deadly shooting

KANKAKEE — The events that transpired Thursday during a deadly shootout near the Kankakee County Courthouse are just the latest chapter in a story of revenge.

When Antonio Hernandez shot and killed Victor Andrade Thursday, it was not the first time he had taken a life, Kankakee Police Chief Robin Passwater said. Police say he was a suspect in the death of Victor’s brother Alex Andrade, who was shot and killed in the 300 block of South Washington Avenue on March 22.

“Hernandez was a suspect in that case and we know he had involvement in some manner,” Passwater said Friday of Hernandez’ involvement in the shooting.

Passwater said Hernandez was a suspect in several other shooting incidents in Kankakee in the last year, including the homicide of 16-year-old Pagan Torres Davier in September 2020.

Davier was killed as he sat in a parked car in a driveway of a residence in the 600 block of South Nelson Avenue.

According to Kankakee police, Davier was with other individuals in the car when a gunman approached on foot and began firing. Victor Andrade was a passenger in the car with Davier, according to authorities.

The shooter ran from the area, and the other individuals were not injured.

Thursday’s shootout

Victor, Miguel and a 28-year-old male acquaintance were at the courthouse Thursday as Victor had a court appearance on charges of criminal sexual abuse and possessing child pornography. As they were leaving the courthouse and headed to their vehicle, a heavily armed Hernandez was waiting and ambushed them.

Hernandez shot Victor multiple times, Passwater said during one of Thursday’s press conferences. He also shot the cousins’ acquaintance, police said.

Just minutes after Victor’s slaying, Miguel shot and killed Hernandez with a weapon he had retrieved from their vehicle. The two men had engaged in a running gun battle across an open area just north of the old Kankakee County Jail.

Once the gunfire stopped, police found Victor dead in the street and Hernandez dead on a sidewalk. Miguel surrendered peacefully to police once Hernandez was dead, according to police. He was arrested by a Momence police officer who was at the courthouse for an unrelated matter.

The 28-year-old victim was taken to a local hospital where he had surgery for his wounds.

Passwater did not have an update on the victim’s condition on Friday.

Gang connections

Saying Victor was a former member of the Latin Kings and Hernandez was a current member of the Latin Kings, Passwater said, “We know Victor was the target.”

Victor was out on bail for the charges he appeared in court for Thursday. According to court records, he was released from jail on March 26 after Irene Guzman paid the required 10 percent of his $100,000 bond set by a judge.

Guzman is the owner of a residence in the 400 block of South Lincoln Avenue that was declared a nuisance property by Kankakee County Circuit Judge Bill Dickenson in November 2020. Local officials sought the designation after Kankakee Police were dispatched to the block more than 150 times and to the Guzman residence 29 times in two years.

During the nuisance property proceedings, prosecutors argued that the residence and garage was a known place where members of the Latin Kings frequented. Guzman’s sons, Ruben and Hernan Carmona, are known members of the Latin Kings, according to court records.

Ruben is facing charges in a Sept. 16, 2019, shooting near the family’s residence on South Lincoln. In that incident — which an Illinois Central school bus carrying Kankakee school students got caught in the crossfire — a member of a rival gang, the Harrison Gents, opened fire on the house. Witnesses told police gunfire was returned by people standing outside Guzman’s house.

Court cases to follow

Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said Miguel Andrade is expected to be in bond court today.

According to court records, Miguel was wanted on a warrant for failure to appear for a court date in a traffic case earlier this year.

“We will be asking the State Appellate Prosecutor’s Office to review the case, as more than half of our employees witnessed the incident [Thursday] and could potentially be called as witnesses in event of a trial, or provide information in the course of the investigation,” Rowe said.

The State Appellate Prosecutor’s Office will be heading up prosecuting Miguel Andrade.

Pritzker signs Pembroke gas bill

Gov. JB Pritzker’s signature on a bill Friday will finally bring natural gas services to Pembroke Township in eastern Kankakee County.

HB 3404’s author, State Rep. Jackie Haas, R-Kankakee, said the legislation puts the wheels in motion on the long-awaited work on a natural gas pipeline.

“We will move forward with all the necessary steps with Nicor,” Haas said. “... It paves the way for this to become a reality.”

In addition to Haas, the law was supported and advanced by a group of stakeholders including the Village of Hopkins Park, Pembroke Township, Congresswoman Robin Kelly, Sen. Patrick Joyce, Rainbow PUSH and Kankakee County government.

“Pembroke residents have lived in a community that lacks the basic access to a natural gas service for far too long,” Joyce said in a news release. “I’m thrilled to see this transformative legislation signed into law so residents can have a reliable and affordable source of heat in their homes.”

The measure passed with bipartisan support and moved to Pritzker’s desk on June 30. With his signature, the law goes into effect immediately.

Samuel Payton, Pembroke Township supervisor and a Kankakee County Board member, said this current effort started three years ago, but it’s been an off-and-on effort for a couple decades.

“I’ve been a person for the last 16 years who’s been saying Pembroke needs natural gas,” Payton said. “All the communities around us — Aroma Park, Momence and St. Anne — have got natural gas. They are all thriving communities. We want natural gas.”

Payton said now he pays $750 for propane that lasts a little more than a month.

“In the winter days, I have to spend approximately three times that, so if we had natural gas, I could be on the budget. If we had natural gas, I wouldn’t have to worry about my service getting turned off.”

In a written statement, Payton and Hopkins Park Mayor Mark Hodge called this “a historic moment in our communities’ history.”

Together they said their respective communities were left behind for decades and that this measure will level the playing field so that they can compete for industry and jobs.

The process

The legislation creates the Pembroke Township Natural Gas Investment Pilot Program which will run for a duration of five years. This program will allow Nicor Gas to extend its natural gas infrastructure to serve Pembroke Township.

“For residents of Hopkins Park in Pembroke Township, having reliable ways to heat their homes and safe ways to feed their families is a necessity,” said John O. Hudson III, president and CEO of Nicor Gas. “Affordable energy choice is now a reality thanks to the longtime, organic initiative driven by the community, and supported by numerous advocates, state and local leaders and national organizations.”

For residents who choose to connect to natural gas service, Sen. Joyce secured $1 million in state funding last year to enable Pembroke Township residents to take advantage of these new service lines. Through the Pembroke Township Natural Gas Investment Fund, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will distribute grants to eligible residents to help cover the cost of converting appliances to be compatible with natural gas.

The legislation now signed into law gives Nicor Gas the ability to serve the community of Hopkins Park by installing up to 500 feet of natural gas main per customer in designated hardship areas, which are defined by the U.S. Census Tracts and Department of Housing and Urban Development, at no charge to the served customers.

“Bringing more robust infrastructure to Pembroke Township is an issue of equity for an area that has not seen enough investment,” Congresswoman Kelly said in a news release. “I will continue to work to see services brought to this area that improve quality of life and attract jobs for residents.”

Vaccine mandate in place for school employees, college students

As part of the latest efforts to slow the spread of the delta variant, all pre-k – 12 teachers and staff, as well as higher education personnel and students, are being required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or undergo routine testing.

Gov. JB Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike announced the new requirements Thursday for individuals in high-risk settings, which also includes healthcare workers and nursing home employees.

Employees in these settings and higher education students who are unable or unwilling to receive the vaccine will have to be tested for COVID-19 at minimum on a weekly basis, though the IDPH and Illinois State Board of Education may require increased testing in some situations, according to a news release from Pritzker's office.

The announcement came as COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates across the state are on the rise, particularly in downstate communities with the lowest vaccination rates, according to the release.

In IDPH Region 5, Southern Illinois, which has the lowest vaccination rate in the state at 44 percent, only 3 percent of intensive care unit beds are available, according to the release.

“We are running out of time as our hospitals run out of beds," Pritzker said in the release.

“Unlike the wave of COVID-19 we saw earlier this spring, we’re now seeing our hospital resources stretched thin with some areas of Illinois reduced to only a handful of available ICU beds,” Ezike said in the release. “The vast majority of hospitalizations, as well as cases and deaths, are among those who are unvaccinated.”

Since Aug. 1, local health departments across the state have reported 27 COVID-19 outbreaks at schools, and currently hundreds of schools are being monitored for potential COVID-19 exposures, the release states.

Locally, no pre-k - 12 schools in Kankakee County had implemented mandatory vaccine policies.

Clarification needed

Bourbonnais Elementary District 53 Superintendent Adam Erhman said schools are awaiting more specific information from the state regarding implementation of the vaccine mandate.

“There’s a lot of information that I think needs to come out to explain how this would all work and all of those moving parts,” he said.

For instance, the executive order defines school personnel, but it was unclear about the expectations for monitoring substitute teachers or staff. The distinction between obtaining “proof” or “confirmation” of a negative COVID-19 test is also an area that has not been fully explained.

“What I’ve been trying to have conversations about internally here, is let’s pause for a moment,” Ehrman said. “Let’s see if we can truly understand what all of this means and make sure we keep focus on the main thing, which is educating our students.”

Roughly 180 out of 350 employees signed up for the district's vaccination clinics last spring, he said, noting that there's some staff changeover from year to year, and some have gotten vaccinated at other locations.

“It is such a critical time for everybody around the country right now, that adding any more pressure that can potentially put organizations such as a school system in a bind of being able to make sure we are fully staffed is going to be difficult,” he added.

Rosie Williams, director of health clinics for Kankakee School District 111, estimated that at least 50 percent or more of staff members have already been vaccinated. About 50 percent of staff participated in the first two clinics the district hosted, and some have come to later clinics or gotten vaccinated at other sites, she said.

“I believe that most people are concerned about staff safety and the safety of our student population, so it is my belief that most people will follow the recommendations of our state and local officials,” Williams said.

She noted that she has gotten several inquiries from staff members asking about booster shots, which she said the district would be happy to provide in collaboration with the state and local health departments once they are available.

She said the district has already been providing rapid COVID-19 testing for students and staff at its school-based health centers at the junior high and high school. The testing has been available since November.

“We don’t have any objections to doing that [extra testing],” Williams said. “We want to make it as easy and accessible to our staff as possible."

Change of plans

The county’s higher education institutions, Kankakee Community College and Olivet Nazarene University, had no plans to mandate vaccines for staff or students, though KCC was offering a free class to vaccinated students as an incentive.

ONU was already planning to require unvaccinated students to undergo weekly COVID-19 saliva testing, which was available for students last year as well.

Students leave their tests at drop-off locations on campus, and the tests are run by the university’s biology department. Students are asked to see the nurse in the event of a positive test result.

Katelynn Roscioli, a sophomore music education major at ONU, said she feels the expectation to wear masks to protect others is reasonable; however, there should be more emphasis on choice for vaccines.

She said she hopes to be able to get vaccinated in the future pending discussions with her doctor, but she has not been able to yet for health reasons. She said she knows many others are in the same position.

“I think the pressure to get [vaccinated] isn’t necessarily as fair,” Roscioli said. “There’s a lot of pressure from the media, from everywhere, people telling you you have to get vaccinated, but some people can’t.”

Wendall Marshall, a freshman interior design major at ONU, said he plans to do the weekly COVID-19 testing rather than get the vaccine. He said he feels the government should not be forcing people to get vaccinated.

“I hope I don’t catch it, but if I do catch it, I’m still not going to take the vaccine,” he said. “I’m just going to do what I have to do to quarantine myself from people, and just pray and ask God to heal me from it. Whoever does catch it, I’m going to pray for them, too.”