Makeover for path where L-Way student was killed; Saturday fundraiser set
BY STEVE METSCH email@example.com May 15, 2012 9:56PM
The forest preserve path where last year cross country runner Patrick Mizwicki was killed by a car has been moved to give drivers a better view of people approaching 104th Avenue. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 17, 2012 8:04AM
The irony is not lost on JoAnne Mizwicki.
As the New Lenox Township woman and some friends prepare for a Saturday fundraiser in honor of her late son, Patrick Mizwicki, the Cook County Forest Preserve District has renovated a path at the forest preserve site near Palos Hills where the Lincoln-Way East High School student was fatally struck by a car in September. The change is designed to prevent future tragedies.
“It is ironic. It’s almost divine how it’s all come together,” JoAnne Mizwicki said.
Patrick, 14, was running at a school cross country practice when he was hit by a car while crossing 104th Avenue just south of Calumet Sag Road. He was running east from one wooded area to another at Teason’s Woods in the Swallow Cliff Forest Preserve when he stopped to allow a southbound vehicle to pass. He then attempted to cross the street, but his view of an oncoming northbound car was blocked by a passing southbound car. The driver of the northbound car hit her brakes, police said, but was unable to avoid hitting Mizwicki.
At that time, the trail crossed the sometimes busy road at an angle and on a hill. Now, after renovations, drivers can better see runners, and the path itself also is easier to discern.
The old crossing was angled, from northwest to southeast. Now it runs straight across. There are bright yellow markers on either side of the road. The trail on the east side of the road slopes gently down to the roadway and no longer juts suddenly from the forest. It’s a more open area, easy for drivers to see runners, and vice versa.
Forest preserve district spokeswoman Karen Vaughan said Patrick’s death played a role in the changes.
“Although we’re not sure if the visibility of the crossing or the crossing distance were factors in the accident there last year, it did prompt us to review all of our trail crossings to ensure that they are as safe as they can be, and we are in the process of looking at all midblock trail crossings in the forest preserve system,” Vaughan wrote in an e-mail.
Numerous Southland high schools for years have used forest preserve sites for both practices and meets. The four Lincoln-Way Community District 210 high schools since have adopted a policy of not practicing at any sites where they would have to cross roads.
Mizwicki’s death also led to the creation of the Patrick Mizwicki Strive for 5 Foundation, which funds college scholarships for Lincoln-Way East seniors who have played Frankfort Boys Baseball, as did Patrick, or Frankfort Girls Softball.
The first six $1,000 scholarships were scheduled to be presented Tuesday night to Kaycee Hart, Masayoshi Haynie, Michael Martin, Jamie Riley, Ryan Smetana and Kyle White, according to Mark Zelenika, Patrick’s former baseball coach for the Frankfort Eagles, who helps run the foundation.
“We didn’t think we’d be able to do that much in the first year,” Zelenika said.
The support continues with Saturday’s run. It begins at 9 a.m. at Breidert Green in downtown Frankfort. Five-hundred people have preregistered, and more are expected Saturday. On-site registration is from 8 to 9 a.m. and costs $25 per person.
Zelenika has been impressed by the character of the Mizwickis in the wake of Patrick’s death.
“The faith and strength they have is unbelievable,” he said. “I think this foundation is somewhat cathartic for them.”
He’s right, according to JoAnne Mizwicki.
“We just want to help kids and have them understand you can make a difference. It’s going to be very successful this year,” she said of the run. “We’re really happy about (the scholarships) and we’re hoping this is just the beginning. This year, it’s all about Pat and keeping his memory alive. But in the future, we want to impact the kids. We don’t want Pat to always be front and center. He was just a normal kid.”
She laughed when she recalled how she had to tell him “enough of that” when he racked up too much time playing his Xbox games.
In the days after the accident, she was touched by the emotional support from people, some total strangers, who told of how Patrick had touched their lives.
“There was something special about him. He touched so many people. I don’t know if it was because he was youngest of eight. Maybe that’s why he was such a conversationalist. But he really was special to all of us and to his coaches,” she said.
“I didn’t know how special he was until his wake. One couple said they had to come. They said their son was an Irish dancer who was ridiculed at school. They said, ‘Your son was the only one who told him how cool it was to be able to do something like that,’ ” she said.
“There’s so much about your own kid that you don’t even realize,” she said. “When you send them out into the world, you hope they are doing the right thing, and we certainly found out Pat was.”
No one should have to endure losing a child, she said.
“I wouldn’t want to wish this on anybody. But we’re trying to move forward and throw ourselves into these projects,” she said. “We’re just trying to make sense of it all, and maybe some good comes out of it.”
Patrick will not be forgotten anytime soon. Near the trail, at the base of a sign reading “No motor vehicles” stands a bright blue cross. A friend tied silk flowers and a ribbon reading “Never forgotten” to the base of the cross.
Halfway up, there’s a photo of the Mizwicki family in a clear plastic envelope.
They all are smiling.