Just before Christmas 2007, the body of Michael York, a 17-year-old suburban boy, was found in a snowy alley in a tough section on Chicago's West Side. An autopsy could not determine a cause of death, and the case went unsolved. Authorities now believe the teenager died after using heroin—not in the rough Chicago neighborhood, but at a small party at a $1 million home in the pristine suburb of St. Charles.
Prosecutors say the body, with shoes and identification removed, was dumped in the alley by two other young heroin users who attended the party.
The Kane County State's Attorney's Office last week issued obstruction of justice charges against Jordan D. Billek, 18, of nearby Maple Park, and Lindsey Parker, the 23-year-old who police say hosted the party at the sprawling brick estate while her parents were away. Nathan Green, 22, of Maple Park, was charged with obstruction, as well as with supplying the heroin. Billek and Parker are free on bond, while Green remains in Kane County Jail. The three are scheduled to enter formal pleas at a Feb. 4 hearing in Kane County Circuit Court.
St. Charles, a prosperous town on the banks of the Fox River, is known for a charming elegance, rigorous academics and champion sports teams. It has also become known for its drug problems, its two prestigious high schools dubbed by some local teenagers as "Heroin High."
"It's a tragedy we need to talk about in St. Charles," said Lea Minalga, a local drug counselor, who started a support group for struggling parents, and whose own son, Justin, has struggled with a heroin addiction. "We have a beautiful community. But some of our kids are in terrible trouble."
She added: "These are kids with plenty of money and lots of time on their hands. And in communities like this one, they feel a lot of pressure to succeed."
Vince Solano, a lawyer for Parker, said it was incomprehensible that so many young people from privilege have fallen prey to heroin. "These are kid who went to schools that are sending kids to Ivy League schools," said Solano. "And these kids are driving to the West Side of Chicago at 3 o'clock in the morning to deal with gangbangers, for Christ's sake. It just shows what this drug does to your thinking—it wipes out your logic, your morals, your ties to your family."
He said Parker was "now clean and in a good program" and working at a restaurant. The lawyer said Parker had gone for drug treatment before. Indeed, he said most of the group of young heroin users at the St. Charles party had met in rehab.
According to police reports, York, who lived in nearby Elburn, twice stopped breathing in a night of using drugs on Dec. 15. He was resuscitated both times by Green and Billek, who took steps to lower his body temperature to avoid seizures, the report stated. In the morning, Parker found York unconscious in a guest room and called Green and Billek, who had driven to a gas station. When the two young men returned, York was "cool to the touch," according to the papers.
"Billek advised that York had vomit on his face and that he thought York urinated himself because he smelled bad," according to the report. "Green and Billek then removed the body and placed York into Billek's truck," and the two young men drove him to the Chicago alley. According to court papers, "Green didn't want to get into trouble" because he "had given York the drugs," according to the court papers.
Later that afternoon, York's body was found in the alley. "Victim had dry blood through his nose and mouth," according to court papers.
A day earlier, York's mother had called police to report him missing.
Investigators made a break in the case, according to court papers, when York's friend, Robert Fikar, 18, got word of the party and tipped off the dead teenager's mother. The mother, Cathy Reinert, went to the police.
The case has renewed discussion about so-called Good Samaritan laws, which allow bystanders to call for help, or take someone to a hospital, without being charged for using drugs or alcohol. Some anti-drug advocates, as well as some prosecutors, say young people often fail to call for help because they fear getting into trouble. Deaths by alcohol poisoning among high-school and college students often involve bystanders who were afraid to call police.
John Barsanti, the Kane County State's Attorney, said he would support a law that would provide "some kind of safe haven" for those reporting a person in need of help. But he noted that such measures can face political hurdles because they risk being seen as soft on drug abuse or underage drinking
Another heroin case in St. Charles that resulted in a death also involved acquaintances who failed to take action because they feared trouble. Matthew Thies, 26, who died in St. Charles in 2006 of a heroin overdose, had been left at a park bench by two friends. They were afraid they would be charged if they took him to a hospital. In the end, the two men were charged with drug-induced homicide in the case.
St. Charles, a town of about 32,000, about 40 miles west of Chicago, nestled among rolling countryside, seems otherwise a town without many worries. Charming old lamp posts line Main Street, and the area is popular among the equestrian set. It is regarded as very safe. Police said there has been only one homicide in the town in the last five years.
But there is little dispute here that drugs have cast a dangerous pall, especially on young people. Kane County was one of the first counties in the nation to establish drug courts that promoted treatment, rather than incarceration.
There was a time when a heroin case in St. Charles would bring disbelief. Not such a tragedy evokes deep sadness, but no longer such surprise.
As Solano, the 41-year-old lawyer put it: "Putting needles in your arms? You used to think of Harlem. But we're talking here about kids who come from families who have given them every opportunity. And they're taking heroin?"