Mayor: Oak Forest standoff hoax ‘unconscionable,’ costly
By Casey Toner firstname.lastname@example.org April 21, 2011 6:36PM
Police wait at the scene of the standoff in Oak Forest on Thursday. | Art Vassy~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 13, 2012 9:23AM
Oak Forest Mayor Hank Kuspa said it was “unconscionable” that a resident could mislead police into believing he was holed up in his home for hours while police surrounded it Thursday night — prompting the evacuation of about a dozen families — before they determined he was in fact at a bar.
It wasn’t clear late Thursday night what charges the man might face, if any, but police identified him as Mark Fitch, 44, of 5544 Babbette Court. Police declined to say early Friday whether Fitch was in custody.
Fitch was at the bar while police were negotiating with him on the phone and urging him over a megaphone to come out of the house, police said.
Police broke into the house about 9:15 p.m. after shooting pepper spray through the windows and found the home vacant. They had gotten a tip from a man who said he was a friend of Fitch that Fitch was at the bar, and police left the scene to pursue an arrest after determining the home was indeed empty.
“This was, to me, unconscionable that an individual would find it amusing to waste the time, money, efforts and talent of all of these law enforcements that all came out to do nothing but help him from harming himself,” Kuspa said. “The initial report was he was threatening bodily harm to himself.
“This little farce was very costly in hard economic times.”
Kuspa said there may have been about a hundred law enforcement officials on the scene.
“Just payroll alone, we’re looking at probably $65,000 to $75,000, not to mention all the vehicles on the street,” he said.
“We’re just glad everyone is OK,” Oak Forest Police Sgt. Bill Busse said. “It’s fortunate he didn’t hurt himself or anybody else. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Police said Fitch had led everyone to believe he was still in the house during the phone conversations with negotiators.
A neighbor alerted police about 4 p.m. to a man with a gun outside the house in the 5500 block of Babbette Court, near 162nd Street and Central Avenue, Kuspa said.
The South Suburban Emergency Response Team and hostage negotiators were called to the scene, Kuspa said. The Cook County sheriff’s police bomb squad arrived about 10 p.m. Kuspa said officials had been told earlier by a neighbor that Fitch “liked his pyrotechnics on the Fourth of July.”
About a dozen families were evacuated from their homes during the incident, Kuspa said. A bus the city uses for senior citizens was being used as a warming center for the families and the city bought pizza for them, Kuspa said.
Neighbor Judy McCarthy said she was told about 4 p.m. to evacuate from her house on Marion Court, a half block from where the standoff was taking place. McCarthy said she tried to return to her home to get her cancer medication but was not allowed.
Neighbor Sarah Janozik said she moved into the neighborhood in July and had problems with the resident, whose house is across the street from her home. She said he seemed fascinated by fireworks and would occasionally fire them off in his back yard.
“I was hearing random booms that would wake me up at night,” Janozik said, but she never called police on him. “He was very strange and never came out of his house.”