Fallout from Chicago teens’ deadly fight still lingers in Long Beach
By Lauren FitzPatrick Sun-Times Media email@example.com September 3, 2011 4:27AM
Jean Kennelly looks at photos of her son, Kevin Kennelly Jr. at her home in the Beverly area in Chicago, IL on Friday August 26, 2011. The Kennelly family lost their son this past July 4th during a fight on a beach in Indiana | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:27AM
A little green fixer-upper with great potential hides a few blocks off one of the loveliest beaches on Lake Michigan.
The cottage gave its firefighter owner a side job since he bought it in October. Like the other houses he has rehabbed, it was to be a getaway spot a few times a year for him and his wife and their son. Once finished, it would have been rented to vacationers for most of the summer, and the rental income would have paid for college.
The family’s inaugural trip together was on the Fourth of July weekend — the biggest party in the town of Long Beach, Ind. Kevin and Jean Kennelly let their 17-year-old son, Kevin Jr., invite some friends from Mount Carmel High School, where he had just finished his junior year.
On the night of July 4, as she waited up for the boys to come home from the beach, she told her husband she looked forward to the friends’ departure. “I can’t wait until it’s just the three of us,” she remembers saying.
But young Kevin never came home that night.
Now Kevin’s dad goes back to the house to paint, mindlessly, so he doesn’t have to think. His mom uses the house as a stopover on her way to court hearings in Michigan City to stand up for Kevin, who died after a punch in the head, allegedly thrown by James “Jake” Malecek, whose family has had a house at the other end of town for years.
“We lost our only child and we have nothing left, and our sole purpose is to seek justice for our son,” said Jean Kennelly, speaking publicly for the first time since Kevin died. “That’s all we’ve got to do,” her husband said.
‘Away from it all’
Long Beach peeks across Lake Michigan at Chicago’s Loop, about 40 miles away as the gull flies, yet the tiny town feels like much more than an hour’s drive from Beverly, the clannish white-collar enclave on Chicago’s Southwest Side.
Long Beach residents say the beaches are home to “Singing Sands” that squeak underfoot.
On a clear day, the city’s skyline pops up; that’s where lots of Long Beach taxpayers work the kinds of day jobs that pay for second homes.
On a clear day recently, longtime friends perched on a rare bench overlooking the lake shore to plot out their day once they’re done chatting and watching surfers: Take a walk. Pop home for a bite of breakfast. Play some Scrabble. Maybe shower, then hunt up dinner?
“You slow down when you come here,” said Agnes Poetzinger, visiting from Palos Heights. “You feel away from it all.”
Dr. Scholl built a posh summer home here, named it Casa del Lago, currently listed at $2.5 million. Another home that looks like a Swiss chalet was built by the man who invented Jiffy Pop. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was reared here. The police chief doesn’t live in town though; he says he can’t afford it.
Nobody parks on Long Beach’s winding streets. For one thing, it’s illegal, for another, nobody needs to.
Nothing flashy lures visitors here: no ice cream stands or cafes, no mini golf or boutiques. The lone pizza place in town has takeout or delivery only. The golf course around which the town was founded is members only.
Illinois license plates abound.
And on Sundays, the city newspapers at Al’s Supermarket sell out in a flash.
Chicago people come here for the golf and their family homes and the beaches, the ones who know about it anyway, said Kathleen Hansen, Poetzinger’s friend and a Beverly native. She started coming about 40 years ago, to her mother-in-law’s house.
“You can’t buy a Trib or a Sun-Times unless you get there by 7 a.m.” Hansen said. “This is little Beverly.”
Beverly people? Like the Kennellys?
Everyone in town knows them. Or the other family, the Maleceks.
And everyone feels bad for both families. So no, thank you, no one wants to talk about that sad thing that happened here, because everyone knows one of those nice boys involved in “the incident”.
Kevin didn’t come home
The Kennellys had been coming down to Long Beach with friends while they stayed in their summer place up the road in crowded Michigan City beach towns, in houses Kevin Sr. renovated and finally sold.
Dear old friends sit lovingly and protectively with Jean Kennelly in her Beverly home as she ticks off her last day with her son.
She and her husband spent the morning at a friend’s party on Lakeshore Drive, where they could watch the parade.
Sometime before noon, Kevin Sr. lured the teenagers out of bed with pancakes and sausage.
He and his wife kept nudging them outside, away from the TV with ESPN playing in the basement. At some point, the boys swam out to the buoy.
Jean laughed about the single wet towel left on the bathroom floor after five boys each took a shower. The parents went to the beach with other friends but headed home to make dinner.
Dusk fell and it was time for the famous fireworks over the golf course.
By 11 p.m., the parents went home to relax while the boys went back to the beach at Stop 26.
Curfew wasn’t until 1 a.m. If Kevin had been drinking that day, his parents said, it was news to them when they parted ways after the show.
The Kennellys slipped into bed. Jean turned on the TV to wait up.
A little before midnight, she heard something. Family friends showed up at the house; one of Kevin’s buddies, too.
“I said — and I will never forget this — “ ‘Ah, thank God they came home early,’ ” Jean said.
Kevin wasn’t with them.
Kevin got hit in the face, the boy said. The ambulance is here. I think he’s going to be OK.
Only he wasn’t.
His four friends told police and then his grieving parents that a girl approached them on the beach, offering vodka.
One of the boys called her a drunk and told her to scram. She hit him and disappeared back down the beach into the crowd she had come from.
She returned with her brother, who aimed for the name caller, police said.
But it was Kevin who caught the blow in his right ear.
He fell to the ground before his buddies sitting in the sand knew what was happening. Bloody foam poured from his nose and mouth.
Kevin never regained consciousness. He remained on a ventilator long enough for his organs to be donated. Two days after going to the beach, he died, his mother said.
“We didn’t even get to say goodbye,” she said.
Long Beach’s big day
Historically, July 4 is Long Beach’s big splash.
The morning kicks off with a parade through town. Decked-out golf carts and kids on bikes follow each other along the lake shore and around the historic town hall, designed in the 1920s by John Lloyd Wright, son of famed architect Frank, town officials explain.
The parade started out tiny and intimate, a few families decorating and riding and strolling, not unlike, the Beverly folks say, the South Side Irish parade.
The Long Beach Civic Association hosts a picnic and folks throw house parties.
Long Beach’s year-round population of about 1,500 doubles and then some, Councilman Bob Schaefer said.
“People all come back,” said Marge Cullen, sitting on her deck overlooking the lake one late afternoon. This year, she hosted 27 people.
The holiday’s a reunion, said her husband, George.
“This is the gathering place for our family,” he said.
The Fourth of July may be the only time Long Beach offers any amusement for outsiders.
The night’s fireworks show draws crowds, Chief Marshal Bob Sulkowski said.
“This year was probably the best they’ve ever had,” he said.
And the beaches get so jammed that police can’t use their ATVs to patrol at night, he said.
Families built bonfires, sat on driftwood logs. Teenagers hung out, some drank, the chief said.
Of course there were minors drinking, he said, and Kevin’s toxicology report may indicate how much.
Someone knocked over the trash cans in front of Al Krema’s house on Lakeshore Drive, near Stop 26, prompting him to call police.
He heard the noise of kids, too, right before midnight.
“You realize that drinking was going on all day long,” Krema said. “You worry about all these kids drinking and about what’s going to result. They’ve been drinking all day.”
Nobody else called to report kids drinking on the beach, though, the chief said.
The only 911 calls came after Kevin was hit and lying in the sand, unconscious and bleeding.
The summer’s over now. After this holiday weekend, the beaches will clear out.
The boys’ schools are back in session, and the case against Malecek continues with a hearing Thursday.
The 19-year-old graduate of Loyola Academy in Wilmette, a solid, polite member of the golf team, a regular on the honor roll, has never been in trouble, said his former golf coach and English teacher, Tim Kane.
“He’s everything you would want in a student and a player, he’s hardworking,” Kane said. “And when things don’t go his way, he works to correct that.”
Malecek has pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated battery, involuntary manslaughter and battery. The Lake County coroner said Kevin died of blunt force trauma to his head from that one punch, but no one believes Jake Malecek intended to kill him.
His attorneys, based in Michigan City where the case is pending, did not return repeated messages seeking comment.
Malecek has been free on $25,000 bail, allowed to live with his parents in their home not quite a mile west of Wrigley Field.
His friends went off to college, Kane said, but Jake’s plans to attend Texas Christian University are on hold. His school can’t believe this is happening, not to Jake.
“The school itself, the other teachers who knew Jake, everyone is so brokenhearted about the entire situation, not just about Jake but about Kevin Kennelly and the Kennelly family,” he said.
The Malecek family’s beach home was put up for sale.
‘The saddest thing’
About a mile and a half away, back in the part of Long Beach called Plaisance, Little Kevin’s Ford Escort still sits in the driveway of the Kennelly home. He had inherited it from family friends whose three sons didn’t need it once they graduated from Mount Carmel. It already had the stickers, their mom said, it already knew the way to school from Beverly; it already had a powerful stink of high school boys.
Eventually it’ll be driven home and given to another young Carmel student in the neighborhood, Jean Kennelly said. One tradition will continue at least.
“The hardest thing is we don’t have any legacy,” she said. “It was all about Kevin.”