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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Everyday Tow Hero In IL

Even though this was a story relating to an incident from 1983, tow truck driver Frank Sterioti deserves a round of applause for his cool head in a tough situation!
Here's the Herald-News story:

There was no hesitation when Will County Forest Preserve Chief Mike Ganster was asked to recollect the most exciting arrest of his career, but the retiring officer says it was a sharp tow truck driver who was responsible for catching a killer.

Ganster was a Lockport patrolman in 1983, when 17 people were murdered in the Will County area between June 25 and Aug. 26. Herald News stories from that summer reflect tension in the community with an increase in handgun sales and decrease in people going out at night.

On Aug. 26, a man delivering newspapers found Mary Mae Johnson tied in a chair in the living room of her house on Mills Road in Joliet Township. The 82-year-old woman had been stabbed and beaten to death with a hammer.

Evidence technicians matched fingerprints found inside the house to Donald Lego, a roofer who had worked at Johnson's house several years earlier and learned she kept a large sum of money there. Detectives interviewed employees at a nearby lumberyard who recalled seeing a man who looked like Lego near a brown car parked in the area during the day of the murder. The car was turned out to be an Oldsmobile owned by a friend of Lego's, and police gave the license plate number to the media on the morning of Sept. 3.

"I was at home when it flashed on TV and decided to write it down on top of the cigar box in my tow truck," remembered. Sterioti was stunned when he was then called out to tow an overheated vehicle in Romeoville and looked at the license plate, but played it cool.

"I hooked up the car like nothing was happening and drove (Lego) to the Texaco station on 13th Street in Lockport that's not there any more," Sterioti said.

Despite the risk Lego could've looked over to see the tow truck's gas tank was almost full, Sterioti pulled in to say he needed to refuel.

"I just wanted to get him out of the truck," Sterioti said. When he went inside the service station and called police, Ganster was the first officer sent to the scene.

"I pulled around and parked down from the pumps, trying to make it look like I was going in to get cigarettes," Ganster said.

But while he was "being gregarious" in sight of the tow truck's cab, Ganster's demeanor changed instantly as he circled around to the man fueling up his car on the other side of the island.

"I walked up and just said 'Take a walk' and there must have been something in my eyes because the guy just turned around and left," he said.

Ganster went to the passenger side of Sterioti's truck where Lego was sitting and "stuck my gun to his head and told him he was dead if he moved."

Lego surrendered without incident. He was initially sentenced to death, but was later committed to a mental institutions for the rest of his life.

"Five minutes after I had the cuffs on him, a TV crew was there and the chief had me talking to the cameras," Ganster said.

Three days later Sterioti was a guest on "Good Morning, America." He was given a $500 reward by CrimeStoppers the following week, but donated the money to the police benevolent fund.

"I knew Mike since he started (as a police officer)," Sterioti said. "He's a good guy."

Sterioti later hired Ganster to work as a security guard after burglars started stealing stereos from the vehicles in his impound lot.

"And within two weeks I securitied myself out of a job by catching the guys doing it," Ganster said. "That's how I ended up coming to the Forest Preserve."

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