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Bad driving leads to leave for county worker

Thursday, March 22, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Lauren FitzPatrick

An 86-year-old Cook County investigator was placed on administrative leave without pay Wednesday after a Daily Southtown investigation revealed he had been driving on the job without a valid license.
Virgil M. Poole Sr., 86, of Glenwood, continued to report to work Tuesday and Wednesday at the Cook County medical examiner's office, where his silver Kia sport utility vehicle remained in the parking lot.
He answered the phone Wednesday afternoon at his desk in the Stein Institute's investigations department, where he has worked as an investigator since November 2005.
He declined to comment when asked about his driving.
"You're not going to get anything from me because I'm not going to talk to you," he told a reporter before hanging up.
After continued questioning Wednesday by the Southtown, county officials placed Poole, a longtime police colleague of the chief of investigations, retired Chicago Police Supt. LeRoy Martin, on administrative leave, county spokesman Steve Mayberry said. A disciplinary hearing will be held sometime next week after county officials have had time to investigate Poole's record.
"At that hearing, the main issue will surround what he has done both in the past several weeks right on up to when he was informed not to drive to work or on county property," Mayberry said. "It is insufficient to us that (he) is not endangering us on our property, however, and in this conversation with him, we will need to establish he has not been driving at all."
When questioned Friday about the Southtown investigation, Poole showed Martin a letter from the secretary of state's office indicating his cancellation was rescinded March 6. Martin acknowledged seeing a document Friday that he said allowed Poole to keep driving but did not cite specifics or a date.
But secretary of state's office spokeswoman Beth Kaufman said the cancellation remains in effect. An amendment to Poole's driving record made March 6 did not change his driving status, she said.
Poole was told Feb. 6 to have a doctor examine him and his vision and to return forms to the secretary of state's office within two weeks, according to a fax received by the Southtown. He replied Feb. 28 with a vision report from November saying he could drive only during the day and a handwritten letter that concluded, "P.S. I am a retired Police Chief of Chicago and Harvey and proudly a Tuskegee Airman."
Mayberry said he learned from the secretary of state's office that Poole's cancellation was revoked briefly March 6 then went back into effect March 8, nearly a week before a Southtown reporter and photographer followed Poole around on the job.
On March 14, Poole covered some 60 miles on behalf of the county over four hours, visiting two South Side funeral homes and popping into a drive-through for lunch.
His Kia abruptly changed lanes without signaling, cut off a semi truck on the Stevenson Expressway, ran at least three red lights and swerved over numerous dotted white and double yellow lines. Poole also swung two U-turns on South Halsted Street to get lunch, which he ate behind the wheel on his way back to the office.
Poole has a record of crashing his car several times in the past year, landing himself in the hospital last winter. While driving to work in July, he hit a pedestrian, sending the 69-year-old Chicago man to Stroger Hospital. He also caused a minor fender bender in February while another investigator was in the car with him.
Poole reported for work Tuesday and Wednesday, though a county spokesman said Friday he would be fired if he drove to the office on a canceled license.
The 86-year-old was off Saturday, Sunday and Monday as part of his regular rotating schedule. His little SUV was nowhere in the lot Monday. But the vehicle reappeared Tuesday in the county's lot behind the building, its broken bumper and missing front grill facing a wall. The driver's side rear fender still was duct-taped; Fraternal Order of Police and AAA stickers remained in place on the rear spare tire.
Poole was seen getting in and out of cabs Wednesday at work while his Kia stayed in the lot, Mayberry said.
"As far as we know at the moment, he has done what we wanted him to do," Mayberry said.
As of Tuesday, Poole had been removed from any driving duties and remained in the office.
As an investigator, his job specifically involved driving to examine remains.
Martin said Friday that Poole was tasked only with visiting funeral homes to confirm that bodies likely dead of natural causes had no signs of trauma. He did not go out to accident and homicide scenes to do field reports because he did not have that kind of training, Martin said.
Poole has earned $30,469.92 a year from his morgue job, according to the medical examiner's office. He also collects pensions from the Chicago Police Department and the Harvey Police Department, where he was chief in the early 1990s.
Poole once also ran a private security firm for the Chicago Housing Authority while Martin served as its public safety director.


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