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Cook County launches program to memorialize those who died in DUI crashes

Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Chicago Tribune
by Robert McCoppin

Olesia Oleinik thought she never got justice for the death of her brother in a drunken-driving accident. The friend who was behind the wheel got probation, and she said she never heard an apology. When her family left a cross and flowers at the site of the crash on Lake Street in Glenview, they were removed by highway workers.

"You feel like nobody cares," she said.

So after two years of working to get an official memorial to mark the spot, Oleinik was gratified when Cook County highway workers installed a sign with her brother's name and the message, "Please Don't Drink and Drive." The marker — the first erected under a new county program — went up Oct. 12, the fourth anniversary of her brother Oleg's death.

"Looking at my mom's reaction, it really meant something," Oleinik said. "Hopefully people will pay attention and understand that drinking and driving is not OK."

Oleg Oleinik, then 21 and living in Wheeling, was out with his friend Edward Olshansky, also 21, when authorities say Olshansky lost control of the Corvette he was driving and struck a tree, killing Oleinik.

Olshansky, who could not be reached for comment, initially was charged with aggravated DUI, but that was dropped when he later pleaded guilty to reckless homicide and received probation, community service and fines, court records show.

Olesia Oleinik at first sought to have a memorial marker installed for her brother by the Illinois Department of Transportation under a program the state started in 2008.

But after several months, she said she was told the state couldn't help her because the marker's would-be location was along a county road.

Oleinik then approached the Cook County Highway Department, but it did not have such a program. She sent county highway officials materials explaining how the state program worked, and eventually the county adopted a similar initiative, crediting Oleinik for the impetus.

In Cook County, 80 people died as a result of DUI accidents in 2010, the most recent year available. Officials said alcohol played a role in nearly half of all fatal crashes in Illinois last year.

Survivors can buy a marker through the Cook County program for $150; the state charges $200 to include the name of the deceased. The county will keep the sign up for two years, which disappointed Oleinik, who would like a permanent memorial.

Pat Larson, victim impact supervisor for the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, said "it means everything" to family members to have a marker "to recognize, 'This is where my loved one was killed by a drunk driver, because people were careless and reckless. Please take note.'"

To apply for a memorial, go to cookcountygov.com and click on "Apply for a DUI roadside memorial."


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