Niles police walk to remember peers

By Kevin Beese Staff Writer

Members of the Niles Police Department and their families, as well as family and friends of three Niles officers killed by a drunken driver, stand behind a banner remembering the officers during the 2022 Walk Like MADD event in Schaumburg. (Photos courtesy of MADD)

Niles police will lace up their walking shoes Saturday, Sept. 30 to remember peers they have lost.

Several members of the Niles Police Department will participate in the Walk Like MADD event in Schaumburg that day in honor of three department members lost at the hands of a drunken driver.

Retired Officer Joseph Paglia, Sgt. Joseph Lazo and Community Service Officer Michael White were all killed in 2020 when in Texas with their motorcycle club, made up of current and retired police officers. A drunken driver struck them when they had gone out for breakfast.

“We were all blindsided by the news,” said Niles Deputy Chief Nicholas Zakula.

Members of the department, village personnel and members of the killed officers’ families will all be on hand at the Walk Like MADD event, being held Saturday, Sept. 30 at Wintrust Field, 1999 Springinsguth Road, Schaumburg.

Check-in is at 8 a.m. The walk starts at 9 a.m. The event ends at 11:30 a.m. Free parking is available at Wintrust Field.

It is the fourth year that Niles officers will participate in the fund-raising effort for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The first two years Niles police personnel did the walk remotely at Notre Dame High School due to COVID-19 protocols.

Last year, they went to Schaumburg to participate in the event at Wintrust Field.

“Every year, we have a goal of $1,000 and we have always exceeded it,” Zakula said. “All donations go right to MADD.”

Zakula noted that Michael White was on the eligibility list in several communities to be a police officer. His father, Bill, a lieutenant with the Niles Fire Department, is scheduled to attend the event.

Erin Payton, regional executive director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving for Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin, said more than 70 people are already signed up for the Schaumburg event and expects a substantial day-of showing.

“One hundred percent of the money raised goes to MADD,” Payton said. “The Schaumburg event has already reached its goal. Every dollar raised helps reduce impaired driving.”

As of Friday, Sept. 22, the Schaumburg event had already raised nearly $24,000, surpassing its fund-raising goal of $20,000.

Payton said money given to MADD has a threefold impact:

  • Supporting victims of crashes
  • Financing community events, such as targeting underage drinking and keeping people from getting behind the wheel impaired
  • Covering MADD expenses, such as supplies and staffing

Payton said the organization refrains from referring to drunk-driving-related crashes as “accidents.”

“You don’t accidentally get behind the wheel drunk,” Payton said.

She said Mothers Against Drunk Driving supports alcohol-related crash victims for as much time as the person desires.

“As long as the people want us in their lives, we are happy to be there,” the MADD regional executive director said.

Payton said efforts to combat drunken driving were on a good path until COVID-19 hit in 2020.

“Since then, the number of fatalities has risen,” Payton said. “We have some work to do. There always is more that can be done to support victims and prevent crashes.”

She said continuing to raise public awareness about the dangers of driving impaired is key for the organization.

“The car next to you is carrying someone’s grandchild, teacher, co-worker, mother, father, sister or brother,” Payton said.

Niles Deputy Chief Zakula said people need to have a plan before going out for the evening.

“If you are going to have anything to drink, designate a driver. Take an Uber, Lyft or taxi,” Zakula said. “If you have to ask, ‘Can I make it home?’ you are already past the point of driving.

“They make it easy. You can get a ride from an app on your phone. It’s that easy. When going out, make wise choices — always.”