Riverside police have charged a 23-year-old St. Charles man with aggravated fleeing and eluding and reckless driving after he attempted to flee police during a chase Wednesday just after 5 p.m. The man, Bryan C. Olson, drove onto the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad tracks near downtown Riverside before his SUV flipped over on the tracks and burst into flames, halting rail traffic for more than an hour.
According to Riverside Assistant Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, the chase began near Harlem Avenue and Madison Street in Forest Park when police there spotted a vehicle matching the description of one allegedly involved in a River Forest drug investigation. The suspect allegedly had been seen injecting drugs while parked in the lot at the River Forest Town Center at Harlem Avenue and Lake Street, Weitzel said.
River Forest Deputy Police Chief Kendra Sullivan confirmed that Olson "appeared to be in possession of a controlled substance" when the River Forest officer, who was on foot, walked toward the vehicle. Before the officer could question the suspect, the man took off, driving recklessly through the Town Center lot before heading south down Harlem Avenue.
Forest Park officers gave chase into Riverside, with Riverside police picking up the pursuit just after 5 p.m. near the intersection of 31st Street and Desplaines Avenue. Olson reportedly continued south on Woodside Road and into downtown Riverside before heading east on Burlington Street and then south of Cowley Road, where he attempted to drive east along an access road adjacent to the BNSF tracks.
Joyce Sanders, who lives in the 200 block of East Burlington Street, about 50 yards from the crash site, said that she heard what sounding like a vehicle braking and sliding along the stone railway bed. Then the vehicle flipped over.
"At first I though it was a train, but when it flipped over I said, 'Oh my God, it's a car!,'" Sanders said. "I saw him climb out like a rat out of a hole."
According to Sanders, Olson tried to escape on foot but was ordered by police to stop. She said police took the man into custody just north of the railroad tracks, a few yards from her backyard.
Sanders' neighbor, William Wrosko said also heard a "rumble" along the tracks and looked out his kitchen window. Through a gap in the bushes that border his backyard, Wrosko said he saw two pairs of legs.
"At least two officers had him down next to the tracks," Wrosko said.
Wrosko ran to the front of the house, where he said he saw a Chicago squad car and directed the officer to the rear of the house. When the man's car suddenly burst into flames, an officer told Wrosko, "You better get out of here, that thing might blow."
"When it started to burn, man, we all scattered," Sanders said.
Train traffic on all three tracks of the BNSF line was halted for approximately one hour, according to Metra spokesman Tom Miller. In all, 21 outbound and four inbound trains were either delayed or canceled, Miller said, with delays ranging from six minutes to one hour, 16 minutes.
"We finally got one track open at 6:05 p.m. and the other two shortly after that," Miller said. "Trains began to move again at about 6:10 p.m."
Despite rolling the vehicle on the tracks, police said Olson was not seriously injured in the wreck, but Riverside Fire Department paramedics transported him to MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn for treatment of some minor injuries. He was released back into Riverside police custody around 8 p.m. Wednesday, when he was charged. Olson was also cited for driving an uninsured vehicle.
A bond hearing was set for Thursday morning at the Maybrook courthouse in Maywood.
River Forest police also charged Olson with reckless driving. Information on charges from Forest Park police was not immediately available.
According to published reports in both the Daily Herald and Batavia Sun, Olson has been arrested two other times since Aug. 13. On Aug. 13, he was charged with possession of cannabis by St. Charles police and on Aug. 16 was charged with retail theft after allegedly stole a wrench set.