The following is an edited version of the letter by Brett McNeil to the village of Forest Park:
Dear Mayor Calderone:
My mother, longtime Forest Park resident and Madison Street business owner Brenda B. McNeil, died unexpectedly in her home late on the night of July 8. It’s taken me some time to write about our experience with your police department, and specifically your dispatch center, in the immediate aftermath of mom’s death but I thought it important to put those troubling details on the public record. At a time of great personal shock and grief, your department unnecessarily and dishonestly added to both the confusion and strain we felt at one of the most difficult moments of our lives. I invite you to investigate the claims I present here and to take whatever actions you deem necessary in ensuring that other Forest Park families and residents are not treated likewise.
I learned of my mother’s death after answering the doorbell at 1 a.m., July 9. My brother was at my door with the news. He said mom was dead, that Forest Park police were inside mom’s place and they needed us to call a funeral home. After absorbing the enormity of the news, I called your police department and spoke with a dispatcher who told me officers were on the scene and that I needed to make arrangements for her body to be removed from the home.
As you might imagine, I wasn’t thinking clearly but I asked the dispatcher a couple of questions, including whether mom would need to be seen by the medical examiner’s office. The dispatcher told me the M.E. did not need to see mom. I said I would attempt to locate a funeral home and eventually called and spoke directly with Charlie Williams at Drechsler, Brown & Williams in Oak Park. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and told him so. Charlie said I didn’t have to make a decision at one in the morning and that Forest Park could and should transport mom to the medical examiner’s office. He said Cook County officials could hold mom for a day or more while we sorted out arrangements after more fully coming to terms with our loss. Charlie explained to me the M.E.’s office must accept a body if requested and he encouraged me to call back and tell Forest Park police to send mom to the county morgue. And so I did.
The dispatcher again took my call and insisted the medical examiner’s office did not want to receive mom’s body and would not do so, that I needed to make a decision about having mom removed from the home. This all took place within about 15 minutes of me learning my mother was suddenly dead at the age of 71. I expressed frustration with the logistical questions, but the dispatcher reiterated that the medical examiner would not take mom’s body. I called Charlie back. His people came out and picked up mom and took her away.
We met with Charlie Williams the following day at his funeral home near Poor Phil’s. I asked him about the medical examiner issue and he said a representative from the M.E. had been over earlier to examine mom and to issue a death certificate. According to Charlie, the representative expressed surprise that mom had been taken from her home directly to the funeral home and he matter-of-factly told Charlie that no one in the medical examiner’s office would have refused to accept mom’s body the night before. That just wasn’t true, he said.
During my conversations with the dispatcher, she told me she could provide a number for a service that, for a fee paid by me, would transport mom to a destination of my choosing. I suspect the reason I was told the medical examiner’s office would not accept mom’s body is that no one at the Forest Park Police Department wanted to deal with the transport issue. They didn’t want to pay for such a ride.
Maybe I’m wrong. But I am confident the dispatcher gave me bad and hassling information at a very difficult time. She and by extension your department did not well or properly serve me or my late mom or our family. I am a former homeowner and taxpayer in Forest Park, and mom ran a successful business in town for more than a decade and paid both residential and commercial property taxes and business taxes. We have both been active at different times in local affairs, and you yourself once read aloud a proclamation extolling my virtues as a community newspaper reporter during my days at the Review, following your first election as mayor. If this is how your department treats the people you pat on the back, I’d hate to see how it is for everyone else.
I hope that’s as unacceptable to you as it is to me.
Editor’s note: Brett McNeil was the editor of the Forest Park Review in the late 1990s.