Nicholas Kozak, a veteran officer with the Forest Park Police Department, died over the weekend at his home in DuPage County, according to the department’s top two lawmen.
Kozak contracted COVID-19 in the days before his death, according to the department. Per police reports, Kozak was on duty as recently as Sunday, Nov. 21. Chief of Police Ken Gross said he believed Kozak informed him of a positive test result the following day.
News of Kozak’s death has hit the relatively small 38-person department hard.
“I loved him as a person and a coworker,” Gross said. “And I’ll leave it at that.”
“The entire village is grieving the loss of Nick Kozak,” Mayor Rory Hoskins said. “He was a remarkable individual and an exceptional police officer.”
Kozak began working full time for the Forest Park Police Department in July 2002, and he served as a training officer for many years, according to Deputy Chief of Police Chris Chin, which meant he interacted with nearly every member of the department during his tenure. Chin said he and others were informed of Kozak’s death on Nov. 27.
“Saturday was rough,” Chin said. “Everybody’s a little different on how they handle grief and how close they are with him.”
Kozak’s passing also spurred several heartfelt remembrances on social media, including from some who claimed to know Kozak from his time in the U.S. military. According to a biography posted on the website for Triumph Systems (triumph-systems.com), a company that sells products for target training, Kozak served in the U.S. Army and Illinois National Guard, where he served in the National Guard Special Forces Group. Kozak is listed as a member of the Pro Staff at Triumph Systems.
Closer to home, Forest Park Firefighters Local 2753 posted a remembrance of Kozak on its Instagram page on Nov. 29.
“Officer Nick Kozak was one of the toughest, funniest, and loving guy[s] you would ever meet. He was a best friend to everyone in our local and the village of Forest Park. Nick (uncle Nick) was truly always there when any one of us needed him,” the post says.
Patrick O’Brien, who owns two Forest Park restaurants, including Lathrop House Café, reacted to Kozak’s death on Facebook Monday morning.
“I’ve known OFFICER Nick for years but only truly got to know Nick the man, brother, leader, joke teller, protector and much more this past year,” O’Brien wrote. “Nick stopped by Lathrop Café daily, often times more than once, yes for coffee and a lite bite, but to check on us, laugh [with] us, chat [with] my dad, my kids, my staff. What a great dude, not fair!!!”
Gross and Chin confirmed Kozak tested positive COVID-19 but cautioned that his cause of death had not yet been made public. Multiple requests for additional information from the DuPage County Coroner’s Office went unanswered.
Forest Park does not have a specific set of locally crafted COVID-19 mitigation rules, but Village Administrator Moses Amidei said the village’s policy “is following state guidelines.”
“We don’t have our own health department, like some towns do,” Amidei said. “We’re relying on our state and national partners to take the lead on that.”
Current state guidelines include a mask mandate in all indoor spaces and public health officials continue to enthusiastically recommend one of the approved COVID- 19 vaccines for all Americans age 5 and older.
It is unclear whether Kozak was vaccinated. Forest Park does not have a vaccine requirement for its public employees, including at the police department.
Per department policy, Kozak’s fellow officers were informed when the positive test was received and were advised to take additional precautions, including to sanitize their patrol cars and monitor for symptoms.
Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 in the police department is required to stay home for 10 days but can return to work at that point provided they are not symptomatic. A negative test is not required for a return to work, Gross said.
Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz said the village does not keep track of when employees contract COVID-19, so it is unclear how many officers have tested positive for the virus or if other officers are currently infected.
Chin said Kozak’s death, if it is determined to have been caused by COVID-19, would be the department’s first fatality from the virus.
“That’s why it’s such a huge shock that Nick died,” Chin said. “He was an officer and a friend. He’s the first one, for me personally, that passed away.”