No one knows better the danger that a tense circumstance can present than police in the United States. Constantly under pressure to control people who are guaranteed rights that provide them a wide latitude of no control, the scenarios that citizens can present range from the mundane to sheer terror, even for a trained professional. With that thought, we continue to reflect on moments in the history of law enforcement we wish we could get back, the sacrifices of those that have paid the ultimate price on our behalf.
Arlington Heights, Illinois
Arlington Heights is part of Chicagoland, and always has been. However, it’s always had a different pace than it’s ‘large sister,’ where it sits about 30 miles west of Downtown Chicago. First, it was a farming community, which was not unusual, but it remained that way clear into the mid-1900s, before the ‘suburban rush’ of the 50’s and 60’s came about, in part due to the use of rapid transit in metropolitan settings. The city hosts one of the largest libraries in the region, which is saying something, when you consider the sheer size of Greater Chicago. Arlington International is a major horse race track, and serves as a qualifying race for the Breeders’ Cup. Arlington Heights attracts lots of boutique commercial interests, software sales firms, and similar type businesses, and by all accounts it’s a safe city. Unfortunately, even safe suburbs present dangers to law enforcement officers, like the officer in this month’s memorial.
Officer Alan J. Vargo
Officer Alan Vargo was a two-year veteran of the Arlington Heights Police Department. He had dreamed his whole life of becoming one, and here he was in his hometown, a fresh-faced peace officer. To say Officer Vargo was well-liked, like many of the officers we have profiled through the years, would be an understatement. One such instance concerning Officer Vargo comes from his probationary year, where he issued a teenager a ticket. The father contacted the department by mail. But in these situations, it’s all too common for a complaint to be issued. Instead, what happened was an appreciative father who spoke very highly of Officer Vargo, noting the ‘caliber of man’ he was, and as the image of the department. Officer Vargo had married his wife, Teri, nine months prior to his first midnight shift, on July 18th, 1976, when he responded to an accident call at Arlington Heights Road and Olive Street. He was directing traffic around the accident, when Timothy Draut drove into the area, intoxicated. Draut did not follow the commands that Officer Vargo was giving him, and instead drove directly at Officer Vargo, running him over, and then dragging him down the road. Eventually, Draut did come to a stop, but other officers who came running after not hearing Officer Vargo on the radio, knew all too quickly what happened.
They quickly tried to get Officer Vargo from underneath the vehicle, and drove him as fast as possible to the hospital in Arlington. The medical staff worked feverishly overnight, trying to keep Officer Vargo alive. Unfortunately, Officer Vargo died, aged 24.
Draut faced a DUI charge, but plead to Reckless Homicide, in a deal that dismissed the DUI. He received two years’ probation for death of Officer Vargo. He also went on DUI arrests in 1982, 1986, and 1993. He clearly never learned the errors of his ways. Teri Turro, Officer Vargo’s widow, later re-married to another officer. Officer Vargo was the oldest of six siblings, and served as the ‘helm’ of the group, in numerous re-telling by family, his loss was severely damaging to the family. Ms. Turro sued Draut, and his company, along with two taverns that had served Draut, who was also apparently working in a company car while intoxicated. The light sentence given him does no one justice, and as his track record shows, it only empowered more bad behavior. As we continue to remember the officers that have been struck by cars, you will likely see this theme repeatedly; an officer directing traffic gets run down by person who is intoxicated. In our society, the vision of an officer directing traffic efficiently is something we associate with steadfast community, and professionalism. We at CaseGuard implore you to see it for what it truly is: the second most vulnerable position for an officer to be in. In remembering Officer Vargo, when you see police at an intersection, road, or highway, directing traffic, sitting with a broke down vehicle, or even on a traffic stop, slow down, move over to the farthest left lane, and if you’re intoxicated, call Uber. We owe this to Officer Vargo and the life he never got to have.
In memory of Officer Alan J. Vargo