Retired St. Michael Parish priest, Paul Burak charged in fatal Orland Park hit and run that killed Margaret ‘Rone’ Leja and injured Elizabeth Kosteck.
A retired priest in Illinois has been booked after hitting two women with his car while pulling out of a parking lot after a Christmas party, killing one, authorities said.
Paul Burak, a 73-year-old former pastor at St. Michael Catholic Church in Orland Park, was charged Thursday with aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol and leaving the scene of a fatal accident after Margaret “Rone” Leja, 61, a schoolteacher was killed late Wednesday.
Burak, who retired last year after winning a lifetime service award, also struck Elizabeth Kosteck, 54, when he backed out of a parking spot in his Buick Regal after assuring two partygoers that he was OK to drive, Cook County Prosecutor James Murphy said.
The Palos Heights man was attending the same Christmas party as his victims prior to the crash, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Burak is charged with aggravated DUI causing death, aggravated DUI causing bodily harm, failure to report an accident causing death and failure to report an accident causing injury.
Priest returned to fatal hit and run scene only to never get out of his car and report his in role in the crash.
Burak later told cops he had drank a Manhattan and a glass of wine at the party, saying he had blacked out for most of the night and thought he may have hit a curb rather than two people, Murphy said.
The ‘pious’ man hit the women as they crossed an access road – only to accelerate as he drove away. Leja succumbed to her injuries, while Kosteck continues to recover at home after being released from a hospital.
Of disconcert, a report via the Chicago Sun Times told of Burak driving back to the Square Celt parking lot after the hit and run – where by then police were already investigating. Officers stopped him, but Burak never got out of his car and did not report his in role in the crash.
The next day, officers recognized Burak’s gold Buick in surveillance videos and ran its plates, prosecutors said. They searched his garage and found the car’s front license plate holder had been damaged, which matched remnants of a plate holder found at the crash scene.
Burak was arrested and charged on Friday.
An attorney for Burak, meanwhile, said during a bond hearing on Saturday that the reverend suffered from Parkinson’s disease and glaucoma.
‘He is devastated by what happened that day,’ attorney Tim Grace told a judge while asking for Burak to be released on his own recognizance, citing his lack of criminal record.
A judge declined that request, setting Burak’s bond at $10,000 while ordering that he be electronically monitored upon release. The judge cited Burak’s lifetime of service in his decision to set the low bail amount.
The priest was later transported to his home on Saturday by Cook County deputies who installed the court-ordered monitored equipment.
‘I was not sure if I had heard the name correctly.’
‘This is a horrible event for everyone involved,’ Judge Arthur Wesley Willis said. ‘… I do believe he is is devastated. The family is devastated as well.’
Reports told of Burak – who grew up in Chicago, becoming a priest in 1972.
The hit and run led to the Archdiocese of Chicago releasing the following statement: ‘As a community we continue to grieve the loss of Ms. Leja and the injury to Mrs. Kosteck.’
Adding, ‘We again offer our heartfelt condolences, support and sympathy to their families and are keeping them and all affected by this tragedy in our prayers.’
Burak is listed as a retired priest who works as a weekend assistant on the church’s website.
News of Burak’s arrest came as a complete shock to a friend of one of the victims, WLZ-TV reported.
‘Total disbelief,’ Jan Brown told the station. ‘First, I was not sure if I had heard the name correctly. I feel so sorry for the family. I do not know how they can move forward after [this] tragedy.’