ORLAND PARK, Ill. - Prosecutors have dropped a DUI charge against a retired priest accused of running over two Catholic school teachers — killing one of them — last year while leaving a Christmas party in Orland Park.
Rev. Paul Burak no longer faces the alcohol-related charge in connection to the Dec. 4 hit-and-run that killed Margaret “Rone” Leja, according to Cook County records.
Burak, 73, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the remaining counts of causing and leaving the scene of a deadly accident, court records show. He was initially charged with aggravated DUI, but that charge was dropped by prosecutors Jan. 7.
(Photo credit: Orland Park Police)
Orland Park police Chief Timothy McCarthy said he agrees with the state’s attorney’s office to drop the DUI charge.
“The state’s attorney didn’t feel there was enough evidence there, and that’s probably the case,” McCarthy told the Sun-Times Tuesday. “He went into custody more than 24 hours later, so field sobriety tests weren’t valid.”
At the initial bail hearing in December, prosecutors said Burak told police that he took medication for his Parkinson’s and blacked out after having a Manhattan and a glass of wine at the holiday party.
He allegedly told police he didn’t see the women and thought he hit a curb as he was pulling out from the Square Celt Ale House & Grill’s parking lot onto an access road, where the two women were walking across the reach their parked cars, prosecutors said. He continued driving without stopping, prosecutors said.
The women, both teachers at St. Micheal School in Orland Park, were taken to Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, where Leja, 61, was pronounced dead. Elizabeth Kosteck, 54, was seriously injured and released from the hospital the next morning.
Elizabeth Kosteck and Margaret "Rone" Leja
Prosecutors said a man driving behind Burak saw the crash and followed him into a nearby parking lot and told him to go back to where the women were hit, prosecutors said.
Burak drove back to the Square Celt parking lot, where police were already investigating, prosecutors said. Officers stopped him, but Burak never got out of his car and did not report his in role the crash.
Another priest then saw Burak hit another car’s bumper while making a three-point turn in the lot and offered to drive him home, prosecutors said. The priest drove Burak’s car while another couple from the party followed behind.
The next day, officers identified the gold Buick as Burak’s and found the car in his garage with a damaged front license plate holder, which matched remnants of a plate holder found at the crash scene, prosecutors said.
Burak, of Palos Heights, was arrested two days after the crash and ordered held on a $10,000 bail. He was released on bond that day, and was ordered to stay at home on electronic monitoring.
Burak retired in 2018 as priest of St. Michael Parish, where both teachers worked. An attorney for Burak did not immediately reply Tuesday to a request for comment.
In December, Leja’s brother and executor of estate sued Burak for negligence.
Through a family lawyer, Leja’s family released a statement saying they filed the lawsuit “in an attempt to get truthful, forthcoming and honest answers to the many unanswered questions they have regarding their beloved sisters senseless death.”
Burak is due in court again March 18.