Shock after retired priest is accused of hit and run crash that killed one teacher, injured another after Christmas party they all attended

A hit and run accident at their parish Christmas party at St. Michael's in south suburban Orland Park killed one of their teachers, and now, police allege the driver was St. Michael’s former priest.

The priest told those in attendance at Saturday's mass that it’s a difficult time for them. He’s asking parishioners to pray for the accident victims and their families, and for grieving teachers and students, and he’s asking God for peace, healing and understanding.

“We’re all trying to wrap our heads around it. It’s just, it’s horrible,”  said Judy & Ray Fahlen, St. Michael’s parishioners.

“Shocking. Shocking, very upset,” said Ron and Judy Gruchot, St. Michael’s parishioners.

Paul Burak, 73, served St. Michael’s for nine years before retiring in the summer of 2018. He saw the church through its 150th anniversary, despite dealing with Parkinson’s.

(Photo credit: Orland Park Police)

“My heart goes out to him because we know him and he was a wonderful pastor,” said Sally Sendra, St. Michael’s parishioner.

Those who knew Father Paul at Our Lady of the Ridge where Burak was pastor prior to St. Michael’s are equally shocked.

“This is very out of character for him and I would have questions, I would give that man the benefit of the doubt until all the information were in,” said Therese Wells who knew him from Our Lady of the Ridge.

Orland Park police say Burak attended the parish Christmas party at the Square Celt, along with the victims, St. Michael’s teachers Rone Leja and Liz Kosteck.

“Witness number one and witness number two who were also at the party asked the defendant if he was ok to drive home right before the defendant left,” said Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy.

Burak told investigators he takes medication for Parkinson’s. He said the night of the party, he drank a Manhattan and a glass of wine.

“After drinking the Manhattan he felt light headed The defendant said he thinks he had too much to drink because he blacked out,” said Murphy.

Court documents say Burak hit the women from behind. A witness saw Burak’s car pause for 20 seconds, then drive through the parking lot and into a fast food drive-through without ordering anything. Police confirmed much of this through surveillance video.

“And since 8 p.m. Wednesday, officers have been canvasing the entire area for video and attempting to interview and locate witnesses to the incident which we were successful in doing,” said Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy.

News of the hit and run devastated the St. Michael’s community. Rone Leja, the technology coach, lost her life. Liz Kosteck, the school’s long-time third grade teacher, suffered a broken wrist and bruised shoulder.

A Cook County judge ordered a $10,000 bond with electronic monitoring. He posted his bond late Saturday and was escorted home.