November 1, 2013
How many times did Park Forest police blast 95-year-old John Wrana in the guts with a beanbag round fired from a riot shotgun?
Once? Twice? Three times?
A source in the Cook County medical examiner's office says the wounds suggest two or more rounds were fired at Wrana, a frail World War II veteran who had trouble standing, even with a cane.
"At least two (rounds) for sure," said the source from the medical examiner's office.
Actually, it could have been more than two rounds.
According to an outside forensic expert we contacted, there could have been as many as four beanbag rounds fired at the old man from police shotguns.
John Wrana was just weeks away from his 96th birthday when police opened fire in his room. Wrana died of internal bleeding from those wounds hours later.
His death was ruled a homicide. The Illinois State Police has not yet completed its report, which is expected to be forwarded to the Cook County state's attorney's office in the coming weeks.
I'm still having trouble understanding why police could rationalize even one blast to the abdomen of a very old man. But it seems clear there was more than one.
"The chest and abdomen have four different bruises," said Dr. Judy Melinek, a former medical examiner in San Francisco, after reviewing the medical examiner's report we sent to her.
The force of the beanbag shotgun rounds — traveling at 280 feet per second — perforated Wrana's small intestine, Dr. Melinek said.
The cut measured about 3.5 inches by 1.5 inches. More than a liter of his blood pooled in his abdomen, and he died.
"That's pretty big," she said of the cut in his intestine. "I'm not surprised that this happened. They're shotguns. … It is a pretty forceful impact. In this case it caused a laceration in the small intestine and the omentum, the fatty tissue that drapes the intestines. It's like a curtain."
As many of you remember from earlier columns, Wrana was living at the Victory Centre assisted living facility in south suburban Park Forest when, on the evening of July 26, he refused medical treatment for an illness.
His family, through its lawyer, believes he was suffering from a urinary tract infection, which doctors tell me can cause symptoms of dementia and paranoia in elderly men.
Paramedics called Park Forest police. Wrana was in an agitated, angry state, police said in a statement at the time.
Police said then that Wrana threatened staff and officers with a metal walking cane, then "an approximately 3-foot-long iron shoe horn," and finally, a 12-inch knife with a 7-inch blade. As many as seven officers were at the scene.
First police shot him with a Taser. But that wasn't enough.
So they opened fire with the shotgun, or shotguns.
Whether two, three or four rounds were fired, we don't know, but whatever the total was, it seems excessive.
Responding to our Freedom of Information Act request, Park Forest police released information about the beanbag rounds. They're manufactured by Combined Tactical Systems Inc. of Jamestown, Pa.
The trademarked rounds are called the Super-sock, used in a 12-gauge shotgun. The Super-sock is designed to knock down angry young men with plenty of muscle and rage. According to the company's product specification, the area of the body that is targeted is critical.
"Shots to the head, neck, thorax, heart or spine can result in fatal or serious injury," the spec sheet reads.
Wrana was shot in the torso.
I wrote a column a month ago after obtaining the autopsy report, but I wanted to further understand the medical jargon in the report, and asked Dr. Melinek to help. I wondered if I'd missed something, and I did:
Those four serious impact bruises, and the large rip in the small intestine.
Unfortunately, the medical examiner's office did not provide medical photographs. But Dr. Melinek read over the details as written in the cryptic document and explained them to us in layman's terms.
She believes the four bruises could have been caused by four separate shots. But she added, "I don't know if they're from the beanbag or it could be from taking him down afterward, or the chair that he was next to.
"It's described as blunt trauma, abrasions and contusions, but it isn't clear from this report which of these (injuries) are from the round and which of these are from other blunt trauma at the scene. So it could be up to … maximum four impacts to the chest and abdomen," she said.
However many rounds were fired at the old man, the Cook County medical examiner determined that they caused that rip in his intestines that killed him.
"What surprises me is bleeding 1,000 milliliters into the abdomen, it takes time, it's not instantaneous," Dr. Melinek said. "And there was a decision made at some point that they weren't going to perform surgery on him, I guess because he was so frail."
Nicholas Grapsas, the Wrana family's attorney, said, "The fact they shot at all is sufficiently outrageous and damning. It's clearly excessive and unnecessary, even if you believe their side of this."
We contacted Park Forest Mayor John Ostenburg, but he declined to comment, pending the release of the state police report.
Wrana, who fought in Burma in World War II, was active in AMVETS, the organization that reaches out to veterans. He was a member of the group's Glenwood post. Friends there plan a luncheon Nov. 15 to honor him at the Glenwoodie Golf Club in Glenwood.
We asked his friend Richard Cameron, post commander, if it mattered how many times Wrana was shot by police.
"No," Cameron said. "Once is too many. Seven cops and a 95-year-old guy? C'mon, that's ridiculous."
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