Saturday, April 04, 2009
Two of at least 46 insulin syringes lie along the side of U.S. 6 between Webster Park, Spring Valley and Peru. Area law enforcement officials aren't sure where the needles came from, but don't expect there's a connection to heroin or other drugs.
By Allison Ryan
Mark Barron of Webster Park left his home for an evening run on March 19. Planning a long run, he turned east on U.S. 6 and headed toward St. Bede Lane. As he watched his feet pound the shoulder of the road, he noticed something unusual.
“I looked at what I thought was a cigarette butt because it was orange. But it turned out to be more. It was a needle,” Barron said.
Barron counted three syringes on that first run. The next day, tracing the same path, he counted 10 — then, slowing to look closer on his way back, he was shocked when he tallied 48 syringes between St. Bede Lane and Webster Park, on the south side of U.S. 6.
Barron said he alerted Spring Valley and Peru police officers to his discovery, and later heard from Spring Valley police chief Mike Miroux that a Spring Valley officer had picked up 20 syringes. More than a week after that clean-up effort, this reporter counted 46 syringes along the shoulder of the road between Blue Collar Bikes, Spring Valley and Redeemer Lutheran Church, Peru. Their presence leaves unanswered questions about public safety.
Where do they come from?
The syringes found along U.S. 6 (and two of the same design found further north and west in Peru) appeared to be of a design intended for insulin injection, according to Jim Rietgraf, a pharmacy director at Illinois Valley Community Hospital, who examined a photo of one syringe.
“Every pharmacy in the world sells them,” he said.
Intended for small needles in 28-31 gauge, the syringes are sold empty in boxes of 100, Rietgraf said. And there's no way of knowing, by looking at one whether it has been used or what may have been inside.
"You could shoot up whatever you desired," Rietgraf said.
How dangerous are they?
Of course, it's never safe to have needles along a roadside. Spring Valley police were seen Thursday morning picking up the scattered syringes along the roadside.
"We have a lot of people that ride bikes and job along there," Miroux said.
Because of the quantity - the first 20 that Spring Valley officer picked up were all found in one location - and the caps found on both the plunger and needle ends of most syringes, Miroux said it's likely most were unused.
Peru police chief Doug Bernabei said given the number of syringes found it's "not very likely" they are related to drug use.
"There's probably some other explanation," Bernabei said. He added the portion of U.S. 6 between St. Bede Lane and Steinberg's Furniture is unincorporated LaSalle County and therefore is patrolled by state police or LaSalle County Sheriff's Office.
But that line of thinking doesn't satisfy Barron.
"I can see absolutely no reason why somebody would accidentally drop an unused syringe," Barron said "I think it's naive to think that it's not been used."
Barron connects the needles to the recent arrest of two Webster Park residents for unlawful possession orf a controlled substance (heroin) with intent to deliver, speculating customers would use the drug immediately and discard the needle on their way out of town.
"If you're going to use a needle and then put it some place before you throw the needle out the window, you're going to put the cap back on before putting it in your pocket," Barron said.
What does this say about heroin use in the area?
Without knowing what the needles were for, it's impossible to tell whether their presence is related to drug use.
Miroux said no investigation is pending into the syringes found along U.S. 6. Spring Valley police are investigating an unrelated incident in January in which obviously used needles were found at a different location in Spring Valley. Those needles have been sent to the Illinois State Police crime lab for analysis.
"We're doing everything possible to make arrests when it comes to people using illicit drugs," Miroux said. "At this point, we've got one case down there (at the crime lab) and we're waiting to see what the results of that are before we send another one down there."
Felonies in LaSalle County are on pace for the lowest total since 2004, when the heroin epidemic first struck. Prosecutors attribute the low total to two factors: First, inclement winter weather that suppressed crime, and second, the transition period at the end of the Illinois State Police Zone 3/LaSalle Task Force and the start of the new Tri-County Drug Enforcement Narcotics Team beginning in March.
Chief deputy assistant LaSalle County State's Attorney Brian Vescogni said he anticipates that the new task force will find no shortage of heroin cases to keep them busy for the rest of the year - and bring LaSalle County's felony total back to recent, record totals.
"I don't think it (heroin usage) has gone down at all," Vescogni said.
In Bureau County, State's Attorney Pat Herrmann said since Jan. 1, his office has only received heroin charges for four individuals, though he believes other crimes were heroin-related.
Bureau County generally has fewer felonies per year than LaSalle County, but Herrmann siad he could not compare this year's crime rate to a "Typical" year for the county.
"There is no typical when it comes to heroin use," Herrmann said. Arrests seem to come in cycles. "It hasn't ended. I would love to tell the people of Bureau County the heroin problem is done with, but that's not the case."
Miroux allowed the needles might be related to the arrests Barron cited, and said he would keep an eye on the area.
"The problem in Webster Park has been resolved and I think people in that area are satisfied with the outcome," Miroux said, With the syringes cleaned up and the alleged Webster Park dealers off the street, Miroux said he would change his own jobbing route to keep an eye on the area and see if the problem returns.