Troubled youth ignored in life, pursued in death

MICHAEL OLESKER

May 30, 1991|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Eighteen days after Chester Wiczulis was buried in the ground, two city sheriffs showed up at his parents' East Baltimore house and tried to arrest him.

His father, Edmund Wiczulis, made notes about the confrontation: "Two Rambo-type men, dressed as commandos, black outfits, black bandannas, beat on my door very, very loud."

"We're from the sheriff's office," one of them said. "We have a juvenile warrant for your son."

"My son is gone," Edmund Wiczulis said. "Dead and buried."

The two deputy sheriffs turned and went away.

"No apology, no nothing," Edmund Wiczulis says. "Didn't say a word. They're finally trying to do something when it's too late to do something."

Leave it to the authorities. They were always running late with Chester Wiczulis, whose life seemed a metaphor for problems in the juvenile justice system and whose death still seems not to have been recognized by police, by the Sheriff's Department, by the state's attorney's office or by the Department of Juvenile Services.

Alive, Chester Wiczulis was known around East Baltimore as Chester the Cheetah, a 17-year-old kid who could jump off a roof and land on his feet and run with the best of them until the glue-sniffing and the paint-sniffing started to get the best of him.

Dead, he's still being pursued by agencies that never responded adequately while he was alive.

"My son," Edmund Wiczulis says now, "needed help, and we tried to get him help from juvenile agencies, and we couldn't get him help."

He's holding a photograph in his hands, taken Dec. 29, 1984. It's a picture of Chester doing cartwheels in Patterson Park before everything in his life started going so badly.

Edmund Wiczulis saw it happening and begged his son to quit. The boy wouldn't listen. So he took him into the country, trying to get him away from kids who shared Chester's habits.

When they came back, Chester went right back to his old ways. The father called Chester's school principal. Bad news: Chester had no criminal record. He'd have to be arrested before juvenile authorities would step in, and it didn't matter how many phone calls or how much imploring his father did.

Then it began to happen: stealing, joy-riding in a stolen car, and then the cops catching Chester in the act of glue-sniffing.

Meanwhile, Edmund Wiczulis kept calling everybody for help: police, juvenile masters, social workers. He wanted his son put away and treated, wanted something to protect Chester from himself.

The cops kept arresting Chester, but the courts kept giving him probation. The system has too many serious offenders to spend much time on the kids like Chester. And then in March everything stopped.

Chester tied something around his neck and jumped from a landing and killed himself. A week later, a juvenile case manager wrote the Wiczulis family to express regrets. He'd been given Chester's case three months earlier, but with backlogs and overloaded schedules, he'd never gotten to see Chester.

So the system worked too weakly and too late -- both for Chester and for his family. First came the visit from deputy sheriffs, 18 days after his burial.

The next day, Edmund Wiczulis complained to a Juvenile Court master, who assured him he would not be bothered by authorities again.

But, one week ago, the system came after Chester again.

In the mail came a notice for Chester to appear before a juvenile services community arbitrator last Thursday.

The notice said, "Offense: Inhaling Toxic Substance, Jan. 18, 1991."

It arrived four months after the alleged offense -- and nearly three months after Chester's death.

The notice was signed by John Gadsby, director of Juvenile Services' Community Arbitration Program, who said his office acted because it had just received notification from city police. The police say they're running a little behind in their work, owing to heavy caseloads.

"We regret any pain we might have caused the family," Gadsby said. "But it's an indication of how heavy the juvenile problem is."

Lt. Kenneth Sparks of the city Sheriff's Department, noting his deputies' own attempt to arrest Chester Wiczulis 18 days after his funeral, said:

"These things happen. There are many thousands of warrants on file, and there's no way to check to see if these people are deceased. We just do what the state's attorney's office tells us to do."

If he steps back a little, Edmund Wiczulis can appreciate what authorities are saying. His boy was strictly a minor problem in a system where kids are running amok.

But the ironies keep getting to him. Alive, the system had no time for Chester. Dead, they keep pursuing him.

"I begged these people for help," Edmund Wiczulis says now. "I wanted to save my boy's life and I knew this would happen to him but I couldn't get any help."

He looks at the photo of Chester doing cartwheels in Patterson Park once more.

"I see this," he says, "and I think about having him back. I'd love him to death. I cherished him. He wasn't a bad kid. He just needed help and couldn't get it. He needed to be away from this gang of kids, and we couldn't get him away."

He's away now. Having missed their chance to help him during his life, perhaps juvenile officials could now leave Chester alone in death.

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