Was 'tragic accident' gang-related?

April 28, 2007

A car crash that killed a Midlothian teenager may have been gang-related.

Police, Bremen Community High School District 228 administrators and the family of 18-year-old Stephen Hayes urged calm Friday as rumors the fiery crash was the result of a feud between Latin Kings and Satan Disciples reached fever pitch.

Hayes was killed Wednesday when the Pontiac Firebird he was riding in caught fire after it hit a Ford Econoline van on 147th Street near Homan Avenue.

Two other young men in the Firebird managed to climb out of the wreck before it caught fire, but despite the efforts of a firefighter to rescue him, Hayes was trapped and could not escape before the car burst into flames.

Midlothian Police Chief Vince Schavone on Friday characterized the crash as "a tragic accident."

But Hayes' family says Sean Walsh -- Hayes' cousin and a rear seat passenger in the Firebird -- paints a different picture.

Walsh, who was injured in the crash and fled the state Friday, said passengers in the Firebird had flashed Satan Disciples gang signs at the occupants of the Ford van as they passed on 147th Street, according to Hayes' grandmother Marge Walsh.

Sean Walsh told his family the van, which was headed west, turned around and followed the eastbound Firebird, then pulled alongside, Hayes' grandmother said.

"He said they were Latin Kings and that they were throwing pop cans and other stuff through the window at the Firebird," Marge Walsh added.

According to Walsh, the van then "cut off" the Firebird, forcing it into a tree, Hayes aunt, Anna Simpson, said.

Satan Disciples from Midlothian have been engaged in a gang war with Latin Kings from Posen for some time, Marge Walsh said, and the Disciples were upset the Kings had come onto their turf.

Bremen High School -- where Hayes was a student and Walsh is enrolled as a junior -- beefed up security Friday after "dozens" of students and parents contacted administrators with concerns about reprisals.

After-school sports and events were canceled, and letters detailing staff concerns were sent to parents, according to a school district news release.

Deputy Supt. Bill Kendall said administrators had heard "wildly conflicting rumors" and that "there is nothing to substantiate any of them," but said the school was taking precautions to prevent gang fights.

Many parents chose to keep their children at home Friday, he said.

"The police have told us that they have yet to determine whether a crime has taken place," he said.

Simpson said "the last thing that the family wants now is reprisals or further bloodshed -- we would like to bury Stephen, forgive, and put this behind us."

Schavone, who has downplayed Latin King graffiti at Bremen High School as "wannabe kids playing" in the past, said reprisals were "a concern."

Still, besides graffiti, there were no other signs of gang activity in Midlothian, he said, adding, "Making gang signs isn't a crime."

Hayes' family was "understandably emotional," he said, "but we won't let emotion enter our investigation of the facts."

"This is a young man who lost his life in a foolish moment -- it's a terrible thing."

Hayes, who went by the nickname "Fat Cobra," had a hard life and lost his mother to cancer at 15, his family said.

He was an aspiring rapper and, though he knew a lot of Satan Disciples, was a "wannabe" himself, Simpson said.

"He was a joker," said his grandmother, who took him in when his mother died.

"Girls really liked him, and it's easy to see why."