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Retired Priest Paul Burak, 73, Charged In Fatal Hit And Run Crash In Orland Park

CHICAGO (CBS)-- Retired priest Paul Burak insisted on driving himself home after a Christmas party Wednesday night, even after others asked to help him, just moments before he drunkenly ran over two teachers from his parish school in Orland Park, killing one of them, police and prosecutors said.

Burak, 73, was arrested Friday, and was charged with aggravated DUI and leaving the scene of a fatal accident. He walked out of Cook County Jail on Saturday night after posting bail.

During his bond hearing Saturday afternoon, Cook County prosecutors said St. Michael School teachers Rone Leja and Elizabeth Kosteck were leaving the parish Christmas party at Square Celt Ale House & Grill at Orland Square Mall around 8 p.m. on Wednesday. A few minutes later, Burak left the same party after telling others in attendance he was okay to drive.

Surveillance video shows Burak backing up and hitting a car parked next to his, then driving down a service road. Prosecutors said, at some point, Burak thought he'd hit a curb when he heard a noise.

"He remembers that he heard a noise, like someone's chassis out of the car, as if you went over a curb and hit the curb with the bottom of your car. He never thought it was a person. He said he did stop after he felt he hit something. He said he then gunned the car," Cook County Assistant State's Attorney James Murphy said.

The noise he heard was the impact of his 2016 Buick Regal hitting Leja and Kosteck as they were walking to their cars. Leja was killed, and Kosteck was seriously injured, but has since been released from the hospital.

Rone Leja Elizabeth Kosteck
St. Michael School teachers Rone Leja (left) and Elizabeth Kosteck (right) were struck by a hit-and-run driver in the parking lot of the Orland Square Mall on Dec. 4, 2019. Leja was killed and Kosteck was seriously injured. (Source: St. Michael School)

Prosecutors said Burak continued to drive home after hitting the two teachers.

Another witness reported seeing Burak hit the victims and followed him in a car, according to prosecutors. The witness approached Burak's car, but Burak drove away.

Burak then drove by a Panda Express and hit a curb. Prosecutors said after Burak stopped in the Panda Express parking lot, the witness confronted Burak, took a picture of his license plate, and told him to "go back over" to the victims.

Burak then drove back to the scene of the crash, but he didn't get out of his car, and didn't tell police he was responsible for the crash, according to prosecutors.

Another priest saw Burak in his car at the scene, and went to talk to him. After Burak hit another car while trying to make a three-point turn, the other priest drove Burak home in Burak's car while another couple who had been at the party followed them.

Prosecutors said the other priest had to look up Burak's address on his insurance card, because Burak said he didn't remember where he lived.

The next day, police recognized Burak's car in surveillance video. After checking his plates, they searched his garage, and noticed his license plate holder had been damaged, and matched pieces of a plate holder found at the scene.

Burak told police he takes medication for Parkinson's disease and glaucoma, and blacked out after having a glass of wine and a Manhattan at the party, according to prosecutors.

Defense attorneys said Burak was a Catholic priest for 49 years before he retired last year, and had received a lifetime of service award in 2014. He has no prior criminal record.

"We extend our sincerest condolences to the victims and those close to them. This is a tragedy that has a lot of layers of grief, and we acknowledge that, and we wish everyone peace that's been affected by this," defense attorney Cambry McNabb said.

Burak retired last year, but remained involved with the church, continuing to say mass. According to church bulletins posted online, he said mass last weekend, and was scheduled to do so again on Sunday.

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