NILES, Ill. — A Niles police officer is fighting for his life 1,100 miles from home.
Joseph Lazo was on a motorcycle trip with a group that raises money for fallen and injured officers last weekend in Texas when an alleged drunk driver drove into the group.
Lazo’s sister, Kelly Vanderbilt spoke exclusively to WGN News Tuesday. She said her older brother has always been there for her, which makes it so much more difficult that she can’t be there for him.
“Imagine waking up in a hospital room mangled and having no one there,” she said. “My brother’s in a hospital in Texas. We can’t get to him. We would be on a plane right now, we would be there but…”
But the coronavirus pandemic is preventing visitors, so 39-year-old Lazo is being treated far from home and is in critical condition after a 12-hour surgery to reconstruct his leg.
“It’s heartbreaking. It kills me,” Vanderbilt said. “I have anxiety constantly thinking about my brother.”
Lazo was with the Thin Blue Line Law Enforcment Motorcycle Club Saturday in Texas. He was one of nine people injured when a suspected drunk driver plowed into his motorcycle group. Three men were killed. Among them was Joseph Paglia, a Niles officer and the president of the group’s Chicago chapter.
“I think by now, he probably knows (about the deaths),” Vanderbilt said. “That’s the worst part, too. Officer Paglia, he’s been a part of all of our lives.”
The Thin Blue Line Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club raises money for fallen and injured police officers and their families. The group was holding its annual meeting and a number of them had gone for a scenic motorcycle ride in Kerrville, near San Antonio. Texas authorities said suspected drunk driver Ivan Robles Navejas crossed over the center line and struck the group.
“It’s just the ultimate betrayal,” Vanderbilt said. “They put their lives on the line and he goes to work and we expect to say, ‘I love you and be careful.’ But you’re off on a ride with your brothers, doing something in your free time, doing something you love to do, and your life is completely taken away from you.”
Along with Paglia, Michael White, and retired army veteran and a Niles officer, and Jerry Harbour, a retired army Lt. Colonel from Houston, were also killed.
“My brother’s going to come home to a new reality,” Vanderbilt said. “He’s 39. So if he can’t be a police officer anymore, how do we help him deal with that?”
Lazo grew up on the northwest side in Edgebrook and attended Loyola Academy and Northeastern Illinois. He got engaged to his girlfriend in February at the ice castles in Lake Geneva.
He is the son of a Chicago police officer who followed in his father’s footsteps. He’s now separated from his siblings and his brothers in blue.
“He’s alone. He lost three of his brothers. We don’t know what his future’s going to look like either,” Vanderbilt said.
The family is raising money through a GoFundMe campaign to help with the costs to get Lazo home, medical care and for the challenges.