A Cook County judge denied bail for a man accused of beating and robbing a 94-year-old World War II veteran inside her Southwest Side home, saying “the citizens of Chicago are not safe” with him on the street.
The attack is one of three robberies that Olajuwon Claiborne, a 26-year-old construction worker, is accused of committing. His victims in the two other robberies, two weeks apart in July, were a 65-year-old woman and a 32-year-old woman, according to prosecutors.
In the most recent case, Cook County Judge James Brown shook his head as he heard how Claiborne allegedly followed Josephine Regnier into her Garfield Ridge home around 11:50 a.m. and then punched her.
Regnier had been waiting outside for her daughter to take her to a dentist appointment but went back inside her home because she was cold.
“If ever there were a case — with the exception of first-degree murder — that demanded no bond, it is this case,” Brown told Claiborne at his first court appearance Sunday. “The citizens of Chicago are not safe if Mr. Claiborne is allowed to walk the streets of Chicago.”
Claiborne, dressed in blue sweatpants and a black hoodie, said nothing during the proceeding. He is charged with six counts related to the three robberies, including home invasion causing great bodily harm and aggravated battery of a victim over 60 years old.
Regnier suffered broken ribs, a head injury and a black eye, according to her family. She was released from the hospital on Saturday, but she continues to experience debilitating pain, screaming when she lies down, said her daughter, Judy Dusk.
Regnier served in the Navy for four years starting in 1945 in New York, where she would escort sailors to and from the ships for their deployments, Dusk said. Sometimes, Regnier would see men return from duty missing their limbs.
The attack was uncalled for, said Dusk, 55, who lives with her mom.
“He didn’t have to (beat her),” Dusk said. “He could have just took her purse. She’s in so much pain right now. He preys on the elderly.”
After taking off with Regnier’s purse, which only contained $50, Claiborne jumped into a black SUV that was reported stolen earlier and drove a block before crashing into a light post behind a pizza shop, authorities said.
Three cameras behind Villa Rosa Pizza, where Dusk also works as a delivery driver on the weekends, captured images of Claiborne fleeing on foot, Regnier’s purse in hand, authorities said.
Disturbed by what happened, the owners of Villa Rosa, brothers Jimmy and Tommy Pieprzyca, offered a $5,000 reward for anyone who could provide information leading to the arrest of the man seen in their surveillance video.
Jimmy Pieprzyca, 42, said he wanted to do something to help regardless of who the victim was, but that the crime felt more personal after he learned it was his driver’s mother.
“All of our workers are like family to me,” he said Sunday. “I spend more time in this neighborhood than the neighborhood I live in. We want to keep it as safe as possible.”
After posting the reward on Facebook, the restaurant was soon flooded with tips but nothing panned out until someone dialed in claiming that Claiborne contacted him for help fleeing the state.
The man, who said he was interested in the money because Christmas was approaching, told the brothers and the police he would participate in a sting to catch Claiborne, Jimmy Pieprzyca said. With the man’s help, the Chicago police fugitive task force arrested Claiborne on Friday in the Grand Crossing neighborhood, where he lives in the 1500 block of East 69th Place, court records show.
Once in custody, Claiborne confessed on video to participating in the three robberies, a prosecutor said. He used the same car in the first two robberies. Police were able to trace the car to Claiborne after the victims provided the license plate number.
Claiborne has four felony convictions, prosecutors said. In 2009, Claiborne was convicted of robbery and sentenced to probation. He committed two armed robberies while on supervision and was resentenced to six years in prison, the prosecutor said. He also served two years in prison starting in 2014 on a theft conviction.
Dusk said she credits the Chicago police and the money offered by her employer for the arrest. An online fundraiser for Regnier raised more than $5,000.
Chicago Tribune’s Elvia Malagon contributed.
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