When the son of a Chicago firefighter was found dead earlier this summer near his burning van, detectives were able to use multiple video cameras to track the movements of his boss — and accused killer — to the scene of the fatal stabbing, prosecutors said.
Just before 25-year-old Tyler Bernicky was found on the ground in a blood-soaked shirt after suffering multiple stab wounds, his boss at a car wash, 34-year-old Ronald Franklin was allegedly captured by a security camera purchasing a roll of toilet paper, lighter fluid and a lighter at a nearby gas station.
Detectives also tracked Franklin leaving the gas station and turning into the alley around 6 a.m. June 15 in the 7800 block of South Ingleside, where Bernicky’s car was later found burning, prosecutors said.
That evidence helped lead to Franklin’s arrest, authorities said. On Friday, Franklin dressed in a pull-over gray jacket and blue jeans, was denied bail when he appeared before Judge Charles Beach II at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on charges of first-degree murder and arson.
Prosecutors suggested that the motive for Bernicky’s killing could have been $2,200 Bernicky allegedly pocketed after he sold hydraulic car lifts at FX Auto Spa, where both men worked, but didn’t hand over the money to Franklin.
Prosecutors said the owner of FX Auto Spa, at 1633 N. Cicero Ave., was in the process of ending his ownership in the business and that Franklin was trying to finance a takeover of the businesses to continue running it.
Bernicky was in the shop two days before his murder when the lifts were sold and removed, but kept the money, prosecutors said.
Later that day, when Franklin learned Bernicky had sold the lifts, he became angry, texting and calling Bernicky repeatedly, prosecutors said, adding that witnesses allegedly saw Franklin crying because he was so upset.
When Bernicky’s body was found June 15, with stab wounds to his chest and calf and slashes on his arms, investigators discovered approximately $1,800 in his pockets, prosecutors said. A trail of blood could be seen between his body and a burning maroon Dodge van that Bernicky was last seen sleeping inside about 5 a.m. that day, prosecutors said.
About 5:40 a.m., Franklin was seen pulling into the Marathon gas station at 7850 S. King Drive in a gray Grand Marquis sedan that is registered to him, prosecutors said. Inside the store, he purchased the toilet paper and lighter fluid and left in his car minutes later. Prosecutors said Franklin also received a phone call about that time, which placed his cellphone in the vicinity of the station.
Detectives use police POD cameras to track the car from the gas station until it turned into the east alley of the 7800 block of South Ingleside, drove toward the van Bernicky was seen sleeping inside and stopped in the area where the van was parked, prosecutors said.
Franklin made another call about that time that showed he was in the area of 79th Street and Cottage Grove, near the scene of the murder, prosecutors said. He then made another call near his girlfriend’s house about 6:39 a.m. in West Town.
Finally, prosecutors said, surveillance footage showed Franklin arrive at the car wash where he worked at 8 a.m. wearing a new set of clothes and cell records showed he searched the internet for “79th stabbing” several times via his cellphone that day.
Prosecutors said Franklin has a lengthy criminal background, including multiple convictions for drug possession, in addition to criminal trespass to a vehicle and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon.
Franklin’s private defense attorney, Pablo DeCastro, said Franklin has two children and another on the way. He noted that Franklin had been working as a partner at the car wash for about a decade and that all of his convictions were from 2012 or earlier.
DeCastro also disputed the relevance of Franklin’s purchase of lighter fluid just before Bernicky was found dead, saying that it was the day before Father’s Day, a popular day for barbecues, and many people were purchasing lighter fluid.
DeCastro and family members declined to discuss the case further after the hearing.
Franklin was taken into custody Wednesday near his girlfriend’s home, according to his arrest report.
Judge Beach, who noted his concern about Franklin’s criminal background and “multiple trips” to state prisons, ordered Franklin held without bail and set his next court date for Oct. 1.
Bernicky was the son of Chicago Fire Department Lt. David Bernicky, who is stationed at a fire house near O’Hare Airport.
David Bernicky said Friday that he and his wife “felt relief” after they learned that charges had been filed in their son’s murder.
“I think I would say it was out of his character,” David Bernicky said of his son possibly taking the money from the sale of the lifts. “But I don’t know. I don’t know. People do strange things for money.”
Bernicky said his son was found dead outside his grandmother’s home, who is deceased but family members still live at the home.
“He used to go there. I think he spent the night there. He was the type, if he had been out, drinking, out with friends, he wouldn’t drive,” he speculated.
Bernicky thanked community activist Andrew Holmes, the Chicago Police Department and homicide detectives for their work on the case, as well as his fellow firefighters for the support they had given his family.
“I don’t know what this would be like without the support I’ve had,” he said.