Over the two years since the second-youngest brother was hit and killed by a drug-impaired driver in Tinley Park, the Rangel clan crowded into a Bridgeview courtroom every time the driver had a hearing.
Only now that his killer is going to prison on a seven-year sentence, now that their job crying for justice is finished, the surviving 13 siblings have to cope with the void left by their brother’s death.
He’s still gone.
In a sprawling family that rents a hall for Thanksgiving dinner so all 100 can eat together, Philip Rangel stood out.
And the family’s funnyman, known among his friends and admirers as “Willy,” the bon vivant, the storyteller, the uncle who doled out nicknames, who spoke to each small child crouched down, is terribly missed.
He was the first of the 14 to die. He was 60.
“It hurts to talk about him in the past tense,” sister Andi Borucke said, pulling out photo albums at her Orland Park home, drinking coffee with two of her sisters.
“Our chain is broken,” said Lucy Krouse, the second-born.
The driver admitted to a Cook County judge on Wednesday that he, with the chemical freon in his system, struck Rangel and killed him on Nov. 4, 2009.
Joseph Brynda, who won’t be old enough to legally buy a beer until next month, pleaded guilty to aggravated DUI, and to burglary for a separate incident in Oak Lawn in November 2010.
Rangel was walking to the 80th Avenue Metra station after work at his job in Tinley Park as an ambulance dispatcher when Brynda hit him.
Tests showed that in addition to freon he also had traces of marijuana in his body when he hit Rangel on 183rd Street. Brynda was steering with his knees – authorities claim because his hands were texting – a detail his attorney denies.
Defense attorney Patrick Campanelli calls the crash an accident.
“When he saw a person standing in front of him, he panicked,” hitting the gas instead of the brake, he said.
Brynda’s younger sister, the one who looked up to him when their parents divorced, is devastated, Campanelli said.
So is Brynda, who didn’t say anything at the hearing.
“I wouldn’t let him,” the attorney said. “He asked me to say sorry.”
Fourteen Rangel children grew up in a Blue Island home, eight girls and six boys. Willy was second to last. Their childhood home was on Vermont Avenue, (“where everybody grew up,” sister Char Rangel says) near the old Clark Oil refinery.
Their parents, Benjamin and Cecilia, had emigrated from Mexico as children themselves, met in the States and married. Benjamin fixed the dormered attic to fit more beds upstairs, like a ward, the sisters remember.
Some of the children moved away after they went to school or got married or had children of their own. Willy stayed in Blue Island.
He ran for mayor once as a joke, campaigning with his long-haired friends. He took the sisters to movies, out to hear live music. He was the tallest in the family at six feet.
As the nieces and nephews were born, “Uncle Wee” doled out nicknames, clever things like calling Noah “Arkie.”
“He had such a unique way of telling a story,” Krouse said, “a way with words.”
Then he lived with their Alzheimer’s-stricken mother for her last eight years, caring for her. Then their father got sick, so Willy took care of him too for five more years before he too died.
With both his mom and dad gone, the family worried about Willy, who never married and stopped working some of the time he was caretaker. He’d be alone. He’d lost his purpose.
Char Rangel, the sister Willy lived with for four years – after asking permission to stay four weeks Â– tries to justify his death like this:
“Mom doesn’t want us to worry about him anymore.”
The first Christmas after Willy died, his dear friend asked the relatives to each make an ornament showing something they loved about him for a special tree decorated in Willy’s favorite blue lights.
The siblings rotate the tree among themselves every year.
They marked the anniversary of Willie’s death before Thanksgiving. His birthday is coming Dec. 14.
Now a sister will bring Willy’s favorite blue bottle of wine to the Christmas Eve celebration at Borucke’s home.
That way they can toast their missing brother.