Victims in Deadly Orland Park Hit-and-Run Were Teachers Leaving Staff Christmas Party

The two women struck by a car in an Orland Park parking lot Wednesday night, leaving one dead and the other injured, were teachers leaving their staff Christmas party at the time they were hit, the school’s principal said.

At around 8 p.m., the two women were walking out of the Square Celt Restaurant, located at 39 Orland Square Drive at the Orland Park Mall, when they were hit by a vehicle that fled the scene, according to a statement from Orland Park police.

The women were taken to Silver Cross Hospital where one of the victims, a 61-year-old woman, was pronounced dead, authorities said. The other victim, a 54-year-old woman, was hospitalized in serious condition, according to police.

Principal Paul Smith, of St. Michael School in Orland Park, said early Thursday that the women were teachers at the school, leaving the staff holiday party when they were struck. He identified the teacher killed as Ms. Rone Leja, a technology instructor who had been at the school for about a year-and-a-half.

School officials said Thursday that the teacher who was injured in the hit-and-run had been released from the hospital and was recovering at home.

“It’s a very hard hit for us,” Smith told reporters, adding that both teachers were “beloved” in the community. “Ms. Leja was very important, worked closely with the students and their technology needs and our teachers as well.”

Smith said St. Michael School would be in session Thursday to allow the community to grieve together, holding a special prayer service.

“It’s hit our entire parish very hard, so we wanted to have school today to gather as a family, share our thoughts and pray together,” Smith said.

Smith said the two teachers left together and that he was unclear on how much time had passed before an employee of the restaurant found them outside and called paramedics.

“I think it’s hard for even the adults to understand why this happened and why this would happen to someone who’s so loving and so caring and dedicated their life to education,” Smith said, when asked how the school would explain the incident to its young students.

“I think it’s something we as a parish need to work together and to resolve and to work through. Our parish priest will be wonderful in helping us through that,” he added.

A statement from the Archdiocese of Chicago said the school would have a 9 a.m. start to allow faculty to gather privately to grieve their “dear friend and colleague” before school opens. 

Police said they are searching for the vehicle involved in the incident, but did not release any information on the car or driver.

“If you are driver of that vehicle, we WILL find you,” Orland Park police posted on Facebook. “You can turn yourself in at the Orland Park Police Department or call us and we will provide the transportation.”

Anyone with information on the incident was asked to contact police at 708-349-4111 or by emailing crimetips@orlandpark.org.