CREST HILL – When people ask Crest Hill resident Jim Egizio about the scar on his knee, he doesn't hesitate from telling them about the day the 1990 Plainfield tornado changed his life.
The scar is from surgery to repair the multiple fractures in his left leg and thigh, where his femur pierced through his skin.
He found himself in that state Tuesday, Aug. 28, 1990, when he, then a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Holy Family School in Shorewood, woke up lying near his 4-year-old sister Leslie in the cornfields 500 feet from his family's home at the Crest Hill Lakes apartment complex.
"She was still living," Egizio said. "I couldn't get to her but I tried hobbling over."
Moments before, Egizio remembers watching his older brother, 14-year-old Thomas, enter the family's home when the tornado struck the house.
"Next thing I know I'm in the cornfields," he said. "I was just yelling for help."
Both of Egizio's siblings died, as did their mother Vicki, a 38-year-old nurse.
While the 1990 tornado is often synonymous as the single most-defining event for Plainfield, Crest Hill and Joliet also saw heavy damage.
Crest Hill Lakes
The Egizio family lost more members to the tornado than any other. They were three of eight people who were immediately killed at the Crest Hill Lakes apartment complex.
Don Randich, who at the time was Crest Hill's mayor and a Lockport Township firefighter, was one of the first emergency personnel on the scene at Crest Hill Lakes.
"Two of us got on the engine and we went to the scene," Randich said, noting that damage also was apparent at nearby Cedarwood Drive, where two died. "All I said, reporting to dispatch, 'We're on the scene. We've got two devastations.'"
Randich remembers the Egizios, with emergency responders first attending to Leslie, then Thomas, and their mother last.
"All three passed away, but that was reality," Randich said.
During the immediate aftermath of the tornado, Randich said he was just focused on helping with relief efforts.
"In all honesty my being mayor came secondly to being a firefighter," he said. "Somehow you get the energy. The next day I sat down with a knife and a fork was Saturday."
But in the weeks and months after the tornado, Randich said his main goal as a public official was to make sure his people were taken care of. At one point, when the Illinois attorney general was looking for a local office while aiding tornado victims, Randich offered his mayoral quarters because he was on the ground helping and coordinating cleanup.
Randich said the emergency response and aid was still good in Crest Hill and Joliet, despite the cities not attracting as much attention as Plainfield.
On Cedarwood Drive, elderly couple Frank and Alida Riffel were killed as they were driving their two grandchildren back from a day of swimming. Both grandchildren survived.
The tornado weakened in Joliet, but still killed three people: 30-year-old Alice Jean Johnson, 41-year-old Thomas Thayer and Phoumy Senephimmachac, 36.
The Bridalwreath neighborhood didn't suffer any loss of life, but it did see much loss of property.
Egizio was raised by his father after the tornado. He often wonders what life would have been like growing up with his mother, brother and sister, but he said he has made peace with what happened, and accepts it.
Egizio has since graduated from college, started a family with a wife and two boys, and is an industrial arts teacher at Romeoville High School. He said he relates to victims of other tornadoes who have lost loved ones. He stressed that every life counts.
"People can say I lost my whole family in the tornado," Egizio said. "But you could say a man [with no children] who lost his wife also lost his whole family. Is my loss any greater than his?"