Hladik's family questions report's validity

Hinsdale President Tom Cauley said last week he wanted to make public a 36-page report completed more than a year ago on the investigation into the death of Nicole Hladik, a 25-year-old village firefighter/paramedic candidate who took her own life in July of 2020.

But Hladik’s family and friends made clear at the Jan. 18 village board meeting they don’t accept the legitimacy of the village-led investigation, which Cauley said found that “nothing inappropriate happened” against Hladik, the sole female firefighter on the force.

During the meeting’s public comment portion, Hladik’s uncle and Cicero firefighter Brian Kulaga said he did not trust the accounts of fire department personnel interviewed as part of the investigation.

“I personally know multiple members of your fire department, and they lied to you. Your report is horribly, horribly flawed,” Kulaga said.

Last June, Hladik’s widower, Daniel Zaborowski, filed a discrimination lawsuit against the village and Lt. Tom McCarthy on behalf of her estate.

Cauley said he would release the report as soon as the family’s legal counsel signs off, and he implored Hladik’s loved ones to read it before casting judgment,

“There’s confidential information in there, private information concerning Nicole,” Cauley said. “We’d like to have the family’s attorney look at that (report) and see whether he agrees it should be made public.

“While I thought this investigation was over a year and a half ago, we’d be happy to reopen it if there are other things that people think we did not address,” he added.

Hladik became the Hinsdale Fire Department’s only female when she was hired Aug. 2, 2019. She was just weeks short of the end of her 12-month probationary period when she died by suicide.

One element the investigation did not include was interviews of family members, who did not make themselves available, or the suicide note, which is in the possession of Downers Grove Police.

“They refused to give us the suicide note based on the family’s privacy concerns,” Cauley said.

Hladik’s mother, Sharon Zaba, said she did not assist with the investigation out of lack of trust in Hinsdale’s motives.

“I did not feel safe in sharing any information with somebody that I didn’t know,” Zaba said. “Please don’t blame the family for not cooperating with Hinsdale.”

The lawsuit accuses McCarthy, as commander of Hladik’s division, of publicly ridiculing her to get her to quit, and alleges that other village staff were aware of the harassment.

Hladik’s final words, according to the filing, included “I cannot take one more single day.”

Zaba expressed disbelief that the village was unaware of the suicide note’s message since Hinsdale firefighters conveyed it to her.

“You clearly are not getting all the information,” she said.

“That’s news to me,” Cauley responded.

He explained that the day after Hladik’s death he handpicked a former federal prosecutor to conduct the probe, believing that person would be able to identify false or colluding testimony. He later identified Eric Pruitt as the investigator to The Hinsdalean.

“I made clear to that person I want a thorough investigation,” Cauley remarked, saying the investigation cost more than $100,000. “I am not trying to cover something up.

“If you think there’s something else the village should do, we’d be happy to do that,” he reiterated. “We intend to leave no stone unturned on this.”

On Tuesday, village manager Kathleen Gargano told The Hinsdalean she expected the document to be released to Zaborowski’s attorney this week.

“It will then be up to Nicole’s husband and/or his attorney to determine whether this report will be made public,” Gargano stated.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean