WEST PULLMAN — A homeowner described by neighbors as "a pillar of the community" fatally stabbed a garage burglar who came at with him a hammer early Thursday, police said.
Mark Hayes, 44, awoke about 3:15 a.m. when his garage alarm went off in the first block of West Brayton Street, neighbors and police said.
Hayes, a former Marine who works for a cable company, stepped outside to check it out, according to his father, Melvin Hayes. The garage's back service door was locked, and the main overhead door was pulled closed.
When Mark Hayes entered the garage, he heard a man inside, his father said.
"The man said, 'Get the gun,'" Melvin Hayes said. "Mark didn't know: Is it one person, or is it two or more?"
The burglar had moved a generator and was stuffing a backpack with tools, Melvin Hayes said. The man began to attack Mark Hayes with a hammer, and Hayes fought back with a fillet knife that was lying nearby. Hayes often fished with his stepson and was planning a fish fry, his dad said.
During an altercation that followed, Mark Hayes fatally wounded the intruder, who then ran half a block down South State Street and hopped in a car with an alleged accomplice, family and neighbors said.
The burglar, identified by the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office as Harold Cornell, 52, of the 17700 block of S. State St., was dropped off at Roseland Community Hospital, where he was pronounced dead early Thursday, according to authorities. Cornell died of multiple stab and incised wounds, an autopsy determined.
Mark Hayes was treated for "scrapes and bruises," his father said.
On Thursday morning, a trail of blood could still be seen leading from Hayes' home to the 12600 block of South State Street, where the getaway car allegedly sat.
Mark Hayes spent most of Thursday with the Police Department, his father said.
"Mark is dealing with a difficult situation," Melvin Hayes said. "It could've ended a different way, and I don't think, at this point, he's had a chance to reflect on what happened."
Neighbors on Thursday said garage burglaries have been a problem for nearly two years in the otherwise quiet neighborhood. Mark Hayes' property may have been targeted because he owned a corner lot, at least one person speculated.
"His garage faces the street," one woman said. "It's easy access."
Neighbors said Hayes was well-liked, family-oriented and "a pillar of the community." His kids mowed neighbors' lawns, and Hayes was always willing to lend a hand.
While residents expressed shock at Thursday's events, they said they understood Hayes' actions.
"You walk in on a situation — you corner a cat — people are going to fight back," said Michael Austin, 63, a longtime neighbor. "It's unfortunate that it ended this tragically, but it is what it is."
Residents had taken small steps to deter "riffraffs" from the area, said block club president Patty Young, 57. During the summer, Young, Hayes and several other neighbors arrange their sprinklers so that no one can loiter on street corners without being sprayed.
"They know these crazy people are going to put the hose on," Young said with a laugh.
Still, robberies have been persistent. Young said her own garage was broken into just hours before Hayes' altercation. It was the third time she's come home to an open garage.
"I didn't have anything in there" this time, she said. "They already stole everything I had."
Devon Cross, 35, who lives across the street, said he still feels safe.
"It's not a bad neighborhood at all. It's the people coming into the neighborhood," Cross said. "If you see houses kept up well outside, why wouldn't there be nice stuff inside too?"