UNION GROVE — Elizabeth Rae Olszewski was a “rising star.” By the time she was 32, not even eight years into her career as an attorney, she had already secured several multimillion-dollar settlements for clients.
Her boss, Patrick A. Salvi, founder, chairman and managing equity partner of the Chicago-based law firm Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C., wanted Olszewski to move to Chicago and start practicing there, rather than working out of the firm’s Waukegan, Ill., office.
Olszewski didn’t want to do that. She was living in Mount Pleasant, near her family and where she grew up in Union Grove, and that’s where she wanted to stay. She loved her niece and nephew and family.
On Sunday, she was with her family when she died. She was 32.
Salvi said that Olszewski had been in an SUV with her family, returning home from a performance of “The Lion King” in Milwaukee when she was killed.
The SUV was westbound on Highway 20, near 63rd Drive in Yorkville, when an eastbound SUV crossed the centerline and crashed head-on with the vehicle Olszewski and her family were in, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said.
Nine people were reported injured, and one is still in critical condition, Lt. James Evans of the Racine County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday morning.
“At this hour, some of them are fighting for their lives,” Schmaling said Monday evening.
Olszewski was the lone fatality as of Tuesday morning.
Intoxicants are not suspected as a factor, according to the Sheriff’s Office’s preliminary investigation.
“As far as the weather and road conditions,” Schmaling said, “we had extreme weather. We had a lot of snow, a lot of sleet and icy road conditions. And I believe that is a contributing factor to this very unfortunate incident.”
Tough, friendly, lovely
Salvi held Olszewski in the highest esteem, both as a lawyer and as an individual.
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As a person, Olszewski “was extremely friendly and empathetic; a lovely, lovely person,” Salvi said. And as an attorney, Olszewski was “a tough lawyer, a tough litigator, a zealous defender of her clients.”
Hearing the news “was heartbreaking,” said Racine-based attorney James Pitts, whose firm had employed Olszewski while she was attending John Marshall Law School in Chicago.
Pitts described his former employee as “incredibly dedicated,” considering she was basically working full time at his firm while pursuing her juris doctorate degree.
“Elizabeth was a vibrant and brilliant litigator who loved her clients and job fiercely, but more importantly, she was an amazing and kind human being. She was not just my colleague, she was my dear friend,” stated Tara Devine, a managing partner at Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard’s Lake County office where Olszewski worked.
In the first case Olszewski took to trial in 2016, her team won a $1.6 million jury verdict after a woman with a mental disability was left alone in a group home, despite having numerous falls.
“I think I’ll always remember that case because it’s the first case I took to trial, but also for the justice we were able to get for the family,” Olszewski is quoted as saying on the firm’s website. “I like the challenge of overcoming various obstacles for my clients in order to achieve justice.”
“I became an attorney because I’m dedicated to getting justice for my clients,” she said in a video from the law firm. “It’s like telling a story about what happened, from beginning to end … It’s difficult not to get emotional during the trials.”
That same year, she helped collect $6.6 million in damages for the victim of a hit-and-run, followed by an $18.5 million settlement the following year after a child “suffered a serious brain injury due to a delay in the diagnosis and treatment of meningitis.”
Every year since 2017, she was named as a “Rising Star” by Illinois Super Lawyers and was recognized as an Emerging Lawyer by Law Bulletin Media, an honor given to the top 2% of Illinois lawyers who have practiced no more than 10 years or are younger than 40.
“She not only had huge potential, she had great success,” said Pitts, who said that Olszewski would reach out to his firm in Racine occasionally if she wanted to go over a case that had Wisconsin ties.
“Her clients just loved her,” Salvi said.
Olszewski also volunteered with the “Waukegan 2 College” program, where she would mentor youth with “limited resources” during the college application process.
Olszewski was hired right out of law school by Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C.
“Ever since her childhood years,” the law firm wrote in a tribute on its website, “Elizabeth knew she wanted to be a lawyer.”
She graduated magna cum laude from John Marshall in 2013, after receiving undergraduate degrees in political science with a concentration in law and criminal justice in 2008 from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Somers.
“The UW-Parkside learning community is deeply saddened by the news of this tragic accident and extends its condolences to the family and friends of Elizabeth Olszewski,” the university said in a statement.
She is an alumna of Union Grove High School.