Revelers will just barely get to ring in the new year at Will’s Sports Bar in Burnham after the club’s owners agreed to permanently close the troubled bar following a double shooting and mob beatdown in the late night Thanksgiving hours.

Under pressure from village officials who were moving to try to close Will’s, Brian Wilson, a former alderman from the neighboring suburb of Calumet City, and his wife Kimberly, the owner of Will’s, announced their decision Thursday. They made their decision public in a letter read out loud by a village attorney during a liquor license revocation hearing at village hall.

Reading the Wilsons’ letter, the attorney said the couple was voluntarily choosing to not renew the liquor license for Will’s, meaning the bar will close Jan. 1, 2017. The couple’s letter also stated the two will “pursue other business opportunities.” Upon hearing the news, residents attending the hearing cheered.

“I’m glad it’s gone, they should have done this in the beginning,” said Cherise Turner, a Burnham resident who lives a block away from the club. “They have all that riffraff out there. What if someone starts shooting when you come down the street?”

Burnham Mayor Robert Polk told the crowd that Will’s will close the moment the new year begins. 

Brian Wilson
  Brian Wilson | Photo by Casey Toner

“It’s been a detriment to the community and I’m glad more people did not get seriously injured,” Polk said after the hearing. “We did have a couple that did, and we’re sorry that happened.”

The decision to close the bar was preceded by an incident in the early-morning hours after Thanksgiving when a club security guard and a 38-year-old Chicago woman were each shot in the leg.

Deon Clopton, 26, of Hammond, Ind., was later charged with aggravated battery with a firearm after allegedly firing a .380 caliber handgun during a struggle with the security guard, police said.

Following the shooting, a mob inside the club beat Clopton and another Indiana man, according to police. When they arrived, police said they found the pair “heavily battered and covered in blood lying on the concrete sidewalk” in front of the club.

Village officials closed the club for a week after the chaotic Thanksgiving episode, but could only temporarily close the establishment without a hearing due to village code. In the past, Polk had ordered the bar shut down for brief periods — once in 2014 for having electrical work done without permits and later that year for allowing minors into the club.

The Thanksgiving incident occurred nearly five months after the Better Government Association reported that Will’s Sports Bar has drawn more than 800 police calls since it opened in 2010 including for the fatal shooting of Vincent Means, 32, outside of the club in March. Timothy Watkins, 22, was charged with first-degree murder.

In a preliminary hearing last week, village officials prepared a notice that contained 55 other allegations against the club detailing previous fights, a stabbing, public urination, credit card fraud, public indecency, and an attack on a police officer.

Since the hearing notice was prepared, Burnham police made yet another visit to Will’s. In the early-morning hours after Christmas, police responded to a “large group of females fighting in the parking lot.”

Police charged Tiara Harper, 27, of Gary, Ind., with battery, and Danicia Miller, 20, of Chicago, with battery and criminal damage to property.

Casey Toner, a Chicago native, has been an Illinois Answers reporter since 2016, taking the lead on numerous projects about criminal justice and politics. His series on police shootings in suburban Cook County resulted in a state law requiring procedural investigations of all police shootings in Illinois. Before he joined Illinois Answers, he wrote for the Daily Southtown and was a statewide reporter for Alabama Media Group, a consortium of Alabama newspapers. Outside of work, he enjoys watching soccer and writing music.