Family of slain auto shop owner: 'We are lost'

A longtime Southwest Side business owner was shot and killed during a robbery at his muffler shop; His family talked with CBS's Susanna Song. (Source: CBS Chicago)

After Michael Kozel was shot in a hold-up robbery at his Gage Park muffler shop Wednesday, he reached out to his son, just hours before his death.

"'They shot me in the back,'" Michael Kozel Jr., recalled his father's last words to him.

Kozel said he believes his dad reached out to him at about 5:30 p.m. even before he had an ambulance called. When the man's only son got the call, he raced over from his job and found his father being treated by paramedics inside an ambulance.

Kozel, 57, was pronounced dead at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County at 9:09 p.m.

Thursday, Kozel's family remembered him as a compassionate man who turned his love for cars into a living that supported his tight-knit family.

Two men entered Kozel's business, Independent Mufflers Inc. in the 5600 block of South Western Avenue, about 5:20 p.m. and demanded money, police said. Kozel tried to flee but was shot in the back once as he tried to run away, authorities said.

An employee at his shop said Thursday that Kozel was with two employees at the time of the hold-up, one of whom was robbed.

He was the fifth homicide in Chicago in the first two days of 2013, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.

Kozel's family gathered at their South Side residence on the 2700 block of West Siepp Street in the Wrightwood neighborhood Thursday morning, tearful and visibly shaken by the loss of their patriarch.

His daughter, Amber Kozel, 30, said her father owned the muffler shop for more than 20 years. He had owned other various businesses in the automotive industry throughout his career, she said.

"He's been in the business for 35 years -- it all started with a love for cars," Amber Kozel said.

"He was in the business because he was a people person," said Kozel's wife, Antonia Kozel, 55.

Kozel grew up off of 26th Street and lived his whole life in Chicago, family said.

Amber Kozel said her father was often mistaken for Santa Claus by children because of his "big belly and big beard."

"Kids would stare at him awestruck," she said. "As in 'What should I say to Santa?'"

Antonia Kozel said her husband was a loving and giving family man.

"He would give anyone the shirt off his back," she said. "He didn't deserve this."

"Everything was taken care of for us as kids," Amber Kozel said.

Kozel's family said he was hard-working and spent long hours at the muffler shop -- usually 10-hour days, Monday through Saturday.

He had regular, loyal clientele at the muffler shop, his family said.

Kozel's son said his father was a carefree man.

While the area sees break-ins regularly, Kozel's 31-year-old son said the muffler shop was "like Fort Knox" when it was all locked up.

The shop had been robbed once before a few years ago, he said, and his father gave up the money.

Kozel leaves behind three grandchildren -- an 8-year-old boy, a 7-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy, family said.

The family joined Kozel at the hospital Wednesday night before he died.

"We are lost," Kozel's son said.

Family members later returned to the shop in a tan SUV because Kozel's widow wanted to return to the site of the shooting.

"I think she just wants to be here," said Angelica Kozel, a family member, referring to Kozel's widow.

Manny Serna, 27, and two other men used thick white paint to cover graffiti on Thursday morning, which previously had been painted onto the muffler shop's garage door.

While the graffiti had been there for some time before Kozel's shooting, Serna said it was "out of respect" that they painted over the black spray paint. It was Michael Kozel's idea, Serna said.

"It's the least I can do," Serna said. "I was a manager at this muffler shop for 10 years and recently went my own way. But he was a great man."

Serna said he was a long-time friend of the family.

Serna pointed to a bullet hole in the garage door.

"See that hole? That's the last of him," Serna said.

Serna said Kozel was shot inside the muffler shop. The bullet that killed his former boss then traveled through the garage door, he said.

Another employee, Mike Shaw, said he had worked for Kozel for about six months and remembered him as a man who got along with everyone.

Shaw, 52, called Kozel a "good guy" and enjoyed working for him.

Kozel was with two employees at the time of the hold-up, said Shaw. He said one of the employees was also robbed at gunpoint.

Shaw said he lived in the Gage Park community and said he never felt unsafe.

"Today had been rough on everybody," said Shaw. "I don't think [it's] going to re-open anytime soon."

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