Local News

COVID Bomb Drops on Beloved Christmas Tradition

(La Porte, IN) - COVID-19 continues to show it's Grinch qualities as it forces the cancellation of another local event that usually brings Christmas Spirit to our community.  

 

The beloved "Pet Photos with Santa" has been canceled this year.  The popular event, held on back to back Saturdays in December, has been a fund raiser sponsored by the La Porte County Small Animal Shelter for close to 30-years.

 

Shelter Director Jane Bernard says being able to provide adequate social distancing at a time of surging COVID-19 cases was the issue.  “We agonized over the decision.  Very, very sad,” she said.

 

Bernard says about 300 people came out to have pictures taken of their pets with Santa last year.

Stray Cows Mooooved Back Home

(Hanna, IN) - With no overnight deliveries scheduled, Police were suprised to find five beef cows outside of a La Porte County Post Office over the weekend.  

 

The five cows wandered away from a hobby farm in Hanna over the weekend and were discovered by police about five miles away outside the post office. 

 

According to La Porte County Police, 68 year old Rayetta Lerch agreed to house the cows on her

hobby farm until the owner was found.  Lerch said the owner was found the next day looking for his runaway steer who got out of an open gate.

Suspected Beer Guzzling Driver Arrested at Liquor Store

(La Porte, IN) - Apparently, a case of beer wasn’t enough for a driver arrested outside

a liquor store.  28-year old Ivan Gonzalez of La Porte is charged with Operating While Intoxicated.

 

According to La Porte County Police, he nearly struck an oncoming police vehicle Saturday night while making a wide turn at Jackson and State streets.  Police said the officer, veering quickly to his right to avoid a crash, turned around and quickly spotted the pick-up truck driven by Gonzalez in the parking lot of La Porte Liquors.

 

A case of empty beer cans was allegedly inside his vehicle.  Police said he had an alleged blood alcohol level nearly three times the .08-percent legal limit.

           

Gonzalez is charged with a felony because of a prior OWI conviction.  He could face an up to 2 ½ year sentence.

Outlook for Meer Potentially Darkens

(Michigan City, IN) - It appears the former mayor of Michigan City has a higher risk of going to jail.  Ron Meer is accused of fleeing after striking a motor vehicle nearly two weeks ago.

 

Under an agreement from a prior case, two misdemeanor charges against the former mayor were scheduled to be dismissed early next year If Meer was not charged with another crime.  Prosecutor Jacob Taulman said he filed a motion to bring those charges back on the table.

 

He said Meer violated the agreement designed to give him a second chance to avoid harsher punishment.  “It’s unfortunate. We gave Mr. Meer every opportunity that we could,” said Taulman, a special prosecutor assigned to the case from Jasper County.

 

The two charges are related to Meer’s alleged outburst toward police after his stepson was arrested on drug and gun related charges prior to the election in November of 2019.  Meer, who allegedly his stepson was targeted to cost him reelection, lost his bid for a third term by less than 100 votes.

Tap Dry at Former Bar and Building Next Door

(La Porte, IN) - Demolition is wrapping up at site in downtown La Porte.  The old Lady Rose bar on East Lincolnway was torn down recently.

 

Demolition began yesterday on the building next to it.  What will go in next is not known.  But, Mayor Tom Dermody said the city is eager to work with the current property owner on redeveloping that site.

 

Dermody, who made cleaning up the city a high priority when he became mayor in January, said he hopes several dilapidated homes, including some on Pulaski Street, are torn down next maybe as soon as early next year.

Double Track Land Grab Option Exercised

(Michigan City, IN) - The City of Michigan City will attempt to do whatever needs to be done to acquire land for construction of the double track.

 

Last night, the city council voted to exercise its right to eminent domain.  This paves the way for the city to take unwilling property owners to court and force them to sell their land in the area of Pine and Franklin Streets, in the event property owners continue to resist offers made by the city.

 

Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District operates the South Shore commuter line that is looking to construct the double track, with the objective of reducing travel times to and from Chicago.  Their President and General Manager, Mike Noland, says it’s critical to have all of the land in place before construction begins next year to avoid potentially expensive delays.

 

Officials said at least one property owner has been unwilling to sell while another has yet to respond.

Tremors from Angry Record High Lake

(New Buffalo, MI) - A New Buffalo man says he actually felt the 20 foot waves slamming into the Lake Michigan shoreline this week.  Ted Grzywacz said he once had 300 feet of ground between his house and shoreline but roughly 40 feet is all that’s left because of erosion the past few years.

 

Grzywacz, president of the New Buffalo Shoreline Alliance, said the waves were vicious during the height of the storm on Monday which brought strong northerly winds and some lake effect snow.  “My house was actually shaking when the waves hit the shore,” he said.

 

Grzywacz said he and his neighbors have spent millions of dollars having large rocks and other

reinforcements placed on the shoreline to help hold back the lake.  He indicated the work done in front of his house held up pretty well, but other lakefront property owners are having to shore up the improvements to their seawalls weakened by the constant pounding of the high waves.

 

Gryzwacz said the lake, being at a record high level, is just one factor causing the erosion.  He said the main problem is the break wall at New Buffalo preventing sand, migrating west underneath the water, from naturally replenishing the beaches in front of their homes.

 

He said beaches reduce the size of the waves, which are now slamming into the shoreline at full height.

Hazard Pay Could Go Under the Tree

(La Porte, IN) - La Porte County employees could receive something extra in their Christmas stockings.  The La Porte County Commissioners today voted to give all county employees an unspecified bonus for continuing to work despite the risk of contracting the virus.

 

Commissioner Dr. Vidya Kora said many of the workers, such as medics, really put their lives on the line from jobs requiring frequent contact with members of the public.  “I can’t thank them enough for the extraordinary work they have done.  I think it will build morale and bring some holiday cheer,” he said.  

 

Final approval rests with the La Porte County Council, which is in charge of setting the amount of the proposed stipend.

Prominent Local Official has Close Call with COVID

(La Porte County, IN) - An elected official from La Porte County is recovering from COVID-19.  La Porte County Commissioner Rich Mrozinski says he was in the hospital for three days with

double pneumonia brought on by the virus.

 

He’s still weak but managed to participate in a ZOOM meeting of the La Porte County Commissioners today.  He thanked commissioner Dr. Vidya Kora, his medical physician for helping with his care.

 

Mrozinski, a singer in a local rock band, also showed his sense of humor by saying he’s glad he has no upcoming performances booked.  The 71 year old Mrozinski says he’s now on steroids, antibiotics and taking breathing treatments.  He was hospitalized just before Thanksgiving.

 

Mrozinski says his symptoms included being short of breath, body aches and a horrible taste in his mouth.  "I encourage everyone to distance and wear a mask.  Wash your hands and sanitize.  Unless you actually have COVID you have no idea how bad it is.  This is the sickest I have ever been in my life.  You don't want this!" he said.

Record Drownings in 2020

(Chicago, IL) - Lake Michigan is setting records not just for high water levels.  More people than ever before drowned in the lake this year.

 

According to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, there were 57 drownings In Lake Michigan in 2020.  Two were in Michigan City, one in New Buffalo and five in Porter County.

 

There were nine fewer drownings in Lake Michigan the previous year.  The previous record since the organization began keeping statistics in 2010 was 49 in 2012. 

 

Governor Out of Quarantine

(Indianapolis, IN) - Indiana’s governor is no longer under quarantine.  Eric Holcomb and his wife were quarantined for two weeks as a precaution after members of his security detail tested positive for coronavirus.

 

The 52-year old governor and first lady have both tested negative

Human Remains Still a Mystery

(La Porte County, IN) – The discovery of human remains in a La Porte County corn field over a month ago remains under investigation.

 

The remains were found October 28 by a farmer on 800 North west of State Road 39 in Springfield Township.  So far, authorities have not shed light on how long ago the person died, cause of death or any further details, as the investigation continues into the death.

 

“Detectives even today are still actively working the investigation,” said La Porte County Police Capt. Derek Allen.  No light has also been shed on the identity of the person whose remains were discovered.

Coronavirus Deaths Here Still Climbing

(Indianapolis, IN) - The number of people dying from coronavirus has topped 100 in La Porte County.  Four new deaths in La Porte County were reported yesterday by the Indiana State Department of Health. 

 

Total deaths in La Porte County now stand at 101.  Of the total, 33 deaths were reported in the month of November.

 

State Health officials yesterday also reported 84 new cases in La Porte County.  Over the past 7 days, a total of 532 people in La Porte County have tested positive for the virus.  Overall, the number of people testing positive for the virus the past seven days in La Porte County is 13.7 percent.

Former Mayor Again in Legal Hot Water

(Michigan City, IN) - The former mayor of Michigan City has been arrested for a second time within the past year.

 

This time, Ron Meer allegedly fled after striking a motor vehicle and refused to talk to police about the accident until the next day.

 

Meer, 56, is charged in LaPorte Superior Court 4 with leaving the scene of an accident and resisting law enforcement, both misdemeanor offenses.

 

According to court documents, Meer on the night of November 21 struck a vehicle at a stop sign while making a wide turn at Ohio and Henry streets on Michigan City’s  west side.

 

The other driver, Calvin Burnett also of Michigan City, told police he followed Meer until the former mayor pulled into the driveway of his home at 105 Roberta Ave., according to court documents.

 

Burnett also told police Meer veered across the center line on numerous occasions.

           

Police said a responding officer who saw Meer getting out of his 2008 Ford Explorer verbally tried to get his attention but the former mayor kept walking until he was inside his home then shut the door.

 

According to police, his wife, Agnes, came outside and told the investigating officer her husband claimed “nothing happened.”

 

She later came back out saying her husband “does not want to talk to us,” police said.

 

The next day, Meer told police he thought he ran over something judging by a light thump he heard from his front end, according to court documents.

 

He also said the other driver hit him.

 

According to police, the investigation shows Meer was making a wide right turn onto Henry St. when he hit the driver’s side of other vehicle toward the back end.

 

Meer was arrested less than a week prior to the November 2019 election for outbursts directed to police following the arrest of his stepson on gun and drug related charges.

 

He alleged his stepson was targeted to cost him reelection.

 

Meer lost his bid for a third term by less than 100 votes.

Christmas Concert to be Live Streamed

(La Porte, IN) - The La Porte County Symphony Orchestra, despite the pandemic, will still have its annual Christmas concert.  However, the event will be live streamed only.

 

Normally, the Holiday at the Pops draws a large crowd at the Civic Auditorium.  There will be no bodies in the seats due to COVID-19, but the orchestra will still play on the Civic Auditorium stage.

 

Tim King, executive director of the La Porte County Symphony Orchestra, said a link to the live streamed event will be provided for a $20 cost since the concert is a fund raiser for the Orchestra.  The price is a one-time fee no matter how many people are watching on a lap top or some other device.

 

The live streamed concert is scheduled December 12 at 7 p.m.  Viewers can sign up for the Pay Per View event by visiting the orchestra’s web page (click here).

Snowflake Parade Scaling Back to Safe Format

(Michigan City, IN) - There will be no Snowflake Parade on Franklin St. in Michigan City this year because of COVID-19.

 

There will be a scaled down version of the parade Saturday in a drive-by format at Washington Park.

 

Snowflake Parade Committee member Johnny Stimley said there will be about 15 people dressed as cartoon characters along with Santa Claus and several of his elves at the park for about one hour starting at about 4:45 p.m.

 

Mayor Duane Parry will turn the lights on the tree in front of the Michigan City Public Library at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday. 

 

The Festival of Lights at Washington Park will be turned on about 5 p.m..

 

Stimley said people driving through the park to see the lights can also drive past the Santa Claus and the other characters normally in the parade on Franklin St. 

 

Every year, thousands of motorists, along with some people on foot, venture into the park decorated to resemble Santa’s Village during the season.

 

The City’s Christmas tree, at 4th and Franklin streets, will be illuminated at 4 p.m. on Saturday, right before the lights at Washington Park are lit for the season.

COVID-19 Grinch Steals Christmas at Pioneer Land

(La Porte, IN) - Christmas might not be the same this year especially for people whose taste for pioneer life during the holidays has become a family tradition.

           

The 23rd annual Christmas at Pioneer Land scheduled Saturday and Sunday at the LaPorte County fairgrounds has been cancelled because of COVID-19.   

           

Dick Reel, who’s in charge of organizing the free event, said the upsurge in coronavirus cases was the driving factor behind the decision.

           

He said it would be difficult to social distance in more than a dozen mostly small 1800’s style buildings when 7,000 people showed up for both days last year.

           

Reel also said most of the volunteers working the village being older are at higher risk to the virus.

           

“A lot of our volunteers didn’t think they wanted to come,” he said.

           

The thought of children visiting an old fashioned Santa Claus from behind a plexiglass shield was also frowned upon.

           

“We really had no alternative.  It was kind of a letdown for all of us.  We’re sure missing it,” he said.

           

Reel said only about 300 people showed up for the first Christmas at Pioneer Land.

           

Now, Reel said they come from as far away as Chicago, near Ft. Wayne and into Michigan.

           

Buildings strung with lights is about the only modern luxury allowed for the event featuring Christmas trees decorated with paper ornaments and popcorn strings.

 

Cookies made from vintage ingredients and hot cider from a kettle above an open flame in the fireplace of the log cabin is included in the experience.

 

Also popular are horse drawn wagon rides and workers in the blacksmith shop bending

hot metal into nails and products shaped like candy canes.

 

Lois Clark, a longtime volunteer in the Quilters’ Cabin, said hearing the laughter by folks relishing the experience and seeing children with their parents and grandparents are among the things she’ll miss the most.

 

Live music from the time period will also leave her with a hole to fill.

 

Normally, Clark would be going to Pioneer Land this week to help set up for the event worked by about 60 volunteers.

 

“I miss it horribly. It’s been such a part of our lives to begin the holidays,” she said.

Lighted Christmas Displays Added to Courthouse

(La Porte, IN) - Outside the courthouse in La Porte, several new lighted displays have been added this Christmas season.  One of the displays is a replica of the historic courthouse.  Other lighted figures include a snowman and two penguins ice fishing. 

 

Faith Wiesner, 18, works at Magic Sports across the street from the courthouse.  Wiesner said the lighted displays are definitely eye catching and add to the beauty of the lights that are usually just in the trees on the courthouse lawn.  “I like it and my whole family likes it,” she said.

 

La Porte County Commissioner Sheila Matias said the county maintenance and facilities department put up the lighted displays after coming up with the idea to try and lift spirits during the pandemic.  “Since the lights went live over the weekend, I’ve gotten so many comments and text messages from people saying how glorious it is,” she said.

 

Other lighted displays include reindeer and two Christmas trees.

Strong Winds Magnify Lake Michigan Erosion Concerns

(New Buffalo, MI) - In addition to snow, Mother Nature today is also providing very strong northerly winds heightening concerns about further erosion along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

 

The forecast calls for waves on Lake Michigan to reach up to 20 feet later today and tonight.

 

Bob Stratton with Service 1 Marine near the Michigan line estimated the waves in New Buffalo were already at 15 feet when he was at the lakefront late this morning.  With all boats out of their slips, Stratton said the major concern right now is further beach erosion with Lake Michigan still being at or near record high levels.

 

Over the past couple of years, some homes along the southern tip of Lake Michigan have fallen over the edge of eroded dunes while many others are at risk of toppling over.  Many of the beaches have been covered by water the past couple of years leaving shorelines with no beaches to break up the waves fully exposed to the power of incoming high waves.  Many lakefront property owners have had large rocks hauled in and placed on the shoreline to provide added protection. 

 

“It’s a very unfortunate situation,” Stratton said.

SOUND OFF on Housing Issues in LaPorte

(LAPORTE, IN) - On today's SOUND OFF episode with Nate Loucks, we talk about housing issues in LaPorte County, including code enforcement and low-incoming housing availability. 

 

SOUND OFF is a community conversation show that airs on 96.7 the Eagle every Monday and Friday from 12:15-1 PM. 

 

 

Proposed Sale of Marina Sinks

(New Buffalo, MI) - The proposed acquisition of Pleasure Isle Marina by the City of New Buffalo appears dead.  The city council during its November 23 meeting voted to meet again the following night to further discuss and vote on the proposed purchase agreement.  However, the meeting was cancelled when the owners, the William J. Deputy Foundation, withdrew its offer.

 

The foundation hoping to close on a deal by December 15 set a November 23 deadline for the city council to accept the proposal.

 

Mayor John Humphrey and two other newcomers to the city council, Roger Lijewski and Brian Flanagan, wanted extra time to further study and obtain additional public input on the proposal they were just recently handed.  The three new council members were elected on November 3.  “It was just too much thrown on our lap too soon,” Flanagan said.

 

Councilman Lou O’Donnell, IV, calling the proposed acquisition a “no brainer,” along with Mark Robertson were in favor of the proposed sale of the marina behind the Harbor Grand Hotel.  O’Donnell said he was extremely confident money would be made by the city which could sell the property back to the foundation at any time if the venture ended up in red ink.  He said profits from the marina could be invested in the public beach, the public boat launch and Lions Park.  “There’s zero risk. I don’t understand why we’re picking this apart,” O’Donnell said.

 

Humphrey, not convinced a profit could be turned, said the foundation would have to agree if asked by the city to purchase back the marina.  “I like the idea.   We just have to research this for the good of the people of this town,” he said.

 

City Attorney Nick Curcio said the sale price was $500,000 for 26 boat slips and the lower level of a two unit condominium.  The purchase would be financed by the city for five-years and profits from the marina could be used to make the installments.  Curcio said the condominium has been renting for $1,000 a month while each private slip was leased this year for $4,800 during the season.  He said operating expenses provided by the foundation were listed at about $25,000 annually.

 

Flanagan, a former 21-year employee at Service 1 Marine, said the operating expenses sounded “way too low.  I know what it takes to run marinas,” he said.

 

Curcio said the foundation would pay the city 90-percent of the original purchase price if it ever agreed to buy back the marina under several deed restrictions that would be in effect for 75-years.  Other deed restrictions for 25-years would include the city maintaining a separate account for revenue and expenses at the marina and providing an annual income report.

 

Curcio also said that once the current one-year leases on the slips expire, the city could make the slips available to the public to help address concerns about a public entity operating a private marina.  “The way it’s operating in year one doesn’t necessarily have to be how it’s operated in year 75 as long as the city is complying with the deed restrictions,” he said.

 

Humphrey said he would be more willing to agree to a sale if the upper level condominium was included to provide an extra revenue source and other adjustments were made in the proposed terms.  “I just have too many questions about the specifics of this deal.  I know there’s a better deal to be had if the foundation wanted to address these concerns,” he said.

 

Forecast - Lake Effect Snow Event Underway

(La Porte, IN) - Snow has arrived in Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan.  Winter Weather Alerts have been issued through today and into early tomorrow.  You can listen to the full forecast from Hometown News Now Staff Meteorologist, Wayne Mahar here:

 

The La Porte County Weather Forecast for today, Monday, November 30th:

 

 

 

 

We have a band of Lake Effect Snow that is organizing near La Porte.  We'll experience gusty North to Northwest winds for the remainder of the day, with substantial drifting likely.  Average accumulation along the Lake Effect Snow band of two to seven inches, with some areas of higher amounts of accumulation. 

 

We'll have a high temperature near 35 degrees today, with wind chills in the teens.  Low of 25 to 30 degrees for tonight.  The Lake Effect Snow will weaken by Tuesday morning with Sun likely in the afternoon.  Brisk winds and cold on Tuesday, with a high in the mid-30's.

Police Chase from Michigan City to La Porte

(La Porte, IN) - A police chase went from Michigan City to the city of La Porte yesterday.  The pursuit ended near Stone Lake when the tires on the fleeing vehicle were flattened by police with stop sticks.

 

The chase went by the home of former La Porte mayor Leigh Morris, who lives on North Lake Shore Drive.  Morris said he his wife Marcia just returned from church when they heard the pursuit approaching then race by their residence.  "Ten police cars were right behind them,” he said.  Morris said the chase ended just a few hundred feet later when the vehicle came to a stop.

 

La Porte County Police said the pursuit happened after the theft of items from Meijer.  The vehicle was found to be stolen from St. Joseph County.

 

Police said drugs and paraphernalia were also located in the vehicle.

 

The driver and passengers, both females, were charged, police said.

 

The name of the driver and other details have not been released because of the ongoing investigation, police said. 

Winter Storm Warning

(La Porte County, IN) - A winter storm warning is in effect for La Porte and some of the surrounding counties.  As much as six to ten inches of lake effect snow could be on the ground by tomorrow.

 

The winter storm warning is also in effect for Starke and Berrien counties.  Motorists are advised to utilize those winter driving skills.

 

According to weather forecasters, La Porte and Starke counties will see the brunt of the snow

today before winds switch more out of the northwest, pushing those lake effects bands more into

St. Joseph and Berrien counties beginning this evening.

Firearms Related Arrest During Traffic Stop

(La Porte County, IN) - La Porte County Police arrested a man for a handgun violation during a traffic stop.  32 year old Jeffrey Wade is charged with possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon.

 

Police said he was stopped Friday afternoon for traffic violations on U.S 20 near Rolling Prairie.  A loaded pistol was allegedly recovered from the vehicle.  The Elkhart man was being held in the La Porte County Jail on $20,000 cash only bond.  He’s currently wanted in Elkhart County for an undisclosed offense.

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