Local News

Schellinger Resigns State Post

(Indianapolis) -

The state’s Secretary of Commerce, Jim Schellinger, stepped down from his position earlier this week.

In a memo, Schellinger resigned effective immediately, but did not give a reason or any indication of his future plans. He said he is proud of contributing to the addition of 3,900 new Hoosier jobs in the past year, as well as $450 million in capital investment across the state.

Schellinger, who has family ties to the LaPorte area, was appointed as Indiana’s top economic development official in 2017.

Governor Eric Holcomb said he intends to fill the position as soon as possible.

Local Dealerships Settle State Lawsuit

(Indianapolis, IN) -

Two area motorcycle dealerships involved in a state-wide lawsuit have reached an agreement with the Attorney General’s office.

Six Indiana motorcycle dealers were accused of overcharging customers for documentation fees on purchases between 2017 and 2019. They allegedly charged $299 doc fees, even when state law limited such fees to $199. They now owe customers $100 each.

Among the dealerships are Harley-Davidson of Valparaiso and Honda of Michigan City.

According to the AG’s office, $174,000 in restitution needs to be paid back to 1,700 customers across the state.

State Police Pull Over Little Car with Lots of Marijuana

(South Bend, IN) -

Indiana State Police hauled in a large amount of marijuana in South Bend this week.

30 pounds of marijuana was allegedly found during a traffic stop on Logan Street Thursday evening.

After pulling over a 2018 Kia for several traffic violations, a trooper and his K-9 partner conducted a search.

About 30 vacuum sealed packages containing suspected marijuana were recovered.

27-year-old Anthony Garcia of South Bend was taken into custody.

New Prairie and Marquette Still Alive in Tournament

Two area boys' basketball teams are still alive in the state tournament and playing for sectional titles this weekend.

On Friday night, New Prairie beat River Forest 89-35. In the game, Senior Braydon Flagg passed the 1,000 career point mark. The Cougars face Hanover Central Saturday night for the championship.

Marquette Catholic also advanced Friday night, beating Whiting 85-50. The Blazers were led by Brit Harris, who scored 34 points. They face Bowman Academy Saturday night. It's Marquette's ninth sectional title appearance in the last ten years.

Two other area teams bowed out of the tournament Friday night. South Bend Riley defeated Michigan City 91-75. Boone Grove edged South Central 47-42.

Gun and Alcohol Arrest

(Michigan City, IN) - A Michigan City man is in double trouble for allegedly having a firearm illegally while driving impaired.  Branden Hewlett, 37, is charged with Carrying a Handgun without a License and Operating While Intoxicated.  La Porte County Police said it was also against the law for him to have a gun because of a prior conviction. 

 

Police said Hewlett disregarded a stop sign early Tuesday on Springland Avenue near Roeske Avenue.  A handgun and partially consumed alcoholic beverage were found during a search of the vehicle, police said.

 

Hewlett was being held on $15,000 bond.

The SOUND OFF Podcast: Tim Franke

(LAPORTE, IN) -- On this episode of SOUND OFF, LaPorte City Council President Pro Team Tim Franke gives an update about his roles in the city of LaPorte. Topics included LaPorte's new Inclusion and Diversity Committee, economic development, criticisms on trying to appease "Chicago" residents, and more.

 

 

CREDITS: Dennis Siddall (Producer), Jeff Wuggazer (Editor), Nate Loucks (Host), Tim Franke (Guest)

 

SOUND OFF is a community conversation show that airs every Monday and Friday on 96.7 the Eagle in LaPorte County, Indiana. SOUND OFF is a Spoon River Media production.

15 Mile Chase Ends in La Porte

(La Porte, IN) - There was a wild 15 mile police chase that ended in the City of La Porte late this morning.  Police said the suspect fled during a traffic stop.

 

According to the police radio traffic, the chase began on Range Road near 800 North and back and forth through various fields on several occasions.  At one point, the chase after crossing Indiana 39 veered back to the two lane state highway andheaded south, crossing U.S 20 in Springville then eastbound on Severs Road just outside La Porte.  Eventually, the pursuit stopped at a dead end on Pennsylvania St. near Craven Pond. 

 

We spoke to Kathy Spiegel, who was out for a walk on Craven Drive as the chase was reaching a conclusion.  “We were out walking down Craven and we saw all the cars coming with the lights and as soon as we got to the tree line on Craven we saw about 5 cops with their guns drawn,” she said.  Spiegel said she also saw what looked like a man in handcuffs being placed into a police car.

 

La Porte County Police Capt. Derek Allen said further details will be released once the matter advances further into the investigation.  According to the police radio traffic, the suspect was driving a car with Illinois plates and apparently was tossing undisclosed items out of the vehicle during the pursuit.

Senator Appealing for Fallen Officer Donations

(La Porte County, IN) - A GoFundMe page has been established for the family of a fallen correctional officer from La Porte.  57 year old Lt. Gene Lasco was fatally stabbed by an inmate.  He was laid to rest this week.

 

State Senator Mike Bohacek of Michiana Shores created the GoFundMe page.  He said the money raised will help the family cover funeral and other related costs.

Close to $4,000 in donations were pledged on the page this morning.  The goal is $10,000.  "I encourage those who are able to consider donating to the GoFundMe,” Bohacek said.

 

Prison officials said Lasco ran over to help another correctional officer being attacked by an inmate when the same inmate stabbed him multiple times at Indiana State Prison.  The other stabbed officer, Padrick Schmitt, 22, of Lake Station was admitted to the hospital in serious condition.

 

There are calls for the death penalty for Tymetri Campbell, a convicted triple murder from the Indianapolis area. 

Local Farmer is Tomato Grower of Year

(Elwood, IN) - His love for raising hogs while growing up has blossomed into raising blue ribbon tomatoes in La Porte County for a major commercial brand.  Galen Birky is this year’s winner of the E.A. Reichart Quality Achievement Award, the highest honor presented by Red Gold, Inc. based in Elwood, Indiana.

 

The award recognizes Birky as Red Gold’s Tomato Grower of the Year based, in part, on the volume and quality of his 2020 crop.  He was also deemed one of six master growers by Red Gold, the largest privately owned tomato processor in the nation from 42 contracted growers in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

 

Birky said he knew his 40 ton per acre crop was excellent but his selection came as a total surprise.  “I was extremely happy.  Extremely happy and very honored,” he said.

 

Red Gold brand products like ketchup and varieties of canned tomatoes are offered in all 50 states and over 55 other countries.

 

Birky Farms raises about 200 acres of tomatoes in the northwest part of the state near Wanatah, LaCrosse and Kouts.  Last year, production at Birky Farms equaled close to 13 million cans of whole, diced, stewed and other specialty tomato products, Red Gold officials said.  The other 1,800 acres at Birky Farms are used for producing commercial corn, soybeans and seed corn.

 

Birky, 49, said there’s nothing in his bag of tricks for raising high quality tomatoes aside from the usual hard work, paying attention to detail and staying on top of the crop until harvest.  He also crosses his fingers for cooperation from Mother Nature, the most important factor in all of farming.  “There are no secrets.  It’s a lot of luck,” Birky said.

 

Birky said he started growing tomatoes in 2001 to expand the farm and diversify the operation after given the opportunity to become a contract supplier for Red Gold.

Lid Placed on Alleged X-rated Showman

(La Porte, IN) - A La Porte man was arrested for allegedly putting on a Peep show.  40-year old Robert Pratt, Jr. is charged with indecent exposure following his arrest Wednesday evening at 905 Linwood Avenue.

 

According to police, a 65-year old woman across the street saw the man inside the home

Tuesday evening.  He was allegedly standing naked at an uncovered window fondling himself.  Police said the same woman the next evening saw the man at the uncovered window engaged in the same type of lewd conduct.

 

Police said officers went inside the home and found Pratt laying underneath a bathtub.  According to police, despite wearing handcuffs, Pratt was not discouraged from watching pornography on his phone from the back seat of a squad car while being transported to the La Porte County Jail.

 

Pratt is also being held on outstanding warrants for indecent exposure and dealing drugs, police said.

Rural King Nears Grand Opening

(La Porte, IN) - The countdown is on for what’s expected to trigger a rebirth on the west side

of La Porte.  The grand opening for Rural King is scheduled March 27.  The retail giant with more than 100 stores, primarily in the midwest and southeast, is going into the old Kmart section of the Maple Lane Mall. 

 

Bert Cook, Executive Director of the La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership, said the improvements Rural King has already made to the site have made a huge difference.  "They've done great work on the shopping center, on the parking lot and just really making significant improvements to the Maple Lane Mall.  I think it's going to be a great day.  We're excited about it and I talked to a lot of people who are excited about it. It'll be great to get to that grand opening and to see them serving our community long into the future," he said.

 

Cook also said La Porte being both a city and surrounded by a lot of farmland is situated perfectly for Rural King to succeed.  "You've got the urban and the rural kind of mixed together and I think that makes for a very attractive market for Rural King," he said.

 

Cook said the location is also like a Gateway for places like Union Mills, Wanatah and LaCrosse south of La Porte where farms dominate the landscape.  The market should also extended out to the west, an area also heavy into farming without a Rural King nearby, he said.  Cook also said that working to La Porte's advantage is the closest Rural King is currently in Niles, Michigan.

 

The traffic Rural King is expected to bring should help lure stores to occupy the remaining space at the once thriving mall but now mostly dormant mall. 

Police Bagging More Criminals

(La Porte, IN) - A new line of attack by police is producing some early noticeable results in La Porte.  The LaPorte Police Department Street Crimes Unit, formed a month ago, consists of two Police Officers.

 

Chief Paul Brettin said the primary focus of SCU officers includes arresting major offenders like drug dealers.  Brettin said during its first month, the team put up impressive numbers despite the period of heavy snow and bitter cold.  “They've made 11 felony arrests. One misdemeanor.  Recovered a stolen vehicle.  Requested three warrants and assisted other agencies 18 times.   They've taken a multitude of methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine off the streets and prescription pills," he said.

 

Brettin said SCU has also been assigned the task of solving the recent slashings of 40 tires on vehicles in the area of the Civic Auditorium.  Mayor Tom Dermody again warned whoever was responsible they will be caught.  "We are going to catch you.  We're coming," he said.

Even More of a Hog Heaven for La Porte Native

(Indianapolis, IN) - Her life on a hog farm became even more heavenly from being recognized for her dedicated efforts to the industry.  Heather Hill, who grew up in La Porte County, is this year’s recipient of the Producer Meritorious Service Award from Indiana Pork.  “It’s very humbling to be recognized by my fellow producers for such a prestigious honor,” she said.

 

Hill, 43, didn’t grew up on a farm but her childhood home on two acres was used to raise a handful of pigs, sheep and rabbits.  Her mother, Anna, grew up on hog farm.  She encouraged her children to enroll in 4-H and care for the animals they showed during the LaPorte County Fair.  “My parents made sure that agriculture was important to my siblings and I and it really became a passion of mine,” Hill said.

 

The former Heather Eskridge, after graduating from La Porte High School, was pursuing her animal sciences degree at Purdue University when she met her future husband, Marc, a fourth generation hog farmer.  The couple along with his parents, Steve and Debbie, operate a 600 head farrow to finish hog farm near Greenfield east of Indianapolis.

 

Hill, actively involved with Indiana Pork since 2009, was president of the organization for two-years.  For the past four-years, she’s been a member of the National Pork Board and continues to serve the Board of Directors for Indiana Pork in an advisory role.  Hill is also a leader with the Hancock County branch of 4-H and serves on the National Future Farmers of America Career Development Sales Committee.

 

A vast majority of the pigs on her farm are sold to Tyson for processing at its plant in Logansport.  The rest are used for meat she and her mother in-law offer under their private label “The Pork Shop” at farmers markets and a local orchard.

 

Hill said her motivation to get involved is from a desire to make sure the livestock industry continues to be healthy for current and future producers.  One way of doing that is educating people the livestock industry is a responsible care taker of its animals and the environment.

 

The Hill’s have three children ages 11 to 18.  “We don’t know if they want to be involved in the industry or not but my husband and I feel very strongly that we need to be involved today to be their voice so they have the opportunity to be involved in the future if they so choose,” she said.

Sparks Over Scolding of Police Chief

(Michigan City, IN) - Some Michigan City officials are upset about what they described as a public scolding of the Police Chief.

 

Recently, a written request for donations was mailed to residents in their water bills by

Police Chief Dion Campbell.  In response, Mayor Duane Parry put out a press release.

 

He took strong exception to the letter feeling the chief was begging for money when it’s the job of elected officials to provide for the needs of the community with tax dollars.

 

At this week’s City Council meeting, Councilman Bryant Dabney said the police department soliciting for funds happens every year and the dollars are used for good causes like “Shop With a Cop” and the annual Easter Egg Hunt.  “Why are we jumping Chief Campbell over this,” he said.

 

Parry said there’s money already in the police department budget to pay for the causes.  “They have more than sufficient money in those funds for all of these expenses,” he said.

 

Parry said the chief also sent out the fund solicitation letter without seeking his approval and he has nothing against Campbell, giving his job performance  high marks.

Better Access to WiFi for La Porte Students

(La Porte, IN) - All La Porte Community School Corporation students without good internet service at home now have better access to Wi-Fi.

 

WiFi is available outside all schools in the La Porte School Corporation.  For example, the student parking lot at La Porte High School was recently connected and passed the test for reception.  Students can go to these hotspot sites to complete homework if they lack adequate service at home.

 

Superintendent Mark Francesconi said students have been informed exactly where to go outside the school buildings to access the WiFi signal.  The signal on the inside is now able to penetrate outside the buildings.    "There is a specific transmitter that is installed close to the locations where this is getting projected out and it connects into our current system on the inside and then basically increases the intensity of the signal so they can reach through the walls and outside," he said.

 

The WiFi was made possible by a grant to the school corporation from the city using a percentage of federal dollars received for needs in the community, officials said.   Francesconi said only students with school issued laptops with passwords can tap into the expanded WiFi coverage areas.  

 

50 and Over Now Eligible for Vaccine

(La Porte County, IN) - COVID-19 vaccinations in Indiana seem to be moving at lightning speed now.  Hoosiers 50 and over can now make appointments to be vaccinated.  Just last week, the 55 and over age group was added in Indiana.

 

According to the La Porte County Health Department, people along with medical personnel and first responders can go to Healthlinc at 400 Teegarden St. in La Porte to receive the vaccine.

 

Other vaccination locations include Kroger and area Meijer stores, where you can sign up by texting "COVID" to 75049 or by visiting www.clinic.meijer.com.

Friedman Answers to Puppeteer Claims

(La Porte, IN) - The attorney for La Porte County government has responded to what he denounces are false allegations that he’s running the show or has influence on decisions made by public officials.

 

At today’s La Porte County Commissioners meeting, Attorney Shaw Friedman was asked by the commissioners to give a report on the work of his firm on behalf of county government.  Friedman started out by saying he operates strictly at the direction of the commissioners and it’s the commissioners who are the head coach of the team.  “Everything we do is at the direction and request of the elected officials.  You all are the quarterbacks of the team.  I’m one of the wide receivers on the team.  Our success is your success,” he said.

 

Friedman went on to say there are other wide receivers along with running backs on the team trying to score for the county and the team is owned by the taxpayers.  Friedman said his many successes on behalf of county government last year included opening legal doors for expansion of rail service at Kingsbury Industrial Park and working closely with higher levels of government to obtain $3.6 million in COVID-19 relief dollars.

 

His report was given nearly a month after Friedman filed a lawsuit against newly elected La Porte County Auditor Tim Stabosz.  Friedman is seeking unspecified damages alleging defamation of character against Stabosz.

 

Stabosz, among other things, has alleged Friedman for a long time has had control or influence on the happenings of county government.   One reason Stabosz alleged is Friedman benefits financially from the work his law firm does for county  government.  Similar questions have also been raised by newly elected La Porte County Commissioner Joe Haney.

 

In his report, Friedman noted the cost to taxpayers for the legal work of his firm in 2020 was just over $290,000 or more than $80,000 less than what was charged in 2018 by the previous county attorney.

 

Friedman also said the county realized even more savings from the $220,000 charged in 2019 for the legal work of his firm compared to the previous year’s bill by his predecessor.

Police Arrest High Octane Driver

(La Porte County, IN) - La Porte County Police arrested a driver for allegedly traveling at close to 100 miles per hour while impaired.  Brett Bucher, 31, of Kouts was clocked Tuesday evening at 96 mph on U.S 421 near 1800 South, police said.

 

During a traffic stop, Deputy Slawek Czupryna observed a partially consumed bottle of alcohol and open case of beer inside the vehicle.  The arrest was made during an investigation triggered by suspicions that Bucher was impaired by alcohol, police said.  He was charged with operating while intoxicated.

 

Four hours earlier, another alleged fast moving driver was pulled over by La Porte County Police Officer Derek Deck.  Tama Riley, 62, of New Carlisle was clocked at 102 mph on Indiana 2 near Rolling Prairie.  She was ticketed for speeding and given a summons to appear in court on a charge of reckless driving, police said.

 

La Porte County Police and other law enforcement agencies in the state have extra patrols on the roads presently to discourage intoxicated and aggressive driving.  Anyone driving at least 20 mph over the posted speed limit may be charged with reckless driving and traveling above 90 mph in any location can result in an arrest, police said.

Retirements at Sheriff's Office

(La Porte, IN) - Two longtime members of the La Porte County Sheriff’s Office have retired.

 

According to the sheriff's office, Mark Lachmund worked in the jail before promoted to patrol officer and later detective.  Lachmund later returned to the jail then worked in the civil division until Monday after a nearly 40 year career.

 

Clayton Jordan started as a patrol deputy in 1973 and later was commander of the jail, according to the sheriff's office.  Jordan also worked in the civil division until his last day on Monday.

Movie about La Porte's Infamous Serial Killer

(La Porte, IN) - A movie is going to be filmed in the City of La Porte.  The film is about serial killer Belle Gunness, who murdered a number of men in La Porte over a century ago.

 

Michael Bernacchi, a representative from the production company, said part of the filming will be done on Crescent Drive near the Kesling School campus.  He asked that stretch of road be closed to limit noise during yesterday’s Board of Public Works and Safety meeting.  His request to close the street for two or three days beginning April 27 was approved.

 

His grandfather was Angelo Bernacchi, the founder of Angelo Bernacchi Greenhouses in La Porte.  Bernacchi said his grandfather used to sell produce to Belle Gunness in the early 1900’s.

 

He said the movie is part fiction about his grandfather and Belle Gunness falling in love with

each other.  “So what I did is I fabricated a love story between Belle Gunness,  Belle Gunness’ foster daughter who happens to have the name Jenny Olson, and my grandfather.  So, there's a romantic subplot that kind of drives the whole storyline forward.  It's a whole different approach to the subject matter of Belle Gunness.  It’s been tried so many times before but it's the romantic subplot that really, really drives this story ahead,” he said.

 

Playing Belle Gunness in the movie is Tracy Lords.  She shot to fame as an actress in adult movies and later starred in mainstream films.

Michigan City Woman Arrested in Traffic Stop

(Hammond, IN) - A Michigan City woman was clocked at nearly twice the speed limit.  But, she could go to prison for allegedly doing things like driving drunk and kicking the arresting officers.

 

According to state police, 35 year old Jasmine Gorman was clocked at 101 miles per hour on Interstate 94 in Lake County early yesterday.  Police say it took about two miles for her to pull over despite the lights and siren on the police vehicle being activated.  After failing a sobriety test, police say she kicked the officer and a squad car then struck a second trooper who showed up to assist. 

 

Eventually, she was handcuffed and hauled to the Lake County Jail where she's facing charges like two felony counts of battery to a police officer.

Woman Charged in Stabbing

(La Porte County, IN) - A woman is charged with stabbing a man multiple times outside Michigan City.  29-year old McKenzie Logan was being held on $25,000 bond.

 

According to La Porte County Police, officers early Sunday were called to a home in the 6800 block of Bleck Road.  Randall Ungerank, 27, was outside the Coolspring Township residence covered in blood from multiple stab wounds to his upper body, police said.  He was taken to a hospital.  His condition was not revealed.

 

Logan is charged with level 3 felony aggravated battery along with two counts of level 5 felony battery. 

 

According to court documents, the man and woman lived together and apparently engaged in an argument prior to things becoming physical.

 

Police say Logan allegedly grabbed a knife from the bedroom and slashed her boyfriend

on the ear.

 

According to police, she then stabbed him in the stomach and other areas like the collar bone

and head.

 

Ungerank’s injuries also included a collapsed lung

 

The victim told police he consumed a fifth of vodka over 24 hours or so before the stabbing.

 

Police say Logan appeared to be under the influence of an unknown substance, possibly drugs.

Another Condemned Structure Comes Down

(La Porte, IN) - More demolition has occurred in the City of La Porte.  A dilapidated house at 603 Tipton Street is the most recent structure to come down in what’s been an aggressive stance taken by Mayor Tom Dermody against such properties since elected more than a year ago.

 

Code Enforcement Director Jeff Batchelor said the foundation there was caving in and other problems included electrical issues and the roof.  He said people were also breaking into the house to do things like get out of the cold, vandalize and party.

 

Officials said the city has spent a great deal of the $300,000 in federal dollars set aside for the effort but another $150,000 from Uncle Sam is expected to continue demolition in the coming months.

 

At today’s Board of Public Works meeting, Dermody said full efforts are made to find new homes for people before demolition occurs at properties still being lived in and gave credit to Batchelor for making sure people aren’t thrown on the streets.  “I just think that’s important to know.  The first thing you’re doing in going above and beyond is to find alternative housing and many times you’re working harder than the individual", Dermody stated.

 

In most cases, Dermody said the homes are vacant.  In other cases, a favor is being done by getting people out of inhumane conditions.  Batchelor also reported about 700 code enforcement violations have been given out, so far, this year.

Vaccine Available for Hoosiers 55 and Over

(Indianapolis, IN) - Hoosiers 55 and over can now be vaccinated against COVID-19.

 

According to the Indiana State Department of Health, appointments by people 55 to 59 can be made at the 400 or so vaccination clinics across the state online at ourshot.in.gov or by calling 211.

 

Vaccines became available to Indiana residents 60 to 64 last week.  ISDH officials said vaccinations could open even sooner to people younger than 55 now that Johnson & Johnson recently approved a vaccine that requires just one dose and no refrigeration.

U.S. 30 Reopens After Fuel Leak Crash

(La Porte County, IN) - Motorists are traveling U.S. 30 again here in La Porte County.  According to La Porte County Police, one lane in each direction reopened several hours after a collision between two semi- trucks.

 

About 7,000 gallons of the 9,100 gallons of fuel inside a ruptured tanker leaked out when the

tanker was rear ended by a tractor trailer at a railroad crossing near Thompson St., authorities said.  La Porte County Haz-Mat Director Jeff Hamilton said wells in the areas will be tested over

the next several days to determine if any of the fuel leached into the groundwater.

 

Police reported two minor injuries from the crash which occurred about 7:30 a.m.

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