Local News Archives for 2021-09

Charges in Crash Death of Graduate

(La Porte County, IN) - Charges have been filed for a suspected impaired driving-related fatality in La Porte County earlier this year.

 

Michael Murphy, 22, of Hobart, is charged with Operating While Intoxicated Causing Death, Operating While Intoxicated Causing Serious Bodily Injury, and Reckless Homicide. Another driver involved in the accident, Malachi Young, 19, of Michigan City, was pronounced dead.

 

The crash occurred on June 13 in the area of U.S. 20 and Pinetree Drive. La Porte County Police said Murphy drove over the center line before crashing into the vehicle operated by Young.

 

A warrant was issued Friday for the arrest of Murphy following an ongoing investigation of the accident. Murphy, who surrendered voluntarily, was held in the La Porte County Jail on a $20,000 cash-only bond.

 

Young had just received his high school diploma at a graduation ceremony before the crash.

Overdose Deaths Locally Still Climbing

(La Porte County, IN) - The number of people dying from drug use in La Porte County keeps going up.

 

La Porte County Coroner Lynn Swanson said there had been 42 drug overdose deaths so far this year. In comparison, she said there were 42 all of last year.

 

Swanson said fentanyl has been mixed with other drugs like heroin and ingested in most overdose death cases. Seven of the drug-related deaths this year happened during the Labor Day holiday weekend.

 

The number of people dying from drug use throughout the county is about double what it used to be several years ago.

Mayor Bowled Over by Honor

(La Porte, IN) - La Porte Mayor Tom Dermody has been recognized for his support of the high school bowling team.

 

Keith Gaekle, one of the coaches on the bowling team, presented Dermody with a team jersey during last night’s La Porte City Council meeting. Gaekle said the mayor began showing support for the squad after taking over as mayor nearly 21 months ago.

 

Dermody has done things for the program, like fundraising and rolling the ceremonial first ball to kick off the sectionals the bowling team hosted earlier this year.

 

“In your short time as mayor, you have given the program more recognition than any city official, than any school official.  We appreciate your support,” Dermody said.

 

After presenting Dermody with the team jersey, Gaekle posted pictures with Dermody and other city officials.

Tragic Death of Toddler

(Michigan City, IN) - A Michigan City girl was fatally run over by a motor vehicle outside her residence.

 

22-month old Emersyn Woods was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after the accident on September 11th, said La Porte County Coroner Lynn Swanson.

 

According to authorities, she was helping her family put away groceries and was outside when a relative started backing up in a vehicle in the area of Detroit and Cedar streets.

 

Swanson said a tire ran over the toddler, and the driver, after stopping, immediately discovered the badly injured girl.

 

She was still alive when paramedics arrived but died shortly later in the emergency room at Franciscan Health. Two days later, Swanson said an autopsy was performed.

 

The findings revealed the girl suffered complex skull fractures and massive hemorrhaging of the brain, she said.

 

A Go Fund Me page created for the family has raised just over $2,000.

Adoption of Cats Purring Along

(La Porte, IN) - Many cats have been adopted since the Jane Bernard Animal Adoption Center near the La Porte County Fairgrounds was over capacity.

 

At one point, the facility with about 100 cats earlier this month had twice as many felines than it was designed to hold comfortably, said Eric Hayes, director of the shelter.

 

Hayes said the word about the need for cats to be adopted resulted in a good response from the public. As a result, more than 40 cats, mostly kittens, are now in good homes.

 

There’s still a need for adoption with the facility at about 20 or more cats than what it should be housing. The numbers were high because of an increase in the number of stray cats, primarily kittens, taken in recently at the shelter. The kittens were already born or about to be delivered when arriving at the shelter. 

 

The influx of cats and kittens usually happens in the spring but came months later this year.

 

“Not sure why. It was just later in the season,” Hayes explained.

The SOUND OFF Podcast: A Conversation about Salaries in Government Positions

Experts say that recruiting and retaining state and local government workers is the most difficult in decades. Competition from the private sector has left many governmental jobs unfilled and understaffed in local police, fire, street, and parks departments. Should local governments be willing to pay more to attract more and better talent? If elected officials were paid more, would that be one less barrier for more people to run for office? Should the Mayor of Michigan City get a substantial raise as the one proposed? We invited our listeners to give their opinions on these questions and more. 

 

Listen to the full episode below: 

 

 

CREDITS: Nate Loucks (Host), Dennis Siddall (Producer)

 

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.

82 Points Scored in Football Victory

(New Buffalo, MI) - The Red Arrow Raiders notched their first victory in the high school football season in a big way.

 

On Saturday, the team comprised of students from New Buffalo and River Valley defeated the Twin City Sharks 82-12 at Lake Michigan Catholic High School.  

 

Head Coach Matt Johnson gave some of the credit for the lopsided victory to correcting mistakes in execution during a hard-fought loss the previous week to Tri-Unity Christian.

 

“We spent a lot of time on that and the kids were hungry to win,” Johnson said.

 

Johnson said he was surprised at the margin of victory because of the Sharks' level of talent in critical positions like the quarterback. The Sharks also defeated Tri-Unity Christian earlier in the season.

 

“They had some really good athletes,” Johnson explained.  

 

The Twin City squad consists of students from Lake Michigan Catholic, Michigan Lutheran, and Countryside Academy.

 

Leading the Raiders on offense was quarterback Michael Bombin who completed 7 of his 11 passes for 144 yards. Bombin also ran for another 101 yards on six carries and scored five touchdowns. Bombin was also a significant contributor on defense with eight tackles and two interceptions.

 

Eli Thomas ran for 107 yards on seven carries and caught three passes for 37 yards with six touchdowns.

 

Ben Coffeen added 47 yards on seven rushes. He also ran 52 yards for a touchdown after recovering a fumble.

 

Johnson also credited his defensive line for consistently pressuring the quarterback and offense line for protecting the quarterback.

 

The Sharks were able to gain just 46 rushing yards on 17 carries and 152 passing yards on 32 pass attempts.

 

The Raiders (1-2) play Friday night again at Eau Claire.

 

“Eau Claire’s got some kids that can play.  They’ve got a pretty good defense. Their quarterback is elusive. They got a running back that is really good. We have to be ready for a battle,” Johnson said.

Johnson said his team is still not where he wants it to be. However, he believes the victory over the Sharks was a step in the right direction toward what can be a solid season.

 

“We’re always striving for perfection so that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to keep working to try and be perfect and be better this week than we were last week,” he said.

Trail Extension Planned in La Porte

(La Porte, IN) - The new trail at Stone Lake in La Porte is going to be extended.

 

The extension will take the trail from the Stone Lake beach house past the new kayak launch and Cummings Lodge. The route will then go through some wooded areas and end at the Waverly Road parking lot at the channel that connects Stone Lake and Pine Lake. 

 

La Porte Parks Superintendent Mark Schreiber says a state grant will pay 80-percent of the estimated $300,000 cost.

 

“What this will do will allow people to be able to safely go from ski beach all the way over to the beach house without having to walk along what is a fairly narrow walkable area,” Schreiber said.

 

Schreiber said bids for extending the trail should go out in the spring, with construction slated for next year.

 

Mark Schreiber was recently a guest on SOUND OFF. To hear him talk about the Stone Lake trail and more, listen to the full episode here.

Strong Feelings on Proposed Vacation Home Restrictions

(New Buffalo, MI) - A proposal to limit the number of short-term rentals in New Buffalo drew a large, fired-up crowd alleging such restrictions would do great harm to the local economy.

           

Karen Daughty told the New Buffalo Planning Commission on September 16 that she and other small business owners downtown are struggling already without a permanent cap on what brings many visitors to the community.

 

She said 80-percent of sales at her Designer Cottage Scapes of Harbor County gift store at 112 N. Whittaker St. are from people outside the area, and many of them probably stay in short-term rentals.  

 

“You’re getting ready to put a nail in the coffin for all of the small businesses downtown,” Daughty related.

 

A moratorium on short-term rentals has been in place for over a year while the city decides how to address a sharp growth in vacation homes.

 

The Planning Commission did not vote on the measure, which limits the number of short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods to the amount that existed and was registered with the city before the end of October.

 

Planning Commission Chairman Paul Billingslea, who pounded his gavel several times to quiet the vocal crowd, said he was not ready to cast a vote.

 

“I’m trying to come up with a solution that works for everybody and that’s not easy.  Someplace in the middle is where we got to be,” Billingslea explained.

 

Over 100 people showed up for the meeting, with some forced to go outside and look through windows to watch because of social distancing guidelines. 

 

Whatever the Planning Commission recommends will go to the City Council for a final vote.

 

Several people against the proposed restrictions expressed anger with Mayor John Humphrey, a member of the City Council.

 

Humphrey has expressed a desire for restrictions on short-term rentals because the increase in dwellings converted into vacation homes has increased dramatically in recent years.

 

As a result, fewer homes are available to live in year-round.

 

The sharp increase in vacation homes is also believed to contribute to skyrocketing property values that cause families with children wanting to live here to purchase more affordable homes elsewhere.

 

Humphrey believes the key to the city’s future is a more year-round economy driven by an increase in full-time residents like it used to be before tourism here becoming a more dominant force.

 

He and other city officials are also concerned about unrest in neighborhoods from parties, noise, traffic, and litter generated at some of the vacation homes.

 

Many opponents of the proposal questioned whether there have been many complaints and felt there are no longer not enough meat and potatoes jobs in areas like manufacturing to support the mayor’s vision.

 

“The city is business owners, second homeowners, short rental owners, restaurant and beachgoers. Shop, winery, and brewery visitors. It is not just long-term residents.  All of us make up this city and contribute to it in some way,” said Diane Gajos, a vacation homeowner.

Jason Milovich, the owner of Blue Fish Vacation Rentals, said the local tourism economy, once vibrant just during the summer, now has a strong heartbeat in the fall.

 

“This is our identity. Period,” Milovich said.

 

Heather Gradowski said tourism is also a pulse now virtually year-round because of events and other attractions that draw visitors during the off-season.

 

Gradowski said she supports “reasonable regulation” of short-term rentals but the ones currently proposed “slowly assures their death” and will also “assure a slow and painful death to this small city.  I think we can do better than that.”

 

Other stipulations of the measure include short-term rental owners having to conform with regulations governing use and renewing their permit within 12 months after expiration to keep the license.

 

New owners would also have to renew the permit to operate their newly acquired property as a short-term rental.

Citizens to be Schooled in Police Work

(Michigan City, IN) - The Michigan City Police Department is hosting a Citizens Police Academy where citizens are invited to experience what it’s like to be a police officer.

 

Police say participants will receive two and a half hours of training every Thursday for seven weeks.

 

The training will be in various functions like search and seizure, patrol tactics, and firearm safety. Participants will also learn things like processing a crime scene.

 

Applications for the Citizens Academy are being accepted until Thursday. The first session is scheduled for October 7th at the Michigan City Police Station. 

Unifrax Launches Groundbreaking Endeavor

(New Carlisle, IN) - A New Carlisle manufacturing company broke ground Friday on a new facility.

 

Unifrax announced in June that it would begin production on a new line of battery charging components. Company leaders say the brand new technology, labeled Silicon Fiber Anode Battery Technology (SiFAB), will allow many kinds of rechargeable batteries to charge faster and last longer. A cell phone charger, for example, that currently lasts a day may last a week with new SiFAB components.

 

The new facility will create at least 20 jobs by the end of next year, with an addition of about 50 more jobs the following year.

 

Unifrax produces specialty materials that help save energy, reduce pollution, and improve safety. The company employs over 2,700 people in 37 locations across 12 countries.

Officers Have an Eye for Jail Smuggler

(Porter County, IN) - A northwest Indiana man was arrested earlier this week for attempting to smuggle drugs into jail pirate-style.

 

34-year-old Christopher Bartosik of Griffith was detained at the Porter County Jail after officers detected something suspicious about the eye patch he was wearing.

 

Bartosik claimed he just had eye surgery as he fidgeted with the patch. Upon inspection, officers found taped inside the patch what they believed to be Suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid addiction. According to reports, Bartosic also had a lighter hidden in his pants.

 

Bartosik now faces a misdemeanor drug possession charge.

Truck Crash Clogs I-65

(Hobart, IN) - A semi rollover backed up traffic on I-65 Friday morning.

 

Just before 5:00 AM, police responded to the scene of a crash involving a semi and a 2012 Nissan Sentra. Investigators say the semi blew a tire and left the roadway, striking the unoccupied Sentra that had been left on the roadside.

 

The truck driver, 34-year-old Willie Evans of Illinois, sustained only minor injuries.

 

Traffic was delayed for quite some time. The scene wasn’t cleared until almost 2:00 in the afternoon.

New Trails Opening Up

A couple of new nature trails are opening up in the area.

 

North Liberty hosts a 5K walk, run, and bike ride Saturday to celebrate its new Stellar Trail. The new trail links up with two existing paths totaling nearly two miles through town.

 

In addition, the town is currently planning another section of trail out to Potato Creek State Park.

 

In Michigan City, a ribbon-cutting is scheduled for two weeks from now for the new Singing Sands Trail. It’s part of a trail system stretching from Chicago to southwest Michigan.

 

The Singing Sands Trail follows Highway 12 through Michigan City to the city’s east side.

 

LaPorte County will extend the trail to the Michigan State line. Construction on that extension will begin next month.

Garage Destroyed by Fire

(La Porte County, IN) - A garage burned to the ground outside La Porte this week, but fortunately, firefighters managed to keep the flames away from the house.

 

The fire was in the 2900 block of West Small Road just northwest of the LaPorte County Fairgrounds. The garage collapsed after being consumed by flames.

 

No injuries were reported. So far, no word yet on the cause of the fire. Volunteer firefighters from Center, Scipio and Coolspring townships responded to the blaze.

Corn Husking Contest Coming Up

(Bremen, IN) - Harvesting corn by hand is not done at many farms anymore, but what some describe as "human combines" will be showcasing their skills.

 

Legend has it, farmers, before the invention of modern harvesting machines, were like a blur in how fast they could strip an ear and toss it into a horse-drawn wagon before husking the next ear from the stalk.

 

Rolland Miller said he’s not sure if they were that fast, but he can husk an ear about every two seconds.

 

The Indiana Corn Husking Association will host its annual state contest on October 2 at the Geyer Dairy Farm in Bremen.

 

As many as 100 or more participants, young and old, will begin husking at 9 AM. The competition for cash prizes ends at 3 PM. 

 

“It’s kind of what we call a living history where you get to kind of step back in time,” Miller said.

 

People will compete in age groups and work between the rows. They have 20 minutes to husk as many ears as possible from their designated areas while youth and people 75 and over are given 10 minutes.

 

Miller, treasurer of the ICHA, said winners are determined by the total weight of the ears minus the weight of the ears remaining on each stalk. Points are also deducted for any ears not stripped clean enough.

 

“It does pay to clean the corn but you can’t waste too much time getting it too clean. Otherwise, it goes against you,” Miller explained.

 

The contest is no small potatoes in terms of the ability of participants. Two years ago, Ted Richard of Rochester, after taking first place in his class, returned with a title from the national championships in Nebraska.     

 

“He was probably averaging 38 to 40 ears a minute. To do that for 20 minutes, that’s hauling,” said Miller.

 

Anyone is eligible to take part in the competition. Miller and his brother, Arlen, have qualified for the national tournament the past several years.

 

A peg, thumb hook, and other handheld devices can be used to help strip the ears. Gloves can also be worn.

 

“There are different ways of trying to put a tool in your hand to assist in trying to get that husk off as fast as possible,” Miller said.

 

Miller, who lives near LaPaz, is not a farmer. Instead, he learned to husk as a child from his grandfather, who was a farmer.

 

The contest will be on the farm of Clay Geyer, who has 12 acres of his 200 acres of corn reserved for the competition held annually since 2012 to help keep alive the tradition. Geyer, president of the ICHA, said the number of contestants had grown each year.

 

“We’ve actually got quite a few younger huskers,” Geyer said.

 

Geyer, who’s also competed at the national level, said a key to fast husking is throwing the stripped ears over your shoulder into the wagon while keeping your eyes on the stalk to reach for another ear.

 

Non-stop husking is not an easy task. Fatigue, especially in the arms, can set in during the final minutes. In addition, cuts from the edges of husks no longer soft after turning brown can add to the physical challenge.

 

“You’re pretty well worn out after 20 minutes if you’re hitting it hard,” Geyer said.

 

Geyer said encouragement from several hundred onlookers and desire for good-natured bragging rights helps keep the huskers going. He and others also enjoy the camaraderie from people with a common thread being amongst each other.  

 

“It’s a good outdoor family event. We just have fun with it,” Geyer said.

The cost of entering the contest ranges from $5 to $20.

The SOUND OFF Podcast: A Conversation with Mark Schreiber and Brett Binversie

(LAPORTE, IN) - Get your party hats on because it's Friday! And, on Fridays, it's time to SOUND OFF. Today's guests were LaPorte Parks Superintendent Mark Schreiber and Director of Civic Auditorium Brett Binversie. We discussed the parks department, the latest parks construction projects, and the Civic Auditorium's use as an event center. 

 

Listen to the full episode below: 

 

 

CREDITS: Nate Loucks (Host), Jeff Wuggazer (Editor), Dennis Siddall (Producer), Mark Schreiber (Guest), Brett Binversie (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. 

Big Weekend in Downtown La Porte

(La Porte, IN) - The weekend promises to be a very happening one in downtown La Porte. Harvest Moon is scheduled for Friday from 6-10 PM on Monroe Street, just north of Lincolnway.

 

Live music and craft beer, along with other vendors, will be among the attractions. The annual Sunflower Fair is Saturday from 8 AM to 4 PM on Michigan Avenue from Lincolnway to Noble Street.

 

Kids rides, a classic car show, food vendors, artisans, and rib cook-off will be among the features of the Sunflower Fair, which draws thousands of people annually.

 

“There are tons of things for you to do,” said Lindsay Jongkind of the La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership, which is hosting the event.

There will also be live music from Chronic Flannel playing music from the ’60s to modern hits on Michigan Avenue following the Sunflower Fair from 6-10:30 PM.

 

“It’s going to be a packed weekend,” said Mayor Tom Dermody.

Go to the LEAP website, the Sunflower Fair website on Facebook, or the City of La Porte’s Facebook page for more information.

Superintendent Responds to Mask Mandate

(La Porte, IN) - The superintendent of the La Porte Community School Corporation responded to people opposed to the mask mandate.

 

Mark Francesconi says the mandate that went into on Wednesday stems from changes made at the state level. The state chose to require students without masks to be quarantined if it was determined through contact tracing that they had close contact with a COVID-19 infected person.

 

Close to 450 “healthy individuals” have been sent home for a period of time to learn virtually since the start of the school year due to the state requirement.

 

Francesconi disputes claims that staff members were blocking doorways to keep students from leaving yesterday during a walkout at the high school to protest the mandate. Instead, he said staff members monitored hallways and doors, not blocking or locking doors as some people online alleged.

 

Francesconi said the times are challenging and the atmosphere charged but feedback from the community is respected, and cooperation from everyone is appreciated.

Broadband Summit with Providers

(Westville, IN) - Greater access to high-speed internet was a significant focus by the public and private sectors locally this week.

 

La Porte County Commissioner Sheila Matias was among the local officials at Purdue University Northwest near Westville.

 

Matias said there’s fiber now along the entire stretch of the Indiana Toll Road, and how to extend service from that fiber to unserved and underserved areas of La Porte County was discussed at length with service providers. The service providers were also informed there’s a road map for needing additional fiber in La Porte County.

 

The information gathered by the La Porte County Broadband Task Force, with help from residents, makes extending fiber more efficient for service providers.

 

“We’ve built a geospatial map of the survey data with the upload and download speeds so we know exactly where we need to deploy additional fiber,” Matias said.

 

Gaps in coverage are a problem, especially in rural areas nationwide, because of high cost and difficulty recovering the investment. In addition, rural areas often don’t have enough potential subscribers for service providers to make such an investment without help from the government offsetting those costs.

 

Matias says La Porte County is seeking funds to fill in more service gaps here.

Tax Solutions for Short-Term Rentals

(La Porte County, IN) - More short-term rentals are popping up in La Porte County. As a result, officials want to find out how to calculate their property taxes properly.

 

La Porte County Assessor Mike Schultz says short-term rentals are being under billed from taxes determined by the same formula used for traditional rental homes.

 

However, Schultz said homes becoming short-term rentals have a higher assessed value now because they generate more revenue from the extra money weekly vacationers are willing to pay in rent.

 

The La Porte County Commissioners last night gave Schultz approval to start developing a model for assessing short-term rental homes. Schultz said the increase in short-term rentals has been noticeable in recent years throughout the county.

4-H Volunteers at Odds with Leadership

(La Porte County, IN) - Elected officials locally are getting a firsthand look at why many 4-H volunteers are at odds with the new leadership at Purdue Extension, causing a significant loss in volunteers. 

 

La Porte County Commissioner Joe Haney says he got a taste of it at a Purdue Extension meeting here on Monday when members of the public were told to leave after the meeting was canceled. Haney said the meeting was in a county government-owned building, and he told the people to stay if they wished to discuss their concerns with him.

 

“I didn’t take too kindly by being told by someone from downstate that we had to leave our building so I told everyone they could stay if they wanted to talk,” Haney said.

Haney said the approach by Purdue Extension was “heavy-handed,” which is similar to what 4-H volunteers have described as the approach by the new leadership at Purdue Extension.

 

“The heavy-handedness from Purdue from their leadership has been extreme.  It’s caused dozens if not, hundreds of volunteers to leave or be forced to resign and something has to change there,” Haney said.

There’s been talk of a mediator from Purdue Extension getting involved in bringing both sides together.

 

Haney says the situation has to be corrected because volunteers are the backbone of 4-H and the county fair.

Protest of Mask Mandate

(La Porte, IN) - About a dozen people this morning turned out to protest the school mask mandate in La Porte. They gathered outside the school administration building at the former Boston Middle School.

 

Robyn Alberico, who has two-grade school children in the system, said the school year began with parents having the option to choose whether their children wear masks inside school buildings. She said parents did not have a say when the switch was made to the mandate.

 

“We didn’t have any warning this was going to happen,” Alberico said.

Alberico also said she feels the mandate will not help reduce COVID-19 cases. She said students could remove the masks during recess and after coming home then become contagious before returning to their schools.  

 

Superintendent Mark Francesconi said the decision by the school board Monday was about safety and keeping as many kids in school as possible.

 

Under a recent order from the governor, he said students without a mask who had contact or close contact with an infected individual have to temporarily go home and learn virtually. However, he noted that students wearing masks near an infected person could remain in school unless they show symptoms.

 

School Board member Jim Arnold said he sees no reason to lift the mandate right now. Instead, Arnold said the order should be given time to determine if it’s working to keep more kids in school and, if not, then he would be open to lifting it.

Large Pay Hike Proposed for Mayor

(Michigan City, IN) - The mayor in Michigan City could be in for a considerable pay increase. An ordinance is being proposed to raise the mayor’s salary to just over $118,000.

 

Currently, the mayor is paid around $80,000 annually.

 

The ordinance is expected to be discussed during a city council workshop scheduled at 5 PM on Monday. City councilman Sean Fitzpatrick proposed the pay increase.

Prison for OWI Death of Wife

(St. Joseph County, IN) - A three-year prison sentence has been given for a fatal drunk-driving crash in Walkerton.

 

Authorities say 48-year-old Thomas Grzywinski flipped his vehicle after losing control on a curve on Osborne Trail in October of 2019. His wife, who was a passenger in the vehicle, was killed.

 

Grzywinski must also serve three years on probation.

Drug Related Death Suspected

(Michigan City, IN) - Michigan City Police are investigating a death possibly related to drugs.

 

20-year old Dennis Barger III was taken Sunday afternoon by ambulance from the 300 block of South Street. He later died at the hospital. Police say a 26-year-old woman exhibiting similar symptoms of possible drug use was also taken to the same hospital. 

 

Because of the ongoing investigation, police did not say if heroin or any other specific drug was suspected in the case. Opiates may have been involved. According to experts, opiates can be anything from heroin and fentanyl to other drugs like morphine and Vicodin.

 

Anyone who might have information helpful to the investigation is asked to contact Michigan City Police.

Police Issue Stop Arm Advisory

(La Porte County, IN) - La Porte County Police are asking drivers not to disregard school bus stop arms.

 

Police say deputies have been receiving numerous complaints from bus drivers. One of the violations happened on U.S. 35 north of La Porte on Monday.

 

The Sheriff’s Office is reminding drivers all lanes of traffic on non-divided four-lane highways must stop for buses picking up and loading children.

 

Drivers not sure about the law are advised to brush up on the requirements available online from Indiana State Police.

Protest of Mask Mandate Planned

(La Porte, IN) - Some parents are hoping a new mask mandate for schools in La Porte is quickly reversed.

 

If not, a protest is planned for 7 AM on Thursday outside the school administration building. Spencer England, an organizer of the rally, said he has signatures from more than 300 parents opposed to the mandate.

 

England said just a small percentage of infected children develop major symptoms, and many other kids don’t show signs of infection.

 

England believes that life must go on and children not “muzzled” for a virus he believes is impossible to keep out entirely. Contrary to data and testimony from scientists, medical experts, and local public health officials, England does not think masks are effective. 

 

England said he would try and approach school officials on Wednesday about possibly reversing the mandate. If not reversed, England will lead the protest outside the old Boston Middle School, where the superintendent and other administrators are now located.

 

La Porte School Board member Jim Arnold said the protesters have a right to express their feelings peacefully. However, Arnold voiced support for the mandate and felt it should be given time to see if it reduces cases and fewer kids having to be quarantined at home.

 

“I see no reason at this point in time to move back from it,” Arnold said about the recently approved mask mandate. 

 

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb recently incentivizes schools to impose mask mandates by allowing districts to curtail their quarantine procedures. If schools institute mask mandates, they no longer will need to keep as many kids in quarantine which education experts suggest impedes finding a vital rhythm for children's education needs. 

Homecoming Patrols Starting Up

(La Porte County, IN) - La Porte County Police will be out in greater numbers for homecoming season beginning this weekend.

 

Police say homecoming-related events usually result in underage drinking, reckless driving, and other misconduct. In response, officers will have a greater presence in the upcoming weeks throughout the county.

 

Police ask parents to encourage their children to make good decisions and remind them of the consequences of drinking alcohol and using drugs.

 

Other pieces of advice from police include parents knowing when and where homecoming events are scheduled, who their children will be with, and contacting your children during events to find out how they are doing.

Images Captured of Robbery Suspects

(Michigan City, IN) - The public is being asked to help solve a gas station robbery in Michigan City.

 

According to police, it happened Monday at about 5 AM at the Go Lo station on Greenwood Avenue. Three men, described as black, are suspected of the robbery but have not been identified.

 

Investigators are asking nearby residents with surveillance systems to check their footage for people running or getting inside vehicles during the time of the robbery.

 

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Michigan City Police Department at (219) 874-3221. 

 

Store Reopens After Crash

(MICHIGAN CITY, IN) - Things were pretty much back to normal Tuesday at a Michigan City store where a 90-year old driver crashed into the building.

 

Advanced Auto Parts on U.S. 20 temporarily closed after a car went through the front glass doors in the late morning on Monday. The floor was littered with bottles of oil and other products from shelves knocked over by the vehicle.

 

Store worker Adrienne Laskoske said she was at the front counter and saw the vehicle coming toward the front doors and bust through the glass. The car stopped about 15 feet from her and several customers.

 

"We were all shaken up a little bit," Laskoske said.

According to the police, there were no injuries.

 

The driver, Hoit Miller, went off the road and traveled at an unsafe speed toward the building. The Michigan City man told investigators he tried stopping his 2008 Honda, but the collision happened faster than he could react. Miller said he did not remember what happened. 

 

Laskoske said the driver climbed out of the car and sat down on a chair until emergency responders arrived. He later called someone to pick him up and take him home.

 

Store manager Bill Keck said the business reopened Tuesday with plywood in the front doors and the mess cleaned up. However, Keck said it could be a month before the doors have window panes again.

 

“It has to be special ordered,” Keck said.

Fatal Crash with Oncoming Semi

(Porter County, IN) - A fatal head-on collision with a semi-truck occurred yesterday near Chesterton. The crash happened around 6 PM on U.S. 20.

 

The aftermath of the crash left a semi-truck on its side and the driver of a passenger vehicle killed. An investigation and clean-up of the accident closed U.S 20 for several hours. 

 

So far, the name of the victim has not been released. In addition, no light has been shed on the cause of the collision, which remained under investigation.

School Mask Mandate Begins Wednesday

(La Porte, IN) - A mask mandate for the LaPorte Community School Corporation goes into effect on Wednesday.

 

The mandate approved unanimously last night by the school board is in response to an order by the governor that students not wearing a mask who had close contact with a COVID-19 infected individual had to be quarantined.

 

Superintendent Mark Francesconi said the idea is to reduce the number of students sent home for virtual learning.

 

Nearly 400 students have been quarantined since the beginning of the school year, but the percentage of students with close contact with an infected person testing positive was very low.

 

“We’re viewing things certainly from the safety aspect and from the education aspect,” Francesconi said.  

Francesconi said the mandate would remain in effect until the percentage of people testing positive for the virus in La Porte County drops into the blue, the lowest category under the statewide color-coded monitoring system. Currently, La Porte County is in the orange, which is just below the highest category of red.

 

School Board member Jim Arnold said the mask mandate does not apply to students outside or student-athletes taking part during indoor competitions.

Clock Still Ticking on Westville Icon

(Westville, IN) - The clock is ticking on what’s been a symbol of Westville for generations.

 

A contract for $28,600 has been approved for tearing down the old water tower at 104 West Main Street. The steel water tower and tank were erected in 1930 by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company, according to LandmarkHunter.com. The decision by the town council was unanimous even though many residents would like the water tower to stay.

 

“If there’s any way to keep it, we should keep it,” said Ron Stallings, a former member of the town council and Commander of the Westville American Legion Post 21.  

Officials said that the cost of repainting the tank and tower and upgrading the steel was estimated at more than $300,000.

 

Councilman Mike Albert said he understands the well over the 100-foot high tower in the heart of the town means something to people here. He also feels the tank, which can be seen for miles, adds character to the town.

 

However, Albert said he couldn’t justify the current high cost and future expense of upkeep since the tower is no longer used.

 

Water is now stored inside a much larger tank installed when the water treatment plant was put in about 20-years ago on the north end of the town of about 5,000 residents.   

 

“It’s something I grew up seeing. It’s something my mother grew up seeing. It’s a landmark but, financially, it’s cost-prohibitive to keep it,” he said.

 

Stallings said images of the iconic water tower are used to promote the town along with community events. He believes it’s often the first thing people see while entering and leaving the community.

 

Stallings would agree with the council’s decision if there were no other way to reduce or spread the cost of the maintenance work over a several-year period. However, Stallings suggests holding off on the demolition until making sure all cost-friendly options have been explored.

 

Albert said an increase in water rates would be a way to generate funds to pay for future maintenance of the tower. However, he doubts if a rate increase is something most residents would support.

 

“There’s been some grumbling. If they want to come up with the monies to pay for it we’d be happy to consider their offers,” Albert said.

 

Currently, demolition is expected to begin in about six weeks.

Record Attendance for Powerboat Racing

(Michigan City, IN) - The decision to expand Michigan City’s 2021 Great Lakes Grand Prix by continuing with the two races this year paid off in a big way for the community by setting records for both attendance and earnings, according to Visit Michigan City LaPorte Visitors Bureau.

 

A total of 249,400 people visited the 12th annual event held August 4 - August 8, generating $17.7 million for LaPorte County’s economy. “We were expecting good attendance, and we didn’t get disappointed,” said Jack Arnett, Executive Director of Visit Michigan City LaPorte “adding the AquaX events again was a big success, and we plan on growing that part of the event moving forward.” 

 

The Great Lakes Grand Prix, held on Lake Michigan on the southern shore of Michigan City’s Washington Park, features some of the world’s fastest powerboats racing at speeds nearing 175 miles per hour. Originally staged to showcase Michigan City and its lakefront, the race has become a top draw for visitors. 

 

“The Great Lakes Grand Prix is such an amazing event, and we are so lucky to have it in Michigan City at our beautiful lakefront. This event's impact on our economy is huge, but equally as important is the social impact. Michigan City comes together and shows what an incredible community this really is,” said Mayor Duane Parry.

 

The Economic Impact report is done by Certec, Inc, a marketing analysis group based in Lexington, Kentucky. The report shows that visitors from out of town, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Florida, spent $11.8 million this year on direct expenditures such as food, beverages, shopping, and transportation, accounting for a large portion of this year’s $17.7 million in earnings. In addition, residents attending the event contributed an additional $913,000 in direct spending. Jobs directly related to the Grand Prix provided more than $3.9 million in wages to LaPorte County workers. Arnett attributed some of the upticks in earnings and attendance to changes in 2019’s race, including staging races for two days instead of one. In 2019, we partnered with the American Powerboat Association putting the Michigan City race into a six venue racing series staged by the group. 

 

The association was formed when the world’s leading marine motorsport brand Powerboat P1 and the Offshore Powerboat Association (OPA) joined forces. In addition, Grand Prix organizers brought in AquaX, a group that promotes high-endurance jet-ski racing around the world. “The decision to go with OPA and bring in the extra day of racing with the AquaX jet-skis helped to push this to a new level,” Arnett said. “Other events occurring during the race weekend (The Taste of Michigan City, boat parade, food vendors, and entertainment) all contributed significantly to the Grand Prix’s overall success, the report showed. Thank you to all our sponsors, especially NIPSCO as our event sponsor. Our 13th year is scheduled for August 4 - August 7, 2022.

Charges Filed Against Former Coach

(La Porte, IN) - He was a coach in La Porte when he allegedly couldn’t keep his hands off one of his students. Lorenzo Medrano is charged in La Porte Circuit Court with child seduction.

 

According to court documents, Medrano was a coach for the color and winter guard programs at La Porte High School when he allegedly had a crush on a 16-year old girl.

 

The girl told police he touched her sexually outside of her clothing practically every day during the 2019 season. Other allegations include Medrano telling the girl she was hot, asking her out to the movies, and inviting her to shower in his motel room during trips to out of state tournaments with the squad.

 

Medrano drove to LaPorte from his home in Chicago to be a color and winter guard coach.

 

The investigation indicates Medrano was fired in March of last year.

 

According to police, Medrano insisted his relationship with the girl was that of a teacher and student.

 

At least one witness reported overhearing him ask the girl out to the movies while other people said Medrano made flirtatious comments to other students.

 

As a result of these alleged crimes, Medrano could face an up to two and a half year sentence on the level 6 felony charge.

The SOUND OFF Podcast: A Conversation about Eric Holcomb's Handling of the Pandemic

(LAPORTE, IN) - Today's show talked about how you would rate Eric Holcomb's job handling the COVID-19 pandemic in Indiana. Do you think he's done a good job? Bad job? Do you wish he would be doing more? Some governors are mandating masks in schools; others are banning masks in schools. Some are putting their state on lockdown with the higher COVID-19 transmission rates we have; others are not.

 

Listen to the full episode: 

 

 

Credits: Nate Loucks (Host), Dennis Siddall (Producer), Jeff Wuggazer (Editor)

 

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.

New Coffee Shop in La Porte

(La Porte, IN) - A new gourmet coffee shop has opened in LaPorte.

 

Evvy’s Coffeehouse is next to the police station on Indiana Avenue inside a home built in 1900. It was recently converted into a coffee house.

 

There is seating inside and outside in the fenced-in backyard. There’s also front porch seating on LaPorte's historic Indiana Avenue.

 

The inside also features meeting space and a library for people to relax or study.

 

A Valparaiso company, Yaggy Road Roasters, is the roaster of the coffee beans and supplier with deliveries every Friday. 

 

“They make exclusive blends just for us,” Harrell said.

 

Freshly baked pastries are also available at the coffee house, which is open from 6 AM to 2:30 PM on weekdays and from 8 AM to 2 PM on weekends.

 

The business is closed on Tuesdays.

 

Curbside pick-up and online ordering are also available on evvyscoffee.com.

Car Crashes into Auto Parts Store

(Michigan City, IN) - A car crashed into a store in Michigan City this morning. It happened about 10 AM at the Advanced Auto Parts store on U.S. 20 just west of U.S. 421. 

 

Adrienne Laskoske is a delivery person helping a customer at the store's front counter at the time. Laskoske said she saw the vehicle crash through the glass front doors and come to rest completely inside the building.
 

“There’s a lot of broken glass,” she said.

She said the car stopped about 15 feet from where she and several customers were standing.

 

Laskoske said the elderly driver shut off the engine, stepped out of the car, and sat down on a chair inside the store until police and other emergency responders arrived. Nobody was injured.

 

The driver didn’t seem to know the cause of the accident, according to witnesses. 

 

“He wasn’t sure what happened,” Laskoske said.

A tow truck removed the car from the store about one hour later. However, the store closed until the damage could be repaired and the huge mess inside the store was cleaned up.

La Porte County Museum Reopening

(La Porte, IN) - The La Porte County Historical Society Museum is reopening tomorrow.

 

Though the museum was closed for a new roof to be put on the building, it will go back to its regular schedule of being open every Tuesday through Saturday on U.S. 35 at the southern edge of the city tomorrow. 

 

The public is encouraged to come and see new exhibits, including a display on the hospitals in La Porte over the years and photos from a recent “Livin’ the Lake Life” picture-taking contest.

Rock Concerts on Tap in La Porte

(La Porte, IN) - The La Porte Civic Auditorium will be rocking in the coming weeks when a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tribute band is scheduled to perform on October 2.

 

The Wildflowers started in 2012 and performed nationwide, primarily in the southeast.

 

A Beatles tribute band has scheduled a concert at the Civic Auditorium for December 30. The MEGABeatles has played throughout the Midwest.

 

Individual tickets for both concerts are $20-25 apiece. Tickets are available at www.laportecivicauditoriumevents.eventbrite.com or the Civic Auditorium (1001 Ridge Street) or Park Office (250 Pine Lake Avenue) from 8 AM to 4 PM on weekdays.

Short-Staffed BMV Closing Branches

(Indianapolis, IN) - The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles is the latest victim of staffing shortages.

 

The BMV is shuttering 11 branches statewide. The closest location affected nearby is the branch in Walkerton in St. Joseph County. The Nappanee location in Elkhart County is also closing.

 

Officials say the closures are temporary, while the BMV reallocates personnel. It’s due to what they are calling "unprecedented staffing shortages." With 12% of its employment positions open, the BMV says closures could last at least four weeks.

Indy 9/11 Memorial Adds a Piece of History

(Indianapolis, IN) - A rededication ceremony is taking place Saturday for the 9/11 Memorial in Indianapolis.

 

The memorial has been expanded to include an 800-pound piece of Indiana limestone connected to the tragedy. The stone comes from an area of the Pentagon that was damaged in the attack. A Survivor Tree has also been added to symbolize the nation’s spirit of hope and healing.

 

Fundraising is still underway to cover the $450,000 expansion.

Indiana Conservative Leaders Opposed to Vaccine Mandate

(Indianapolis, IN) - Indiana chief executive Eric Holcomb may be one of those governors President Joe Biden has to “get out of the way” to mandate vaccines.


Referring to a comprehensive plan to require vaccination or weekly COVID-19 testing for a large percentage of America’s workforce, Biden said the issue is not about freedom or personal choice.

 

Holcomb issued a statement Friday calling Biden’s vaccination or testing proposal “authoritarian” and “a bridge too far.” Holcomb emphasized his support for vaccines but argued it's not the government's role to mandate them.

 

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita said he is preparing legal action against federal vaccine mandates affecting Hoosiers’ ability to choose.

 

Even Republican Senator Mike Braun, who has been reserved in speaking on this issue, said the President’s proposal violates individual liberties.

The SOUND OFF Podcast: Michigan City Councilman Bryant Dabney

(LAPORTE, IN) - Coming to the studio on SOUND OFF was Michigan City Councilman Bryant Dabney. He talked with Nate Loucks about budget issues in Michigan City, the American Rescue Plan, and other matters impacting Michigan City and LaPorte County residents.

 

Listen to the full episode below: 

 

 

CREDITS: Nate Loucks (Host), Bryant Dabney (Guest), Jeff Wuggazer (Producer/Editor)

 

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.

Local Ceremony to Recognize 9/11 Attacks

(Michigan City, IN) - A Patriot’s Day ceremony is scheduled for Saturday in Michigan City to formally recognize the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. 

 

Citizens are invited to Millennium Plaza for the event, which begins at 8:30 AM.

 

Mayor Duane Parry will speak about the sacrifices of emergency responders and the innocent people who died on September 11, 2001. A wreath will also be placed in Trail Creek.

 

La Porte County Commissioner Rich Mrozinski hopes people tomorrow will especially remember those who perished.

 

“They had no idea it was coming. Some of those people never knew what hit them,” Mrozinski says.

 

Mrozinski, who saw combat duty in the Vietnam War, said the anniversary should remind the country never to let its guard down.

 

“We need to be vigilant. We need to be ready and prepared.  We need to make sure our military is ready and prepared,” Mrozinski warns.

Decision Nears on Short Term Rentals

(New Buffalo, MI) - How to regulate short-term rentals in New Buffalo and limit how many exist could soon be decided.

 

A moratorium on short-term rentals in the city imposed in May of 2020 was recently extended to allow extra time for choosing how to best address the situation. The suspension is now due to expire on November 1st. 

 

City Manager Darwin Watson said a proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance allowing for short-term rentals and regulations they have to meet is in the final stages of being drafted. Watson said what’s been a more than one year process started from scratch.

 

“As is it sits currently there is nothing in the zoning ordinance which allows for short-term rentals to exist,” Watson said.

 

The New Buffalo Planning Commission could recommend following a public hearing on the proposal at its next meeting on September 16th. Then, the New Buffalo City Council could start deciding the matter at its regularly scheduled meeting on September 20th. 

 

In April, a permanent cap of 65 short-term rentals in R-1 zoning districts in the city was proposed. However, the suggested rental cap was later scrapped because it was less than the number of registered short-term rentals, which is 142.

 

Watson said he did not know if a cap would be contained in the zoning ordinance amendment expected to be submitted for consideration soon.

 

“I don’t know what the answer is going to be,” Watson said.

 

The number of short-term rentals has exploded here in recent years, in part, from people converting full-time residences into vacation homes during the summer. As a result, owners are receiving hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a week in rental income depending on the size and amenities of their homes.

 

There’s also been an increase in complaints from residential neighborhoods about loud parties and traffic and litter from large gatherings at vacation rentals. The city struggled to get things under control because of governing enforcement lacking teeth in local codes. The moratorium was an effort to provide stability until the rules were drafted and put into the books.

 

“We’re fixing what should have been done four years ago,” according to Watson. 

 

Watson said the proposal does not punish or discourage people from renting their homes but reaches a happy medium for everyone involved.

 

“It’s to help people to manage how you want your community to look and how you want people to be able to enjoy the quality of life throughout the community,” he said.

Frozen Yogurt a Downtown Delight

(La Porte, IN) - A 22-year old LaPorte woman stepped away from the classroom to answer what she feels is her greater calling in life.

           

Courtney Dickman and her mother, Michelle, recently opened a gourmet frozen yogurt shop in downtown LaPorte. Dickman's grandmother, Mary Tagler, is also a partner in the operation.

 

Downtown Delights at 702 Lincolnway is a self-serve operation with indoor seating in one of the newly refurbished buildings downtown.

           

Dickman was a budding elementary school teacher when her mother, Michelle, sensed a need for such a business here after paying a visit to a frozen yogurt shop elsewhere and pitched the idea to her daughter. She was also well aware of her daughter’s interest in running something like a coffee shop or small café someday.

 

At first, Dickman said, she dismissed the thought of switching gears so quickly. But, after giving it more thought, Dickman said she realized going into business where she could be her “own boss” was a better fit.

           

“I decided, you know what, this is the perfect time for me to step away and give it my all,” Dickman says.

Downtown Delights offers eight different frozen yogurt flavors in 16-ounce cups customers grab and fill themselves from an ice cream machine. The flavors include Death by Chocolate, New York Cheese Cake, Mango, Non-fat Banana, and Vegan Vanilla.

           

Customers can also make their way over to a bar featuring more than 30 flavors of toppings. There are candy toppings such as Twix and Reese’s and sauces like hot fudge and hot caramel. Other toppings vary from cookie dough and brownie bites to strawberries and pineapples.

           

“Anything you can think of for any ice cream or yogurt topping, we have it,” Dickman says.

           

Strawberry-banana and mixed berry smoothies will start being offered next week. Those flavors were chosen from her taking a social media poll.

           

The shop will be open year-round with free hot coffee and hot chocolate provided with any purchase to help draw enough customers during the winter.

 

She’s no longer teaching, but Dickman stayed as varsity assistant coach for the girls and boys cross country teams and the girls’ track and field team at LaPorte High School. Dickman took part in those sports at LaPorte High School, where she graduated in 2017.

Pioneer Land Fundraiser Tomorrow

(La Porte, IN) - People can help raise money for Pioneer Land at the La Porte County Fairgrounds by visiting the annual pork chop dinner. 

 

Proceeds will go toward Pioneer Land, an 1800’s type village that’s become a major attraction over the past 20 years or so.

 

Saturday's pork chop dinner will run from 5-7 PM at the Community Building in the fairgrounds. A carry-out and a drive-through area will be set up for people to receive their dinners. The cost is $10 per meal.

Deserving Children Fundraiser Today

(La Porte, IN) - 96.7 the Eagle's Dennis Siddall is broadcasting from the roof today to help provide local children with a good Christmas. 

 

Siddall is raising money for the Deserving Children’s Christmas Shopping Tour held annually by the La Porte Jaycees. The goal is to raise $45,000.

 

Volunteers are outside the WCOE broadcast center at State and Oregon Streets accepting donations from motorists after they pull up.

 

“We’re looking to raise a lot of money,” Siddall said.

People can also contribute to the cause by having lunch outside the Broadcast Center from 11 AM to 1 PM. Hot dogs, sloppy joe’s, corn on the cob, and chips are included on the menu.

 

Hundreds of children throughout La Porte County are taken Christmas shopping every year by members of the Jaycees and other volunteers with help from proceeds collected by Dennis and his army of helpers.

Clock Ticking on Local Landmark

(Westville, IN) - It appears time is running out on a piece of history in Westville.

 

A contract has been approved to tear down the old steel water tower, which went up in 1928. The cost of demolition is close to $29,000. However, some people attached to the tower are not too happy about removing the tank and instead believe it's worth repainting at the cost of over $200,000. 

 

Town Councilman Mike Albert said he grew up in Westville and has sentiments about the vintage-looking water tower. However, the councilman believes that more than $200,000 is a lot of money for something that no longer serves a useful purpose.

 

Albert said the cost of future additional maintenance was also considered in the decision.

 

“It is a landmark, yes. Financially, it’s cost-prohibitive to keep it,” Albert claims.

Albert said it’d been several years since the old water tower had been used. The town is now served by a much newer and larger tank installed when the water treatment facility was built nearly 20-years ago. Albert said the tower should begin coming down in about six weeks.

Fund Raising to Help La Porte Family

(La Porte, IN) - Money is being raised to provide a La Porte family with a new wheelchair-accessible van. 

 

The 2004 model used right now by Don, and Diane Varda has close to 300 thousand miles. The Varda's need a newer vehicle for their disabled children in their teens and mid-20’s. Don Varda is a teacher and tennis coach at La Porte High School.

 

Dan Bigg of La Porte is spearing the fundraising drive. Nearly $50,000 has been raised over the past four weeks, and hopes to collect another $10,000 or more before the end of the month to make the purchase.

 

“We’ve had money coming in every day,” Bigg said.

Some of the money raised has come from small and large individual donations and raffles for tickets provided by the Indianapolis Colts. Bigg said people could donate by contacting him at (812) 455-1166 or dbigg1@frontier.com.

 

“They didn’t ask me for help. They’re very good, solid citizens. I asked them if I could help them and they said yes,” Bigg said.

Land Swap Nears Final Vote

(La Porte, IN) - The city and the La Porte Community School Corporation could be swapping land.

 

Under the proposal, the city will give twelve acres of ground to construct a new school bus garage near the city’s wastewater treatment plant on Boyd Boulevard.

 

The city would receive land that the school bus garage now sits on and surrounding property on 18th and A Streets. That property would be targeted for new housing construction, a need Mayor Tom Dermody has made one of his top priorities to update of aging housing stock. Dermody said there’s enough room there for about a dozen or more new affordable homes. The school bus garage property would also give the city access to alleviate flooding in the area.

 

The city would also receive the old Coca-Cola building on Rumely Street. Dermody said the structure would be perfect for a workforce training center for the many manufacturing jobs that need filling. That building would remain with the school system for 18-24 months while relocation happens. 

 

“We talk about skilling up.  This building could provide that,” Dermody said.

He said new housing could also go inside the space not occupied by a workforce training facility.

 

The city this week approved the land swap. A vote by the school board is expected on Monday.

Library Expanding into Historic Building

(La Porte, IN) - A new library facility in downtown La Porte is scheduled for a grand opening celebration soon. The facility, called the Exchange, is located at 807 Indiana Avenue.

 

The newly remodeled facility contains the library’s Career Tech Education program featuring items like 3D printers and laser cutters for the public to use. In addition, the library’s print and faxing services are also inside the newly renovated structure.

 

The building used to house a telephone company with switchboard operators connecting calls but went out of business a half-century ago as technology made its services obsolete.  The brick exterior structure was vacant for many years until the library decided to expand into the facility after a $2.7 million renovation. 

 

The grand opening celebration is scheduled for October 4 from 5-8 PM.

Wild Alcohol Fueled Traffic Stop

(La Porte County, IN) - Alcohol-related charges have been filed in what must have been a scary situation on a La Porte County highway.

 

According to La Porte County Police, the driver was doing about 83 MPH on U.S 20. However, according to law enforcement officials, his speed topped 100 MPH when he started being followed by a sheriff’s deputy. 

 

The driver was also veering from lane to lane on one side of the four-lane highway passing slower moving traffic. Eventually, the man pulled over near Wilhelm Road. Police said there was a case of beer in the back seat, and the driver thought he was in Michigan.

 

41-year old Brian Swinehart of Goshen had an alleged blood alcohol level nearly four times the legal limit. The drunk driving arrest was made Saturday evening.

Doctor Treating COVID Points to Social Media "Morons"

(La Porte County, IN) - COVID-19, locally, is still surging like in many parts of the country, and medical experts again blame perpetuated falsehoods shared through social media regarding the vaccines. 

 

Fifteen people were hospitalized today with the virus at Franciscan Health outside Michigan City, said Dr. Vidya Kora. Kora, who has COVID-19 patients at the hospital, said one individual in the Intensive Care Unit with the virus is on a ventilator.

 

Two other infected people at the hospital are receiving hefty amounts of oxygen to help with their breathing. However, Kora said a full recovery is not a guarantee for any patient and wants the unvaccinated to strongly consider how they are gambling with their futures.

 

“With risks like that which people are taking by not getting vaccinated, it is unbelievable," Kora said.

He also strongly advised people to turn to trusted sources instead of social media in deciding whether to get protection.

 

"I think people should use common sense. I think they need to look at facts and they need to think for themselves rather than relying on misinformation from some morons on Facebook,” Kora said.

Kora said the use of the word “morons” reflects his feelings from seeing the negative outcome for people refusing to take the vaccine, which is safe and effective.

 

“I see people struggle and they’re unable to breathe because their lungs are so badly damaged. It’s so very sad,” he said.

 

Kora said the most seriously ill patients today are in their 50’s, 60’s and 80’s.

COVID Infected Children Rising

(Indianapolis, IN) - Children make up close to 20 percent of the COVID-19 cases in the state right now, impacting schools in significant ways. 

 

Some infected children with severe cases are also winding up in hospitals, though just one-tenth of one percent of infected children are dying from the virus.

 

Hospitals statewide are also filling up. According to medical experts, the Delta variant being much more contagious, the unvaccinated and people letting their guards down are to blame for the continued rise in cases. 

 

Locally, as of September 7th, La Porte Community School Corporation has had 86 total positive cases in children since beginning the school year, causing 349 staff and students to quarantine. 

Hoosier Star to Shine Again

(La Porte, IN) - The 16th annual Hoosier Star contest in La Porte is this weekend.

 

Five finalists in each youth and adult division will sing and perform to a live orchestra on the stage at the La Porte Civic Auditorium. Judges, along with spectators, determine the winners.

 

Tim King, Executive Director of the La Porte County Symphony Orchestra, said people who come to watch the performances will be asked to wear a mask while entering the facility. Masks can be removed once seated.

 

The Hoosier Star always draws a large crowd, but tickets are still available for balcony seats at $15 and $5 for children ages 12 and under. King said tickets could be purchased at LCSO.net, Roxy Music Shop, or the Civic Auditorium in advance or up until showtime. Table seating on the floor for groups as large as ten people is also available for $750.

 

There’s also a pay-per-view option for $15, and it’s available at LCSO.net. 

 

The finalists are from La Porte and Michigan City, Westville, Chesterton, and South Bend. In addition, one of the finalists in the youth division is from New Albany in the far southern part of the state.

 

The event is a significant fundraiser for the LaPorte County Symphony Orchestra, which has hosted the event from the very beginning. The first-place finisher in each division receives $1,000, while $500 is awarded for second place in each division.

 

“You’re going to see an immense amount of talent on that stage,” King said.

 

The doors open at 6 PM on Saturday, with performances starting at 7 PM.

Workforce Development Given a Hometown Boost

(La Porte, IN) - A new position has been created to try and fill more job openings at factories in La Porte. Erik Nelson is the new workforce development coordinator for the LaPorte Economic Advancement Partnership (LEAP). 

 

“Eric is going to be focused on bringing workforce options to our local employers,” said Bert Cook, Executive Director of LEAP.

 

The new position is partially funded with a $175,000 grant from the Howmet Aerospace Foundation. Cook said the three-year grant will also pay for high school seniors throughout LaPorte County obtaining the skills necessary for local job openings in manufacturing.

 

About a dozen of Ivy Tech Community College scholarships will target positions in maintenance requiring electrical and other skills to keep things like assembly lines running.

 

“Almost every manufacturer is looking for maintenance people as we speak. You can almost write your own paycheck because it’s such a position of need,” Cook said.

 

Several public and private sectors groups have been working together to meet local workforce needs for several years. However, Cook said there hadn’t been anyone at the top to lead the effort, and the people involved can only dedicate so much time because of their full-time job commitments. So the same agencies will continue to help under the umbrella of Nelson, whose focus is strictly on meeting the demand for qualified workers.

 

Cook said there are hundreds, if not more than a thousand job openings at factories in the city and surrounding area. Keeping residents from going to jobs elsewhere is part of the strategy for reducing the number.

 

“If we find 400 graduating seniors and keep those individuals here and put them to work in all of our local companies we would have made a tremendous difference in year one and we’ll just continue to grow the program from there,” Cook said.

 

Nelson graduated from LaPorte High School in 2013. He received a bachelor’s degree in sports management from North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. He’s worked in marketing and event management for professional and college athletic teams like the Chicago Bears and the University of Notre Dame. Nelson also comes with experience in sales and new home construction.

 

“I’m excited for the opportunity to make a positive impact in the community I was born and raised in,” Nelson said.

Crackdown Urged on Speed Demons

(La Porte, IN) - A La Porte resident is asking the city to crack down on speeding boaters.

 

Brian Kajer says sitting in a fishing boat on Stone Lake, for example, is like being on a rollercoaster ride from the wakes created by the recreational boaters. He told the city council last night Illinois people are not putting across Stone Lake despite signs posting the five mph speed limit.

 

“Write tickets all day long because, eventually, they’ll get the idea,” he said.

Kajer said boaters are also going too fast in the channel connecting Stone Lake and Pine Lake.

 

“I’m not joking. Last weekend, some guy was pulling a tube out there,” Kajer said.

Currently, the lakes are patrolled by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the La Porte County Sheriff’s Office. Kajer believes the city joining forces would serve as a deterrent to speeders on Stone Lake and Pine Lake, which is open to recreational boating. 

Drowning Victim was from La Porte County

(North Liberty, IN) - A boy who drowned in a swimming pool in St. Joseph County over the weekend was from Michigan City.

 

Authorities say 6-year old Ryan Cross and his family members were at a large party at a home Sunday in North Liberty. The boy was later found unresponsive in the pool.

 

CPR was performed, but Cross was later pronounced dead at the hospital. Police say the drowning remains under investigation.

Body of Fallen Indiana Soldier Returning

(Logansport, IN) - The body of an Indiana marine killed in Afghanistan is expected to return soon. Corporal Humberto Sanchez was killed in a suicide bombing attack at the Kabul airport as he was assisting in evacuation efforts last month. 

 

The 2017 Logansport High School graduate was assigned to the Marine Corps 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, California. His body is expected to arrive in his hometown on Sunday.

 

Arrangements are expected to be announced within the next couple of days.

Fall Armyworms Marching on Farms

(West Lafayette, IN) - It’s not too late for farmers to protect their crops or limit the damage from what’s described as an unprecedented invasion by fall armyworms.

 

Reports of fall armyworms in cumbersome numbers have come from states as far north as Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. The species migrates from the south, where they thrive in the warmer climate, but their late summer numbers to the north this year are extreme.

 

“We’ve not seen anything like this before,” said Christian Krupke, a field crop entomologist at Purdue University.

 

Krupke said the fall armyworm likes to eat the leaves on many kinds of vegetation but prefer young plants leaving crops like hay and late-planted soybeans especially vulnerable. Once the leaves are gone, the plants can no longer generate the energy from the sun they need to survive.

 

Depending on density and size, Fall armyworms can decimate a field practically overnight before marching in a group to the next and closest food source. Armyworms begin as larvae and turn into caterpillars before going underground to transform into moths.

 

Signs of a bumper crop in the Midwest emerged about a month ago when fall armyworm moths in large numbers were detected coming up from Kentucky. In response, Purdue University issued an advisory to farmers to scout for the predators in their fields.

 

Armyworms also like many types of grass and other plants such as alfalfa, corn, beets, cabbage, and onions. However, late-planted crops like corn and soybeans are too mature this time of year to attract many species, and not every grower of still young plants will be impacted.

 

However, Krupke said the chances of infestation are “decent,” and producers especially vulnerable to the species right now should pay close attention to their fields.

 

“Anyone that is growing forage, particularly alfalfa, would be prudent to have a look,” he said.

 

An insecticide applied at dusk or dawn is very effective in killing armyworms while they’re young. Controlling them is more difficult as they become larger and more resistant to the chemicals, though.

 

The Midwest invasion is already easing up in the more southern areas. Krupke expects the threat further north to start diminishing in mid-September when the species, after reaching maximum growth, burrows into the soil to become a moth. The threat is further reduced as more hay gets brought in from the fields reducing a significant food source for the species.

 

Krupke believes another wave in the fall is likely from the next crop of moths coming up from the ground depositing larvae. However, the fall armyworm numbers won’t be nearly as significant because the food supply is further reduced and other factors like cooler weather in subtropical species.

 

Krupke could not point to a specific cause with certainty to explain the much higher numbers in this part of the country. He believes the boom might have something to do with the direction of the wind patterns, though, after rising above the surface as moths.   

 

“A lot of their flight is passive. In other words, they get up in the Jetstream and land where they land,” Krupke said.

 

According to researchers at Ohio State University, fall armyworm caterpillars vary in color from greenish to tan to dark brown with stripes along the body. Therefore, an appropriate identifier is an inverted white “Y” shape behind the head. 

Stop Arm Violator Crackdown Ongoing

(La Porte, IN) - Police in La Porte are still cracking down on school bus stop arm violators.

 

Chief Paul Brettin says he tries to have two extra patrol officers before and after school during the ongoing beefed-up patrol period. Especially around Pine Lake Avenue, where some of the violations occur. 

 

Brettin said people in both directions on Pine Lake Avenue have to stop for school buses from Pine Lake Avenue despite having four lanes not being a divided highway.

 

Additional officers will be looking for violators until the end of September in a statewide effort where federal dollars are used to pay overtime for beefing up patrols. However, special attention is still paid to stop arm violations even after patrols return to standard size because of their risk to children.

 

“It’s just something we try to keep an eye on,” Brettin says.

Bridge Named After Local Clothing Maker

(La Porte County, IN) - A bridge in La Porte County will be named after a former maker of men’s clothing, including the world-famous Sansabelt pants.

 

The La Porte County Commissioners have approved naming the bridge on 400 North over Interstate 94 after Burton “Bud” Ruby. Ruby took over Jaymar-Ruby in 1957 for his father, Jack, who founded the company in Chicago in 1916. Six years later, the firm relocated to Michigan City, where it remained until closing in 2009.

 

Sansabelt pants, known for an elastic waistband, were regularly advertised on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

 

Rudy, who was also heavily involved in the community, was 95 when he died in 2014.

 

“He was a man larger than life. Bud was a friend to everyone. He was a common guy who had a leadership streak a mile long,” said LaPorte County Commissioner Sheila Matias.

 

The bridge on Johnson Road above the Indiana Toll Road was named after Charlie Finley, the former owner of the Oakland A’s. Finley lived in LaPorte. The A’s with the colorful Finley as owner won the World Series three consecutive times in the early ’70s.

 

Matias said adding names to bridges started from an idea 18 months ago to honor late and still living LaPorte County residents for their contributions and the rich history here. Names will be added to more bridges in the coming years.

 

At some point, Matias hopes to post information about each person along with a map to the bridges on the LaPorte County government website.

Commissioner Receives High Recognition

(La Porte County, IN) - A local official is being recognized for her work in public service.

 

La Porte County Commissioner Sheila Matias is a finalist for the Northwest Indiana Influential Women’s Award. She will be recognized during a ceremony on the 30th of this month in Merrillville. Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb will be the keynote speaker at the event.

 

In her third year as a La Porte County Commissioner, Matias is also a former mayor and city councilperson in Michigan City, Indiana. Currently, she heads the leadership institute of Purdue University Northwest and the Society of Innovators.

 

LaPorte County Democratic Party Chairman Dr. Vidya Kora cited her drive and experience along with care for people in his response to Matias’ recognition.

 

Matias said she is one of five finalists in the Economic Development/Government category of the competition, which has finalists in other categories like tourism and business.

 

“It’s a wonderful honor,” Matias said.

Gourmet Yogurt Shop Opens Downtown

(LAPORTE, IN) - A new business appealing to people’s taste buds has opened in downtown La Porte.

 

Downtown Delights offers gourmet yogurt and provides a wide variety of toppings. It’s located in the 700 block of Lincolnway near Plaza 618. The owner is Courtney Dickman.

 

Mayor Tom Dermody especially likes the chocolate topping for the gourmet yogurt offered there.

 

“Check it out. Stop in. Tell Courtney Dickman we’re glad that she’s here starting a business. Another one in La Porte. Don’t miss it,” Dermody said.

 

There’s indoor seating at Downtown Delights which is open Labor Day from 3-8 PM.

Boy Drowns in Pool

(North Liberty, IN) - A six-year-old boy drowned in a pool last evening near North Liberty.

 

According to authorities, the child was unresponsive when found in the pool about 7 PM during a family gathering. Police said CPR was started immediately.

 

The boy died at the hospital.

 

St. Joseph County Police have not released further details because of the ongoing investigation.

 

Tough Start for New Team

(New Buffalo, MI) - In their high school football opener at New Buffalo, the Red Arrow Raiders were stung by a talented Bridgman team.

 

The first-year team consisting of high school players from New Buffalo and River Valley lost to the Bees 55-14 on Thursday, September 6. Bridgman quarterback Reid Haskins and other weapons on offense for the Bees proved too much for the Raiders down 35-2 at halftime.

 

Haskins scored the first touchdown on a 36-yard quarterback keeper, then after another long rushing gain on Bridgman’s next possession, completed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jayce Warren at the corner of the end zone.

 

A 20 yard gain by Eli Thomas put the Raiders on their next possession in scoring position. However, quarterback Michael Bombin after rolling out, was stripped of the ball by Warren.

 

Warren recovered the ball and ran 75 yards for a touchdown with just over four minutes left in the first quarter. The quarter ended with a 52-yard touchdown by Haskins, easily slicing his way through and around defenders on a quarterback keeper.

 

Bridgman scored again early in the second quarter when running back Nate Necas took a handoff and zig-zagged his way for a 52-yard touchdown. The Raiders scored their first points on a safety set up by a sack of Haskins by David Fairchild. Haskins then fumbled after taking the snap, and Ben Coffeen recovered the ball.

 

The Bridgman quarterback on the next play dropped back and rolled out, then was tackled in the end zone with three minutes until halftime.

 

The Bees on defense were also impressive in stopping Raiders quarterback Michael Bombin. Bombin, an elusive runner racking up big yardage often from long gains last year, seemed close to breaking several plays until Bridgman defenders quickly closed the holes.

 

The Raiders take on Tri-Unity Christian Saturday at 11 a.m. at River Valley High School.

Clock Ticking on Dozens of Deals

(Michigan City, IN) - They were like the stars on the popular TV show American Pickers years before the junk-turned-into-treasure program hit the screens. But, as time goes and business fades, Kathy Kniola and her Dozens of Deals store on U.S. 20 near Johnson Road in Michigan City are going out of business.

           

Kniola said she has no other choice since her husband and partner in the landmark family-run operation, Stan, passed away in November.

 

“I hate to leave. I got a lot of good customers. They’re not happy about it either but it is what it is,” Kniola said.

 

The Kniola’s operated the store offering a wide variety of garage sale type items for nearly 40-years.

 

Everything from used tools, bicycles, home furnishings, children’s toys, golf clubs, lawnmowers, along with washers and dryers, were purchased from estate sales and storage warehouses. Hand-me-down merchandise as simple as a metal bucket also came from garage sales and individuals cleaning houses.

 

Kniola said the items were returned and repaired or cleaned up, if necessary, before being given a price tag. A fresh coat of paint was often all it took to catch a customer’s eye. Other things like fresh farm eggs and live fishing bait were also found at the store.

 

Kniola said the biggest seller over the years was new containers of chlorine kept in stock for swimming pools. She said the death of her 64-year old husband forced her decision to shut the doors.

 

“It hurts. It really hurts,” she says sadly.

 

All of the merchandise has to be out of the store by the end of the year. To make that happen, all items are being organized and marked down in price for a going out of business sale in late September and early October. After that, an auction is planned for what’s left.

           

Occasionally, Kniola and her husband came across odd things while looking for treasure in other peoples’ junk. The most unusual and unexpected find, perhaps, were three safes containing foreign coins. The safes were among the contents of a storage unit they purchased without knowing what was inside.

 

“It was worth some money that we were able to sell online.  You don’t come across stuff like that very often,” she said.

 

The couple practically raised their children at the store, and later visits came from grandchildren. Her extended family is customers drawn by her friendly, down-home personality calling her “mom” or “grandma.”

 

Kniola is not sure what her future holds but is still healthy, and with plenty of energy, she still plans to seek employment.

 

“I just want to thank all of my customers for being here and being faithful to us. Without them, I wouldn’t be here and what I am today,” she said.

Local Jiffy Pop Inventor Honored

(La Porte, IN) - He moved to a home along Lake Michigan after inventing the world-famous Jiffy Pop popcorn in LaPorte. The late Frederick C. Mennen will have his name go up on a bridge close to where his popcorn brand used to roll off the assembly lines.

 

The LaPorte County Commissioners on Wednesday, September 1, approved a committee’s recommendation to have Mennen’s name on the bridge on Fail Road over the Norfolk Southern tracks north of Indiana 2.

 

Mennen was a resident of Long Beach when he passed away in 1991. He was 62.

 

LaPorte County Historian Bruce Johnson said Mennen was an industrialist, chemist, and inventor born to Russian immigrants in LaPorte.

 

“He played a major role in the LaPorte community from heavy metal manufacturing to the food packaging industry,” Johnson said.

 

In 1958, with $6,000 in capital and help from a small number of local investors, Mennen developed a pan-like metal container featuring a wire handle. Inside the pan were kernels of popcorn along with cooking oil. The pan was covered by a flimsy aluminum cover that grew into a balloon shape as the popcorn popped from the heat on the burner of a stove.

 

“Within one year, seven million packages of Jiffy Pop were sold. Mennen Food Products soon had a production line of 200 workers,” Johnson said.

 

In 1963, Johnson said Mennen Food Products was incorporated into American Home Products, a corporation affiliated with Chef Boyardee Foods. A new and larger industrial complex was then built on Fail Road to meet the growing demand for what became one of the most known well-known, and heavily advertised snacks for generations.

 

Mennen later moved to New York to operate a division of American Home Foods, Corporation, then returned where he founded U.S. Packaging Corporation on Clay Street in LaPorte. 29-years of his life were spent at home on Lakeshore Drive, where his wife, Rosemary, continued to live until her passing in 2018.

 

Mennen had patents for other inventions like an at-home testing kit for gonorrhea.

Blueberry Festival a Long Tradition

(Plymouth, IN) - The 55th annual Blueberry Festival is underway in Marshall County.

 

Opening ceremonies were held yesterday afternoon, but most of the events are this weekend at Centennial Park in Plymouth. Attractions include games, vendors, and fireworks on Sunday.

 

SELECT SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

FRIDAY
6 PM: Marshall County Church Orchestra - Patriotic Big Band
7:30 PM: The Ball Brothers - Christian Gospel

 

SATURDAY
8 AM: H.O.W. Car Show - Registration until 11:00 AM
1 PM: The Spaniels - Do Op
5 PM: Quentin Flagg - Rock ‘n Roll
6 PM: Al Jones and Barry Bradley - Music Variety
6:30 PM: Zach Day Band - Blues Rock
8 PM: Cody Ikerd and The Sidewinders - Country

 

SUNDAY
7:15 AM: Hot Air Balloon Launch - Riverside School
1:30 PM: Melody Makers Indiana Association - Choral Music
2 PM: Culver Pipes and Drums - Bagpipes/Drums
6 PM: Straightaway - Country Rock
8 PM: Hot Air Balloon Glow - Weather permitting
9:15 PM: Blueberry Fireworks Extravaganza

 

MONDAY
9:30 PM: Blueberry Festival Parade - Baker Street
12:30 PM: Katie Brooks - Country
1 PM: Treated ‘n Released - Country Rock
1:30 PM: Blackwood Quartet

Some Farms Under Attack by Armyworms

(West Lafayette, IN) - It’s not too late for farmers to protect their crops or limit the damage from what’s described as an unprecedented invasion by the fall armyworm.

 

Reports of fall armyworms in significant numbers have come from states as far north as Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. The species migrates from the south, where they thrive in the warmer climate, but their late summer numbers to the north this year are extreme.

 

“We’ve not seen anything like this before,” said Christian Krupke, a field crop entomologist at Purdue University.

 

Krupke said the fall armyworm likes to eat the leaves on many kinds of vegetation but prefer young plants leaving crops like hay and late-planted soybeans especially vulnerable. Once the leaves are gone, the plants are no longer able to generate the energy from the sun they need to survive. Depending on density and size, Fall armyworms can decimate a field practically overnight before marching in a group to the next and closest food source, he said.

 

Krupke said armyworms begin as larvae and turn into caterpillars before going underground to transform into moths.Fall Armyworm He said signs of a bumper crop in the Midwest emerged about a month ago when fall armyworm moths in large numbers were detected coming up from Kentucky.

 

In response, Purdue University issued an advisory to farmers to scout for the predators in their fields.

 

Armyworms also like many types of grass and other plants such as alfalfa, corn, beets, cabbage, and onions. However, Krupke said late-planted crops like corn and soybeans are too mature this time of year to attract many species, and not every grower of still young plants will be impacted.

 

However, Krupke said the chances of infestation are “decent,” and producers especially vulnerable to the species right now should pay close attention to their fields.

 

“Anyone that is growing forage, particularly alfalfa, would be prudent to have a look,” he said.

 

Krupke said an insecticide applied at dusk or dawn is very effective in killing armyworms while they’re young. Controlling them is more complex, though, as they become larger and more resistant to the chemicals. Nevertheless, the Midwest invasion is already easing up in the more southern areas.

 

Krupke expects the threat further north to start diminishing in mid-September when the species, after reaching maximum growth, burrows into the soil to become a moth.

The SOUND OFF Podcast: A Conversation with Randy Novak

(LAPORTE, IN) -- In the 96.7 the Eagle studio today was LaPorte County Council President Randy Novak. Council President Novak talked about the ongoing fight against COVID-19 in LaPorte County, the Michigan City drawbridge, and trying to work together as county officials.

 

Listen to the full episode below: 

 

 

CREDITS: Nate Loucks (Host), Randy Novak (Guest), Dennis Siddall (Producer), Jeff Wuggazer (Editor)

 

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.

Charges in Underage Sex and Video Case

(Westville, IN) - Though the sex appeared consensual, LaPorte County Police arrested a man for having intercourse with his 14-year old girlfriend. Matthew Stupeck, 19, is charged in La Porte Circuit Court with Level 5 Felony Sexual Misconduct with a Minor and other counts.

 

According to court documents, the female victim was allegedly dating Stupeck when they engaged in purportedly consensual sexual intercourse in June at a home in Westville. The investigation also uncovered explicit images in Stupeck's possession of the underage girl in various sexual acts and poses.

 

Authorities say Stupeck appeared to have manipulated the girl into performing in the videos or pictures, and the images were stored in the suspect’s profile on Snapchat. Stupeck is also charged with a second count of Sexual Misconduct with a Minor along with Child Exploitation and Possession of Child Pornography. 

Unruly OWI Arrest

(La Porte, IN) - La Porte County Police arrested a man who allegedly thought it was OK for him to drive drunk.

 

Michael Fitzgerald, 40, is charged in La Porte Circuit Court with Operating While Intoxicated, Battery Intimidation, and Being a Habitual Traffic Violator.

 

According to court documents, on August 31, police were called to Serenity Springs in the area of U.S 20 and U.S 35. The complainant said Fitzgerald would not return a car he borrowed two hours ago to get some alcohol. Upon arrival, Fitzgerald was in a wooded area on the property with the vehicle. He then yelled profanities when officers showed up and refused to come out but, eventually, he pulled up next to a barn in the car and got out.

 

According to court documents, his balance was unsteady, and his eyes were bloodshot before refusing to submit to a blood-alcohol test. Authorities say he became highly agitated and stated, “It’s not illegal for him to drink and drive on private property.”

 

Fitzgerald became even more upset when officers explained his view of the law was incorrect, and he voiced more profanities and insults at the hospital where a blood sample was taken from him, police said. At one point, he allegedly grabbed an officer’s finger and refused to let go and attempted to head-butt another officer, police said.

 

Eventually, police forced him face-first into a corner and held him there until he was placed in restraints by hospital staff. His alleged blood alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit.

Charges in Good-Sized Heroin Bust

(La Porte, IN) - A South Bend man is accused of being a heroin dealer in La Porte County.

 

19-year old Michael Andrews is charged in La Porte Circuit Court with Level 2 felony Dealing in a Narcotic Drug and Possession of Marijuana. Just over three months ago, police were called to a report of a man and woman fighting outside Ollie’s Bargain Outlet. Upon arrival, Andrews explained he and the female were playing a game that involved throwing drinks at each other.

 

Police said there was a liquid on the hood of the vehicle they occupied in the parking lot. According to court documents, an odor of marijuana led to a search, and a large amount of heroin weighing over 11 grams was recovered from the vehicle. A small amount of marijuana was also allegedly seized.

 

Andrews was being held on a $50,000 bond.

Health Department Recommends Indoor Masking

(La Porte, IN) - La Porte County was designated ORANGE today by the Indiana Department of Health based on the county’s seven-day average of COVID-19 positive cases and rate of cases per 100,000.

 

Being mindful and proactive in protecting our citizens of all ages, La Porte County Health Department strongly recommends following the Center for Disease Control guidelines of wearing a mask while in public indoor spaces.

 

  1. Wear a mask in public indoor settings if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.
  2. Fully vaccinated people might choose to mask regardless of the level of transmission, particularly if they or someone in their household is immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease or if someone in their household is unvaccinated.
  3. Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

 

According to the Health Department, if you came into close contact with someone with COVID-19, get tested 3-5 days after the date of your exposure and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days after exposure or until you receive a negative test result.

 

Other health department recommendations include isolating if you have tested positive for COVID-19 in the previous ten days or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and consider vaccination as a means of protecting yourself and others. Vaccination is safe and effective at reducing disease, death, and hospitalization, health officials said.

Ceiling Predicted for COVID Case Numbers

(La Porte County, IN) - A local doctor believes the current surge of COVID-19 in this part of the country could be over soon.

 

As proof, Dr. Vidya Kora cites that cases are no longer spiking in Florida, which had one of the worst recent outbreaks. In addition, Kora noted the case numbers should not go as high as they were during the height of the pandemic because more than half of Americans are vaccinated.

 

However, Kora said the pandemic will continue to linger and might surge again from more variants caused by having a good percentage of people not vaccinated. In addition, he said the virus could quickly mutate into other variants through large numbers of unvaccinated individuals, and any further variants could become even more contagious and, perhaps, resistant to the vaccines.

 

“The key message is for everybody to get vaccinated,” Kora said.

 

Kora said about a dozen COVID-19 patients are hospitalized at Franciscan Health Michigan City or about the same number as a week ago. However, he believes the surge in the area will be over in “three to four weeks.”

 

Kora has a medical practice in Michigan City and is a member of the board governing Franciscan Health, which manages several other hospitals in the region.

Masks Ordered in Schools Countywide

(New Buffalo, MI) - When school begins next week in New Buffalo, everyone has to wear a mask inside the buildings. The same is true for all schools in Berrien County.

 

The Berrien County Health Department issued the order in response to rising COVID-19 cases. According to Berrien County Health Department officials, case numbers in the county have gone up for six consecutive weeks, and the order is needed to keep kids in all grades levels in classrooms.

 

Health department officials said the mask order would be lifted once the local transmission is low to moderate for 21 consecutive days.

La Porte County Virus Spread Moves to Orange

(La Porte County, IN) - COVID-19 cases have risen enough for La Porte County to move up to orange in the state colored-coded system measuring the transmission of the virus.

 

La Porte County Health Department Administrator Amanda Lahners said the most recent positivity rate here for people tested for the virus has climbed above 10-percent. Several months ago, the positivity rate in La Porte County was just over two percent.

 

According to state health officials, more than 70 Indiana counties are now coded orange. More than a dozen counties in the state are code red for positivity rates above 15- percent.

Afghan Refugees Heading to Indiana

(Indianapolis, IN) - Indiana will be receiving Afghan refugees.

 

Officials say about 1,000 of the refugees could arrive in the Hoosier state within the next few days. They’re expected to be taken to an Indiana National Guard training base just south of Indianapolis and be provided temporary housing and support services before being relocated in November.

 

Officials say the base can house up to 10,000 people, but capacity can be expanded if needed.

Masks for Unvaccinated City Employees

(La Porte, IN) - Unvaccinated city employees in LaPorte must now wear masks on the job because of rising COVID-19 cases.

           

Employees not vaccinated must also be tested once a week for the virus and have daily temperature checks. The requirements are contained in a measure adopted by the LaPorte Board of Public Works and Safety on Tuesday.

 

Masks are mandated for unvaccinated employees inside city-owned buildings and vehicles. Workers are allowed to remain unvaccinated for medical and religious purposes as long they show proof to substantiate their request for an exemption, said Human and Community Relations Director Jen Noll.

 

Noll cited a continued rise in cases and hospitalizations almost entirely from the unvaccinated locally and statewide for updating the city’s Communicable Disease Policy.

 

“We felt it was imperative that we address this with our staff,” Noll said.

 

Mayor Tom Dermody said revising the policy began after three police officers and three firefighters recently contracted the virus. One of the infected firefighters is vaccinated with symptoms not nearly as severe as the other firefighters battling COVID-19, said LaPorte Fire Chief Andy Snyder.

 

Dermody said some employees could quit over the mandate in effect until the surge eases up. However, he said the top priority is keeping everyone safe and the city functioning correctly by keeping infection rates among workers as low as possible, especially in areas like public safety.

 

“So far there hasn’t been much issue,” he said.

 

Noll said at least one worker has since received a dose of the vaccine. However, she said less than one-half of the city’s 245 full-time and part-time employees were vaccinated.

 

“We have some work to do,” Noll said.

Political Fireworks Dominate Commissioners Meeting

(La Porte, IN) - More fireworks in what’s been a politically explosive year in La Porte County went off again during today’s La Porte County Commissioners meeting.

 

The most charged moment, perhaps, involved LaPorte County Auditor Tim Stabosz in a loud tone of voice, telling LaPorte County Attorney Shaw Friedman repeatedly to stop misrepresenting state law.

 

“You are lying,” Stabosz told Friedman.

Friedman explained state law governing elected officials disclosing the names of relatives doing work for the local governments they represent. However, Friedman also seemed to blame Stabosz for additions added recently to local requirements that mandate the names of more distant relatives of elected officials doing work for county government also be disclosed.

 

The controversy was over a cleaning contract awarded to the daughter of La Porte County Commissioner Rich Mrozinski. His daughter has ownership in the company. Mrozinski said he had nothing to do with the contract recommended for approval by LaPorte County Director of Facilities Larry Levendowski. Mrozinski also stated that he filled out the necessary paperwork to disclose his daughter’s involvement with the company.

 

“I’m in compliance,” Mrozinski said.

After the meeting, Stabosz said Mrozinski waited several weeks to submit the necessary paperwork downstate when disclosure was required before the contract was awarded.

 

“He was only brought into compliance yesterday at my demand,” Stabosz said.

At the end of the meeting, Mrozinski, after criticizing the tremendous amount of political infighting this year, accused Stabosz of trying to settle personal scores and political vendettas since taking over as auditor in January.

 

Mrozinski said he and other elected officials that are not starting the fighting are strictly trying to put La Porte County in a better position for the future. Mrozinski also suggested Stabosz might need “psychological help.” Stabosz said the contract awarded to Mrozinski’s daughter’s company was 40-percent more than the offer from the other company involved in the bidding.

 

Levendowski said there were inconsistencies in the bid proposal from the company that didn't receive the contract. He felt those discrepancies could wind up costing the county additional money later in labor costs.

Historic Bridge Cleared for Repairs

(La Porte, IN) - A contract for repairing the Franklin St. draw bridge in Michigan City was given final approval today.

 

The 1.5 million dollar project has been held up for several weeks over the legalities of a no-bid contract for the work. LaPorte County Auditor Tim Stabosz and LaPorte County Commissioner Joe Haney insisted the project go out for competitive bidding under state rules for public works projects costing $150,000 or more.  

 

From the beginning, La Porte County Commissioners Attorney Shaw Friedman has maintained the no-bid contract is legal under provisions in state law that qualify the project for such a contract. Friedman said the historic bridge needing emergency repairs to avoid the risk of not coming back down is among the reasons the repairs qualify for the no-bid contract awarded to Marquiss Electric, the caretakers of the bridge for the past 40-years. He also said the bridge is the main entranceway to the lakefront, and not coming back down would mean greater response times to an emergency in that area of the city along with congestion from travelers having to use a little known alternate route. 

 

Friedman also cited the opinion of former La Porte County Commissioners Attorney Doug Biege. who agreed the no-bid contract should not pose any legal difficulties with the state.

 

He did not issue an opinion about the legality of the no-bid contract but felt strongly any questions about it from the Indiana State Board of Accounts would not result in any penalties to the county.

 

Biege also said Stabosz would not be liable for any legal violations because of the contract being awarded by the commissioners. 

 

Initially, Stabosz vowed not to pay the bill, fearing he could be in legal trouble for the contract since he is the chief financial officer for the county.

 

The commissioners also agreed to accept responsibility in court for any violations to try and ease the concerns of Stabosz. 

 

In response, Stabosz said he will now pay the bill, and the contract with Marquiss Electric could save taxpayers a considerable sum of money. In addition, supporters of the project claim millions will be saved from not having to go out for competitive bidding.

 

Commissioners Rich Mrozinski and Sheila Matias voted in favor of the contract, while Haney again voted in opposition. Friedman blamed political opponents Haney and Stabosz for holding up the project.

 

"None of this drama, this showboating, this casting dispersion on my integrity or on two of the commissioners or anyone else was necessary,” Friedman said.

 

Officials still hope the work can be done over the winter as originally scheduled despite the amount of time needed to make replacement parts for such an old bridge. However, if the replacement parts arrive too late for the work to be completed by spring, Mrozinski vowed to blame Haney and Stabosz publicly. 

Mask Mandate for Unvaccinated Workers

(La Porte, IN) - La Porte city employees who are not vaccinated are now required to wear a mask inside city-owned buildings. They will also need to be tested regularly for COVID-19. The city’s Board of Public Works and Safety approved the mandates yesterday.

 

There’s already been a mask mandate for unvaccinated police officers since last week in response to three officers battling symptoms of the virus right now, said LaPorte Police Chief Paul Brettin.

 

Three La Porte firefighters have also recently contracted the virus. Fire Chief Andy Snyder said one of the firefighters is vaccinated, but his symptoms are far less than what the other firefighters are experiencing.

 

Mayor Tom Dermody said the mask mandate for unvaccinated employees is the right decision even if some city employees decide to quit because of it. He said the city would not be able to function adequately, especially in areas like public safety, if many employees contract the virus and are placed under quarantine.

 

“Hopefully, people will see the bigger picture here,” Dermody said.

Museum Closing for New Roof

(La Porte, IN) - The La Porte County Historical Society Museum will be temporarily closed starting tomorrow. A new roof will be placed on the museum on U.S. 35 at the southern edge of the city. The current roof has been leaking for several months.

 

Two months ago, the La Porte County Council approved the money for a new roof as long as the cost does not exceed $150,000. Officials say when the museum will reopen will be announced as soon as possible.

Mask Mandate at Another School District

(Walkerton, IN) - Another school district in the area is mandating masks during school hours. John Glenn Schools made the masking decision because COVID-19 cases are still rising. The mask mandate went into effect today.

 

In a letter to families explaining the decision, Superintendent Christopher Winchell said he hoped the move is temporary. 

 

Despite all of our very best efforts regarding COVID-protocols, we have unfortunately seen an additional seventeen COVID-positive cases since I last wrote you only five days ago. This continues to result in numerous close contacts, and many children are unable to attend school at this time.

 

As I have stated previously, after the safety and wellbeing of all students, staff, and community, our number one goal is to keep students in school for on-campus learning. 

The school has been in session at John Glenn for about three weeks.

 

School officials in Michigan City recently mandated spectators at indoor sporting events wear masks. The mandate does not, however, apply to student-athletes while they're competing. 

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