Local News

Yakym Looking Out For Veterans' Mental Health

(Washington, D.C.) - 2nd District Congressman Rudy Yakym is pushing legislation to streamline veterans’ access to mental healthcare.

 

This week, Yakym introduced a resolution requiring the VA to give vets quicker access to mental health assistance. The Sergeant Ted Grubbs Mental Healthcare for Disabled Veterans Act requires the VA to lower their Designated Access Standards to five days for mental healthcare for veterans who have a disability rating above 50 percent for a mental health disorder.

 

Yakym's bill is named after a 2nd District veteran who returned home from duty with service-connected complex PTSD resulting from a brain injury. In the wake of an urgent mental health crisis, Grubbs was told by the VA that the soonest in-person appointment they could offer was more than two months away. 

 

"Veterans like Sergeant Ted Grubbs represent the best of America - the very least we can do is make sure they get the help they need in a timely manner, especially when it comes to addressing mental health challenges," said Congressman Yakym. "I am proud to lead this effort on behalf of Ted and countless veterans like him to make sure we give those who served more timely options for mental healthcare."

 

Area Veteran Service Officers support the bill. “I have seen firsthand the negative repercussions of slow response times for many of the veterans in my county for mental health screening and assistance," said Miami County Veteran Service Officer Jay Kendall.

 

Marshall County Veteran Service Officer Pam Schweizer-Betz agrees. "Rep. Yakym's legislation will help veterans with acute mental health challenges receive care more quickly than they are currently,” she said, “which in itself will go a long way towards preventing these veterans from reaching the point of crisis in the first place." 

Local Officer Honored

(Indianapolis, IN) - A local conservation officer has been honored for his efforts. Officer Alex Toth, who serves LaPorte County, has been selected as the 2023 District 10 Conservation Officer of the Year. District 10 includes seven counties in northwest Indiana.

 

Toth has been a conservation officer since 2017. In addition to his regular field officer duties, he also serves as a scuba diver, use of force instructor, firearms instructor, field training officer, and passenger-for-hire inspector.

 

The district award puts Toth in the running for the Pitzer Award, which is given to the top overall conservation officer in the state.

 

The Pitzer Award is named after Indiana Conservation Officer James D. Pitzer, who was fatally shot while investigating illegal hunting activity in 1961 in Jay County. 

Personal Visits Now with Shelter Dogs

(Michigan City, IN) - A local animal shelter has taken a step aimed at reducing the stress of their dogs as, beginning today, the kennel area at the Michiana Humane Society at 722 Indiana 212 in Michigan City will be for staff and volunteers only.

 

Visitors will now be matched individually with shelter dogs in a private room or outside.

 

“Our goal is to reduce the stress our dogs experience. We want to make meeting potential adopters a happy time for the dogs, and we want to make sure that the family and the dog are a good match,” said MHS Behavior Coordinator Calli Beal.

 

Previously, interested parties and the dogs they were interested in adopting would meet in the kennel area. 

 

“Some of our dogs don’t show well in their kennels but are awesome one-on-one with people. This will give them a better chance at a perfect match,” Beal said.

 

Walk-ins are still welcome, but visitors are encouraged to make an appointment in advance to meet a dog or browse.


Major Meth Seizure on Toll Road

(La Porte County, IN) - Another out-of-state person has been caught in La Porte County transporting a large amount of drugs.

 

At about noon yesterday, La Porte County Police said 26-year-old Kortney Moore, Jr., reportedly from Akron, Ohio, was stopped for speeding on the Indiana Toll Road near the 49-mile marker. There, a huge amount of methamphetamine was allegedly found in the vehicle, which resulted in his arrest for Dealing Methamphetamine, which could bring anywhere from a 10 to 30-year sentence.

 

Numerous individuals have been caught with large amounts of drugs on the Indiana Toll Road in La Porte County due to the ongoing several-year crackdown on transporting narcotics through the area.  

 

Moore is currently being held in the La Porte County Jail on $50,000 bond.

Three Injured in U.S. 20 Crash

(La Porte County, IN) - Three people were taken to a hospital following a two-vehicle collision in the Rolling Prairie area that happened yesterday at about 9:30 a.m. on U.S. 20.

 

La Porte County Police said all of the injured people were in a vehicle that was broadsided by an SUV attempting to cross the four-lane highway at 450 East before rolling over.

 

Authorities note that the driver of that vehicle, Higinio Varela, 59, along with a 37-year-old male passenger was bleeding heavily, but their injuries were not considered life-threatening. Another adult passenger in the Varela vehicle complained of pain following the incident.

 

The driver at fault, Stephanie Daisy, 39, was not injured, police said.

Jury Convicts Fugitive Molester

(La Porte, IN) - A La Porte man was convicted yesterday of sexually assaulting a grade school girl.

 

Jose Leon-Diaz, 33, committed illicit acts at a home on Scott Street close to two years ago, with authorities citing an example wherein a 10-year-old girl woke up to him having his way with her sexually.

 

A La Porte Circuit Court jury found him guilty on multiple counts after about 90 minutes of deliberating. As a result, he is now facing 20 to 40 years on three counts leveled against him and could receive additional time on two other related counts.

 

La Porte County Prosecutor Sean Fagan credited Deputy Prosecutor Julianne Havens and La Porte Police Detective Chae Uhlemann for their work in the three-day trial.

 

“We’re prosecuting. We’re being aggressive. Good teams do good work,” he said.

 

The trial was held despite Leon-Diaz not being in attendance. According to court records, a warrant was issued for his arrest in November for allegedly violating the terms of his pre-trial release.

 

Authorities said he has not reported back to authorities ever since.


County Councilman Seeks Third Term

(La Porte County, IN) - A member of the La Porte County Council and a former sheriff is seeking reelection.

 

Mike Mollenhauer is running for one of the at-large seats he’s had on the council since March of 2017.

 

“Now more than ever we need elected representation with common sense. We need someone that can work with others regardless of party affiliation,” he said.

 

Mollenhauer, a Democrat, was sheriff from 2007 to 2014 during his 37 years with the La Porte County Sheriff’s Office. He expressed a commitment to campaign with civility and a desire to reach across the aisle to other voters.

 

If re-elected, “I will continue to work for you, be fiscally responsible with your tax dollars, and do my best to always make fair and unbiased decisions to keep our county progressing forward,” he said.

School Closure an Option from Enrollment Decline

(La Porte, IN) - The LaPorte School Corporation has begun to contemplate school closings and staff reductions in response to a study conducted by South Carolina-based McKibben Demographic Research which illustrated how the number of students throughout the corporation had dropped by 900 since 2008.

 

The study also projected that the current enrollment of 5,688 students will drop further, by close to 300 students over the next seven years and roughly 200 more by 2034.

 

Jerome McKibben, the owner of the research firm, said LaPorte mirrors a nationwide trend of fewer childbirths in an aging population. “Even before the pandemic, we had four states and 800 counties in the U.S., 12 of them in Indiana, that had more deaths than births,” he said during his Wednesday night presentation before the La Porte School Board.

 

Interim Schools Superintendent Dr. Peggy Hinckley said the biggest reason for the loss of students here, though, is school choice. Since school choice began in Indiana in 2011, the district has reportedly gained 240 students but lost 974 students with most choosing to attend school corporations at nearby South Central and New Prairie. She said the net financial loss to the corporation from lower enrollment is $8,600 per child.

 

To make up for the lost revenue, Hinckley explained, the corporation kept dipping into its budget surplus, which has dropped from $10.5 million to $7.3 million since 2019.

 

“We just continued to lose cash balance and that’s not a responsible fiscal position to take,” she said.

 

Hinckley said she’s currently pouring through data to help her decide what she feels is the best response.  Whatever she recommends, she doesn’t believe that more than one school building, if any, will need to close. She noted that there is a need for staffing cuts, but it was too early for her to speculate on the amount and where to make them.

 

Ultimately, the school board will have the final say on what to do to close the gap between incoming revenues and expenditures.

 

Hinckley said she hopes any decision to close a school and reduce staff is made no later than the April 15th meeting of the school board to give parents and employees time to prepare for a change.

 

“If we would do nothing and continued on this path, at some point, we’re going to have a problem. If we correct it now then we’ll be o.k.,” she said.

Reinvestments into City in 2023 Outlined

(La Porte, IN) - The La Porte Urban Enterprise Association is touting 2023 as a year full of successes.  

 

Formed in 2002, the La Porte UEA awards grants each year to local businesses and residents within the Urban Enterprise Zone. In 2023, the UEA awarded more than $123,000 to 13 business owners.

 

Historically, these monies have been used to make façade renovations and to improve the outward appearance of buildings within the zone. Last year, UEA Board President Mike Riehle said the UEA unanimously voted to expand the programs to include internal renovations and upgrades.

 

“Each year, we take a look at every program we have available for our zone businesses and residents. Enhancing and improving our already popular business and residential grant programs only fosters the growth of these opportunities and leads to more and more individuals taking advantage. In turn, this improves La Porte’s overall quality of place, which is a UEA priority.”

 

Riehle also said the UEA also awarded tens of thousands of dollars in special grants last year to benefit the community as a whole, which included a more than $60,000 investment in the city’s popular Dumpster Program, which was responsible for the removal of more than 2 million pounds trash from the community. He noted in turn how UEA grants of nearly $30,000 went to support community events downtown such as the Farmed & Forged market on Sundays and the Friday Night Live events.

 

In its first-ever season, Riehle said Farmed & Forged brought a weekly average of 400 shoppers to the downtown for fresh, locally grown produce and goods.

 

UEA also awarded $40,000 to support expanded parking along Truesdell Avenue near the Dennis F. Smith Amphitheater at Fox Park.

 

Between Arts in the Park and other headlining acts during LakeFest, Riehle said, attendance at Fox Park events has grown tremendously in recent years

 

For residents or businesses seeking more information on the UEA, contact Mary Ann Richards at 219-362-8260 or visit cityoflaporte.com.

Death was Second at Company Within a Decade

(La Porte County, IN) - The second workplace death at a La Porte County manufacturer within the past decade remains under investigation, as Christopher Searle, 44, was found dead on February 22nd at Markman Peat, a soil and landscape product maker in the Kingsbury Industrial Park.

 

La Porte County Coroner Lynn Swanson said he was stuck between two sections of a robotic palletizer, a machine that automates the process of stacking product onto pallets.

 

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is in charge of the investigation.

 

Previously, Alejandro Anguiana, 41, was killed at Markman Peat in 2015. At the time, authorities said he was pulled three feet off the ground when his sweatshirt became wrapped around a turning shaft on a machine that carried bags to another side of the plant as part of the packaging process.

Dreams of Title Vanish in Cinderella Season

(New Buffalo, MI) - Dreams of a District 4 championship for the surging New Buffalo High School boys’ basketball team were laid to rest Wednesday night after the Bison lost 63-42 to a much stronger Michigan Lutheran squad in the second round of the post-season tournament at home.

 

New Buffalo, which won just two games with mostly freshman last season, began this year winning just one of their first seven games before going on a 12-4 tear.

 

Head Coach Nate Tripp said he felt the game would have been more competitive, had it not been for key players like sophomores James Shaw playing with a freshly sprained ankle, and Nick Haskins battling an illness on the court.

 

“Lutheran is a great team. I just think the timing was bad for our guys,” he said.

 

He also felt more fouls should have been called on the taller, physically stronger, sharp-shooting opponents. In the second half, a double technical foul was called on Tripp for exploding from his frustration with the referees.

 

“The officiating was not on our side tonight. At some point, you got to protect your kids,” he said.

 

New Buffalo pulled out to a one-point lead early in the game on free throws made by sophomore Lucas Forker, alongside Elliott Bourne slashing his way around defenders for a lay-up.  However, the Titans quickly went on a 10-point run with help from a slew of turnovers during a period when the Bison seemed overmatched.

 

The first quarter ended with New Buffalo trailing by seven points after Shaw nailed a short jump shot at the buzzer. Michigan Lutheran continued to dominate and went into halftime with a 15-point lead.

 

In the third quarter, New Buffalo appeared to be on the verge of rallying, but every time the Bison had a chance to cut the lead into single digits the Titans seemed to nail a three-point shot or go on a scoring spurt.

 

Forker led the team with 11 points, followed by Shaw with 9 points, and Bourne with 8 points.

 

Tripp said he’s very proud of how the team, with just two seniors, vastly improved seemingly at the snap of the fingers but feels no real sense of accomplishment yet.

 

“I’m bursting with pride. We got great kids, but I can’t accept second. I won’t. I won’t.  That’s just my mentality. We’re going to win it all and we got a couple of years to do it,” he said.

Michigan City History Lesson This Evening

(Michigan City, IN) - There’s an event tonight for people interested in the history of Michigan and its lakefront, with the winter edition of the Barker Seasonal Forum scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. with a walkabout in Barker Woods.

 

The history of Barker House will also be told during the walk followed by a seminar that starts at 5:15 p.m. 

 

There will also be a presentation about the history of the Save the Dunes organization by Save the Dunes and Westchester History Museum Curator Serena Ard, who will also discuss turn-of-the-century conservation efforts in the region and the roles women played in creating the Indiana Dunes State Park, which is now the Indiana Dunes National Park.

 

The event is at the Barker House at 444 Barker Rd.  People can physically attend or take part online.

 

For more information, go to www.savedunes.org.

Near Tragic Trip to Winery

(La Porte County, IN) - A trip to a local winery turned almost tragic as a result of a customer nearly causing motor vehicle collisions after leaving while impaired.

 

Debra Garcia, 63, was arrested Tuesday afternoon.

 

According to La Porte County Police, an officer responded to the Michigan City area on a complaint about a “vehicle driving all over the roadway.”

 

The officer then located and began following the driver, who pulled out in front of an oncoming sport utility vehicle at Indiana 212 and Tryon Road. The driver of the SUV braked hard, managing to avoid a collision. About a half-mile later, Garcia reportedly turned onto 600 West and veered over the center line into oncoming traffic just prior to being stopped. 

 

The investigation revealed the Hammond woman came to enjoy the casino and have some wine but wound up drinking a whole bottle of it prior to leaving the winery. She had a 1.65 percent blood alcohol level at the time of the incident.

Mrozinski Appealing Ballot Removal

(La Porte County, IN) - LaPorte County Commissioner Rich Mronzinski is appealing a decision to remove his name from the Republican Party ballot in the May 7th primary.

 

His attorney, Alan Sirinek, said the appeal will be filed in LaPorte Circuit Court once he and his client review the final language in the written appeal.

 

“I’ll make changes as necessary, then he’ll sign it and get it back to me, then we’ll file it with the court either late today or first thing tomorrow morning,” he said.

 

On February 23rd, The LaPorte County Election Board voted not to allow Rich Mrozinski to run as a Republican for a third consecutive term.

 

The board granted the request of LaPorte County Republican Party Chairman Allen Stevens on grounds that Mrozinski failed to place his initials on three spots of his candidacy filing documents as required by state law. They also agreed that Mrozinski is disqualified because of his not being in good standing with the LaPorte County Republican Party central committee.

 

In September of 2022, Republican precinct committeepersons voted unanimously to remove Mrozinski as an official member of the party following disputes with other Republicans and his going back on the promise to not support the hiring of Shaw Friedman as county government attorney.

 

In the appeal, Sirinek said a person is basically only required under state law to have cast a ballot of the party he or she wants to represent as a candidate in at least two consecutive primaries. Since Mrozinski has done that, “he’s automatically eligible." He also pointed out Mrozinski is not a convicted felon, which is pretty much the only thing that would make him ineligible to appear on a ballot.

 

Sirinek said state election law, historically, has been interpreted with some flexibility to keep candidates from being taken off ballots over technicalities like missing initials that can be easily fixed. He went further, saying that nowhere is it mentioned in state election laws that someone not in good standing with the party cannot run in that party’s primary.

 

When he went before the election board, Stevens cited a law upheld in federal courts that guarantees political parties freedom from associating with candidates not in good standing with their parties and ability to protect themselves “from intrusion by those with adverse political principles.”

 

However, Sirinek said political parties are allowed to discipline members within their own ranks, but their authority does not extend to keeping them off ballots.

 

“If they want to bar Rich from the Republican Party, good for them. If they want to bar him from going to the state convention. Good for them. They can do that.  I don’t disagree, but freedom of association is a far different world than disenfranchising the voters of LaPorte County from the ability to vote for Rich,” he said.

 

Stevens said the District 1 Republican Central Committee, at its office in Valparaiso, has scheduled a hearing for March 11th to decide his request to ban Mrozinski from running as a Republican for 10 years. The committee reportedly scheduled the hearing after finding probable cause was sufficient enough to formally consider the matter.

 

Stevens cited a $100 campaign donation by Mrozinski to Democrat Sheila Matias when she was seeking a second term as commissioner in 2022 as another reason, besides the political clashing, for seeking the short and long-term bans.

 

“That is a clear violation of the Republican state party rules,” he said.

 

Sirinek said the donation was from Mrozinski’s wife but, regardless, he’s eligible for a place on the republican ballot.

 

“If they want to have their little private club, good for them. That has nothing to do with what the election is about. The election is about whether Rich Mrozinski should continue on as a county commissioner. It’s a decision best left and solely left with the voters and not the biased attitudes of the Republican Party,” he said.

Another Michigan Pot Bust in La Porte County

(La Porte County, IN) - Another man coming from Michigan was allegedly caught with a huge amount of marijuana in LaPorte County.

 

Jonathan Millard has been charged in La Porte Superior Court 1 with Dealing Marijuana after being pulled over on Interstate 94 at Michigan City on February 23 for failing to properly use his turn signal multiple times while changing lanes and tailgating. The investigation showed that he traveled from his home in Wisconsin to the Detroit area, and was returning home the next day when he was pulled over.

 

With help from a K9 dog, police said there were 56 one-pound packages of leafy marijuana recovered from his rent-a-car, along with 1,000 THC vape cartridges, three boxes of THC gummies and syrup, and four jars of THC wax. Whether or not the marijuana was purchased legally from a dispensary was not revealed.  

 

A number of people have been arrested in LaPorte County in recent months for transporting marijuana purchased legally in Michigan through, Indiana where the drug remains illegal. Some of the marijuana in those traffic stops were acquired at dispensaries in places like New Buffalo Township and Buchanan.

 

Millard could face an up to six-year sentence on the Level 5 felony charge. After posting bond, he was allowed by a judge to live in Wisconsin to await the outcome of the case.

Man Charged with Prison Smuggling Attempt

(Michigan City, IN) - A man is accused of trying to smuggle tobacco and marijuana into Indiana State Prison, as 49-year-old Michael Bright has been charged in La Porte Superior Court 2 with Attempted Trafficking with an Inmate.

 

According to court documents, on February 18th Bright stepped out of a vehicle that had stopped outside the prison. A correctional officer spotted him walking on the street outside the prison wall with a bag in his hand.

 

While Bright was walking back and forth, the correctional officer pulled up in his vehicle and told him to stop. There, close to 16 ounces of tobacco and 30 grams of marijuana were seized from the bag.

 

Bright, who lives between Chicago and Joliet, told investigators he didn’t know what was inside the bag and, during an altercation with a friend, stepped out of the vehicle to take a walk.

 

He could face an up to six-year sentence on the Level 5 felony charge.

High-Speed Chase Ends with Crash

(Michigan City, IN) - A high-speed chase ended with a crash and the arrest of the driver in Michigan City.

 

Tevin Lewis, 24, was charged with Resisting Law Enforcement for a lengthy Sunday night pursuit, ending with a driver crashing and fleeing on foot in the 6100 block of West Johnson Road.

 

Police said Lewis was one of two men who seemed to be involved in a drug deal a patrol officer witnessed at a gas station in the 1200 block of Franklin Street.

 

Lewis left behind the wheel of a red sedan the officer was following a short time later when he attempted a traffic stop, reportedly reaching speeds of 100 miles per hour on Barker Road. He continued to drive fast and run past numerous stop signs on Woodland Avenue, Cleveland Avenue, Welnetz Road, and other thoroughfares like U.S. 20.

 

According to court documents, officers lost sight of the vehicle when Lewis turned off his headlights, but the car was soon located, albeit crashed.  Officers apprehended the man on foot behind a residence.

 

Police said no drugs were located in the vehicle, but there were two empty plastic bags typically used in packaging narcotics on the floorboard.

 

Lewis reportedly has a history of fleeing law enforcement and drug possession,

Affordable Housing Applications Soon Accepted

(La Porte County, IN) - Beginning April 1st, La Porte County residents can apply to the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Waiting List at: https://www.waitlistcheck.com/IN1806-2494

 

The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Waiting List is also open for Lake, Porter, Jasper, Newton, Pulaski, and Starke County residents.

 

The Section 8 HCV program is available to income-eligible individuals and families and exists to assist with rent payments to provide decent, affordable, sanitary, and safe housing for persons with low incomes. The program is not emergency housing assistance and your waiting time for assistance may exceed 24 months. 

 

Applicants will be required to create a WaitListCheck account and have a valid e-mail address to apply. From there, a link to free e-mail providers will be included on the website for one's convenience.

 

If one has a disability where reasonable accommodation to allow equal access to the application process may be needed, please contact NWICA at 219-794-1829 to request accommodation no later than March 17th. For assistance in another language, please call IHCDA at 317-232-7788 to schedule a phone call with an interpreter no later than March 17th.

 

Northwest Indiana Community Action administers the Section 8 HCV program on behalf of the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Next Orchestra Concert in March

(Michigan City, IN) - The La Porte County Symphony Orchestra will present its third subscription concert of the 2023-2024 season on March 10th at 3:00 pm at the Holdcraft Performing Arts Center at 1200 Spring Street in Michigan City.

 

The concert features composer Ingrid Stolzel's piece "City Beautiful", written in 2019 and commissioned by the Youth Orchestra of Kansas City.

 

Stolzel, a native of Germany and Associate Professor of Composition at the University of Kansas School of Music, will be in residence with the orchestra during rehearsals and will give an audience Q&A session at the conclusion of the concert.

 

Also featured on the program is LCSO Principal Flute Aleksandra Kemble playing Cécile Chaminade's "Concertino for Flute in D major, op. 107". Kemble is an accomplished flutist and educator, holding the principal chair flute positions of the LCSO and Elkhart Symphony. She holds a DMA in flute performance from Ball State University and serves on the adjunct flute faculty of IU South Bend, Andrews University, Bethel University, Goshen College, and St. Mary's College.

 

Rounding out the program are Brahms' Academic Overture and Dvoák's powerful Symphony No. 8. 

 

Tickets can be purchased online HERE, or at Roxy Music at 1012 Lincolnway in downtown La Porte, or at the door the day of the event. Adults are $25, Seniors (over 60) $22, and Students of all ages get in free with ID.

School Record and More in First-Ever Match

(New Buffalo, MI) - New Buffalo High School Senior Cameron Forker said he’s always been naturally strong but was still surprised at how well he did in the regionals on February 24th near Muskegon, breaking a NBHS record and qualifying for the state finals in his first competitive weightlifting match.

 

“I’m pretty happy,” he said.

 

Forker placed third in the super heavyweight division by lifting a combined 1,155 pounds in the deadlift, bench press, and squat. The total weight lifted qualified him for the state finals on March 9th, near Detroit. In turn. his deadlift of 475 pounds set the new school record.

 

New Buffalo High School Athletic Director Matt Johnson said the previous high mark in the deadlift was 450 pounds, done by Josh Kaminski in 2017.

 

The 6’2”, 310-pound Forker also lifted 275 pounds in the bench press and 405 pounds in the squat in the regionals.

 

Powerlifting at New Buffalo High School is a club sport.

 

Johnson said there were five matches the powerlifting team had a chance to get into this season, but the door, in what he described as sort of a lottery system, opened for just two of the club competitions. Forker said he missed the first match because of his responsibilities as Mr. New Buffalo, having to attend upcoming events associated with the Miss and Mr. Blossomtime pageant in the spring.

 

He started lifting weights for football in the eighth grade and kept doing so during every season of the sport he played in each of his four years of high school.

 

“Cam’s always been a big guy. He’s always had some good natural strength,’’ said Johnson, who’s also the head football coach.

 

It wasn’t until Forker joined the club two months ago that lifting weights, working on his techniques, and pushing himself to get better started to become part of his daily routine. To him,  the results of his first match were “pretty crazy.” Forker said he engages in light lifting the day after heavy lifting to help his body recover before it’s put to the test again.

 

“Sometimes you don’t want to overdo it especially when you have a competition coming up to avoid being tired or fatigued,” he said.

 

Forker said he’s not sure where his future might be with weightlifting, but doesn’t expect to give it up after graduating in June.

 

“I’m going to continue lifting weights no matter what. I’ll see if there’s any local competitions I can go to just show them what I got,” he said.

Rags to Riches Season Continues

(New Buffalo, MI) - It took going into overtime, but the New Buffalo High School boys’ basketball team won their opening game in the District 4 post-season tournament. The Bison (13-10) defeated Countryside Academy at home Monday 71-63.

 

The players formed a circle at half-court and celebrated what might have seemed impossible after winning just two games last year and losing six of their first seven games this year.

 

Senior Elliott Bourne credited the sudden turnaround to working extremely hard to improve during the off-season and throughout the regular season, noting that he and his teammates deciding to play as a team was also a factor in the rags to riches season.  

 

“We put in so much work, it’s unbelievable. The change in our team from last year to this year, I don’t think any other team has been like this before. It’s awesome. I never thought this would happen,” he said.

 

“It feels like we’re a brotherhood now,” said senior Andres Becerra.

 

New Buffalo led by seven points at the end of a fast-paced and physical first quarter before seemingly being overwhelmed by the Cougars, who evened the score at halftime.

 

In the third quarter, struggles continued for the Bison, who trailed by as many as seven points until 6’3” center Lucas Forker seemed to ignite a comeback, making two quick lay-ups and a third easy bucket after Becerra nailed a three-point shot.

 

Nick Haskins later narrowed the gap to one point by stealing the ball at half-court and racing in for a lay-up. The Bison led by as many as five points in the fourth quarter largely due to a couple of spectacular buckets from 5’7” M’Nason Smothers.

 

The Cougars, though, came roaring back to force overtime with a hard-fought lay-up at the buzzer. 

 

New Buffalo went ahead for good when Becerra made both free throws thanks to a technical foul called on the Cougars. He then caught a long pass from Haskins and drove in for a lay-up.

 

The Cougars pulled to within three points with a minute to go, but couldn’t get any closer.

 

Forker led the team with 18 points. Becerra had 13 points while Bourne contributed 11 points and Haskins scored 10 points. Smothers finished with eight points.

 

Head Coach Nate Tripp said the victory felt good but he won’t feel a sense of accomplishment unless the team wins the district title.

 

“I feel progress. Not accomplishment. We got a couple of more games to go before we feel that,” he said.

Man Charged with Beating and Stabbing

(La Porte County, IN) - An arrest has been made for the beating and stabbing of a man near Kingsford Heights.

 

Matthew Castaneda, 35, is being held in the La Porte County Jail on a charge of Aggravated Battery.

 

Authorities said he and the victim, James Henoch, lived together at a mobile home park in the 7700 block of South U.S. 35. Both men were home on Sunday when the suspect allegedly pushed the victim to the floor, punched him twice in the face, and stabbed him in the chest with a folding knife. Castaneda reportedly then struck him with a baseball bat.

 

Henoch was taken to a South Bend hospital where he was diagnosed with a punctured and collapsed lung as a result of the stabbing.

 

Casteneda told investigators he just snapped from many things not being fixed at the residence and attacked him while they were engaged in an argument.  He described the chains of events leading up to the attack as “an explosion of everything I have been going through living with him,” according to court documents.

 

Casteneda could face anywhere from a three to 16-year sentence on the Level 3 felony charge.  

Local Authorities Involved in Multiple Death Probe

(New Buffalo, MI) - The deaths of two people in New Buffalo are under investigation by multiple law enforcement agencies, including one in La Porte.

 

New Buffalo Police Chief Rich Killips released this statement:

 

“The deaths were not immediately reported to authorities, which necessitated an in-depth response and investigation which is ongoing. There is no danger to the public steaming from this incident."

 

Killips said the New Buffalo Police Department is working with the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department, La Porte County Sheriff’s Department, and medical professionals on the case.  

 

No further information was provided.

Mrozinski Now Facing Possible Party Ban

(La Porte County, IN) - Already removed from the May primary ballot, a local official could face a long-term ban from running for elected office as a Republican.

 

La Porte County Commissioner Rich Mrozinski had his name taken off the Republican May primary ballot by the La Porte County Election Board on Friday, the latter citing a violation in the required documents he had to file to become a candidate and him being a Republican not in good standing with the local party’s central committee.

 

In addition, La Porte County Republican Party Chairman Allen Stevens said that the party is seeking to ban Mrozinski from running for office as a Republican for ten years.

 

Stevens said one reason behind this is Mrozinski donated to the campaign of Democrat Sheila Matias in 2022. 

 

“That is a clear violation of the Republican state party rules,” he said.

 

Matias, who was seeking a second term as a La Porte County Commissioner, was soundly defeated by now-County Commission President Connie Gramarossa.

 

Stevens noted another reason for seeking the 10-year ban is that Mrozinski was removed as an official member of the local party that same year for public criticism and other acts of defiance against fellow republicans. He said a hearing on the proposed long-term ban is scheduled before the District 1 Republican Central Committee at its office in Valparaiso on March 11th.

 

So far, attempts to reach Mrozinski for comment have been unsuccessful.

No Decision Yet on Whether to Appeal Ballot Removal

(La Porte County, IN) - A La Porte County official will not be able to seek a third term as a Republican unless the removal of his name from the ballot is overturned on appeal, as The La Porte County Election Board on Friday voted to remove  Commissioner Rich Mrozinski from the May 7th Republican primary ballot.

 

The request was made by La Porte County Republican Party Chairman Allen Stevens.

 

One of the violations cited by Stevens and upheld by the election board was Mrozinski's failure to place his initials, as required by state law, on three separate places on the paperwork candidates must file to run for office. The Election Board also agreed with Stevens that Mrozinski should be taken off the ballot due to being a Republican not in good standing with the La Porte County Republican Central Committee.

 

The committee, made up of Republican precinct committeepersons throughout the county, voted unanimously in September of 2022 to remove Mrozinski as an official member of the party.

 

Stevens said that among the acts of defiance against the party by Mrozinski included making a $100 contribution to the campaign of Democrat Sheila Matias in her bid for a second term as a county commissioner in 2022. She was soundly defeated by Republican Connie Gramarossa, who’s now president of the three-member executive branch of county government.

 

He brought up other issues, such as Mrozinski placing a rubber snake inside a paper bag that he left outside the office door of Republican La Porte County Auditor Tim Stabosz late at night following a political feud.

 

Stevens cited a law upheld in federal courts that guarantees political parties freedom from associating with candidates not in good standing with their parties and the ability to protect themselves “from intrusion by those with 'adverse political principles.” He also referred to a 1984 court ruling against an elected official from Lake County whose name was removed from the ballot for supporting Democrats and Independents, before going to note how the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows “a political party great leeway in governing its own affairs.

 

Representing Mrozinski was attorney Alan Sirinek, who argued the lack of initials on his candidacy filing documents was not strong enough grounds for removal from the ballot.

 

Sirinek said election laws, under state statute, are meant to be viewed with flexibility to prevent voters from being disenfranchised too easily.

 

“I think it falls under the category of a mere technicality,” he said.

 

Election Board President Brody Shoffner disagreed, saying “I don’t see any wiggle room. It says the candidate must separately initialize each of those statements.”

 

Sirinek also said Mrozinski was not notified in advance about the meeting where the vote was taken to oust him from the party, alleging that was a violation of due process, where people have a right to defend themselves prior to a decision on a proposed act of discipline.

 

“Mr. Mrozinski was not advised in any shape or form this action was being contemplated. He learned after the fact in a newspaper article on it,” he said.

 

Sirinek said that no decision had been made yet on whether to appeal the decision.

 

Mrozinski has until Thursday to file an appeal with one of the LaPorte County courts.

 

Stevens said he was delighted with the decision, alleging Mrozinski also publicly slammed Gramarossa during her campaign. He also claimed Mrozinski lied about placing the snake until learning he was captured on video walking out of the building several hours before Stabosz found it outside his door the next morning.

 

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said.

 

Sirinek said Republicans at the national level are angry about efforts to keep former president Donald Trump off the ballot this year in some states, yet “the local Republican Party has no problem with disenfranchising La Porte County citizens.

 

“I certainly felt the deck was stacked against us,” he said.

 

If Mrozinski loses on appeal, the former Democrat, when he served on the La Porte County Council, can still run for reelection in the November general election as a Libertarian, Independent or write-in candidate, per La Porte County Clerk Heather Stevens. She also noted that the Democratic Party has Mike Kellems as its only candidate in the primary and that the candidate filing deadline for the primary has expired.

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