Year End stories -- South Lake County

2012-12-29T19:30:00Z 2012-12-30T00:54:04Z Year End stories -- South Lake County nwitimes.com
December 29, 2012 7:30 pm

Mentally ill youths, families left at court system's mercy

A Times investigation found there has been a multi-agency failure to provide intensive services to some children with severe mental illnesses or developmental disabilities. Children who do not receive needed services may enter the court system as juvenile delinquents or as children in need of services.

In some cases, The Times learned, parents — who had been dedicated to seeking care for their children — admitted to neglect just to secure services.

State officials have proposed a plan that would offer families, school officials, residents, judges, probation officers, prosecutors and public defenders an avenue to secure mental health services for children without going through the court system.

Experts estimated between 300 and 350 Indiana children will be affected by the proposed plan at a cost of roughly $25 million per year. It currently is in the pilot phase and is expected to be rolled out statewide in 2013.

Local schools embrace social media with tweets and texts

No longer are tech devices forbidden in Northwest Indiana schools as many were a few years ago. Now, more region students are taking advantage of the full social networking platform that includes Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and texting, as well as their own school-issued computer — and using that technology in the classroom.

Democrat Gerry Scheub wins fifth term as commissioner

Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, won re-election to a fifth term as one of the county's top three executives this year despite a bruising Democratic primary race last spring with former sheriff Roy Dominguez, and a race in the general election against Republican Jerry Tippy.

Scheub, 77, faced off against much younger opponents. Dominguez said Scheub was tainted by his advocacy of a stillborn garbage-to-ethanol plant. Tippy argued he could bring a fresh businesslike approach to government.

But Scheub convinced voters 16 years on the job made him the best candidate. "It was a hard campaign, and it will be my last," Scheub said last month.

FBI raids surveyor's office; still no comment on probe

FBI agents were among a team of state and federal investigators armed with a search warrant issued from U.S. District Court in Hammond who removed computers, and electronic and paper records June 5 from the office of Lake County Surveyor George Van Til.

Two months later, employees of the surveyor's office were subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury. The U.S. attorney's office, which has indicted a series of Lake officials on public corruption charges, has declined to comment on its investigation.

Merged E-911 dispatching is headquartered in Crown Point

Crown Point got the call this year to be the center of a new consolidated enhanced 911 system.

Municipal police and fire officials agreed to put at least 25 radio dispatch consoles on the third floor of the Lake County Government Complex, at 2293 N. Main St. in Crown Point, in space now used by the county health department and an all-purpose meeting room.

An East Chicago municipal building will be used as a back-up location in case an emergency disables the Crown Point site. The state is forcing the county to merge what was once 18 community-based police and fire radio dispatch rooms into a single system by the end of 2014. New Chicago already has closed its dispatch room.

Former Coroner Philpot found guilty of embezzling $24,000

A U.S. District Court jury found Thomas Philpot, a former coroner and county clerk, guilty Aug. 3 of five counts of embezzling $24,000 from county government by illegally giving himself salary bonus between 2004 and 2009 while serving as county clerk. He took the money from a federal fund earmarked to improve the collection of court-ordered child support payments.

Philpot didn't take the witness stand during his week-long trial, but defense lawyers argued he was the victim of an honest mistake and bad legal advice. He returned the money after receiving a second legal opinion that the bonuses were improper because they weren't approved by the seven-member County Council.

A caucus of Democratic precinct committeemen selected Merrilee Frey to finish Philpot's term. Frey also was elected by voters in the fall to serve an additional four years as coroner.

Lake correctional officer killed by hit-run driver; others hurt

Lake County Correctional Officer Britney Meux died and four other officers were injured March 6 when a hit-run driver struck them as they jogged along 93rd Avenue near Main Street in Crown Point as part of a training session.

Lake Sheriff John Buncich ordered an intensive manhunt for the driver, who police said accelerated just before striking the officers.

A day later Jason Cozmanoff, 42, of Lakes of the Four Seasons, surrendered to police. His family's car was confiscated as evidence it was involved in the deadly incident.

Cozmanoff is pleading not guilty to charges of reckless homicide of Meux, three counts of criminal recklessness that resulted in the serious bodily injury of officers David Murchek, Latasha Johnson and Delano Scaife, and four counts of leaving the scene of an accident involving death and serious injury. Cozmanoff is scheduled to stand trial the week of Feb. 18.

Lake Superior Court judge is retiring after 21 years

Lake Superior Court Judge Jeffery J. Dywan stepped down from the bench last summer after 21 years of service in deciding civil disputes. Gov. Mitch Daniels named Juvenile Court Referee John M. Sedia to replace Dywan.

Drainage projects concluded for Schererville subdivisions

Work crews wrapped up $1 million in drainage improvements for Heather Hills and Schererville Heights subdivisions, a residential area south of Schererville, early last month.

Work began in late July to remove silt from undersized ponds and drainage ways that should more efficiently channel high water northeast to Turkey Creek to mitigate periodic flooding experienced by residents of the about 300 homes.

Work also concluded at Lake Dalecarlia on $564,000 in improvements to dams and waterway stabilization is taking place in the 82-year-old resort community of about 500 homes north of Lowell.

Lake County Council shuffles seats after election changes

Voters promoted two members of the Lake County Council to other government responsibilities this year.

Rick Niemeyer was elected state representative of the 11th House District, which encompasses much of south Lake County. Niemeyer joined the seven-member council, which acts as county government's fiscal overseer, two years ago.

A caucus of Republican precinct committeemen named Center Township Trustee Eldon Strong to replace Niemeyer.

Michael Repay is leaving the council to become a Lake County commissioner. He will represent Hammond, Whiting, Munster and parts of Highland and St. John on the Board of Commissioners, the highest executive officials in county government.

A caucus of Democratic precinct committeemen named David Hamm, a former Hammond city councilman and fireman, to replace Repay on the council.

Father of dead Lake Central student questions cause

Lake County Coroner Merrilee Frey left no stone unturned in determining how a Lake Central student died on school property in August.

In October, two months after the body of Levi Evans II was found dead by passers-by, Frey ruled the boy died of natural causes due to a rare heart disorder.

Frey reopened the investigation in November only to renew her original ruling in December.

But the boy's father, Levi Evans Sr., continues to seek investigative reports by authorities his attorneys argue have been withheld for review by the boy's family.

A hearing on the matter has been set for Feb. 13 before Lake County Probate Commissioner Donald Stepanovich.

Fatal Crown Point stabbing spurs 8-year prison sentence

Lake Criminal Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr. in September sentenced a Crown Point man to about eight years in prison for the fatal stabbing of a man on Crown Point's courthouse square on Thanksgiving Day in 2011.

Stefaniak's ruling came after a bitterly argued, three-hour sentencing hearing for Jeffrey Nemcek, 23, convicted in the death of Brandon Huseman, 26, also of Crown Point.

Acquitted of murder and voluntary manslaughter, Nemcek was found guilty of reckless homicide, a felony, and possession of a switchblade, a misdemeanor.

At issue had been conflicting testimony by witnesses as to how and why Huseman came to be stabbed during an encounter between Nemcek and several members of Huseman's party.

The hearing included emotional appeals to the court by parents of Huseman and Nemcek as well as the playing of jailhouse telephone calls by Nemcek in which he indicated he expected to be set free on probation.

Ethanol project still stalled at gate with new consortium

As the four-year anniversary of Lake County's trash-to-ethanol contract passed, so did the hope of securing financing or breaking ground in 2012.

Evansville-based Powers Energy of America signed a contract with the Lake County Solid Waste Management District in November 2008, vowing to build the plant to consolidate county trash processing and transform carbon-based garbage into ethanol fuel using a process not proven on a large commercial scale.

But Powers announced in 2012 it was attempting to sell its interests in the plan to a consortium of local contractors, effectively pulling out of the deal.

That announcement followed several failed attempts to secure financing and land for the would-be facility. Now the plan remains in limbo as the consortium awaits testing at a similar — but smaller — plant in Florida before moving ahead with the potential purchase.

Civil War preservation and tourism project still grows

Region Civil War historical preservation and tourism efforts that began in 2011 culminated in 2012 with the unveiling of the South Shore Civil War Memorial Trail.

Volunteers for the trail and the Calumet Region Civil War Preservation Project continued replacing worn, broken or missing government-issued headstones for Lake and Porter County Civil War veterans, bringing the total to more than 80 new markers placed since Memorial Day 2011.

On Memorial Day 2012, the project and the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority launched the historical tourism trail, which links together region Civil War graves, architectural icons and other sites for visitors looking for a taste of local history. A new website and several special events commemorated the new trail.

The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority awarded trail volunteers with the 2012 Attraction of the Year, and at year's end, plans were under way for a monthlong South Shore Civil War Memorial Trail Expo scheduled for April at Hammond's Indiana Welcome Center.

Lake officials settle suit over 'inhumane' conditions at jail

U.S. District Court Judge Philip Simon signed off on a $7.2 million settlement Lake County has agreed to pay to inmates who complained about jail conditions.

More than 8,000 people filed claims and are expected to get a percentage of the settlement, said attorney Samantha Liskow, whose Chicago-based firm Loevy & Loevy, represents some inmates in the case.

Richard Flood, Roberto Cantu, Terrance Smith, Patrick Flood, Jacqueline Drankus, Edward Walker and David Kurcz sued the county, former Lake County Sheriff Roy Dominguez, former jail Warden Caren Jones, former Warden Benny Freeman and unknown jail supervisors in 2008, arguing the jail conditions were "inhumane."

Lake Central school officials' referendum action challenged

An email from Lake Central School Corp.'s top official indicates district resources were used to push its voter referendum. But in a subsequent letter, the district denied an antireferendum group access to the same resources.

Indiana law requires school corporations provide equal access to facilities or equipment when promoting a position on a local referendum.

In an email obtained by The Times, Lake Central Superintendent Larry Veracco told a parent he provided parents' email addresses to the political action committee supporting the referendum. District officials later denied a request for the same records by a group opposing the referendum, which sought voters' approval to rebuild Lake Central High School and construct a new Protsman Elementary School.

Voters approved the $160 million referendum in November 2011.

Cedar Lake Park Board flap proceeding through courts

CEDAR LAKE | The tussle over the future of the town’s Park Board continued in 2012, with two judges ruling on the matter.

Board members Gina Alessia, Candi Reiling and Andrew Balkema had been removed by the Town Council last year. The board was ultimately dissolved by the council and oversight of the department and park properties were transferred to the council.

In May, a judge's order reinstated Alessia, Reiling and Balkema with back pay and returned all park properties to the board. The town appealed the decision, and in July, filed a motion to stay, asking that all Park Board business be halted until the situation is resolved.

A senior Superior Court judge agreed, ruling the board may meet to discuss the litigation and business related to it, but may not discuss town business or take any actions. The town’s appeal of Schneider’s decision is now continuing its way through the courts.

The police chief and the chairman of its police commission resigned this year. Chief Randall Majersky, who had served in that position for roughly a year, resigned in October, as did Police Commission Chairman Greg Rambo. Town Council President Randy Niemeyer said Majersky was not meeting goals set by the department. Majersky remains a Cedar Lake police officer; the top job is being currently handled by Jerry Smith, who is serving as interim chief.

The new Strack & Van Til has its formal ground-breaking in July on the site of the Wilco County Market in Lincoln Plaza, 133rd Avenue and Parrish. The store will be 50,000 square feet and contain a Centier bank branch. It is expected to open in the spring of 2013.

C.P. library patrons make new facility's opening a success

CROWN POINT | Patrons streamed into the new Crown Point Community Library on opening day Oct. 22.

The $12 million, 46,750-square-foot building in the 100 block of North Main Street, signaled the start of a new chapter for the library. The building replaced a smaller library at 214 S. Court St., which closed Sept. 29 after 40 years.

Officials in June adopted a city ordinance regulating rental housing for the first time in the city's history. It requires every apartment in every rental-unit building to be registered with the city and sets a registration fee of $50 per building and an additional $20 per rental unit. The new rules go into effect Tuesday.

Culverts over Smith Ditch in Stillwater subdivision were replaced to cap years of legal issues stemming from when the subdivision was built in the late 1990s.

Three softball fields and other improvements were installed at the Crown Point sports complex as part of a $3.5 million second phase of work at the complex, 1300 E. North St. The improvements are part of a long-range plan to transform the site into a multisport complex potentially unrivaled in the state, according to city officials.

Crown Point officials lauded the summer completion of the $2.1 million reconstruction of West Street.

Interim titles are taken off Dyer top cop, administrator

DYER | The year brought several administrative changes.

David Hein, who has been serving as interim police chief, was named chief this past summer. Rick Eberly, who previously served in an interim role, was named town administrator.

Earlier in the year, Dyer joined other local communities in giving retired police officers a boost in pay.

Dog lovers who support a special place in town for their canine friends formed a committee to help make it a reality in 2012.

The Dyer Dog Park Committee has been raising money to open a future dog park on the Central Park property along Calumet Avenue in 2013.

The town also began a process that that may one day give Dyer a bike trail.

Norfolk Southern has formally moved to abandon its rail line in Dyer, and the town has petitioned to rail bank the line, a procedure which sets aside abandoned rail line right of way for future use.

Lowell annexation plans seek to broaden town's tax base

LOWELL | This south Lake County community began shaking off its mantle as a bedroom community in 2012 and revived annexation efforts to promote a broader tax base.

Concurrently, town leaders began enhancing infrastructure for a more attractive welcome mat to draw commercial and light industrial development.

The Tri-Creek Community Schools board, with new Superintendent Debra Howe at the helm, launched an ambitious technology plan in May that, by year's end, had converted the way education was delivered to students.

New annexation efforts were spurred in August when Ashland Products announced it would close its doors. This followed the previous year's loss of Rieter Automotive.

The Town Council in August annexed seven parcels at Holtz Road on the east end and off Morse Street near the town's north central boundary. By October, the council had expanded its annexation plans to include not only 80 acres extending southward from West Commercial and Austin avenues' southeast corner, but also westward from the southwest corner to include a Waste Management construction and demolition landfill.

To accommodate desired growth, the town undertook a $6.1 million sewer improvement/expansion project that added 3600 new connections to its capacity.

First 12 full-time firefighters are employed in Merrillville

MERRILLVILLE | The town hired its first full-time firefighters in October.

The Merrillville Fire Department consisted entirely of volunteers before the 12 full-time staffers were hired.

Merrillville continues to use volunteers to back up the full-time crew.

The first quarter of the year took a violent turn when 48-year-old Judi Simpson-Beaver was killed during a robbery at the Lucky Mart Foods, 5695 Cleveland St.

In June, a Merrillville teenager was sentenced to 30 years in prison in the July 2011 slaying of 80-year-old Anna Shultz, a Gary High School teacher. Royal Marshall, 18, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.

Severe weather displaced several Merrillville residents in early July when a brief but strong storm stripped part of the roof away from the Hickory Ridge Lake Apartments complex, 1718 W. 55th Ave.

Calumet Avenue development continues to bolster Munster

S'ville financing deal expected to speed Shops on Main work

SCHERERVILLE | The Town Council authorized a financing agreement in September with developer Bruce Boyer, of Boyer Properties, for the proposed Shops on Main development.

The agreement uses tax increment financing districts to assist with financing. The town will issue $19 million in debt, which will be paid off by the tax revenue generated by the Shops on Main project.

The development would bring high-end shopping and restaurants to 34.5 acres of property near the southeast corner of U.S. 41 and Main Street.

An initial concept for Shops on Main received town approval several years ago, but those approvals expired because the project stalled. Shops on Main businesses haven't been revealed yet.

A 24-year-old woman, Jacqueline Gardner, was killed in May after three men apparently waited to her to return to her apartment in the 8000 block of Alpine Lane. Investigators determined Gardner's tip money, which she received before she returned home from work, was missing.

In August, town officials broke ground for a new community center in Scherwood Park. Construction of the 12,000-square-foot building could be finished in the spring.

Lake Central High renovations showing promise in St. John

ST. JOHN | The town celebrated its 175th year anniversary and saw construction begin on a renovated Lake Central High School in 2012.

A celebratory mood filled the former track and field area behind Lake Central High School in early August as more than 100 people gathered in sunshine and temperatures in the low 90s for the new high school groundbreaking.

Lake Central’s construction costs are part of the $160 million referendum approved by Tri-Town voters in November 2011.

Scholars, architects confer in landmark Whiting building

Winfield maps infrastructure projects plaguing subdivisions

WINFIELD | The new Town Council and other officials spent 2012 tackling a series of infrastructure problems that had gone unaddressed in much of the town’s 20-year history.

Sanitary sewer facilities, lift stations and unfinished roadways in some subdivisions created challenges that council members, board members, town staff and contracted town engineers will continue to work on during 2013.

Flooding and backup of raw sewage into homes are among the concerns. Two of those problematic facilities are the sanitary sewer system and sewage lift station serving the subdivisions of Deer Creek Estates and Wyndance. Negotiations began in April and were finalized late this month to take title to these sewer facilities. The town will now take possession and make repairs.

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