HOBART— Police have arrested a woman who employees at Victoria's Secret in Southlake Mall said sexually assaulted them, with one employee alleging the woman pulled down the staffer's pants in a fitting room.
Tina Marie Rice, 38, was arrested Friday at the 5400 block of West 78th Lane in Schererville by the Lake County Warrant Division, according to Capt. James Gonzales.
Rice was charged with two counts of sexual battery, one count of criminal confinement and two counts of battery, according to court records.
At 8:14 p.m. Nov. 28, Hobart police went to Victoria's Secret in Hobart's Southlake Mall in response to a report of sexual battery, according to police reports.
A Victoria's Secret employee told officers Rice selected a pair of woman's underwear and asked for a fitting room that evening. While in the fitting room, the employee said Rice removed her underwear and turned around, showing the employee her buttocks.
Rice then allegedly said, “It's going to get personal."
She then put on the underwear and asked the employee her opinion, to which she replied they looked nice.
While still in the fitting room, Rice stepped toward the employee and lifted up her shirt above her stomach and simultaneously pulled down the employee's pants slightly, according to police reports.
The employee then left the fitting room and eventually stayed in the employee break room until Rice left. She later told police that Rice was standing between her and the fitting room door during the encounter.
On Rice's way out, she allegedly slapped another female employee on the buttocks.
At 3:59 p.m. Nov. 30, Hobart police returned to the women's undergarments shop when staff reported that Rice had returned, according to police records. Police identified Rice and escorted her to the police station inside Southlake Mall, where she was detained for a short period of time.
Police revisited the investigation on Dec. 21 and spoke with the two staff members who Rice allegedly sexually assaulted. A probable cause affidavit was filed on Thursday, and a warrant for Rice's arrest was issued the same day.
CROWN POINT — A Hobart man is accused of raping a grandmother in August.
Christopher M. Novak, 42, allegedly woke up the 63-year-old woman as she slept in a bed with other family members, in a home Novak shared with the victim's relative, and threatened to "get it" from her 5-year-old granddaughter if she did not perform a sex act.
Novak also is accused of threatening to kill the woman's family if she told anyone, Lake Criminal Court records state.
The woman submitted, and Novak raped her for more than two hours in the same room where her family was sleeping, records state. During that time, he allegedly took a sock from his foot and put it in her mouth.
Novak was charged Wednesday with three felony counts of rape, one count of sexual battery and two counts of intimidation.
The woman told police this month she told a relative the next day about the rape, but never sought medical attention, records state. The woman didn't report the alleged crimes to police until earlier this month because she feared for her family's safety.
The woman told police she had not met Novak before staying in his home in August and has not seen him since then, records state.
Witnesses told police Novak was drunk the night of the alleged rape. One witness said Novak later confided he had raped the woman, cried and expressed regret, court records state.
In an interview with police, Novak admitted he had been accused of raping the woman, but said he did not remember because he was "black out drunk," records state. Novak denied committing some of the acts alleged in court records.
HIGHLAND — Three women were charged with prostitution after an undercover Homeland Security agent reportedly paid for sex acts before two Highland massage parlors were raided in the fall.
The Lake County prosecutor's office is accusing Bond "Cindy" Li, 54, of Highland; Hailin "Tina" He, 36, and Xiao Jiao "Lucy" Zhou, 31, both of Chicago, with promoting prostitution at the Relax Spa, which operated in the 8500 block of Kennedy Avenue and the Happy Feet and Spa, in the 3900 block of 45th Street.
Highland police allege in court papers that all three women are listed on town business records as the owner-operators of the two businesses. Police said Li also is known by the names Zong Qui Li and Li Bond.
Police, who raided both locations Oct. 25, allege their investigation began in July after receiving complaints of possible prostitution.
Police put Happy Feet and Spa under surveillance and found most of the clientele were men. Police stopped one male customer who admitted one of the women performed a sex act on him.
Police allege an undercover Homeland Security agent entered the Happy Feet and Spa Aug. 8, where he met one Asian female in her 30s and another Asian female in her 40s who identified herself as Liza. The undercover agent paid $60 for a massage and undressed.
The agent placed an additional $40 on the massage table, which the court affidavit alleges is a routine signal in illegal massage parlors the customer wants sex from the masseuse. The agent said Liza briefly fondled his genitals during the massage — until he stopped her — and she picked up the $40 tip.
Another undercover agent visited the Happy Feet and Spa on Aug. 24, where two unidentified women illegally massaged him. Another agent visited the same spa on Oct. 25, and Zhou performed an illegal massage minutes before the raid by Highland, Griffith, Lake County and state police, the FBI and Homeland Security. Both businesses have been closed.
Police said that after brief questioning, all the female employees claimed they didn't understand English.
Police said an undercover Highland police detective visited the Relax Spa Oct. 12, Oct. 18 and Oct. 25 and received illegal massages before officers raided it and arrested Li and Zhou after the final visit.
Police said two men and a woman arrived at the Highland police station to post bond for Li and Zhou even before the two defendants were able to make any telephone calls following their arrest.
The charges come three months after Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter complained charging the case would be difficult “for a number of undisclosed reasons."
Carter said Wednesday that he is satisfied after further review of the case there is enough evidence to support charges against the women.
Carter said that it’s questionable whether Region authorities will ever see the women again because illegal massage operations typically move female employees to another part of the country or out of the country to obstruct prosecutions.
VALPARAISO — Just moments before bond was drastically reduced for a Portage woman facing drug charges, it was revealed her 6-year-old son tested positive for illegal, hard drugs.
Alysha Ramos is facing drug charges 10 years after pleading guilty to driving drunk and causing a crash that killed her close friend.
Porter County Deputy Prosecutor Rebecca Buitendorp told the court Friday morning that a hair follicle taken from the boy tested positive for heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepine and methamphetamine.
Based on the test results, Buitendorp opposed reducing the $4,500 bond for Alysha Ramos.
Porter Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Clymer reduced the bond to $250, saying he was keeping his word of doing so if Ramos completed the Chemical Dependency and Addictions Program at the Porter County Jail.
He said her release is contingent upon her complying with conditions, including having no contact with her three children without authorization and supervision. Ramos must also submit to random drug tests and the judge ordered her to take part in a local in-patient women's drug recovery program.
"I want you to get better," he said.
Ramos, whose mother is caring for two of her children, said she intends to stay with her grandmother or sister if released from jail.
Defense attorney Bob Harper said following Friday's hearing that the drug test from the child was provided to him during Friday's hearing.
"There's no saying how it happened," he said. "There's nothing filed saying she did anything."
Ramos is accused of allowing illegal drugs to be sold in the presence of her 6-year-old child, according to court records.
She also faces charges of possessing heroin, hypodermic needles and other heroin-related paraphernalia, according to court records. She is charged with possessing and dealing marijuana, possessing synthetic marijuana, allowing drug use at her Portage home and possessing crack pipes and other drug paraphernalia.
Friday's bond reduction is her second since October. It was reduced from $7,500 to $4,500 at that time by Clymer, who said he offered the reduction as a sign of hope and encouraged her to participate in drug treatment if she wants to see the bond reduced further.
Ramos vowed in October that if released from jail, she would not stick with the father of one of her children if there were drugs around.
"My kid is more important to me than he is," Ramos said.
She said she needs to be out of jail in order to begin the counseling, drug screens, home checks and other efforts required to reunite her with her three children.
Ramos was sentenced in August 2009 to two years of home detention and 57 months of probation after she pleaded guilty in the driving death case. She went on to violate her probation three times by using drugs, according to court documents.
Ramos was released from probation unsatisfactorily in 2015 but was not sent to prison.
CROWN POINT — A teenage girl accused of stabbing her mother to death nearly two years ago pulled a bloody, broken knife from her purse the night of the homicide and told two boys, "I broke the tip off on that (expletive)," court records allege.
Chastinea Reeves, 17, smirked as she made the statement and later laughed as she showed the boys a photo of a woman, who was slumped over and appeared to be deceased, records state.
The allegations against Reeves were outlined as part of a plea agreement Lake County prosecutors reached last month with Matthew Martin, 18, of Merrillville, Reeves' co-defendant and one of the two boys.
Martin and Virgil King, 19, of Gary, were charged in July 2017 with assisting a criminal and auto theft. King pleaded not guilty and has a court hearing set for Feb. 5.
Reeves appeared Tuesday in Lake Criminal Court with her court-appointed attorney John Cantrell, who said he plans to file two motions to suppress evidence in the case.
Magistrate Natalie Bokota rescheduled Reeves' trial for June 3.
Defense wants statements tossed
Reeves was arrested a day after her mother, Jamie M. Garnett, 34, was found stabbed to death Feb. 13, 2017, in the family's home in the 4400 block of West 23rd Place. The homicide sparked a search for Reeves, who disappeared after dropping off her younger sibling at a family member's Gary home.
Reeves was charged with murder in Lake Juvenile Court in February 2017. Lake Criminal Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr. waived her to adult court July 18, 2017, without deciding on a motion to suppress a statement Reeves gave to police.
Cantrell said Tuesday outside the courtroom there are questions about whether detectives had legal permission to interview Reeves.
A man believed to be Reeves' father traveled to Gary from South Carolina and permitted her to be interviewed by detectives, but that man never has been adjudicated as Reeves' father by a court, Cantrell said.
"He had no more right than the Man in the Moon to give police permission to interrogate my client," he said.
Cantrell also plans to file a motion to suppress any evidence obtained from a "fraudulent" Amber Alert police issued after Reeves' disappearance.
Cantrell alleged police considered Reeves a suspect and wrongfully elicited information from those closest to her by using the alert to suggest she was a missing, endangered child.
"Amber Alerts are not an investigative tool to help police attempt to solve cases," he said.
The question regarding use of Amber Alerts never has been litigated in Indiana and could set a precedent, Cantrell said.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Maureen Koonce said in court Cantrell has talked about filing motions for some time. The case remains pending, and her office wants to move it along, she said. She asked for a spring trial date.
Night of homicide detailed
Even if a judge agrees to throw out Reeves' statement, a jury likely still would get to hear from Martin.
Martin pleaded guilty in December to felony assisting a criminal in connection with Reeves' case and felony battery in a separate case. He faces sentences of one to six years and 0.5 to 2.5 years in prison on each count, to be served consecutively.
He agreed to testify against Reeves and will not be sentenced until her case is closed.
When asked about Martin's plea agreement, Cantrell said, "He is signing something to get himself out of trouble."
According to court records, Martin and King met Reeves at the Oak Knoll Apartments the night Garnett was killed. Reeves allegedly handed King, her boyfriend, the keys to Garnett's 2001 Ford Escape and they drove it away.
Later, Martin noticed what appeared to be blood on Reeves' clothing, records allege. As the three walked along 21st Avenue, Reeves took the knife out of her purse and talked about breaking it, records say.
Martin told police he kicked in a door to an abandoned building in the 2000 block of Delaware Street and tossed the knife inside. Police later recovered the knife, records show.
After Reeves changed out of the bloody clothes, King poured bleach on them, attempted to light them on fire and eventually threw them down a chute in an abandoned building in the 2300 block of Adams Street, records state.
Reeves later showed Martin a photo of a deceased woman before King removed the SIM card from Reeves' phone and destroyed it, records allege.
GARY — A Gary man, who is accused of leading police on a chase with three young children in the car, allegedly said he was going to “kill the entire family” and admitted to officers he was high on embalming fluid, court records state.
Upon being arrested, Alvin Brooks, 43, told Gary police officers, “he might as well die running.”
Brooks was charged with three counts of kidnapping, criminal recklessness, resisting law enforcement and auto theft, Lake County court records state.
Police said they responded to the intersection of 37th Avenue and Grant Street on Saturday after a concerned citizen reported a man driving recklessly with children in his vehicle.
When officers arrived and approached the suspect's vehicle with their sirens and emergency lights on, Brooks drove away with the children in the backseat, court records allege.
Brooks' gray 2016 Chevrolet Sonic then fled north on Tyler Street with officers in pursuit, police said.
The chase eventually went eastbound on 35th Avenue when police noticed the front driver's side of the vehicle was traveling on a rim with the tire gone. At one point, the vehicle came to a stop at 35th and Tyler, and then the driver took off again, police said.
The vehicle came to another stop in the 100 block of West 35th Avenue, and police said they struggled to remove Brooks from the vehicle.
Officers found a 7-year-old and two 4-year-old children in the backseat.
“The children were cold, hysterical, crying and very afraid,” the police report states.
Brooks allegedly told police he had been using “Woo,” a street name for embalming fluid, to get high. Brooks said he thought an active warrant was pending for his arrest, police said.
As the suspect was detained by police, he told them, I "just wanted everyone to die,” and that I “stopped but thought I had a warrant, and might as well die running.”
The 7-year-old directed police to the home of a relative, who had been babysitting the children prior to the incident.
The relative told police Brooks did not have permission to take the children away from her residence in the vehicle, a Chevrolet Sonic, which is registered in the relative's name.
The woman said Brooks is the children's great-uncle. Two mothers of the children came to get them and told officers Brooks did not have permission to take them from their relative's residence.
The 7-year-old said Brooks had “threatened to kill everyone,” according to court records.
The relative said she called the children's mothers, who began trying to locate the children, when she realized they were no longer there.
One witness told police the vehicle Brooks was traveling in was swerving and almost hit his vehicle in the 3700 block of Grant Street. The witness said he also saw Brooks almost hit a pole and drive in a zig-zag pattern in northbound and southbound traffic, with other vehicles having to stop to avoid hitting Brooks' car.
The witness said he called police out of fear for the children's and Brooks' safety.
Brooks was arrested Saturday and was in custody at the Lake County Jail as of Wednesday evening.
CROWN POINT — A Gary woman stabbed a man in the head and throat Thursday because she thought he was cheating on her, court records allege.
Ebony Edwards, 42, accused the man of cheating while talking to him on the phone and attacked him after he arrived home from work, Lake Criminal Court records say.
The man told police he and Edwards lived together on and off for more than a year, and she wanted their relationship to work out. He did not want the relationship to continue, because she previously "split his head open" and had a temper, according to a probable cause affidavit filed Friday.
The man told police he arrived home in the 4900 block of Maryland Street, changed out of his work clothes and realized Edwards was behind him as he walked downstairs.
Edwards is accused of pushing the man down on a couch and stabbing him. He wrestled one knife away, but Edward stabbed him with a second knife, records say.
As she twisted the knife in his throat, she said, "(N-word), I will kill you," records allege.
One of the man's relatives heard him yelling for help, grabbed Edwards' hand and persuaded her to drop the knife, records say.
The man was taken by ambulance to a local hospital.
Edwards was arrested and charged with aggravated battery, two counts of domestic battery and criminal confinement.
CROWN POINT — A judge entered not guilty pleas on behalf of a Gary man charged in a botched robbery that resulted in the Jan. 9 shooting death of an 18-year-old Portage High School student.
Giovante M. Galloway, 21, of Gary, was charged Jan. 14 with murder, robbery and burglary and remains in custody at the Lake County Jail.
He appeared before Lake Criminal Court Judge Clarence Murray on Thursday with his court-appointed attorney, Susan Severtson.
Cappas scheduled Galloway's next hearing for March 14.
Galloway's uncle, Juarez Rogers, 48, of Park Forest, Illinois, also was charged Jan. 14 but remained at large Thursday, Griffith police Cmdr. Keith Martin said.
The charges allege Galloway planned to rob Ortiz's boyfriend, Michael Hawkins, 18, and enlisted the help of Rogers and three unidentified men.
Police were continuing to follow up on leads in the case, Martin said.
The men allegedly targeted Hawkins because Hawkins was selling large amounts of marijuana, according to court records.
Galloway, Rogers and the three men broke into a home in the 4400 block of Madison Street in Gary where Hawkins was staying, records say.
A friend of Hawkins and a fellow marijuana dealer, who was inside, heard the intruders and fired gunshots in their direction. The intruders retreated to a car parked nearby and waited until Hawkins arrived at the house in a red SUV, records say.
Hawkins, Ortiz and two other friends fled the Madison Street address in the SUV and drove to what they thought would be the safety of a relative's home at the Park West Apartments near Ridge Road and Arbogast Street in Griffith, police said.
Galloway's group pursued and caught up with Hawkins' group in the parking lot outside the apartment building. The unidentified men drew guns and surrounded Hawkins' car, records say.
Hawkins was driving away from the ambush when one of the men, yet to be identified, fired a gunshot that fatally wounded Ortiz.
Evidence indicates Ortiz wasn't the intended target of the robbery, police said.
Anyone with information about the homicide is asked to call Griffith police at 219-924-7503, ext. 252. To remain anonymous, call 219-922-3085.
MUNSTER — Bystanders chased down a driver after he crashed his vehicle in front of The Commander Restaurant in Munster and tried to flee, police said.
At 6:10 p.m. Thursday, police responded to 745 Ridge Road for a wrecked maroon Toyota at the restaurant's entrance, according to Munster police Lt. Ed Strbjak.
The Toyota was driving eastbound on Ridge Road and went left of center, crossing into the westbound lane and striking a red Mazda that was traveling in the westbound lane. The crash occurred at the 700 block of Ridge Road in front of Howard and Sons Quality Meats, Strbjak said.
The Toyota struck a traffic light electrical box and a light pole and continued traveling towards Howard and Sons and The Commander Restaurant's parking lot.
After striking the traffic barriers in front of the restaurant, the vehicle came to a stop, shattering a front window of the building.
The driver, a 29-year-old man from Highland, jumped out of the vehicle and tried to flee the scene but was apprehended by several witnesses, Strbjak said.
Civilians held the man at the scene until police arrived shortly after.
Both the Highland man and the driver of the Mazda, a 26-year-old man from South Holland, were taken to Munster Community Hospital with minor injuries. Both vehicles were damaged in the wreck.
Pending blood alcohol test results, the Highland driver will face several charges, Strbjak said.
CROWN POINT — A St. John man sexually abused and stalked a teen girl, going so far as to repeatedly text and call her mother, court records show.
He was accused earlier this month of drugging and raping a different teen girl.
Joshua A. Vonthaden, 21, faces six new charges, including four felony counts of sexual misconduct with a minor, two counts of stalking and two counts of invasion of privacy.
Vonthaden was accused previously of raping a 15-year-old girl at a St. John home after sending an Uber to pick her up and giving her a drink that made her feel "funny." He has pleaded not guilty in the St. John case.
In the case filed Wednesday, Vonthaden is accused of giving a 14-year-old girl drugs and alcohol and repeatedly having sex with her. He met the girl in downtown Crown Point in June 2017, records say.
When the girl's mother learned of Vonthaden's age and that he had been having sex with her daughter, she took away her daughter's cellphone, records state.
Vonthaden continued to try to call the girl, relentlessly calling her mother's phone at all hours, records say. The girl's mother told police he even posed as a female classmate of the girl in an attempt to speak to her.
Vonthaden allegedly gave the girl a cellphone by placing it inside a sweatshirt and leaving it under a vehicle in her driveway, records state.
Vonthaden sent the girl messages referencing their sexual encounters and asking her for nude photos, according to a probable cause affidavit.
The girl obtained a protective order against Vonthaden in May, and he was arrested for violating the order in June.
While at the Lake County Jail, Vonthaden called the girl's mother 22 times, records state.
A mother of three alleges her neighbor has stabbed her dog, splattered her car with paint and regularly shouts racial slurs at her in her relatively quiet Hammond neighborhood.
Dawn McDowell, who lives in the 6300 block of Jefferson Avenue, said, “Enough is enough.”
Now police said behavior of the neighbor, Ronald Wojtas, is captured on video, and the suspect could face possible charges and court proceedings for allegedly violating a protective order.
On Jan. 10, as soon as McDowell opened her car door, she said she heard Wojtas shouting racial insults at her from his porch.
McDowell used her phone to record Wojtas espousing N-word-laced rants toward her, including that the KKK would be coming and that black people would be killed.
The Times has reviewed the video, which seems to back McDowell's claims.
Shane O'Donnell, Wojtas' attorney, said he did not know about the incident and had no further comment on the matter. However, he said his client has been a law-abiding citizen all of his life and that McDowell's prior allegations are not true.
Dog stabbed in back
McDowell said the longstanding conflict with her neighbor stems from a day she will never forget.
On the afternoon of Oct. 16, 2017, McDowell said she received a phone call from her daughter, who was crying and saying their dog, a white and light brown pit bull named Sasha, was gone from their yard.
McDowell recalled an animal control agent telling her over the phone, “Ma'am, you need to get here. Your dog was brutally stabbed.”
“I get there, and she (the dog) has seven stab wounds and a knife lodged in her back,” McDowell said.
Wojtas had told animal control agents and his attorney that McDowell's dog had dug in the dirt under the fence, entered his yard and attacked him and his dog.
Upon inspection, McDowell said neither she nor animal control investigators found a dug-out hole near the fence.
She alleged that unless her neighbor either took her dog from her yard or went onto her property, her dog had no way of getting into Wojtas' yard.
“It rained two days before, so if she dug under the fence, she would've been filthy,” McDowell said. “She's light brown, has white feet, and she was perfectly clean. All she had were stab wounds all over her back. The veterinarian checked her mouth and said she had clean teeth and clean gums, no blood of any sort.”
Veterinarians told McDowell the knife narrowly missed Sasha's lungs. The dog made a full recovery.
Wojtas sued McDowell in Lake Superior Court for vet and medical bills, in which he presented photos of his hand that had scratches on it and his dog that had deep wounds on its thigh.
McDowell counter-sued Wojtas and presented photos of her dog, the knife, police reports and both backyards.
On Jan. 17, 2018, the judge ruled in favor of Wojtas, ordering McDowell to pay him $3,482.70 in restitution, according to court documents. McDowell said her dog's medical bills amounted to $3,280.
On June 5, Wojtas entered an order for garnishment of McDowell's wages, and on Dec. 14, 2018, McDowell filed a notice of bankruptcy.
“From that day forth, he's been giving me hell ever since,” McDowell said.
On June 13, McDowell called police because Wojtas allegedly was shooting off rounds from his shotgun.
“The next day, I open my door, the first thing as I look at my car is peach-colored paint thrown all over my car,” McDowell said.
On Dec. 18, 2017, after letting her two dogs out in her fenced backyard, McDowell told police she saw her neighbor in his yard, picking up what appeared to be a shell and loading a shotgun.
“She further stated that after putting the shells in the gun, he began yelling at her, making threats how he was going to shoot her dog if he caught her dog at his home or in his yard,” Lake County court records allege.
McDowell provided police with a photo of Wojtas in his backyard with a shotgun during the incident.
Wojtas was charged with felony intimidation as a result, Lake County court records show.
However, O'Donnell, Wojtas' attorney, said the allegations against Wojtas are 100 percent false.
"The neighbors' feud began when my client's neighbor's dog had attacked him and his dog on his property," O'Donnell said.
Because Wojtas was afraid of the incident happening again, O'Donnell said he kept a gun outside for protection.
"He had every right to be outside and have a legally obtained shotgun, for which he has a valid license for," O'Donnell said. "Because (McDowell) doesn't like my client, she called the police and said he threatened her with the gun, which isn't true."
In a pretrial agreement filed Sept. 20, the prosecutor's office agreed to withhold prosecution on the intimidation charge if Wojtas abided by a “no contact” order.
If authorities find Wojtas in violation of that protection order, he could be brought back to court on the intimidation charge, according to legal procedure.
“The victim called police in late 2017 for crimes related to the suspect threatening her with a shotgun and threatening harm to her dog,” Hammond Lt. Steve Kellogg said. “He was charged with felony intimidation at that time and placed in a no contact order.
"He has violated that order, and based on recent remarks he made in video, Hammond police detectives are investigating the crimes and deciding if filing additional charges is an option at this time," Kellogg added. "Detectives are working closely with the victim to ensure that everything possible is done to stop this criminal behavior.”
'I don't have plans on going anywhere else'
Even with the neighbor conflict, McDowell said she's standing her ground.
McDowell is a full-time working, single mother with three children, including a 17-year-old daughter, a 14-year-old son and an 11-month old girl. She moved from Chicago to Hammond in 2011 to anchor her family.
“I'm a very family-oriented person, and I moved out here because I heard nothing but good about Hammond and it being family-oriented and the mayor and what he does for the community,” McDowell said. “I like it here. I don't have any plans of going anywhere else, and I refuse to let somebody like him just run me out.”
McDowell said she doesn't know what the future holds but said she will remain vigilant in documenting incidents of harassment.
“Now we're into January, it's just been police report after police report,” McDowell said. “I'm a single woman, I have children here, so it's like, 'Why are you harassing me?' So enough is enough. I don't mind calling police like I'm supposed to, but a lot of times I'm tired of calling them.”
EAST CHICAGO — As snow whipped in the freezing wind, firefighters arrived on scene to a massive apartment blaze, finding two people unconscious outside — one of whom died Saturday.
A total of four residents and a police officer were sent to the hospital from the scorching East Chicago fire that displaced eight families.
At 7:11 a.m. Saturday, East Chicago firefighters were met with an intense blaze at 1120 W. 145th St., according to Fire Chief Anthony Serna. Many residents had to be rescued from the inferno by police and firefighters.
Upon arrival, firefighters saw flames engulfing the first and second floors of the apartment building. Before going into battle with the blaze, Serna said firefighters jumped into rescue mode.
Two unconscious people were found by the side of the residential building and transported to the hospital. One of them, a 60-year-old woman, died at the hospital Saturday, Serna said. The other person is in critical condition. The two had no apparent injuries and appeared to have suffered from smoke inhalation, according to Serna.
Firefighters were told there were residents still inside the two-story, four-unit structure.
By 11:20 a.m., first responders had rescued five people from the second floor, with the Fire Department employing a ladder and police on scene aiding with rescues and evacuation.
As rescues were underway and firefighters battled the fire, flames began to reach two nearby residential buildings, and the residents in those homes were evacuated. After nearly three hours, the fire was extinguished by 10 a.m., Serna said. Hammond, Whiting and Gary firefighters assisted as well as Superior Ambulance EMS personnel.
“The building is a total loss,” Serna said. “The roof caved in.”
One East Chicago police officer was treated for smoke inhalation and released from the hospital and no first responders were injured.
Four people total were transported to St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago. Serna said apart from the deceased and the person in critical condition, the condition of the other two people are unknown at this time.
While the cause is under investigation, Serna said they do know the fire began on the first-floor.
“The police, firefighters and Superior Ambulance EMS personnel did a tremendous job today,” Serna said. “I want to commend the police officers on the scene and all of my firefighters who do their job every day and don't always get recognized.”
Eight families totaling around 20 people were displaced from the fire, Serna and Red Cross officials said.
There were five residents on the second floor and three residents on the first floor with a total of three families displaced from the building.
An additional five families were displaced from the nearby homes.
While the morning began in flames and fleeing residents, it ended with an outpouring of kindness.
By 10:30 a.m., the Red Cross was on the scene and neighbors were out in the wintry chill offering hot chocolate to residents and first reponders.
“The rallying around of these families has been amazing,” Kristin Marlow-Kellemen, American Red Cross of Northwest Indiana executive director, said. “One of the families across the street opened up their home to let people in and neighbors were bringing out hot chocolate. The support from the community has been phenomenal.”
The Red Cross's Disaster Action Team is dispersed to the scene in situations such as these to aid disaster victims. In many cases, victims are in shock, Marlow-Kellemen said.
“We serve the families and make sure their immediate needs are met, such as having a safe, warm place to stay and food to eat,” she said. “Also, such as today when there's a lot of firefighters out there in the cold for a long time, we bring them hot coffee.”
All of the families were able to secure places to stay, and all of their immediate needs were met by Saturday afternoon, Marlow-Kellemen said. The Red Cross team will stay in contact with the families to continue in aiding them.
“We can't urge residents enough to make sure they have a working smoke alarm, regularly test it and talk to their families about an fire emergency plan,” she said. “That way if a fire breaks out you may lose material things, but you'll save human lives.”
CROWN POINT — A man being held on a murder charge at the Lake County Jail is accused of spraying a bleach solution in a correctional officer's eyes as the officer investigated a sound.
Christopher M. Godines, 31, was charged Thursday with two counts of battery on a public safety official.
Godines was being held on murder and attempted murder charges alleging he killed 20-year-old Jonathon Farries, of Gary, and wounded Farries' friend in a shooting June 24, 2015, outside Murphy's House of Pain in Gary's Miller section.
The corrections officer was walking the floor Jan. 5 when he heard what sounded like aerosal spray, followed the noise and saw Godines "tampering with something," Lake Criminal Court records say.
The officer asked Godines what he had, and Godines replied, "You want to see what I (expletive) have, well this is what I (expletive) got," court records allege.
The officer immediately left the area and radioed for help, according to a probable cause affidavit.
The officer's shirt faded where it was sprayed. The officer was taken to a hospital for treatment, records say.
Police removed Godines from his cell and found a saline nasal spray bottle filled with a chemical suspected to be diluted bleach, records say.
Bleach is provided to other inmates for cleaning and sanitizing their sections and shower areas, records say. Nasal spray is available to inmates at commissary, sheriff's spokesman Emiliano Perez said.
MUNSTER — A worker suffered minor injuries after a dump truck hit a power line, causing Munster businesses to lose power.
The man was transported to the hospital with minor injuries from a power line that fell near his truck. Munster Fire Chief Dave Pelc said while details of the man's injuries aren't known, the man could have experienced minor electrocution. He appeared to be conscious and talking at the scene, Pelc said.
The incident created a production shutdown at PepsiCo, Pelc said, and knocked out the power to businesses at 9200 Calumet Avenue.
Firefighters responded at 9:45 a.m. Thursday to a NIPSCO construction site at 9300 Calumet Ave. for a dump truck that hit a power line, Pelc said. The incident also knocked out a transformer, causing a surge.
PepsiCo and some of the businesses at the Lake Business Center, 9200 Calumet were without power as of 3 p.m. Thursday, with NIPSCO crews working to restore power by 8 p.m., NIPSCO spokesman Tom Stevens said.
As the power systems switched over, nearby residents could have seen very brief periods of the power turning off and back on earlier in the day.
Crews are working to replace the transmission and the distribution system hanging on the poles in the area of 9300 Calumet, Stevens said.
GARY — For years, Marvin Clinton had been forced to stare into a dark past each time he braved the trip to the timeworn, boarded-up abandoned home on 19th Avenue.
It’s the same home where the decaying body of his fiancee, Teaira Batey, was found by detectives in October 2014, nine months after she was murdered by serial killer Darren Vann.
Vann, who is serving life in prison without parole for the killings of seven women, confessed to his involvement in Batey's murder shortly after his arrest in 2014.
He even offered to lead detectives to the home at 1800 E. 19th Ave., giving turn-by-turn directions down Gary's streets with specific instructions on how to find Batey’s body: Walk inside and enter a room that had been propped shut by a dresser, he said.
He left her body to decompose, he said, beneath a wooden bench.
'What's done is done'
On Monday, only snow-covered teddy bears, two wooden crosses and a makeshift headstone bearing Batey’s name remained on the property.
Without any warning to Clinton or Batey’s family, the house was razed Jan. 8 by a city-hired contractor.
Clinton waited years to see the home razed and said the city administration even promised it would give him advanced notice so he could be there when it is bulldozed — a chance at closure.
“I couldn’t believe it. The mayor and the police chief have been working with me real good on this, and they’ve been keeping their promises. I just don’t see how this one slipped through,” Clinton said. “But she apologized, and I said, ‘What’s done is done.' You can’t put the house back up and tear it down again.”
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said she personally apologized to Clinton this weekend for the demolition going forward without him.
“We’ve been working on these (Vann) demolitions for some time, and the right hand didn’t coordinate with the left hand,” she said. “Once we provided the contractors with notice to proceed … well, some moved a lot quicker than others.
“We’re not offering any excuses, only our apologies.”
Solace to families
Marking the end of a dark era, city leaders finally are demolishing the remaining blighted or abandoned structures made infamous by Vann.
Vann’s case received international attention in 2014 as word spread that he used abandoned homes pocketed within the city of Gary to strangle and store his victims' bodies.
The city is working to transform the properties into memorial gardens post-demolition — and the families will be involved every step of the way if they choose so, the mayor said.
“We’re hoping to at least provide some sense of solace to the families. We know we can never bring back their loved ones,” Freeman-Wilson said. "It’s the least the city can do. We hope it provides a sense of comfort to them, so they know we are not ignoring or forgetting the loss their families have suffered.”
'He asks about her'
Clinton, of Gary, maintains the memorial at the 19th Avenue property to this day, going so far as to cut the grass once a week in the summer months.
Trevon Clinton, a son they share together, is in the first grade and turns 7 later this month, he said. He helps mow the lawn in the summer.
“He knows she passed away, but doesn’t know the specifics. Every now and then, he asks about her,” Clinton said.
Clinton has a scrapbook of local newspaper clippings he’s collected over the years for Trevon to read when he grows up and starts asking more questions.
“That way, he can read about everything that happened and not get it secondhand,” he said.
The Vann homes — there are five in all, one of which has already been demolished — are being torn down at the cost of $47,600, paid for with Gary Sanitary District and Stormwater Management dollars, said Cedric Kuykendall, the city's demolition coordinator.
Kuykendall said Friday city leaders still are discussing a start date for the four homes that remain.
Case underscored blight problem
Freeman-Wilson said the teardowns are more than symbolic gestures — they put a spotlight on the larger problem of blight in Gary and what the city is doing to correct it.
“(The Vann case) gave a heightened awareness to the issue. This was an international case. But certainly, you always talk about the danger that exists with abandoned buildings, and this underscored it,” Freeman-Wilson said.
She pointed to similar cases in which murder victims were discovered in vacant structures. A 17-year-old girl’s body was found inside the former Emerson school, strangled to death, in the summer of 2015.
And then, in April 2016, the body of Diamond Lewis, 24, was found badly burned in an abandoned Gary home in the 1400 block of West 18th Avenue, nine days after her baby’s father, Kareem J. Williams, dumped her there.
“You don’t want to have something like this happen again,” Freeman-Wilson said.
Since 2012, the city under Freeman-Wilson's leadership has torn down more than 1,200 residential structures through a variety of funding sources, including the federal government’s Hardest Hit Fund, Community Development Block Grant dollars and money from the Gary Sanitary District and Stormwater Management.
The Lake County Board of Commissioners this year chipped in funding to help Gary tear down a number of commercial structures, including a grocery store on 49th and Louisiana.
Gary received $4.4 million in federal Hardest Hit dollars to strategically demolish blighted homes, on top of the more than $6 million received in 2014. They are still working with those funds, Kuykendall said.
Freeman-Wilson said the city received no additional funds in 2014 despite the massive media attention the Vann case received.
Case against Vann
The Vann case first broke in October 2014, when he was arrested following an investigation into the death of Afrikka Hardy, 19, of Hammond. And one by one, Vann led detectives to other abandoned homes in Gary, equipped with unnerving, intimate details of how, exactly, police would find the bodies.
Days later, Hammond police announced charges against Vann for the murder of Hardy. A news conference marked the first instance police described him as a serial killer.
In the days after, cadaver dogs took to the streets, searching for more victims within more than 100 of Gary’s 8,000 abandoned buildings and the site of the demolished Sheraton Hotel. The search focused on the city’s Midtown and Glen Park neighborhoods.
As news got out that Vann was responsible for the deaths of multiple women — some of whom were only identified initially as Jane Does — a shaken community came out in droves to attend vigils and domestic violence charity fundraisers.
With victims’ families in the courtroom watching, Vann was sentenced to life without parole for the murder of seven victims this spring, bringing to a close the four-year death penalty case against the Gary man, described by Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter as “one of the most prolific serial killers” in the state's history.
In a guilty plea sparing him death last year, Vann admitted to strangling Hardy and Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville. In addition to Batey, Vann also has admitted to killing Tracy Martin, 41, of Gary; Kristine Williams, 36, of Gary; Sonya Billingsley, 53, of Gary; and Tanya Gatlin, 27, of Gary.
Vann told detectives he killed the women in anger and said he was convicted in 2009 for assaulting a prostitute in Texas, which he felt was unfair.
As part of his plea deal, prosecutors also agreed not to file other charges against Vann in Lake County unless related to a homicide. In the event other murder charges are brought against him in Lake County, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty against Vann.
While Clinton said he's never going to be “100 percent better" since his fiancee's death, “life gets easier as the days go by.”
“I have to accept the fact of what happened," he said. "Now I’m just trying to piece everything back together."
HAMMOND — City Councilman Pat Clem's suspicion that a local trucking firm was helping pay for Portage Mayor James Snyder's European vacation raised eyebrows at the FBI.
Clem, D-2nd, was identified during the Republican mayor's trial Thursday in U.S. District Court as the second person who entered the FBI’s Merrillville office in September 2013 and requested an investigation into Snyder's alleged wrongdoings.
Under cross-examination by Snyder’s defense attorney, Jayna Cacciapo, FBI Agent Eric Field confirmed Clem and former Street Superintendent Steve Charnetzky brought information to the FBI alleging, among other things, that Great Lakes Peterbilt had paid a substantial portion of Snyder’s trip to Austria.
That wasn’t the only accusation made against Snyder, Field said.
Field testified that while some of the information didn’t pan out and result in charges, the allegations that the trucking firm financed some $5,000 of the mayor’s trip led to discovering a $13,000 check from Great Lakes Peterbilt to Snyder for consulting services.
Field continued his direct testimony Thursday morning on the alleged $13,000 bribe from Stephen and Robert Buha in return for two contracts totaling about $1 million for five garbage trucks.
Snyder claims he provided consulting services for the Buhas on health care insurance and internet technology.
During the morning tapes of a July 21, 2014 interview between Snyder, Field and an IRS agent were played for the jury.
Snyder was asked about his company, SRC, the trash truck bids and his work as a consultant for the Buhas.
"I didn't deliver any binders," Snyder said on the tape when asked what sort of information he provided. "I met with a lot of people, a lot of meetings. ... I brought people together. I think I gave good advice. I have an incredible background on health insurance. I've utilized that experience to help other people."
He also denied in the interview that he had anything to do with the trash truck bids and told interviewers he began the consulting business when his mortgage business was in an economic downturn and he needed a way to make more money.
During cross-examination by Cacciapo, Field said there was nothing wrong with some of Snyder’s activities.
Cacciapo asked Field about the legality of holding golf outings, taking political donations and hosting a mayoral ball.
“There’s nothing wrong with that?” she asked Field.
“No,” he replied each time.
Cacciapo also asked Field if the investigation was politically motivated, considering both Clem and Charnetzky are Democrats and both supported Snyder’s opponent in the 2015 mayoral election. Charnetzky previously had supported Snyder in the 2011 election and was rehired by Snyder as his street superintendent in 2012.
"Did you look into whether either of these claimants were political opponents?" Cacciapo asked Field about when the two Democrats stepped forward with the original complaint.
Field said, at the time, he didn't believe Snyder had announced he would run again.
Snyder was indicted in November 2016 on charges of felony bribery, extortion and tax dodging counts, which carry long prison terms if he is convicted.
HAMMOND — Bishop Noll Institute officials received information about a threat a juvenile made at the high school via social media.
The threat was made Tuesday night on Snapchat, a social media platform, a news release from Bishop Noll's Principal Lorenza Pastrick said.
Police have identified a juvenile suspect, and officials said the juvenile is someone not permitted anywhere on school grounds.
School officials immediately contacted the Hammond Police Department, and an investigation into the threat was launched, the news release said.
Hammond police are providing extra security on school grounds, and Pastrick said the school is safe for operations.
Police and school officials will remain in close communication during the investigation, the announcement stated.
“We want you to rest assured that the safety of our students is the utmost priority,” Pastrick said. “Threats in any context are taken very seriously and will never be ignored. We will communicate additional information as we receive it.”
PORTAGE — A Portage police officer was injured Wednesday chasing an allegedly armed man who jumped out of a vehicle and fled on foot. Inside the vehicle, police found a man hiding in the trunk.
At 2:30 p.m., a Lake Station woman called the Portage Police Department, telling officers a man with a gun was driving to the area of Blake Road and Concord Avenue in Portage, Chief Troy Williams said.
The woman's relationship to the man and additional reasons for her call to the police are unknown, Williams said.
At first, Williams said multiple officers searched the area and did not locate the man or the vehicle, which was reported to be a Pontiac Grand Prix.
The woman called a second time, around 3 p.m., telling officers the man was in the area of Concord Avenue. Portage and Burns Harbor police located the vehicle traveling on Dombey Road in Portage.
The man got out of the car and fled while the driver stayed in the vehicle.
While chasing the man on foot, a Portage officer suffered a shoulder injury, Williams said, and was treated at a local hospital.
Police found a second male passenger in the trunk of the car, who reportedly told the driver he didn't like meeting new people and decided to hide in the trunk, Williams said. Neither the driver nor the man found in the trunk was arrested, and there were no illegal substances found in the vehicle during the stop, Williams said.
Around 3:15 p.m. police apprehended the fleeing man and Burns Harbor police took him into custody. A gun was also found and confiscated by police.
The man has not been charged as of Wednesday afternoon, and Burns Harbor police said they will release police report details of the incident on Thursday.
ORLAND PARK — A 20-year-old man suspected in the fatal shooting Monday night at Orland Square Mall has been taken into custody.
Jakharr Williams, 20, of University Park, was taken into custody without incident in Matteson at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, according to NBC Chicago's report.
Police said Williams is suspected of fatally shooting Javon Britten, 18, of Richton Park, at the mall near the food court. Britten ran down an escalator and collapsed outside the H&M clothing store, authorities said.
Britten was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where he was pronounced dead, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.
A bystander suffered a graze wound to the leg and was taken to another hospital, police said.
Police received numerous 911 calls around 6:45 p.m. about a shooting on the mall's lower level, near the food court.
Britten and the man knew each other, according to a news release from Orland Park police.
Police temporarily closed the mall to process the crime scene and search the property.
Multiple south suburban police departments, a SWAT team, and the Illinois State Police responded and searched the mall, slowly letting employees and shoppers leave as they looked for the shooter and evacuated the property. People posted on Twitter they were locked in their stores and hiding in clothes racks for safety after gunfire erupted.
One posted a video of police officers tending to a fallen man between a kiosk and a clothing store on the first floor of the mall.
Jay Yasin, 19, of Orland Hills, was working at Build-A-Bear when the shooting happened. She said her “manager shut the door instantly," and they hid in the back room with customers.
Reginald Williams, 23, of Harvey, was "just chilling" in the food court with his friend, 24-year-old Darryl Simmons, of Harvey, when the shooting happened.
“We heard gunfire, and everyone started scattering,” Williams said.
They ran out of the mall when it happened. They said people were running everywhere and police were running in.
Williams said he wishes everyone would “just stop the violence.”
The two-story mall at 288 Orland Square Drive off South LaGrange Road is a popular destination for shoppers from throughout the south suburbs and Northwest Indiana.
Gallery: Police respond to shooting at Orland Square Mall
VALPARAISO — Calling it a horrible accident rather than a crime, prosecutors have dropped animal cruelty charges against a local couple who was accused of causing the heat-related death of one of their dogs last summer.
"If this case had gone to trial, without question, the owners would have been acquitted," Porter County Prosecutor Gary Germann said.
Ashley Durant, 27, and Fabian Durant, 24, were charged after police found their husky, Kovu, collapsed outside in the heat June 30 at a mobile home where they were staying just east of the Porter County Regional Airport in Washington Township.
Attempts to revive the dog were unsuccessful, and the animal's body temperature exceeded 110 degrees, police said. The temperature was 95 degrees that day with high humidity and a heat index exceeding 100 degrees.
The Durants reportedly told police they left the dogs outside at 9 a.m. with a bowl of ice water and expected to be gone for several hours visiting a relative in a Chicago hospital. They believed the dogs would be fine since they used to live in California and Kovu "had been exposed to the heat before."
Germann said after reviewing the facts in the case, it became clear that Kovu died because his tether had become tangled in bicycles, preventing him from seeking shelter from the sun.
"If it was criminal neglect, the other dog would have died," he said. "From what I understand it was a family tragedy to have lost their pet."
Defense attorney Mitch Peters, who represented Fabian Durant, said, "This was a horrible accident that occurred. They loved this dog."
Fabian Durant had the dog in question for two years and left it with food and water on the day in question, and with another adult, who had previously cared for the animal when the couple was away, Peters has said.
The couple had the dog cremated and had a cast made of its paw print, he said.
Peters said Fabian Durant is a U.S. Marine combat veteran with no criminal history.
Police said they had trouble rousing the man inside the mobile home, who had been left behind with the dogs. The man said he had no idea the dogs were outside, and the Durants did not ask him to look after the animals before they left to Chicago for the day.
Germann, who took control of the prosecutor's office in January, said animal cruelty and neglect cases were the only types he would not take on as a defense attorney, "if that tells you how closely I scrutinize these cases."
"It just was a horrible accident and not a crime," he said.
The couple were given back custody of the surviving dog, Peters said.
CROWN POINT — An East Chicago man beat and strangled his fiancee and left her lying dead for about two hours before calling for help, court records allege.
Terrie Glover, 59, was charged Thursday with murder and domestic battery in connection with the Nov. 13 death of his 43-year-old fiancee, Tabbatha Mirzaabolahsoni, at their apartment in the 3900 block of Elm Street.
A warrant has been issued for Glover's arrest, records show.
Medics found Mirzaabolsahsoni face down, with severe bruising and mottled skin on her chest and face, an arm twisted behind her back and blood clotted in her mouth, Lake Criminal Court records say.
Lake County coroner's investigators later determined Mirzaabolahsoni's cause of death was asphyxia due to suffocation with a contributing factor of hepatic cirrhosis.
Before she died, she suffered a neck injury, multiple blunt force injuries on her head, torso and extremities and a dislocated left shoulder joint, records say.
Glover was in the apartment when medics arrived. He initially told authorities he and Mirzaabolahsoni were sleeping in bed when she started to convulse and he immediately called 911, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Glover told police he and Mirzaabolahsoni had been together for more than eight years and were engaged to be married.
Mirzaabolahsoni was a heavy drinker who had been told by doctors to stop drinking, records say. Glover allegedly admitted he and Mirzaabolahsoni were drinking the night of her death.
Glover agreed to an interview with police two days after Mirzaabolahsoni died, and his story changed several times as he spoke with a detective, the affidavit says.
At one point, Glover said that if he had known earlier that Mirzaabolahsoni was unresponsive he would have called police, but "there was nothing he could do" and Mirzaabolahsoni "was already gone," records say.
Glover said Mirzaabolahsoni hit him "so many times he could not even count," but claimed he never retaliated, the affidavit says.
Glover eventually told police he had not paid much attention to Mirzaabolahsoni after she started to convulse and suggested the markings on her neck may have been caused by Mirzaabolahsoni attempting to "choke herself to death," records say.
When the detective left the room to review the video interview, Glover called his mother and said, "They are trying to convict me of murder because I strangled and choked Tab to get her (expletive) off of me," the affidavit says.
Glover consented to a search of his apartment, where police collected three pillows and four bed sheets stained with urine and blood, records say.
KOUTS — Nervous energy filled the air as Kouts senior point guard Brent Wireman brought the ball up with 25 seconds on the clock and the Porter County Conference Tournament boys basketball final against Washington Township tied at 75.
Wireman penetrated into a pit of black jerseys and tossed the ball out to the top of the key with less than five seconds left. With no time to think, Zac Nomanson stepped into the shot and buried the game-winner with 2.6 seconds left.
Just like that, the home crowd exploded in celebration as Kouts overcame a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 78-75. The Mustangs took back The Keg, avenged their Jan. 11 loss at Washington Township and won their first PCC tournament since 2011.
“We were in the same situation last time we played Washington,” Nomanson said. “I got the ball this time. I was confident, and it went in. … It is the best feeling of my high school career, no doubt.”
Kouts coach Kevin Duzan called a similar play at the end of the Mustangs' earlier 75-72 loss at Washington Township, but Wireman looked off an open Nomanson and threw up a wild shot that wasn't close.
After Senators senior guard Colin Burton pump-faked his defender into the air and nailed a game-tying 3, Wireman got a second chance. This time, he made the right decision. For Duzan, the play showed how much his team has grown in just under two weeks.
“We talk about in our locker room and in our huddles, you have to trust your teammates,” Duzan said. “You're not gonna get it done by yourself. ... We've learned from our mistakes, and it showed tonight. In that same situation, he made a different decision.”
The game began with the same break-neck pace that characterized the teams' first meeting. Zach Brys opened the game by elevating for a vicious block to deny Kouts at the rim, and the Senators threw together a 9-2 run to take the lead.
Washington Township junior center Austin Darnell knocked down three first half 3s and roared to the crowd after beating the first-quarter buzzer with a tip dunk to put the visitors up 22-14. Kouts closed the gap to 33-30 at halftime with a good second quarter, but the Senators' outside shooting made a difference — Washington Township made five first-half 3-pointers to Kouts' zero.
It looked like the game had turned when Kouts sophomore guard Cale Wireman left the game after picking up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter. The Senators immediately canned a pair of 3-pointers and held an eight-point lead by the time Wireman checked back in early in the fourth. During the five-plus minutes Wireman sat, Washington Township built momentum and outscored Kouts 17-11.
“We picked them up," Duzan said. "I was trying to avoid any further foul trouble, but at some point you just have to change up what you're doing."
Kouts kept attacking, however. The Mustangs exploded for a 9-0 run in just over a minute of play midway through the fourth and added another 8-0 run late to take a slim lead.
Darnell's 23 points weren't quite enough, and Nomanson added his game-high 26th point as his game-winner fell through the rim. The Senators stood frozen when their last-second shot missed the mark, as they were denied their first-ever PCC Tournament title.
“We've got to regroup,” Washington Township coach Scott Bowersock said. “Obviously, this is gonna be a tough one to recover from.”
Also, Josh Clemens of Hebron received the PCC's mental attitude award.
DYER — Weeks of house hunting have convinced Daniel and Carol Szymanski nothing can replace their Cape Cod on Hart Street.
They had little choice but to keep looking until a few days ago because Lake County government was about to bulldoze it to make way for a newer, larger bridge over a creek that runs nearby.
Carol summed up her frustrations in an email to Lake County Commissioner Jerry Tippy, R-Schererville, last week.
"We have been nothing but good citizens of Dyer for 25 years. We vote, we participate in community events, our son has been involved in Dyer sports teams, I have served on jury duty, we take care of our home and property and have relationships with our neighbors. In short, we are the kind of residents we assume Lake County wants."
Tippy said last week he has put a hold on the project and plans to meet with the Szymanskis.
Although the Szymanskis live within Dyer town limits, the condemnation proceedings are driven by county officials responsible for more than 130 bridges all over Lake County — including the Hart Street span — and 600 miles of drainage ditches, including Hart Ditch, the waterway near their doorstep.
Tippy said after hearing from the family he started looking into the matter and found the project has been in the works since before he took office in 2017.
"It's just been going and going and then boom, eminent domain is taking their house. This is why you have elected officials to represent the people. I want a meeting with them to reassure them and explain to them what their options are."
"We don't want to move. We don't want to stand in the way of helping the people of Dyer either, but they're stealing our house," David said.
The Szymanskis purchased the two-bedroom house, built in 1937 and a stone's throw from the town's police, fire and emergency services center, for $85,000 and moved in January 1993, shortly after they married.
David said they have probably invested $100,000 over the years in a new roof, new siding, new windows and other remodeling.
Hart Ditch, also known as Plum Creek, has been a troublesome neighbor. The waterway, which drains 45 square miles of Dyer, Munster and part of Illinois's rural Will County, inflicted millions of dollars in damage on the Franciscan Health Dyer hospital and nearby homes during a 2007 storm.
David said they have had to rebuild their basement twice because of major floods, but he is accustomed to the threat and doesn't mind patrolling his basement for seepage during heavy rains.
The nearby two-lane bridge is now the bigger issue in their lives. That concrete box beam structure, built in 1970, is scheduled for reconstruction later this year.
The Szymanskis found this out only in a June 27 letter from Duane Alverson, chief engineer for the Lake County Highway Department, that stated, "there will be impacts to your properties." They later learned the county needed their entire 125 foot by 150 foot parcel.
The county also is buying two other nearby homes. Carol said those homeowners have accepted the county's offers.
Alverson said the replacement bridge will be several feet longer and 2.5 feet higher to provide more space for floodwaters to flow north. It also will be wider by several feet to accommodate a sidewalk on its east side.
"That bridge has needed to be replaced for some time and widened. The bridge will be safer. We are trying to make an overall improvement for the greater area," Dyer Town Manager Tom DeGiulio said.
"I know it's difficult and contentious. It is an emotional thing. Financially, they should be OK," DeGiulio said.
"We are losing our neighbors of 25 years. We are 51 and 53 years old and will have to be taking out a new mortgage with (only) five years left to pay on this home. This is the only home our son has known," Carol said prior to Tippy's intervention.
"We have taken home improvement loans and have done work on our home, so our mortgage is not paid off. We are not being compensated for any of that. We are being forced out, in fact expected to not put up a fight, " she said.
They county offered them $170,000 a month ago. They are awaiting their own appraiser's estimate and have tentatively counter-offered $250,000 since they haven't been able to find a similar house under that figure.
She said they are constrained from looking further afield because taxes in neighboring Illinois are many times higher, her husband works in the Chicago area, their 10-year-old goes to parochial school in Schererville, and they have no interest in moving entirely out of The Region.
"The reasons the bridge's span was expanded is because the engineers wanted to allow for more flow in the Hart Ditch," Tippy said. "That is a benefit for the town of Dyer, but we are working on a major project on Hart Ditch in Munster. I'm concerned these two projects may be in conflict with each other."
William Emerson Jr., the county surveyor, said the county is talking with Highland, Munster and the Little Calumet River Basin Commission to stabilize Hart Ditch north of Dyer where other homes are dangerously close to the waterway's unstable banks.
"I am adamantly opposed to eminent domain when it comes to taking people's homes. There has to be a very good reason. I want to know if we can do what we want to accomplish by minimizing the design a little bit," Tippy said.