GARY — A Merrillville man has been charged with attempted murder after allegedly shooting a relative in the head while he was sleeping.
On Thursday morning Courteau Dupree Givens, 31, allegedly shot a 20-year-old man in the head at a residence at the 6000 block of Hemlock Avenue in Gary, according to court documents.
Givens was charged with attempted murder, aggravated battery, battery by means of a deadly weapon and battery resulting in serious bodily injury. Given's charges were enhanced due to his use of a firearm as a felon.
Givens was related to the victim and was possibly his cousin, Gary Cmdr. Jack Hamady said.
At 5:27 a.m. Thursday police responded to a report of a man with a gunshot wound to the head with the suspect still at the scene.
When they arrived, officers were met at the steps of the residence by two men. One of the men led officers inside and told police the man standing next to him, Givens, had shot the man, the document stated.
Officers found the victim unresponsive in a reclining chair in the living room with a gunshot wound to the head. The victim was transported to Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus and was later flown to a Chicago hospital in critical condition.
Police said Givens was "extremely intoxicated and incoherent" and had to be carried out of the residence because he couldn't stand on his own as police took him into custody, the document stated.
Up to five witnesses spoke with police, including a woman who said she was sleeping on the couch when she was awoken by a gunshot. She told officers she saw Givens at the kitchen table with a gun in his hand sitting across from victim, according to court documents.
The woman woke up the other people who were asleep in the house. Another witness said he took the gun from Givens and handed it to his father, who removed the magazine.
One witness said Givens had arrived at the residence around 11 p.m. Wednesday to speak with a man at the residence but was unable to because the man was already asleep, the document said.
The witness said Givens left the residence shortly after he arrived, but returned around 2 a.m. and had drinks with the victim. The witness said Givens later asked the victim to drive him to a gas station, and the two returned shortly after.
In a recorded statement with police, Givens said he had arrived at the residence Wednesday, left to go to a strip club, and then returned to talk with the victim, who gave him a ride.
Givens also told police that he was carrying a gun even though he is a felon and cannot be carrying a weapon. He told police he had the gun in his jacket, which he placed on the kitchen table.
Givens said he went to go use the bathroom and found others in the living room when he returned. He said he did not hear a gunshot and that he did not shoot the victim, the document states.
The victim's current condition, lasted reported as critical, is unknown.
For the people he helps get off drugs, there's a level of comfort in the fact Nick Cialdella looks like he's done them.
The tattoos. The long hair. The skater-like cadence.
His appearance screams: He's one of them.
Because he once was.
"Heroin was my first wife," he recalled recently. "I didn't know how to live without a needle in my arm."
Before the age of 22, he said, he had spent the totality of a year in Cook County Jail, where he had to join a gang. His mom had an insurance policy on him so she could afford his burial.
Now 26, he can look at his past with a degree of removal, like it's a person he's watching in a movie.
Having been clean more than three years, he says, he is turning his negative experience into a positive one for others. The Mokena resident is the outreach coordinator for Never Alone Recovery, a treatment-referral agency in Griffith.
"I knew he was chatty — a lot of this job is human-to-human interaction," said Austin Wynn, the 28-year-old founder of Never Alone Recovery, wearing rubber bracelets that said "Break the Stigma" and "Silence Kills." "He's met and then exceeded my expectations, which is cool."
In Wynn's own recovery, he said, "I never listened to a single therapist or counselor, until I met an addict."
Instead of using, Cialdella now spends his days fielding calls from people trying to stop, as well as their family members ("a lot of mothers," he said.) He sometimes drives homeless people to treatment; he said he's found crack pipes and syringes in the back of his Honda Civic.
"I know what it's like to not have a ride," he said.
He and his colleagues at Never Alone Recovery say they know how to find assistance for people with addiction — because they've been there themselves. For Cialdella, it was nine times in inpatient, 12 in outpatient.
"Getting people into treatment is more important than ever nowadays," said Kaye Miceli, the 31-year-old operations manager of Never Alone Recovery. "They're not making it to live five to 10 years."
Street drugs like heroin, cocaine and even forfeit prescription pills are deadlier than ever, as they're often laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid as much as 100 times stronger than morphine. Opioids reportedly kill 130 Americans a day.
"I raise my kid and help addicts," Cialdella said. He has custody of his 5-year-old son, Maisen, who is in kindergarten.
Cialdella said his son was too young to remember the drug years, that he only knows "super Dad."
Addicted from an early age
Cialdella said he was raised around addiction, had it in his genes. He started smoking pot as a teenager, got drunk on Jagermeister. He went into treatment for the first time at 16, when he was hooked on benzodiazepines. Still, he kept using.
His dad, who was divorced from Nick's mom, refused to enable Nick, making him leave the house at 17. Around that time, Nick tried heroin, which, he said, "just brought me to my knees."
He crashed cars, was robbed on the West Side of Chicago, became a convicted felon, overdosed multiple times.
"I would have rather died than keep using," he said, "but I didn't know how to stay clean."
One day in 2015, though, he remembers being in bed, with only enough energy to shoot up. That was as close to an epiphany as he was getting.
He went back to treatment, with a different mindset.
"I was no longer in denial about where my life was at — I got out of being a victim," he said. He relapsed, but eventually sobered up.
He worked in the trucking business for a while, until Wynn, who he knew from the recovery community, convinced him to come work for the Northwest Indiana startup. It took three or four tries, but Cialdella eventually joined the team.
Another person from recovery, Scott Howard, invited Cialdella and his son to move in. They're now roommates in Mokena.
"He's matured, where he's not just hanging out at the meetings," Howard, a 59-year-old widower, said of Cialdella. "He's working. He's getting involved. He's reaching out to the new people. He's making sure there's someone to talk to coming into the rooms."
'A message of hope'
Cialdella repaired his relationship with his father. Nick is now allowed over at his dad's house whenever he wants; he even has the passcode to the front door.
Warren Cialdella said his son "went from the kid you don't let your kids hang with, to the kid I say everyone should hang out with."
Warren, a 61-year-old telecommunications planner from Tinley Park, said the experience made them both better people. He said he once saw addiction as a choice, but now acknowledges it's a disease. He counsels other parents whose children are struggling with drug use.
He's proud of Nick for giving back.
"He can bring a message of hope," Warren Cialdella said. "You look at him now, he has the biggest smile. You look into his eyes, and there's somebody home."
The other day in Wynn's vape-filled basement, where Never Alone Recovery operates, Nick Cialdella reminisced about the bad old days, and how he got to better ones.
He said he had to learn to face sexual trauma from his childhood, to live life with "integrity and character," to accept his "oddball" self.
"We're no better or worse than the people we help," Wynn said. "We're the same. We're just farther along in this."
Behind him and Wynn, someone had written "I AM NEVER ALONE" on a dry-erase board.
"If you would have told me five years ago I would be here, I wouldn't have believed you," Cialdella said, donning a Grateful Dead hat and an armband bearing the name of the LTM Foundation, an addiction prevention group.
"It's a blessing I've been given. I might as well utilize it to the maximum potential, for sure."
Amazon is looking for a few good entrepreneurs to help deliver packages throughout Northwest Indiana.
The online retail giant opened a warehouse in a former TradeWinds plant at 15th Avenue and Texas Street in Gary, right by the 15th Avenue exit on Interstate 65. Amazon Worldwide Transportation Public Relations Director Kelly Cheeseman said the company employs 500 workers in a mix of full-time and part-time positions at the new logistics hub in Gary, which is a "last-mile" delivery station for shipping packages to local customers.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the company wants local residents to start up their own courier businesses to help get packages from the delivery station to customers' doorsteps, as part of a nationwide effort to reduce its dependency on the U.S. Postal Service.
"The concept they have is for people to start their own businesses by being the delivery person," Freeman-Wilson said. "They will allow people to start their own courier services to deliver for Amazon specifically. A growth in small business and a growth in entrepreneurship can only help the city."
Any interested entrepreneurs would have to invest $10,000 in startup costs and undergo three weeks of hands-on training in Seattle, but Freeman-Wilson said Gary was in talks with Amazon about potentially offering local training opportunities.
Amazon's new Delivery Service Partner program seeks entrepreneurs who would operate delivery businesses with 20 to 40 vans, and 40 to 100 employees, according to Amazon. The company said startup costs are as low as $10,000 and that the business owners could expect between $1 million and $4.5 million in annual revenue, and between $75,000 and $300,000 in potential annual profit, after ramping up to a fleet of at least 20 vans.
The courier businesses would deliver 20 to 40 routes per day 365 days a year, serving thousands of customers across Northwest Indiana. The Seattle-based e-commerce giant would offer them "exclusive deals on Amazon-branded vans, comprehensive insurance, industrial-grade handheld devices, and other services to help you get your delivery business up and running."
The company would also recommend vendors for uniforms, fuel cards and other essentials at rates Amazon negotiated.
Amazon also would offer support including a dedicated account manager, an operations manual and driver assistance for any on-road problems that arise.
"We give you the tools and technology you’ll need to run your business, designed to keep your operation running smoothly," the company said in a flier that the city of Gary has been distributing. "Launching a business becomes that much easier with Amazon’s delivery volume and resources behind you."
Amazon also is offering start-up cost reimbursement of up to $10,000 for military veterans who qualify for the Delivery Service Partner program.
PORTAGE — If you see Sarah Storm in person, she looks different from the photos from her recent bodybuilding competition.
She's not quite as tan; her muscles aren't popping out; she's not as intimidating as the pictures make her appear.
But don't be mistaken: The Highland resident can probably outlift you.
Storm, who is a police officer at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, generally does cardio for about 45 minutes in the morning: stair-climbing or riding an exercise bike. She then lifts weights for an hour and a half in the evening.
Her strength, athleticism and discipline helped her win best overall figure at that competition, the 2018 National Physique Committee Indiana State Championships, her first in what could be the start of a promising bodybuilding career.
"She's going to be up and coming for this area if she sticks with it," said Lucas Sabedra, manager of the Portage gym, Classic Bodyworks, where the 25-year-old Storm lifts weights. "I think she'll have a bright future."
Storm, who was born and raised in Highland, played sports in high school, namely swimming. She was inspired to live a healthy life after seeing her parents die young from chronic medical problems: her mom from diabetes, her dad kidney failure. She took care of them in their final months.
In college, at then-Purdue University Calumet, she tried running but didn't like it. So she started weightlifting.
She never stopped.
Later, working at Community Hospital Fitness Pointe in Munster, she met Joe Newton, a police officer and bodybuilder who exercised there.
He gave her tips for lifting. The two eventually started dating, and he encouraged her to try bodybuilding.
"Joe taught me everything I know," she said, between reps at Classic Bodyworks on a recent day, a barbell charm on her necklace. The couple still train together.
New lifestyle, new goals
What Storm eats depends on whether she's training for a competition. Before one, she stays away from carbohydrates, sticking to chicken, eggs, oatmeal, salmon, steak, asparagus, green beans.
"After the show, I go out and get pizza and sushi and ice cream," she said.
She trains for three to six months before the contests. Even though she doesn't like to rest, she does it. She aims to get eight or nine hours of sleep per night.
She plans to take part in June's NPC national contest. If she's one of the two best-in-show, she earns her pro card. From there, she can compete to qualify for the Olympics.
"Anybody that takes to it and wins a state title right off the bat is probably bound to keep going, as long as she wants probably," said Newton, who is 57 and now retired from the Munster Police Department. "I think she'll take off from this."
"She's very strong-minded, and she's extremely intense as far as her training and diligence to the sport," he said. "That's why she was able to go in and destroy anybody. She doesn't quit."
Storm's comfort level has already come a long way from just a few short months ago.
"I'm pretty shy, so I wasn't sure how I'd feel out there in a swimsuit around lots of people, but it felt right," she said. "It boosted my confidence, so I feel it's my thing."
"I'm not in it for the money," she said. "I just love bodybuilding. It's a dream, a goal, something to drive me."
PORTER — A 22-year-old Michigan City man reportedly told police he kicked out the windshield of his car and attempted to flee following a crash, but was unable to get very far because of his injuries and level of intoxication.
Kyler Payne said he had consumed 14 alcoholic beverages throughout the day Friday and was driving 100 mph when he found himself at the intersection of Mineral Springs Road and Wood Street sooner than he expected, police said.
Police said they found the vehicle at 10:05 p.m. in a wooded area on its side and discovered Payne on the ground nearby bleeding from his head and face.
Payne's speech was slurred and he smelled of alcohol, police said. Payne initially told police he had a "little" to drink, but could not remember where he had been drinking.
Payne consented to a blood draw and told police, "I'm (expletive) drunk."
After being treated at the hospital, Payne was taken to jail on preliminary charges of drunken driving.
VALPARAISO — A 24-year-old Union Township man has pleaded guilty to two counts of battery in a case that was originally filed as a rape.
Edward Halper IV was sentenced in August to nearly two years of formal probation.
The alleged victim in the case told police that after having consensual sex with Halper during the early morning hours of Aug. 20, 2016, he later forced her to have sex again despite her pleas for him to stop.
The woman said Halper slapped her in the face, grabbed her hair and slammed her head into the wall, according to charging information filed in court.
"Halper continued to hold her down to the bed saying that she should stop crying or the people upstairs will think that he is raping her," according to court records.
The woman said she continued to cry and ask Halper to stop, but the attack did not end until one of his friends entered the room, police said.
While Halper initially denied having sex with the woman a second time, he later admitted to it, but said the woman never resisted, police said. He then said the woman did tell him to stop a few times, but he continued having sex anyway.
He said he slapped her and pulled her hair playfully.
MICHIGAN CITY — Three people have died in what police are calling a murder-suicide.
Michigan City police Sgt. Chris Yagelski said police were called just before 2 p.m. Monday to a home in the 6800 block of Meer Road after a distraught relative called 911.
Yagelski said tentative information, along with a preliminary investigation, indicates two adult residents of the rural Michigan City home were killed. The suspect, also an adult, then committed suicide.
All three people were related, he said.
During the course of the initial investigation Michigan City police were assisted by the LaPorte County Sherriff’s Department, Trail Creek and Long Beach police departments, the LaPorte County prosecutor’s office, Michigan City Fire Department, LaPorte County EMS, LaPorte County coroner’s office and the Michigan City police chaplain division.
As this remains an ongoing investigation, further information will be released as it becomes available, Yagelski said, adding that anyone with information should contact Detective Sgt. Anthony McClintock at 219-874-3221, ext. 1074.
CROWN POINT — Days before he was taken into custody following a standoff with police, a Hobart Township man fought with his father, fired shots "all night" and killed his father's Chihuahua after the father fled the house out of fear, court records allege.
Anthony Hammond, 25, remained holed up in the home in the 3600 block of Alabama Street from Dec. 26 to 29, threatening to "go out in a blaze of glory" if police arrived and displaying a gun when his roommate and another man told him to move out, records state.
Police took Hammond into custody after an hourslong standoff Dec. 29 at the home, after he shot at them and they watched him walking throughout the second floor wearing a bulletproof vest, crying and taking shots of alcohol, records state.
Hammond was charged Friday in Lake Criminal Court with felony attempted aggravated battery, intimidation, killing a domestic animal, battery with moderate injury and criminal recklessness.
Father arrested trying to flee
The ordeal began Dec. 26, when Hammond allegedly arrived home as his father watched a movie with friends.
A witness told police Hammond, who appeared to be on drugs or alcohol, argued with his father and then charged the father, causing both of them to fall. After the fight ended, Hammond threatened to shoot his father but did not display a gun, according to a probable cause affidavit.
The father's friends left the home because they feared Hammond, records state. A short time later, Hammond allegedly began shooting out an upstairs window, so the father left the home.
A roommate told police he attempted to drive Hammond's father to another location, but they were pulled over by Gary police who arrived to investigate the report of shots fired.
Gary police arrested the father on suspicion of possessing firearms and outstanding warrants, records state. The roommate returned home, where he found the father’s Chihuahua dead on the floor in a pool of blood and disposed of its body before leaving.
Lake County sheriff's police spoke with several witnesses Dec. 27, who said they wanted Hammond removed from the home because he killed the dog and shot a hole in the kitchen table, records state.
The witnesses told police they told Hammond he needed to move out, but he allegedly displayed a gun and said they needed to make him leave.
The witnesses told police Hammond responded, "Go ahead and call the police, I'd love to get in a shootout with the police."
Hammond allegedly called another family member Dec. 27 and asked her to "pray for his soul and body." He told her he had barricaded himself inside the home with a bulletproof vest, admitted he'd been consuming drugs and alcohol and threatened to shoot anyone who came to the door, records state.
Shots allegedly fired at SWAT team
Hammond's father told police during an interview Dec. 28 at the Lake County Jail that he believed his son wanted to kill him. The father said Hammond was searching for an AK-47 assault rifle in October when he allegedly pointed a handgun at his father’s head.
The father called Hammond Dec. 29 while in the presence of police, asking his son to allow officers to check on his welfare. Hammond replied, "No," and warned he would "go out in a blaze of glory," the affidavit says.
Two SWAT teams responded to the home about noon Dec. 29 and began trying to communicate with Hammond.
As officers attempted to break a window for possible gas deployment, they heard gunshots and retreated, records state. The officers then realized Hammond may have been using an outdoor camera to see their location, records say.
Several more hours passed before Hammond was taken into custody.
When they finally entered the home, SWAT officers found spent shell casings to a small-caliber handgun and shotgun on both floors of the residence and barricaded entry points on the first floor, including one that appeared to have been crudely constructed to explode, Lake Criminal Court records say.
Police moved a refrigerator away from a door and found a propane tank that appeared to have been shot with large-caliber munitions. Gas stove burners also had been left on, records state.
Hammond was taken to a hospital for a mental evaluation, police said.
Police recovered a 12-gauge shotgun, a .38-caliber handgun and a rifle from inside the home, all of which were loaded, records state.
PORTAGE — A woman told police that others were nearby Monday night as she was being raped outside a vehicle at Countryside Park by a man she knew, but no one came to her aid.
It was not until after the woman reported the alleged offense about 6 p.m. that police tracked down Edward Baker and took the 24-year-old into custody on preliminary felony charges of rape and sexual battery.
The woman told police she drove to the park at 5250 U.S. 6 to meet Baker, who she described as a platonic friend who occasionally provides her with money, police said.
"In the past the two have never had any sort of sexual contact and she said the money he would give her was just as gifts, not payment for sexual favors," police said.
The woman said she and Baker arrived in separate vehicles at the park and exited their vehicles, according to police. Baker reportedly attempted to give the woman some money and several checks that had been made out with his wife's information.
She refused to take the checks out of concern of getting in trouble since they were not made out to her, police said. This angered Baker, who reportedly pushed her up against her vehicle and pulled down her pants "while she is screaming for him to stop."
He then sexually assaulted her, police said.
"While this is happening she said there were people around (walking on the trail and in their vehicles), but no one came to help her," according to the police report.
She eventually broke free from his grip and fled inside her vehicle, at which time Baker repeatedly apologized and then left for work, police said.
The woman then called 911 for help.
Police did not find Baker at home but were given his phone number and work place information.
PORTAGE — Police said a 28-year-old man they were taking into custody Monday night reared his head back, yelled out an expletive and shattered the passenger side window of a police vehicle using his head.
Despite bleeding from his face, Richard Hill, of Westville, continued to resist the arrest and was taken to the ground where he was placed in leg shackles and had his ankles secured to his handcuffs with a rope, police said.
Medics treated Hill at the scene south of Central Avenue near Dombey Road and he reportedly denied to them knowing anything about the broken vehicle window.
Police said they were initially called out to the 2700 block of Brown Street shortly after 8 p.m. in reference to a suspicious man walking near a car. Officers located Hill, who with slurred speech began calling them profanities.
While attempting to take him into custody for disorderly conduct and public intoxication, Hill began to fighting with officers, police said.
Hill continued to be combative at the hospital and was spitting blood on the floor.
"You ain't nothing without that gun and badge. Take those off and these cuffs off and I'll (expletive) kill you," he reportedly yelled at officers.
Hill was taken to jail on preliminary charges of felony intimidation, and misdemeanor counts of resisting law enforcement, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct and public intoxication.
MICHIGAN CITY — Police are continuing to investigate why a woman shot her parents to death and then killed herself.
Michigan City police Sgt. Chris Yagelski said the bodies of Barbara Evans, 71, Walter Evans, 73, and their daughter Tammy Evans, 48, were found in their home Monday afternoon in the 6800 block of North Meer Road by a relative. The relative, who also lives at the home, called 911 after discovering the bodies.
Yagelski said while the bodies were found Monday, "they had been there for some time."
Police determined Walter and Barbara Evans had been shot inside their home and died. The shots were determined to have been fired by Tammy Evans. Tammy Evans eventually fatally shot herself, Yagelski said.
A handgun and handwritten note were located with Tammy Evans in a separate area of the home from where her parents' bodies were found.
Yagelski declined to say what was in the note, nor provide a motive for the murder-suicide.
The evidence collected included a handgun, spent bullet casings and the handwritten note, Yagelski said.
Family members said they had no explanation for the tragedy.
"We have no idea. No clue why this happened," said Loretta Sterling, of Michigan City. She is the fiancee of Danny Evans, brother of shooting suspect Tammy Evans.
Sterling was among the family members at the couple's brown ranch-style home Tuesday.
The home is in a rural area beside Michigan City Municipal Airport on the city's far east side.
Sterling, who was helping clean up the residence, said the family had no indication of any trouble brewing prior to the shootings.
Sterling described the elderly couple as good people. She said she hardly associated with Tammy, who she described as "kind of reclusive."
Walter was retired from Weil-McLain, a maker of residential, commercial and industrial heating systems on Michigan City's north end, Sterling said. Barbara worked at Hearthside Food Solutions, a maker of cookies and other snack foods on Michigan City's west side, she said.
According to court records, Tammy Evans had prior misdemeanor convictions in LaPorte County.
Times correspondent Stan Maddux contributed to this report.
CROWN POINT — The Lake County Council widened its prohibition on gunfire in residential south Lake County Tuesday over the protests of gun owners.
The council voted 5-2 to amended its ban on the discharge of firearms near neighboring homes, enlarging the exclusion zone from 300 feet to 700 feet in unincorporated county areas.
Councilmen Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, and David Hamm, D-Hammond, cast the "no" votes. Council members Charlie Brown, D-Gary; Christine Cid, D-East Chicago; Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, Elsie Franklin, D-Gary and Christian Jorgensen, R-St. John voted "yes."
The council softened the restriction with two exceptions: the exclusion zone wouldn't apply to hunters during hunting season and it wouldn't apply if gun owners get signed permission from their adjacent neighbors to discharge weapons at a closer distance.
An overflow crowd of more than 150 called out their opposition to tighter restrictions during the debate and booed loudly following the first of several votes to pass the ordinance into the law books. "They passed it. We got screwed," one man shouted from a nearby hallway.
Sheriff Oscar Martinez and several uniformed security officers stood by to ensure the raucous meeting didn't get out of hand.
Several members of the crowd said the restrictions fall unfairly on south county residents, like themselves, who previously had the freedom to safely target practice on their real parcels of five or more acres, but would be denied that right because of an unfriendly neighbor.
"South county is a different culture. People moved there for hunting and enjoying the outdoors. To restrict the people there already to enjoy that culture is a travesty, in my opinion," one man said.
They complained that none of the council members imposing the restrictions live in the unincorporated county areas and there already are laws on the books to punish irresponsible gunfire.
One concluded, "All we have to do is vote these guys out, if they do this," one protester said, followed by cheers from the crowd.
The ordinance now goes to the Lake County Board of Commissioners who meet 10 a.m. Jan. 16 to either approve or veto it.
Jorgensen, who supported the restrictions, said it was needed to curb irresponsible shooting by encouraging gun owners to be on good terms with their neighbors.
"It's a neighbor issue in an increasingly populated area. We had complaints about people not being good neighbors. I want to leave this question in the hands of the people to reach a compromise and be good neighbors.
He added this measure is a compromise from an initial proposal to expand the exclusion zone to 1,000 feet without the hunting and neighborly exceptions he insisted on.
The council first took this issue up last July when residents of a rural subdivision near Lowell complained gun owners were peppering their properties with errant bullets.
Former 7th District Councilman Eldon Strong met with the subdivision residents and local gun owners and proposed the new ordinance, requiring a berm and a 300-foot exclusion zone as a compromise between gun safety and gun rights. It passed in December by a 4-3 margin.
Strong left the council last month following his primary election defeat to Jorgensen and council members took up the debate again in his absence.
The council is no stranger to gun rights issues. Last year, it debated, but declined to close gun shows regularly held at the Lake County Fairgrounds as demanded by gun control protesters following the Feb. 14 mass school shooting of 17 people, 14 of them students, in Parkland, Florida.
There is still another piece of unfinished business.
Jorgensen asked the council to repeal another ordinance, passed last month, putting further restrictions on gun owners who set up private gun ranges on their private property.
Jorgensen said the ordinance unfairly requires gun owners to obtain a zoning change from the county and build a backstop, like an earthen berm just to target practice in their back yard. He said the county shouldn't be regulating non-commercial shooting ranges.
Some in the crowd complained the repeal doesn't help them because the 700-foot exclusion zone remains in place.
The council voted 4-3 on first reading to repeal the private gun range ordinance. It is scheduled to cast a second and final vote Feb. 12.
The council voted to name Bilski as council president and Dernulc as vice president for 2019. Dernulc becomes the first Republican to hold that ceremonial post in a decade.
A car-hauling trailer caught fire on I-80/94 resulting in six cars being burned to a crisp.
At 1:04 a.m. Tuesday, firefighters responded to a car hauler that had caught fire in a westbound lane of I-80/94 just west of Broadway at the 9.8 mile marker in Gary, according to the Indiana State Police.
Six cars that were loaded on the trailer were charred in the fire however the driver was not injured. The fire was a result of a brake malfunction, police said.
The right lane was closed for about 30 minutes as the flames were being extinguished.
Firefighters from Gary and New Chicago assisted at the scene.
CROWN POINT — A man facing up to 30 years for repeatedly stabbing a Hammond couple in 2017 is now accused of attempting to rape a fellow inmate at the Lake County Jail.
Travis S. Dade, 27, of Hammond, was naked from the waist down about 2 a.m. Dec. 7 when correctional officers responded to screaming and calls for help from his cell, Lake Criminal Court records state.
Dade's cellmate told police he was in an out of consciousness during the alleged attack, but recalled Dade choking him and pulling his pants down. The man was taken to Methodist Hospitals Southlake Campus for treatment.
Dade was charged Dec. 28 with felony attempted rape, confinement, two counts of battery, sexual battery and strangulation.
The man told police Dade was nice to him when he first arrived at the jail, offering him some commissary items, according to a probable cause affidavit.
At one point, Dade allegedly asked the man if he was gay. The man told Dade it was none of his business, and Dade replied, "But now it is," the affidavit says.
The man became uncomfortable and pressed a button to call corrections officers, but an officer told him he could not go into protective custody until he reclassified, records state. The man told police he didn't want to tell the officer in front of Dade that he felt sexually intimidated, so he said he was OK.
The man later tried to get the attention of another officer, but the officer allegedly told him to "shut up, lie down and deal with it." The man said he pleaded to be removed from the cell, but the officer told him, "If you make an issue then we are going to have an issue, so go lay down," records state.
A short time later, Dade got out of his bed and grabbed the man by his shoulders, the affidavit says. The man told police he pressed the call button and attempted to punch Dade, but Dade grabbed him by the neck and slammed him into a wall.
Dade then shoved his thumb into the man's eyes while also choking the man, the affidavit says. The man told police Dade slammed him to the floor and continued to choke him while banging his head on the floor, causing the man to go in and out of consciousness, records state.
Dade remained in jail Tuesday pending sentencing in the Hammond stabbing case.
Dade was initially charged in that case with two counts each of aggravated battery and domestic battery, all felonies, but the Lake County prosecutor's office added additional counts of attempted murder earlier this year.
Dade pleaded guilty in September to two counts of aggravated battery, a Level 3 felony. He could face a 30-year sentence, though his attorney can argue for alternative placement and probation.
CROWN POINT — A Hammond man was ordered Tuesday to serve a three-year sentence in the Lake County Community Corrections program for fatally stabbing a 50-year-old man during a fight.
Leterr L. Petty, 21, pleaded guilty in June to reckless homicide for killing Xavier Curtis during an argument June 10, 2017, at an apartment in the 6000 block of Hohman Avenue in Hammond.
In a statement read by Deputy Prosecutor Christopher Bruno, Curtis' family members said they were devastated by the death of Curtis, who had survived an aneurysm just weeks before.
Curtis left behind 10 children and grandchildren, some of whom had just come back into his life.
Curtis suffered three stab wounds, two of them 7 inches deep, Bruno said. He asked Lake Criminal Court Judge Samuel L. Cappas to sentence Petty to five years, with two to be served in prison and the remainder in community corrections.
Petty's attorney, John Cantrell, said Petty never intended to kill Curtis, who had been dating the mother of Petty's girlfriend.
"He was attacked by a drunk fella," Cantrell said. "He reacted horribly."
When police arrived, Petty and his girlfriend's mother were using rags to apply pressure to Curtis' stab and slash wounds.
The woman told police Curtis, who was intoxicated, got into an argument with her daughter and then began badgering Petty about getting a job and moving out of the apartment.
Petty told police Curtis punched him in the head and attacked him. He said he saw a knife within his reach, and he “just reacted and stabbed him,” court records state.
Outside the courtroom, Curtis' niece Kenya Curtis said the situation was a shame.
CROWN POINT — A defense attorney for one of two men accused of discovering child pornography last month during a burglary at a former Lake Ridge Middle School employee's home said his client's case will be difficult to prosecute.
John Cantrell said the burglary case filed Dec. 19 against client Michael K.L. McGregor, 18, of Lake Station, is "bizarre and unusual" and that the criminal case against former teacher's aide Aaron Lopez Saldana, 47, is likely to be superseded in federal court.
McGregor was free on bond in the Saldana burglary case when he charged Jan. 2 in another burglary, Lake Criminal Court records show.
Judge Samuel Cappas reset McGregor's bond to $20,000 surety or $2,000 cash.
McGregor and his friend Scott Thomas Porta II, 18, of Griffith, are accused of breaking into Saldana's home Dec. 12 in the 4400 block of McKinley Street in Calumet Township.
Porta allegedly confided in a friend he "went there to get something he wanted and, instead, got something he didn't." Porta's friend took the information to the police, court records state.
Investigators later discovered Saldana had been secretly recording prepubescent and teenage boys as they showered or used the restroom at his home, court records state. He is accused of destroying photographs and other evidence before police arrived to execute a search warrant at his home Dec. 15.
Saldana was charged Dec. 17 with possession of child pornography, voyeurism and obstruction of justice.
CROWN POINT — Charges filed Wednesday allege a supervisor at the Kimbrough Work Release Center had sex with two female inmates at the facility on multiple occasions, both separately and at the same time.
Jaime M. Montanez, 25, of Highland, was arrested Thursday by Highland police, according to Indiana State Police.
Montanez was fired immediately after the allegations came to light, said Kellie Bittorf, executive director of Lake County Community Corrections, which operates the Kimbrough Work Release Center in Crown Point.
He had been employed at the center for about 2.5 years and was a custody supervisor, according to Lake Criminal Court records.
The two women reported Dec. 9 they had been having sex with Montanez in a room next to an ice machine since November.
One woman told police she knew Montanez and the other woman had been "messing around" when she asked if he could look into getting her off room restriction, records state.
Montanez allegedly told the first woman he might be able to do that, if she agreed to go to the "ice room" with him, records state.
She agreed, and the second woman was present when the first woman had sex with Montanez, according to a probable cause affidavit.
On Dec. 8, Montanez called both women on a radio to get ice, had sex with both of them and gave them each $20, records state.
The three had sex again Dec. 9, and Montanez allegedly promised to give the women money.
The second woman told police Montanez gave her money for sex twice, once alone and another time when the other woman was present, the affidavit says.
Both women said they felt obligated to have sex with Montanez, because of his position, records state.
Montanez is accused of telling one of the women that if his alleged crimes were discovered, "he knew how to play it off and not get caught."
Montanez admitted in an interview with police to having sex with both women on multiple occasions, records state.
PORTAGE — A trail of panties, bras and other allegedly shoplifted items flew from the car window of a Liberty Township woman as she led police on a high-speed chase, nearly colliding head-on with other vehicles Wednesday night, Portage officers reported.
When approached by police for suspected shoplifting from the nearby Kohl's store at 6495 U.S. 6 in Portage, the woman, identified as 34-year-old Holly Sansone, shrugged with both hands in the air and said, "I've gotta go," before leading officers on the chase.
Sansone is accused of leading a chase that topped out near 100 mph at times as it proceeded shortly after 6:30 p.m. east down U.S. 6 and then north on Ind. 49 where it ended when her tires were punctured after driving over stop sticks placed down by police at Ind. 49 and Indian Boundary Road. Police said she nearly struck another vehicle head-on at one point, ignored red lights and nearly sideswiped other vehicles during the chase that found her traveling left-of-center and on the shoulder of the road.
Police said Sansone led officers on the potentially fatal car chase over the alleged theft of four bras, 14 panties, two candles and a few air freshener refills valued in total at $445.
Nearly lost control of her vehicle
The incident began shortly before 6:30 p.m. in the parking lot of Kohl's when an officer knocked on Sansone's car window after being told she took several items from the store, according to a police report. Sansone then told police she had to leave and sped off eastbound on U.S. 6.
Police said she sped through a red light at Airport Road, nearly struck a police vehicle near McCool Road and drove left-of-center near County Road 200 West, nearly colliding head-on with a westbound vehicle that had to swerve nearly into a culvert to avoid the collision. She was allegedly tossing items out of her car along the way.
As the chase reached 90 mph in a 45 mph zone on U.S. 6, Sansone sped through a red light at Meridian Road and nearly lost control of her vehicle as she turned north on Indiana 49, police said. Speeds then reached nearly 100 mph as Sansone bypassed traffic at Gateway Boulevard by passing through the intersection from the right-turn lane and then ignoring the red light at County Road 1100 North, police said.
Sansone then began driving on the right-hand shoulder of Indiana 49 to avoid traffic at Porter Avenue and continued throwing items of of her vehicle before striking stop sticks police had placed in her path near Indian Boundary Road, according to the incident report.
As police officers approached the vehicle with weapons drawn, Sansone reportedly hesitated at first to leave the car, resisted being taken into custody and then repeatedly told officers, "she didn't have anything on her."
Police found several pairs of women's underwear in the vehicle and recovered more panties and a bra from the side of the roadways. They also found at the jail that Sansone was wearing two pairs of panties with the price tags still attached.
The loss prevention officer at Kohl's reportedly told police they watched as Sansone took the items after stopping in the men's fitting rooms.
Sansone was taken into custody on preliminary felony counts of fleeing law enforcement with a vehicle, theft and misdemeanor counts of resisting law enforcement and reckless driving.
Police take heat
Portage Police Chief Troy Williams defended Wednesday night's high speed chase of an accused shoplifter, saying in part, her erratic behavior from the get-go concerned officers.
The responding officer did not know if Sansone was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol or if she was wanted for another offense, Williams said. And it cannot be assumed she can be tracked down later by the vehicle license plates when the officer was not even sure she owned the car she was driving.
"There are more unknowns than knowns in something like that," he said.
The department is taking some heat on social media for carrying out the high speed chase over what turned out to be $445 worth of bras, panties and candles allegedly stolen from the Kohl's store at 6495 U.S. 6.
Williams said officers involved in chases are constantly evaluating the situation as it is occurring. There was no rainy or icy conditions, he said, and it was not a time of the day when students or pedestrians would likely be out.
"I'm comfortable with the way they handled it," he said.
Indiana State Police discovered 23.5 lbs of marijuana hidden in luggage during a traffic stop on I-65 in Jasper County.
At 11 a.m. Wednesday, a state trooper pulled over a 2017 Chevy Equinox for making unsafe lane movements in the southbound lanes, according to a news release from state police.
The driver, Christopher Anderson, 34, of Kokomo, pulled over about four miles north of the Fair Oaks exit at the 224 mile marker. After smelling the odor of marijuana, police called a K-9 unit to search the car.
Police said 23.5 pounds of marijuana were found in luggage and in a sealed box within the vehicle.
Anderson was arrested and charged with dealing marijuana and possession of marijuana. He was taken to Jasper County Jail in Rensselaer, police said.
GRIFFITH — An 18-year-old Portage High School student killed Wednesday in a shooting was described as "smart" and "outgoing."
Police learned Alayna Ortiz, an occupant in a vehicle, had been shot while at the Park West Apartment complex after the driver of that vehicle pulled up to officers parked in the nearby Mansards Plaza shopping center about 9 p.m., according to the Lake County coroner's office and Griffith police.
Ortiz's family remembers her as a kind-hearted young woman full of love.
"Anyone who knew Alayna knows that she was a very open, friendly person, and when she trusted you, she trusted you with everything," Amanda Riffett, Alayna's mother, said. "And when she loved you, she loved you with everything in her heart."
Ortiz, of South Haven, was taken by ambulance to Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus in Gary, where she was pronounced dead at 9:47 p.m. from a gunshot wound. Her death was ruled a homicide.
"Alayna was an incredibly smart, outgoing and beautiful young lady," said Abagail Trzeciak, a social studies teacher at PHS. "She had a fiery personality and did everything with confidence. Alayna will be missed by everyone at Portage High School and Northwest Indiana."
Portage Townships Schools was mourning Ortiz's death, a district spokeswoman said.
"A crisis team to include guidance counselors and school advisers will be available for our students who need to express their grief during this difficult loss," communications director Melissa Deavers-Lowie said.
"We extend our deepest sympathies to this student's family and friends, and we ask that you keep them in your thoughts," she said.
Parents should contact the high school's guidance office at 219-764-6040 if they they think their child needs assistance.
A Griffith officer working at the Park West Apartments heard what sounded like a car crash in the 1800 block of North Arbogast Street and went to investigate, Martin said.
The officer saw a vehicle speed away, turn onto Ridge Road and pull into Mansards Plaza, where the other officers working a separate detail were parked, he said.
Police called an ambulance for Ortiz. The other people in the car with her were questioned and released, Martin said. No other injuries were reported.
Police think the driver of the vehicle in which Ortiz was riding struck several small barriers while attempting to escape during the shooting, Martin said.
Police collected physical evidence, eyewitnesses accounts and video footage from the scene and were following up on leads early Thursday.
There are 20 to 25 investigators from the Griffith Police Department and Northwest Indiana Major Crimes Task Force currently working on the case, Griffith police Cmdr. Keith Martin 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.
Ortiz's homicide marks the first in Griffith since 2014, when Remanard Castro, 55, fatally shot his estranged wife Nina Castro, 42, in front of her teenage children in the parking lot at St. Mary's School.
Check back at nwi.com for updates as this story develops.
Times staff writer Joyce Russell contributed to this story.
LIBERTY TOWNSHIP — Porter County police said a 46-year-old Portage woman showed no remorse after an officer witnessed her drive at a high rate of speed past a school bus that had stopped to pick up children.
The bus driver had activated the vehicle's red flashing lights and stop sign, and children were in the process of boarding when Maria Mota "blatantly" and "recklessly" passed the bus, police said.
The officer, who captured the alleged offense on video and released it at the request of The Times, said he was in the area of U.S. 6 and County Road 125 West at 6:26 a.m. Wednesday in response to earlier complaints from school bus drivers.
The westbound Duneland School Corporation bus in question pulled up in front of a residence on U.S. 6 and activated its warning system for other drivers to stop, police said. During the stop, Mota drove eastbound past the bus.
After being stopped by the officer, Mota reportedly said she saw the flashing lights on the bus and could not offer a valid reason for not stopping.
She was issued a summons on a misdemeanor count of reckless driving. The officer said he captured the alleged violation on his vehicle and body camera.
HAMMOND — After years of working on his campaign, paying for meals and playing chauffeur for Portage Mayor James Snyder, John Cortina only could get on the city's tow list after he paid Snyder a $12,000 bribe, according to testimony Friday.
Cortina, 79, pleaded guilty Friday morning to one count of bribery in Snyder's public corruption case. He will be sentenced April 22.
The plea agreement comes three days before the public corruption trial begins. The trial, now just against Snyder and with Cortina as a cooperating witness, will start Monday morning as planned.
One of Snyder's defense attorneys, Jayna Caccioppo, of Indianapolis, emailed a statement Friday prior to the start of Cortina's hearing.
"Mr. Snyder never solicited or accepted any bribes from anyone at any time. Mr. Cortina's plea is of no consequence to the defense of Mr. Snyder. The plea is unremarkable given Mr. Cortina's age. Mr. Snyder and his defense team look forward to exonerating Mr. Snyder during the trial that begins next Monday," read the statement emailed to The Times.
Accompanied by his attorney, Kevin Milner of Crown Point, Cortina stood before U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen and admitted to giving Snyder two checks totaling $12,000 in return for being put on the city's tow list.
Answering most questions with a "yes," "yes, sir" or "I understand," Cortina, owner of Kustom Auto Body, laid out the scenario that led to paying the bribe.
Under questioning by Milner, Cortina told the court he had known Snyder for several years and assisted in his campaign for mayor, including driving him around and attending fundraisers. Cortina had requested consideration from Snyder several times between November 2015 and December 2016 to be placed on the tow list.
Each time Snyder brushed him off and avoided giving Cortina an answer.
In his written statement to the court, Cortina stated he initially thought he was friends with Snyder, but after having to "foot the bill" for several dinners, he felt he was being taking advantage of. Cortina stated he continued being friendly with Snyder because he wanted to do business with the city.
It was only when Snyder told Cortina he needed $12,000 to help pay his legal bills, and Cortina delivered the money, that he was put on the tow list, according to testimony.
Cortina worked with Scott Jurgenson, owner of Sampson Towing, to secure the lucrative job. Unknown to Cortina, Jurgenson was working with the FBI investigating public corruption in municipal towing contracts at the time. Jurgenson agreed to front Cortina half of what Cortina referred to as "juice money" in undercover tape recordings.
Cortina "perceived it to be a bribe," Milner said, adding when Cortina had the two checks in hand, he called Snyder and told him it was "Christmas." He met with Snyder 15 minutes later at the offices of Snyder's mortgage company and handed over the checks.
In Assistant U.S. Attorney Phil Benson's explanation of evidence federal prosecutors had against Cortina in the bribery case, he said the checks were made out to Citizens for Snyder, Snyder's campaign fund, and the mayor's roundtable where, Benson said, "they'd eat lunch with Snyder once a month at a hot dog stand."
Benson said Snyder directed Cortina how to make the payment and once he received the two cashiers checks Jan. 27, 2016, Snyder crossed out "donation" on the memo line of the $10,000 check and replaced it with the notation "loan."
Within days of the exchange, Cortina and Jurgenson were informed by Snyder they were on the city's tow list, Benson said.
Van Bokkelen questioned Cortina extensively to assure his understanding of and competency to accept the plea deal.
Van Bokkelen also told Cortina he had to make sure no one was threatening him or offering him any other enticements outside the plea deal.
"Nobody's pushing me," Cortina said, adding he fully understood the ramifications of his actions.
The bribery charges carries a maximum term not to exceed 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 or a combination of the two. It also requires three years of supervised release.
Van Bokkelen said there could be variations made to the sentencing guidelines.
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