HIGHLAND — Region residents were left reeling after learning Coach USA North America planned to shut down its Indiana Airport Supersaver buses to O'Hare International Airport and Chicago Midway International Airport at the end of the year.
Travelers rushed to cancel shuttle bus tickets they had already purchased for January or to figure out how they would get home from a trip out of town after the buses stop running on Dec. 31 after more than 40 years.
"This is terrible news: a horrible blow to the Region for so many users," said Tom Shepherd, a resident of Chicago's Southeast Side.
The popular shuttle bus service to O'Hare and Midway made stops in Highland, Portage, Michigan City, South Bend and Crestwood, and previously had stops in Merrillville and Valparaiso. It was used by thousands of Region residents over the years, including those who wanted to avoid Chicago traffic, those who didn't feel safe using ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, and those averse to paying steep long-term parking fees at the airport.
"How are we supposed to get to the airport now?" Crown Point resident Cara Witecki said. "I'm very upset. I'm in my 70s now. At my age, I'm not driving to Chicago. My daughter's only 31, but she doesn't feel safe driving after dark if the plane comes in later."
Witecki flies only about once a year, but her daughter and sons use the shuttle buses a couple times a year and her friend rides it when flying in three times a year from New York. They all ride the Airport Supersaver shuttle buses.
"I don't understand why it's closing," she said. "It always looks busy there in Highland."
The bus service has faced increased competition from services like Lyft and Uber in recent years, and customers have recently complained about abrupt cancellations leaving them in the lurch. Sean Hughes, director of corporate affairs at Coach USA North America, would not elaborate on why the company was ending service to Northwest Indiana but said it has offered positions to the 150 employees who will be laid off if they are willing to relocate.
Witecki wished another company would come in to fill the void Coach USA is leaving behind.
"It's crazy, it's just isolating us," she said. "Who can afford to pay for a two-week stay at Midway? That gets expensive."
California resident Janet Rolek, who rides the shuttle buses a few times a year when visiting family in Northwest Indiana, wondered why Coach USA couldn't switch to smaller buses or even vans to maintain a profitable operation if its volumes really had fallen off that much.
"I can't believe it and hope they reconsider," she said. "Uber and Lyft don't always have safe drivers and the cost goes up with time and traffic. Why can't they just consider smaller buses or longer waits in between?"
Rolek said it's often inconvenient for family members to pick her up at the airport, especially if her plane lands in the middle of the workday.
"Not everyone wants to drive to the airport," she said. "People are so busy. Traffic is horrible, and the highways aren't always safe. You could rent a car, but that's expensive and then you have to schlep your stuff across the airport. It's very disappointing. It's just a big disappointment."
Residents have other alternatives that include using the Spot Hero app to find cheaper parking near the airports, hiring a local car or limo service to ferry them there, or taking the South Shore Line and then the Chicago Transit Authority L train, which requires buying a Ventra card.
One can take Northwest Indiana's South Shore Line commuter train to Millennium Station in Chicago's Loop, walk a block south on Michigan Avenue, then a block west on Washington Street, turn south on Wabash Avenue, walk up to the Washington/Wabash station and then take the Orange Line to Midway.
To get to O'Hare, take the South Shore Line to the Van Buren Street Station, walk a block north on Michigan Avenue, walk three blocks west on Jackson Boulevard, turn north onto Dearborn Street, walk a quarter block north to the Dearborn Street Station Blue Line, and take the Blue Line to O'Hare.
Gary resident Ray Johnson, a retiree who flies at least six times a year to visit his children and see the world, said it was just easy to hop on the shuttle bus.
"It's definitely easier than driving yourself," he said. "You just hop on and don't have any worries. It's usually on time."
He's been riding the shuttle buses for decades and hopes another company or government agency will come in to restore airport bus service to Northwest Indiana. He said there was a need, noting that the parking lot at the Highland bus stop on Indianapolis Boulevard by the Little Calumet River was nearly, if not completely, full Thursday.
"They don't seem to be starving for customers," he said. "I don't know what the problem is. It may be a management problem, but it's definitely not a customer problem. This is the only service like this around in this area. I hope somebody else can continue it somehow."
Northwest Indiana needs a reliable and regular shuttle bus services to Chicago's two major airports, Johnson said.
"You can't make a business operate somewhere they don't want to operate," he said. "That's their prerogative. But there's an opportunity here."
SCHERERVILLE — A woman called police after a man allegedly parked next to her and began masturbating in the Walmart parking lot, police said.
When the officer approached the man, he claimed he was just "checking" himself, according to police reports.
At 12:27 p.m. on Nov. 30, officers were called to the Walmart parking lot on U.S. 41 in Schererville in response to an alleged sex offense, Schererville Cmdr. Jeff Cook said.
A woman told police she saw a black Audi drive past her slowly as she parked her car in the front row. She then went inside the store to shop.
When she returned to the parking lot, the same black Audi was positioned next to the driver’s side of her vehicle, she told police.
As she walked to her car door, she saw a man sitting in the Audi through his driver’s side window. The man was breathing heavily, the police report alleged.
Schererville police Officer Justin Juarez, who arrived at the parking lot within a few seconds of dispatch, found the black Audi the woman described. The man inside was identified as Terrell Bahar, 26, of Dolton, police said.
Juarez observed Bahar was “dripping with sweat” and informed him of what the woman told police she saw.
Bahar then told Juarez, “I was just checking myself, and some lady, she saw me," police reports state.
Schererville police said Bahar gave two different accounts of what he was doing in the Walmart parking lot, neither of which could be verified.
Officers then saw surveillance video of the incident, which confirmed the woman’s story, Cook said.
Bahar was booked into the Lake County Jail on a charge of public indecency, a misdemeanor, court records show.
In a time when shoppers are out and about leading up to the holidays, police reiterated the phrase, “see something, say something.”
“We would like to remind the public to be aware of their surroundings and immediately report any suspicious activity to police,” Cook said.
CROWN POINT — Marco Alonzo had a strong personality, a big smile and a loud, powerful voice, said his mother, Emily Alonzo.
In his short life of 20 years, he brought joy to his family, encouraged love and respect, and "soaked up everything that was right and good and did his best to live it out," his aunt Jenny Delgado said.
Marco — or "Quito," as his family affectionately called him — was compassionate, respectful, sincere, independent and optimistic.
"As I picture him right now, he's just smiling and laughing all the time," Emily Alonzo said Tuesday, reflecting on her son's life a week after his homicide. "These 20 years just seemed like (they) never happened. It just feels unreal."
Alonzo, a Portage High School graduate, died Dec. 3 after he was shot in a parking lot outside his unit at Park West Apartments in the 900 block of East River Road in Griffith. Two people have been charged in connection with the homicide.
Marco Alonzo began lifting weights at age 7 and loved to play many types of sports.
In high school, he spent so much time at Classics gym in Portage he began working there, his family said.
He was an entrepreneur from a young age, selling candy or haircuts to friends. He instilled the same entrepreneurial spirit in his younger sister, Gracie.
"From the minute he was born, we were just smitten with him because he was a very cute baby," grandmother Mary Nila said.
He was smart and receptive to music from a young age.
"He had the soul of a child," aunt Michelle Ramos said. "He carried that energy with him everywhere."
He regularly visited Nila, brushing off her concerns that she would "cramp his style." He took her out to eat and instilled new life in his 91-year-old great-grandfather, who recently moved in with Nila.
He wasn't afraid to call out Ramos when she was cranky, but he also told her she's strong and wise.
And he was happy, his family said. Always happy.
"The person who took my son's life is the person who I tried to raise my kids to not be," Emily Alonzo said.
She taught her children to respect life, to show compassion and to treat everyone equally, she said.
"When you have a kid, they're more than your flesh," she said. "You have to feed them mentally."
Emily Alonzo was a young mother, and she had to take a step back to realize what kind of mother she wanted to be, she said. Parenting takes time and a lot of love.
"I'm really happy I made the most of the time I had with him. I really did," she said. "I'm totally content, and he's resting now. He wasn't mine. None of us is promised tomorrow."
But she wants justice for her son, she said.
Story doesn't add up
After high school, Marco moved in with family in Chicago for a time and eventually got his own apartment. His mother encouraged him to move back to the Region, thinking it would be safer, she said.
He had been living in Griffith for less than a year and worked for a utility locating service.
Marco Alonzo arranged to purchase a small amount of marijuana from Ashley Middleton, 21, according to court records. Middleton told police she had known Alonzo for some time but brought Althirty C. Hunter, 20, of Gary, along to serve as "a presence."
Middleton allegedly sold Alonzo marijuana during an exchange in her car, and Hunter killed him after the sale was over, court records state.
Alonzo's family doubts Middleton's account of events leading up to his shooting.
Middleton allegedly said she told Hunter, after the shooting, he didn't have to hurt Alonzo because Alonzo wasn't aggressive.
Family members questioned why she felt she needed protection at all, if she had known Marco Alonzo for some time and didn't think he was aggressive.
Middleton also claimed Alonzo asked Hunter about his gang affiliation, sparking an exchange of words between the two men.
Asking such a question was not in Alonzo's character, Delgado said.
Hunter is being held without bond on a murder charge. A magistrate entered a not guilty plea on his behalf Dec. 9, and his formal appearance before Lake Criminal Court Judge Clarence Murray is set for Dec. 17.
Middleton was charged with level 5 felony assisting a criminal and has an initial hearing set for Dec. 20.
There are so many unanswered questions, family members said.
"It's just so sad," Emily Alonzo said. "It's so sad and unfortunate."
'We're going to press on'
Delgado said her nephew's death will not be in vain.
"It's not going to ruin us or destroy us," she said. "Like him, we're going to press on because he did, and he left that example."
Family members said they accepted that Marco made a bad decision to buy marijuana, but he didn't deserve to die for it.
Meanwhile, Hunter has been charged three times with firearms-related offenses, including one felony and two misdemeanor cases.
Emily Alonzo said she was disgusted to learn of Hunter's criminal history.
"I don't get it," she said. "How many times? How many times until someone gets killed? It's disgusting."
Still, she plans to remain focused on the positive. She has a grandchild on the way, milestones to celebrate with Marco's brother and two sisters, and 20 years of good memories with her son, she said.
"I don't have room for anger or hatred in my heart," she said. "It won't benefit any of us."
UNION TOWNSHIP — A man allegedly dragged a state trooper 15 feet with his car and then narrowly avoided hitting Hobart officers investigating a crash, police said.
At 12:02 a.m. Wednesday Indiana State Trooper Brian Runyon was patrolling on U.S. 30 near County Road 750 East when he saw a vehicle driving westbound at 80 mph in a 55 mph zone, according to an Indiana State Police news release.
The trooper stopped the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu on U.S. 30 close to the Porter and Lake County line. When Runyon spoke with the driver, he smelled burnt marijuana inside the vehicle and asked the man to step out of his car, police said.
Runyon took the man inside of his squad car to continue the investigation when he ran from the trooper’s car and got back inside his Malibu, police said. Runyon ran after him and reached into the driver’s seat to remove the man from his car when he began driving away.
Runyon was dragged 15 feet before he was able to free himself from the car, falling onto the U.S. 30 westbound lane, police said. The Malibu fled toward Hobart and Runyon got back into his squad car for a pursuit, but the car had gotten out of sight.
Meanwhile 2 miles west, Hobart police were at a crash scene where two people were seriously injured on U.S. 30 at Clay Street. The man narrowly avoided striking Hobart officers as he drove through the crash scene at a high rate of speed, police said.
Hobart officers pursued the driver into Merrillville on U.S. 30 and then northbound on Broadway, where he pulled into a parking lot at 75th Place and Broadway and fled on foot. Police chased after him and a struggle ensued, injuring a Hobart officer, according to the Hobart Police Department. A police K-9 was deployed and the driver was taken into custody by Indiana State Police.
Indiana State Police also included photos of three bags of an unlabeled white substance in the news release as evidence in the incident.
Indiana State Police submitted charges to the Porter County prosecutor’s office, including battery on law enforcement, two counts of resisting law enforcement, dealing in cocaine or narcotic drugs and dealing in heroin. Online court records show the charges have not yet been accepted by the prosecutors as of Thursday night.
Runyon suffered minor injuries and he was able to complete his shift, Indiana State Police reported.
BEVERLY SHORES — A portion of the Lake View parking area and all beach access has been temporarily closed due to hazardous conditions caused by erosion, Indiana Dunes National Park officials announced Thursday.
The parking area is closed to the west of the concrete pad at the lakefront site.
"The closure is due to dangerous conditions resulting from recent erosion to the beach at that location," according to a statement released by park officials.
The closure is to remain in effect through May 1 or until further notice.
"The picnic area and the parking directly to the south of it remain safe and open," the statement said.
"Lake Michigan's water level remains well above the long-term average," the statement continued. "The higher lake level, in combination with recent storm waves, has resulted in continued erosion and narrower beaches along Lake Michigan. The National Park Service will continue to monitor the conditions along the entire 15 miles of park shoreline."
The announcement comes in the wake of last month's discovery that rising Lake Michigan waters had broken through a sand dune immediately west of the pavilion at the Lakefront Park and Riverwalk in Portage.
While a dramatic video of the breach shows the 3,500-square-foot lakefront pavilion surrounded on three sides by water, Indiana Dunes National Park Superintendent Paul Labovitz said at the time the pavilion is not yet in danger and remains open and safe for use.
The Portage police and fire departments had called for closing the $17 million city-managed Lakefront Park and Riverwalk that's the gateway for many of the 3.6 million annual visitors to the Indiana Dunes National Park, Mayor John Cannon had said.
The city's emergency responders do not have the equipment needed to reach anyone caught in the dune area breached by the Lake Michigan waters, he said.
Cannon called on state lawmakers, who studied the erosion problem this past summer, to free up the $1 million needed to start a dredging and sand replenishment program as a short-term response to the beach erosion problem.
The effort is needed to buy time while efforts continue to secure funding for the local share of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study of long-term solutions for eroded Lake Michigan beaches, he said.