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Lake County Year in Review

Lake County Year in Review

Gay marriage legalized

A federal judge struck down Indiana's law banning same-sex marriage on June 25, prompting hundreds of gay couples to rush to county courthouses to be wed. The federal appeals court in Chicago halted the marriages two days later while it reviewed the decision.

On Sept. 4, the appeals judges ruled 3-0 that Indiana's law banning gay marriage and prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages performed in Illinois and elsewhere is unconstitutionally discriminatory.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 6 declined Republican Attorney General Greg Zoeller's request to overrule the appellate decision, effectively legalizing gay marriage in Indiana permanently.

It was a remarkable turnaround from earlier in the year when the Republican-controlled General Assembly sought to add the state's gay marriage ban to the Indiana Constitution.

A narrowly approved change in the wording of the proposed amendment postponed a possible public vote to the 2016 election.

State lawmakers now are likely to drop the issue since the U.S. Constitution's equality guarantee is supreme over the state constitution.

Republicans win low-turnout state elections

Hoosier Republicans kept their grip on the offices of secretary of state, state auditor and state treasurer Nov. 4, and grew their supermajorities in the Indiana House to 71 of 100 seats and 40 of 50 Senate seats.

Northwest Indiana elected three new Republican representatives: Mike Aylesworth, of Hebron; Bill Fine, of Munster; and Julie Olthoff, of Crown Point. Democratic incumbents Mara Candelaria Reardon, of Munster, and Shelli VanDenburgh, of Crown Point, were defeated.

Republican Rick Niemeyer, of Lowell, traded his spot in the House for the Senate seat previously held by his father and most recently held for 30 years by Sue Landske, R-Cedar Lake, who declined to run for re-election and missed the 2014 legislative session while undergoing treatment for lung cancer.

The primary (13 percent) and general (30 percent) elections recorded the lowest voter turnout in state history.

State education panel, Ritz vie

Feuding between the Republican-appointed State Board of Education and Glenda Ritz, the elected Democratic state superintendent of public instruction, continued throughout 2014.

Most of the fighting centered on who administers education policy in the state: Ritz's Department of Education or Gov. Mike Pence's Center for Education and Career Innovation.

Ritz seemed to win one round when Pence agreed in December to eliminate CECI, though the state education board still will have a staff separate from Ritz's and Pence wants state lawmakers to remove Ritz as board chairwoman.

The disagreements delayed creation of new state standards to replace the Common Core standards Pence outlawed in March, slowed release of school grades and held up a replacement for the ISTEP-Plus standardized test.

Pre-kindergarten funds OK'd

Encouraged by Gov. Mike Pence, the Republican-controlled General Assembly in March reluctantly approved spending $10 million to establish a pre-kindergarten pilot program in five counties, including Lake.

State-funded preschool classes for children of low-income parents are set to begin next month at dozens of high-quality public, private and religious schools.

More than 1,800 applications were submitted for a projected 450 preschool slots. A December lottery was used to select the students receiving a preschool voucher.

Pence has said he wants to continue the pilot program through 2017, but Statehouse Democrats say they are determined to expand the program as soon as possible.

Pence business tax cut fails

Gov. Mike Pence was unable to persuade the Republican-controlled General Assembly to approve his proposal phasing out the business personal property tax, an annual assessment on business equipment that provides $1 billion a year for schools and local governments.

Pence claimed the tax cut was needed to keep Indiana competitive with neighboring states that have eliminated the tax, though he regularly omitted mentioning those states replaced their lost business personal property tax revenue with other taxes and fees.

The Republican governor never said how schools and local governments, already hurting for revenue due to property tax caps, would be made whole.

Lawmakers helped Pence save face by permitting individual counties to eliminate the tax; none have done so.

Land-based casinos endorsed

A legislative study committee, led by state Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, recommended in October that Indiana's 10 permanently moored riverboat casinos be permitted to move on land adjacent to their current docks.

If the change is approved by state lawmakers next year — and it's far from a sure thing — Gary's Majestic Star casinos already is preparing to move to a new $95 million to $135 million land-based facility it wants to build near its existing hotel.

The panel also endorsed casino tax changes and construction incentives that could be used to win over lawmakers opposed to land-based gaming.

Gov. Mike Pence remains the biggest question mark. He repeatedly has said he opposes "expansion" of gaming, but always refuses to define what he considers expansion.

Right-to-work constitutionality

Lake Circuit Judge George Paras on Aug. 13 joined Lake Superior Judge John Sedia in striking down Indiana's right-to-work law.

The judges said the controversial 2012 statute unconstitutionally requires labor unions provide services to nonunion members without compensation.

The Indiana Supreme Court heard oral arguments Sept. 4 in the state's appeal of Sedia's 2013 ruling.

In a 5-0 decision issued Nov. 6, the high court overturned it and declared right-to-work passes constitutional muster. The justices used the same reasoning Dec. 17 to undo Paras' ruling

Justice Robert Rucker, a Gary native, has pointed out the law may still be vulnerable to an "as applied" challenge, if a union can show it actually has been deprived of compensation due to the right-to-work law.

Rush first female chief justice

The Judicial Nominating Commission elevated Supreme Court Justice Loretta Rush to chief justice of Indiana in August, making the second woman ever to serve on the high court the first female chief justice in state history.

Rush, who attended Munster's Frank H. Hammond Elementary School during three years living in Lake County as a child, replaced Chief Justice Brent Dickson, a Hobart native, who stepped down after just two years as chief justice to focus on legal research and opinion writing ahead of his expected 2016 retirement.

Rush said following her selection that she doesn't consider herself a pioneer, rather an experienced jurist ready to work with her Supreme Court colleagues and the entire state court system to advance justice in Indiana.

"I look forward to the day that it's unremarkable that there's a woman on this court or a woman chief justice, but I'm thrilled to be a woman chief justice on the Indiana Supreme Court," Rush said.

Pence coy on presidential run

Gov. Mike Pence sent mixed signals throughout the year on whether he plans to run for president, instead of re-election as governor, in 2016.

Favoring a run: The Republican visited the early presidential primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, participated in an Indianapolis business forum led by two-time GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes, raised money at a breakneck pace, saw his chief of staff depart to form a campaign consulting business and visited four foreign countries, including Israel.

Against a run: Pence repeatedly insisted he only is focused on Indiana, telling the Indianapolis Kiwanis Club, "I will never have a higher honor in my life than serving this great people as your governor." Also, he has not organized the national staff needed for a presidential campaign and ranks low or nonexistent in most polls of GOP primary voters.

Bennett receives slap on wrist

Tony Bennett, the Republican former state superintendent of public instruction, was fined $5,000 for violating a Department of Education ethics policy prohibiting the use of state equipment for campaign purposes.

The State Ethics Commission said Bennett, as a state officer, was free to use state equipment for his 2012 re-election campaign, but not after signing a departmental pledge not to.

State and federal prosecutors took no action against Bennett, or his staff, for campaigning on state time, despite similar prosecutions for identical behavior by Lake County elected officials.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry promised late in the year to take another look at the evidence against Bennett for possible criminal charges.

New Bishop for Gary Diocese

Pope Francis selected the Rev. Donald J. Hying, a 51-year-old native of suburban Milwaukee, to replace Bishop Dale J. Melczek as head of the Gary Diocese.

Hying will be installed as the diocese's fourth bishop Jan. 6 at Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary.

Melczek issued his letter of retirement to Pope Francis in 2013 when he turned 75.

Hying, a native of West Allis, Wis., received a degree at Marquette University, majoring in philosophy, theology and history. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1989 and became an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in 2011.

New Lake surveyor selected

A Democratic caucus Jan. 5 selected Bill Emerson Jr. as the Lake County surveyor.

Emerson, the son of Hammond City Councilman Bill Emerson Sr., outpolled Gregory Sanchez, the interim county surveyor, by a 201-122 margin.

The new county surveyor said his election was a mandate to move the office beyond the scandal of former surveyor George Van Til, who was forced to resign and plead guilty to a public corruption indictment that he assigned political work to his public employees.

Trustee Elgin loses, indicted

The year went from bad to worse for Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin.

Federal and state law enforcement officials raided her Gary office Feb. 27, in the midst of her re-election campaign. Voters rejected her in the May 6 Democratic primary in favor of her opponent, Gary City Councilwoman Kimberly "Kim" Robinson.

The Township Board rejected her proposed budget for 2015 spending in early fall.

The U.S. attorney announced the indictment Dec. 19 of Elgin and three associates with extorting campaign contributions from office employees.

Superior Court judge dies

The late Gerald Svetanoff, who served 33 years on the Lake Superior Court, Civil Division, bench died Jan. 8.

Svetanoff, 78, was a Lake County native who received a bachelor's and law degree from Indiana University in Bloomington after having worked his way through college as a newspaper photographer in Gary.

Gov. Mike Pence named defense attorney Bruce Parent in September to replace Svetanoff on the strength of Parent's experience, having practiced civil law for two decades.

Parent will preside in the Robert D. Rucker Courthouse in Gary where he will rule on civil cases.

Parent studied law at Valparaiso University. He previously worked as a Lake County deputy prosecuting attorney and later worked as a defense attorney. He focused on family law in his private practice.

Voters choose old, new faces

Voter participation tanked in the spring primary where fewer than 13 percent turned out. It recovered in the fall to a more average 26 percent.

Voters elected Jerome Prince the next county assessor, Peggy Katona, the next county treasurer, John Petalas the next county auditor and Jamal Washington the new 3rd District county councilman.

Voters re-elected County Prosecutor Bernard A.Carter, County Clerk Mike A. Brown, Sheriff John Buncich, County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen and County Council members David Hamm, Elsie Franklin, Christine Cid, Dan Dernulc, Ted Bilski and Eldon Strong.

South county quarry approved

The Lake County Drainage Board voted 2-1 in August to approve the Singleton Stone quarry over the objections of south county farmers and residents.

The board will permit the excavation in Eagle Creek Township, southeast of Lowell, to pump as much as 24 million gallons of groundwater a day into the Singleton Ditch.

Those in favor of the project said it would create 20 permanent jobs for craftsmen. Opponents predict it will dry up nearby drinking wells and aggravate downstream flooding.

Drainage Board member Richard McDevitt Jr., an attorney, said the county's two engineering consultants, concluded the quarry shouldn't cause additional flooding and the county surveyor can stop the quarry's pumping if the experts are wrong.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is now studying whether the operation would discharge toxic levels of mineral waste from crushed bedrock containing dolomite, a concrete aggregate.

E-911 spends, but stalls start

Lake County pushed to complete its E-911 consolidation of police, fire and emergency medical service communications by year's end, but delays in building radio broadcasting towers pushed the network's launch into next year.

The county borrowed $20 million in April to fund construction and equipment costs of merging 17 city, town and county police and fire dispatch centers into a countywide network by year's end, as mandated by state law.

The county is renovating a section of the Lake County Government Complex to accommodate a central call and dispatch center and has hired a staff of at least 120 full-time and temporary dispatchers to process more than 900,000 calls from the public for service annually.

Cedar Lake and Schererville have declined to join the network. Other communities signed on in the first months of 2014. St. John joined in December.

Air Show vanished in 2014

The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority raised hackles in 2013 by moving the South Shore Air Show 40 miles south from its longtime venue on the Lake Michigan shoreline of Gary's Miller section to Fair Oaks Farms in rural Newton County.

However, a wet 2014 spring and early summer forced cancellation of the event last June because fields that were to have been used for viewer parking were waterlogged.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson announced in November the air show will return in July to the city's Marquette Park.

New Dem Party boss chosen

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. stepped down last June as chairman of the Democratic Party after five years at its head. He said he wanted to concentrate on his mayoral duties, the 2015 mayoral election and a potential future campaign for state office.

Democratic precinct committeemen chose Lake County Sheriff Buncich over two opponents, County Commissioner Mike Repay and County Clerk Mike Brown.

Buncich said being the party leader wouldn't detract from duties as county sheriff.

One of his first acts as party chairman was to sue to stop a Republican-sponsored plan that would likely have reduced the number of precincts and precinct committeemen in Democratic strongholds in Lake's urban areas.

3% pay raises in Lake County

CROWN POINT | Late support by Republican Lake County Council members permitted passage of a 2015 budget with the first across-the-board pay raises for county government employees in seven years.

Council members finished a six-week fiscal balancing act Oct. 14 with a 5-0 vote to approve a spending plan that amounts to $122 million.

But the whole spending plan could have been blocked and possibly unraveled because Councilwomen Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, and Elsie Franklin, D-Gary, were absent.

Its biggest critics, Councilmen Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, and Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, came to its rescue, to preserve spending for south county roads and stormwater drainage improvements, despite their dissatisfaction with the 3 percent raise to be given to all 1,658 full-time employees. The pay raises will cost the public about $2 million annually.

Brothers drown in Hobart pit

Tragedy struck June 14 when a 9-year-old boy and his 8-year-old brother drowned in water that had filled a pit created by excavation at a property in Hobart.

Donel Smith jumped in the water to help his younger brother Terrion Smith after Terrion waded into unexpectedly deep water and panicked, police said. The boys lived in Gary's Glen Park section, just blocks from the Hobart pit.

Controversy swirled in the weeks after the boys' deaths. Police said in late June that the owner of the Hobart property had not properly secured the site and appeared to be in violation of city ordinances and regulations.

An attorney for the Smith family later filed a lawsuit against property owner Randy Goldschmidt seeking $60 million. A resolution in that case has not yet been reached.

Partner linked to grisly slaying

Hope turned to heartbreak Nov. 14 when a missing Portage man's body was found dismembered in the trunk of his car.

Family and friends had already been living a nightmare for two weeks when David Krawczenia, 48, was found dead Nov. 14.

Krawczenia was last seen Nov. 1 after he showed up at his garage in east Gary to collect a debt from his business partner, police said.

The business partner, Thomas Smith, 63, of Hobart, was charged with murder Nov. 17 in Lake Criminal Court.

Smith allegedly told an associate he shot Krawczenia in the back and shoved him into the trunk of his Chrysler Sebring to avoid repaying a debt to Krawczenia, according to court records.

President flies into Gary airport

President Barack Obama twice flew through the Gary/Chicago International Airport in October during a whirlwind two-day trip to Chicago.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson met Obama on the tarmac upon his arrival aboard Air Force One.

Obama used the Gary airport to avoid disrupting air traffic at O'Hare International Airport, which had been adversely affected by sabotage at the air traffic control center in Aurora.

Local officials later said the visit showed the world what the airport and the Gary Jet Center can do.

Schaap asks sentence overturn

A former minister of First Baptist Church of Hammond gambled he could get out of prison by branding as a seductress the underage girl he molested.

Jack Schaap lost that bet in August, when U.S. District Judge Rudy Lozano dismissed Schaap’s claims that his attorney ineffectively advised him during plea agreement and sentencing proceedings.

Schaap's Florida-based attorney, Charles Murray, filed a motion in federal court in October seeking to withdraw his services, citing Schaap's failure to pursue an appeal in time and Schaap's decision to remove the attorney from his approved email contact list.

"I will not be asking my dad to further expend his resources to chase hope," Schaap wrote in a Sept. 9 email to Murray, according to court records.

Schaap was sentenced in 2013 to 12 years in prison for having a 17-year-old girl transported to Illinois and Michigan for sexual encounters.

Schaap once presided over a faith-based empire of thousands of worshipers at First Baptist Church of Hammond and served as president of Hyles-Anderson College. His inappropriate relationship with the teen was reportedly discovered when a church deacon caught a glimpse of a cellphone picture of Schaap and the girl kissing.

Police: Laughing led to killing

A 13-year-old boy was gunned down at his Gary home in October by a neighbor who was offended the teen laughed at him, police said.

Kobe Jones died in his 16-year-old brother's arms as his other siblings looked on, said Starr Jones, the teen's stepmother.

Khanji Fairley, 30, Kobe's neighbor, was charged with murder in connection with the homicide in the 1000 block of Polk Street.

Hours before Kobe was killed, police responded to Fairley's home for an alarm call and found it had been burglarized, an affidavit says.

When Fairley returned, he became agitated and told a neighbor he blamed Kobe because he'd seen Kobe laughing, court records say.

Gary schools labeled at-risk

The Gary Community School Corp. will go into 2015 labeled an "at-risk" district by the Indiana Department of Education. That designation paves the way for the department to oversee how the district spends federal funds.

IDOE named Daniel Brundridge as the department's chief liaison to oversee federally funded programs and to increase accountability. Brundridge had previously been working in the district, along with Linda Randolph, to assist struggling schools.

In a bold new move and spirit of cooperation, Gary Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt also announced she would work with EdisonLearning CEO Thom Jackson to develop a plan to improve all Gary schools, with the goal of getting Gary Roosevelt back under the umbrella of the school corporation. Pruitt has made a number of moves to reduce the district's $23 million deficit, including reducing the teaching and administrative staff. The school's own turnaround plan will be presented to the State Board of Education in January.

PUC/PNC merge to save cash

Purdue University Calumet in Hammond and Purdue University North Central in Westville agreed to merge administrative duties, the universities said earlier this year.

Eventually, it will lead to one chancellor who will oversee both campuses which are about 35 miles apart.

The move follows joint proposals by Thomas Keon, chancellor at Purdue University Calumet, and James Dworkin, chancellor of Purdue University North Central, to collaborate on a plan for implementing the move.

During a joint telephone conference about the merger, Keon said it is difficult to anticipate whether anyone would lose a job. He said there is normal attrition that takes place, and there are several openings at the Calumet campus and they will look toward people at both campuses to fill those vacancies.

Purdue officials said then the joint proposal reflects Purdue's continued emphasis on administrative cost savings to promote student affordability and accessibility. Keon talked about the benefit of having one Information Technology department and managing student data from one location.

Currently, Purdue Calumet has a student population of about 9,500, with about 1,000 dual-enrollment students. PNC has an enrollment of 5,600 students, of whom about 3,500 are full time. Chancellors said they are working on combining the academic side which will be a bit more challenging. The new combined unit will be called Purdue University Northwest Indiana.

Munster schools battle red ink

It's no secret the School Town of Munster has an $8 million deficit.

Voters passed a general fund referendum in May 2013, raising taxes 19.9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, or $3 million a year for seven years for a total of $21 million for the general fund.

Munster Superintendent Jeffrey Hendrix said money from the referendum has kept the district from going further into deficit, but he said, "for the referendum to have a major impact, we still need to reduce our expenditures by $2 million to $2.25 million in the general fund for the deficit to be reduced faster."

Hendrix has been speaking to all the Parent Teacher Organizations in the district to talk about the funding formula and Munster's budget problems.

"We are not getting enough money per student," he said then. "We are under $5,000 per pupil. We need to be able to fund our programs and staffing adequately, and that's why the referendum was passed. We still need to reduce our expenditures. In the past, the district held some bills and didn't pay them. That practice has stopped. We are paying our bills each month."

Hendrix, is working along with West Lafayette Superintendent Rocky Killion, to push for the legislature to make changes in the school funding formula.

Superintendent pay inches up

When Lake Ridge School Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley asked for a raise this year, it created an uproar — with teachers, parents and even some students protesting.

Johnson-Shirley earns $126,250 a year but asked for a raise of $23,750 to bring her salary to $150,000. She said this would bring her in line with other superintendents. She also believes she has the education and experience for the job, with academic scores also improving under her administration.

Johnson-Shirley didn't get what she asked for but shortly before the year ended, the board approved a 3 percent salary increase for the superintendent, giving her a little under $4,000 more per year.

Superintendents and key administrative staff earn salaries based on their education, experience and responsibilities.

Valparaiso Superintendent Ric Frataccia said in smaller districts, the superintendent is the first person in line for several different positions.

Schools official owes tax bill

The Lake County treasurer is trying to collect more than $566,000 in delinquent taxes and penalties from real estate owned under the name of Marion R. Williams, who has represented the Gary School Corp.'s 4th district since 2008.

County records indicate Williams has declined for years to pay taxes on 96 parcels, many of them in Gary's down-on-its-luck Marshalltown neighborhood, with an assessed value of more than $1.2 million.

Williams acknowledges the tax debts, noting, however, some of the properties he owned were divided among his ex-wife and children following a divorce, although county records still reflect him as the owner.

The properties are among thousands of abandoned or dilapidated properties littering the city, dragging down its property tax to a disastrous 42 percent collection rate and contributing to the school district's $23.7 million budget deficit.

Williams said he has no intention of making good on these delinquent properties, seeing himself as a victim of the city's profoundly depressed real estate market.

Seven new superintendents

Seven new school superintendents took over the helm this school year and are expected to make an impact in their respective districts. They are Steve Disney, River Forest Community School Corp.; Youssef "Dr. Joe" Yomtoob, School City of East Chicago; Tom Cripliver, Lake Station Community Schools; Nathan Kleefisch, Metropolitan School District of Boone Township (Hebron); Richard Weigal Portage Township Schools; Jeffrey Hendrix, School Town of Munster; and Ric Frataccia, Valparaiso Community Schools. Frataccia retired from Portage Township Schools and moved over to Valparaiso. Merrillville Superintendent Mark Sperling retired just after Thanksgiving and former longtime Superintendent Tony Lux rejoined the district as interim superintendent.

11-year term for DUI fatality

CROWN POINT | A Munster man was sentenced in October to 11 years in prison after admitting to driving drunk and causing a fatal crash that killed a Lansing man.

Michael Temores, 27, pleaded guilty to a Class B felony of causing death while operating a motor vehicle with at least 0.15 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. His driver's license was suspended for five years, and he was given credit for 719 days he already had spent in jail.

Temores was driving from the AquaVor nightclub early Dec. 30, 2011, when he drove through a red light at Hohman Avenue and Ridge Road in Munster, police said.

He slammed into Fred Skafgaard's pickup truck, pushing the vehicle about 50 yards from the intersection, police said. Skafgaard, 61, died at the scene from blunt force trauma.

Prior to the crash, Temores had racked up more than 100 traffic-related charges. Two of his previous drunken driving charges were later pleaded down to lesser charges.

Sentenced in Lucky Mart killing

CROWN POINT | Jeremy Blue's co-defendant in the Lucky Mart Foods slaying was sentenced in May to 12 years in prison.

Donvell A. Edwards, 24, of Merrillville, pleaded guilty to robbery. The Lake County prosecutor's office dismissed charges of murder and murder in the perpetration of a felony as part of the plea agreement.

Prosecutors said Edwards' testimony during Blue's trial was instrumental in helping get a conviction against Blue who is serving an 80-year sentence in the shooting death of Judi Simpson-Beaver, 48, of Merrillville.

Edwards helped plan the March 4, 2012 armed robbery of the Merrillville store, according to court records. As Blue was walking out of the store with two drawers of cash, he shot Simpson-Beaver who worked at the business as the clerk.

Killing brothers nets 183 years

CROWN POINT | A Gary man was sentenced in August to 183 years in prison after a jury found him guilty in the shooting deaths of two brothers.

Donnell D. Wilson, 18, was convicted in July of two counts of murder, robbery while armed and conspiracy to commit criminal gang activity. His longest sentence was doubled because of the jury's addition of a criminal gang-sentencing enhancement.

Wilson, an alleged gang member of the Get Fresh Boys, posted on Twitter before the shooting, "Glen Park or get shot," according to testimony from the trial.

He was accused of killing on March 17, 2013, Gary brothers Shaqwone Ham, 19, and Charles Wood, 18.

Wilson's co-defendant, Johnte Crawford, 18, was sentenced earlier this year to 61 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to shooting Ham and to robbing another man of his headphones, according to court records.

2 tied to flight attendant killing

CROWN POINT | In July, officers found the decomposing body of United Airlines flight attendant in the trunk of her abandoned car in the area of 21st Avenue and Mississippi Street in Gary.

DeCarol Deloney-Cain, 54, of Crown Point, died from multiple stab wounds and suffered blunt force trauma, according to court records.

Her daughter, Alyssa A. Barrett, 17, is charged with murder and robbery resulting in serious injury. Barrett and the teen's boyfriend, Damarius R. McGriggs, are charged in the brutal slaying.

According to court records, Barrett and her mother had been arguing for days about the teen's pregnancy.

Barrett and McGriggs have given different accounts of what happened in Deloney-Cain's Crown Point home that led to her death. According to court records, Barrett, McGriggs and their friends drove to Gary where they left Deloney-Cain's body and vehicle.

Criminal charges against Barrett and McGriggs are pending.

Parents accused of beating boy to death 

GARY | The parents of a 22-month-old boy were charged earlier this month in the his beating death.

Selena Strong, 26, and Bernard Dillon, 37, were charged in October with murder, battery and two counts of neglect of a dependent. The charges against the boy's parents are pending in Lake County Criminal Court.

Officers found Brandon Dillon dead Sept. 30 inside the family's apartment in the 300 block of West Sixth Avenue in Gary. An autopsy determined the boy's stomach was ruptured, he had a broken cervical spine and a broken clavicle, according to court records.

The boy also had bruises to his liver, kidney and spleen. The boy's body was covered in so many marks that Strong could't distinguish which were recent, according to an affidavit.

Strong and Dillon allegedly admitted to hitting their son multiple times because he urinated and defecated on the floor during potty training, police said.

Langbehn fired in ‘purse-gate’ scandal

In years past, former Lake County solid waste district Executive Director Jeff Langbehn's career survived a multi-million-dollar lawsuit settlement and the failure of the controversial trash-to-ethanol contract.

But in 2014, it was a $751.14 Michael Kors designer purse and accessories Langbehn charged to taxpayers and gifted to a female subordinate that ultimately ended his 21-year tenure at the helm of the Lake County Solid Waste Management District.

The waste district board, a collection of elected and appointed public officials from the county's local government units, voted 19-0 to terminate Langbehn's contract.

His ouster followed Times investigative reports detailing Langbehn's purchase of the purse and accessories as a graduation gift for a female district employee.

Langbehn initially told board members in July the purchase was for a briefcase for the employee. Several board members said Langbehn misled them about the purchase.

Van Til still awaiting sentencing

Nearly a year after pleading guilty to federal charges of stealing from taxpayers, disgraced former Lake County Surveyor George Van Til still awaited sentencing for his crime heading into the new year.

Van Til is scheduled to be sentenced in February after pleading guilty in December 2013 to wire fraud, admitting in Hammond federal court that he illegally used taxpayer resources and employees to further his re-election efforts.

The longtime Democratic political fixture in Lake County politics also had been accused by federal prosecutors of ordering a government employee to swap out a hard drive on a surveyor's office computer in case federal agents ever investigated the office.

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