PORTAGE — A 57-year-old Griffith man was killed Tuesday morning by a CSX train while walking near the tracks carrying fishing supplies.
First responders on the scene located Ibrahim Amara in 2 feet of water in the Little Calumet River, just north of U.S. 20 on Porter-Lake County Line Road, according to a report by Portage Police Chief Troy Williams.
Officers interviewed the train's conductor and engineer, who provided similar accounts. The investigation shows Amara was walking eastbound on the northern set of tracks when he was struck from behind by the eastbound train.
Articles recovered at the scene by police suggest Amara was in the area to fish.
"Despite the train's horn being sounded numerous times, Mr. Amara did not appear to notice the train approaching from behind and did not make any noticeable attempt to avoid being struck," Williams said in the report.
Assisting in the investigation and recovery was the Portage Fire Department's Dive Team, the Burns Harbor, Ogden Dunes and Gary Police Departments, the Porter County coroner's office and the CSX Police Department.
HOBART — Bill Johnsen had just intended to buy fishing supplies and brownie mix from the Walmart off U.S. 30 late Sunday afternoon during a shopping trip with his family.
Instead, Johnsen — an East Chicago police detective — apprehended a 24-year-old Merrillville man accused of shooting another man in the abdomen inside the store about 3:50 p.m.
"I was shopping for about 30 minutes when I heard the gunshot," he said.
Johnsen paused to see if there were any additional bullets fired. Hearing none, he then stepped into action and escorted his wife and two sons from the Walmart in the 2900 block of East 79th Avenue. At this point, he said employees and customers had started to flee from the business, as well.
The off-duty detective went back into the store and found a wounded 23-year-old Merrillville resident, who pointed out his alleged shooter to Johnsen.
Johnsen said he then approached the man, who surrendered a firearm.
The officer disassembled the gun, and Hobart police soon arrived on the scene, taking over the investigation and finding the 24-year-old suspect already secured and on his stomach — in the custody of Johnsen.
Sunday's shooting marks the second in less than a year at the Hobart Walmart.
On Sept. 30, 2018, Alex Hughes, 27, allegedly opened fire outside the store, wounding a 26-year-old man and his son, then 9 years old, and shattering some store windows.
In last year's case, an off-duty cop also helped respond to the scene. Gary officer, Keon Parker, had been shopping there with family and tended to the victims while waiting for police to arrive.
Hughes faces charges of attempted murder, aggravated battery and criminal recklessness stemming from the 2018 incident, which police believe was gang-related.
Authorities have not yet released information on a possible motive in Sunday's shooting.
But police said they think it was "an isolated incident between known parties."
That suspect has since been released from police custody.
Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said his office is still trying to determine culpability in the Walmart shooting.
Security camera footage is being reviewed and more witnesses are being sought to determine who is at fault for the shooting, he said.
Police also arrested a woman who had accompanied the suspect into the store, Gonzales said. She was released without any pending charges.
Gonzales said the victim underwent surgery Sunday night at a local hospital. As of Monday afternoon, his condition was listed as stable.
East Chicago Police Chief Hector Rosario said he was extremely proud of Johnsen for "going above and beyond the call of duty."
"Had it not been for his swift, selfless actions, the situation could've been worse. He was able to stop the threat and prevent any further harm or danger to the patrons and workers inside of that store," Rosario said. "I'm grateful to have such a dedicated officer on my department serving the City of East Chicago."
Johnsen credited police department training for his ability to quickly assess and deescalate the situation.
"If I hear one gunshot, then it's isolated, and I'm going to handle it differently than if I hear five or six shots," he said. "In this case, it was isolated. ... Luckily, I was able to stay calm enough to listen to the situation at hand."
Johnsen said his family remains shaken up from the incident, particularly his wife, who doesn't plan on returning to the store anytime soon.
"I think it'll be a bit before we go into a Walmart," he said.
Check back at nwi.com for updates as this story develops.
CROWN POINT — A Schererville man was charged last week with three counts of child molesting alleging he sexually abused a girl his wife was baby-sitting between 2013 and 2016.
David W. Davis, 56, is accused of touching the girl's breasts and private area when she spent the night at his home in the Cedar Point Apartments complex.
Police began investigating in January, after the girl's father discovered Davis had sent his daughter inappropriate text messages, Lake Criminal Court records say.
The girl told a counselor her father confronted Davis, and that Davis claimed someone was attempting to set him up by sending the messages, records state.
In an interview with police, the girl said Davis came into her room when she spent the night at his apartment and sexually abused her. She alleged the abuse began when she was 7 or 8 years old and continued until she was 9 or 10.
She said she knew Davis was touching her, because his hand was wrinkly and had large spots on it, documents state.
Davis agreed to talk with police, but denied touching the girl in a sexual way, records say.
At one point during the interview, Davis began switching between saying he didn't sexually abuse the girl and saying he didn't recall it, documents allege.
Davis also began trying to distance himself from the girl, saying he barely saw her, was working or did not have much contact with her, records allege.
GARY — A father and son’s alleged tax sale scheme to defraud Lake County out of at least $100,000 in property taxes is linked to land targeted for the city's prized Hard Rock casino project, Lake Superior Court records allege.
One of the properties in question is 2800 Calhoun St. in Gary — smack dab in the middle of where Spectacle Entertainment will be constructing a $300 million casino starting this year at the corner of the Borman Expressway and Burr Street.
'That’s a crime?'
Sergio Gutierrez, a Gary property owner, instructed his son, Corey Gutierrez, to purchase several properties he risked losing to the 2018 county commissioner’s tax sale for failure to pay his taxes, according to July 25 court testimony.
“You’re aware under Indiana law that that’s … a crime?” Lake County Auditor attorney Randy Wyllie asked Sergio Gutierrez in court this summer.
“Right,” Gutierrez replied.
When a tax certificate is purchased off the commissioner’s tax sale, it can go for as low as the $500 minimum bid, and the back taxes are wiped clean.
He alleged during testimony he only advised his son that the purchases were good investments, and that it wasn’t to avoid paying taxes.
$900,000 sale agreement
The Gutierrez father and son duo reportedly carried out this tax fraud scheme since at least 2016, but hit a snag last year when someone else — Mike Flanagan, who owns property in Gary — bought 2800 Calhoun St. at the May 2018 tax sale, records show.
"As Attorney (Randy) Wyllie said, that’s the business model. To going from Corey’s name into your name, and we ran into a hiccup, because you forgot one, right? And 2800 Calhoun got sold to my client,” Flanagan’s attorney, Michael Kvachkoff, said during Sergio Gutierrez’s testimony this summer.
“I guess so,” Sergio Gutierrez replied.
Other properties are discussed during testimony, but later on, Kvachkoff brings the importance of 2800 Calhoun property back to Sergio Gutierrez’s attention, suggesting why his son gave it to him for free off the tax sale.
“... But you need that property under your name in order for this deal to work?” Kvachkoff asked.
“Yes, sir,” Gutierrez replied.
“This $900,000 deal?” Kvachkoff said.
“Yes,” Gutierrez replied.
Someone forgot to bid
Of the parcels that Sergio’s son Corey Gutierrez owns in the casino footprint, four others were purchased at the May 2018 tax sale by an Alex Petrovsky, who turned around and quit-claimed them back to Sergio Gutierrez.
A fifth lot — 2800 Calhoun — was purchased by Flanagan because Gutierrez or a proxy forgot to bid on it at the sale tax, records show.
All the while, Sergio Gutierrez took out a $500,000 mortgage on the properties and entered into a $900,000 contract for sale — even though the properties were not in his name, records show.
Kvachkoff told The Times that Sergio Gutierrez’s explanation for his property being sold to his son at the tax sale was that he simply advised his son on good land deals and that “they just so happened to be owned by him.”
He claimed he wasn’t doing this to avoid paying taxes, Kvachkoff said.
“But obviously when we presented all the evidence to the court, it was clear that it was just a scheme that he and his son put together dating back to at least 2016,” Kvachkoff said.
$900,000 casino deal
Sergio Gutierrez testified he and his son had, at one time, been working to clean up the property to make way for a trucking business.
However, during later testimony, a $900,000 purchase agreement with Windy City Acquisitions — a Spectacle Entertainment-related entity — for these five separate parcels is referenced.
“You have a deal right now for $900,000. For these five lots?” Kvachkoff said.
“Yes," Gutierrez replied.
“And you said you would not mess up that … deal over some property taxes?” Kvachkoff said.
“Yes," Gutierrez said.
“Right? Were they the same deal? Is that, is your deal for $900,000, is that for a trucking business?” Kvachkoff said.
“No," Gutierrez replied.
“So, when these properties were sold in March of 2018, you didn’t know about this $900,000 Windy City Acquisitions deal, did you? You didn’t know?” Kvachkoff said. "Well…” Gutierrez replied.
“You had other plans?”
Attorney bows out, citing conflict
Sergio Gutierrez’s testimony this summer was central to a tax certificate petition that Flanagan filed to obtain the deed for 2800 Calhoun — a step he must take to become the owner of record.
Flanagan, whose mailing address is listed as 2315 Ralston St. in Gary, petitioned the courts to issue the tax deed to him in October 2018, hiring then-attorney Rinzer Williams III.
Court records show Kvachkoff took over for Williams as Flanagan’s attorney after Williams withdrew as counsel in May citing a new conflict of interest in the matter — that he had previously carried out title work for Sergio Gutierrez’s company, Wilkerson’s Creek.
In June, Williams signed a separate conflict of interest disclosure agreement and presented it to the Gary City Council, notifying them that he was now working as a project consultant for Spectacle Entertainment.
Spectacle Entertainment has said Williams was hired to conduct the zoning work for the company.
On Dec. 6, 2018, Lake County Superior Court Judge Marissa McDermott ordered that the tax deed be issued to Flanagan.
Court filings show Sergio and Corey Gutierrez tried to take Flanagan out of the equation by filing a motion to vacate McDermott's order in March. They did not succeed.
LIBERTY TWP. — A 34-year-old man faces felony counts of sexual and domestic battery for allegedly attacking a woman in their home Saturday morning in the presence of children, police said.
The woman alleges Jeffrey Hernandez, of the 70 block of U.S. 6, was drinking alcohol about 7 a.m. and began calling her names, police said.
The woman said as she was getting a bottle for her daughter, Hernandez pushed her into a bedroom, forced her on a bed and removed her clothing, police said. He then repeatedly sexually assaulted her, she said.
"(The female victim) advised she constantly told Jeffrey to stop and that she did not want him to touch her," according to the police report.
When Hernandez left the room, the woman said she fled and called a family member while Hernandez continuously yelled at her, police said.
The victims' children — ages 9, 3 and 1 — were home during the incident, police said. One child reported he could hear the adults yelling but could not see anything, police said.