CROWN POINT — A St. John man told police they had "no evidence" and sarcastically referred to the #MeToo Movement as officers investigating an allegation he raped a teen girl searched his home, court records show.
Joshua A. Vonthaden, 21, is accused of sending an Uber to pick up a 15-year-old girl, giving her a drink that made her feel "funny" and raping her in the basement of his family's home.
Vonthaden was charged Wednesday with felony rape, sexual misconduct with a minor, criminal confinement, battery resulting in moderate bodily injury and battery by bodily waste.
The girl told police she met Vonthaden through social media, and he claimed to be 18 years old, Lake Criminal Court records state.
When the girl arrived, Vonthaden took her to the basement and gave her a drink that made her feel "funny" and caused her to have trouble speaking, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Vonthaden is accused of raping the girl while repeatedly hitting her, forcing her face into a couch and choking her. A short time later, Vonthaden told the girl the person she heard entering the home was his mother, records say.
Vonthaden allegedly told the girl to say she was 18 if she spoke to his mother, the affidavit says.
Several of Vonthaden's friends arrived, and they gave the girl a ride home, records say. The girl suffered severe bruising around her neck and collar bone.
While executing a search warrant at Vonthaden's home, police collected couch cushions, long strands of hair, alcohol bottles and other items, records say.
Without any prompting, Vonthaden allegedly said, "You don't have any evidence, how are you arresting me? You are just here trying to find evidence," the affidavit says. Vonthaden then added, "Oh, I forgot, it is the #MeToo Movement."
Tofu, Bruce, Jewels, Rachel and Jake easily could have ended up as someone's meal, but instead the dogs are beginning new lives in Northwest Indiana.
Munster-based Humane Indiana welcomed in its first international rescues when five dogs were saved from a South Korean dog-meat farm and flown to the United States.
"This was our first overseas rescue we've had. The majority of our rescues are from the U.S.," said Jessica Petalas-Hernandez, of Humane Indiana. "It was definitely the first dog-meat farm rescue."
On July 12, the five young Jindo-mix dogs were flown to Gary/Chicago International Airport and transported to Humane Indiana. Humane Indiana is an emergency placement partner for Humane Society United States, in conjunction with Humane Society International.
"They were all pretty shut down when they got to us," she said. "They were never socialized as puppies and never had positive interactions with people. They were raised for slaughter."
The five Jindo-mixes were among 50 dogs rescued in June from Namyangju-si, Gyeonggi-do in South Korea, said Kelly O'Meara, senior director of companion animals for Humane Society International.
South Korea is the only country in Asia where dogs are regularly and intensively farmed for food, according to Humane International.
About 2 million dogs are confined in an estimated 17,000 facilities throughout the country, according to Humane Society International. The dogs often are exposed to the elements and left in small, dirty cages and suffer from diseases and malnutrition from lack of food and neglect, O'Meara said.
The most common method used to kill the dogs is electrocution, according to Humane International.
“Their whole life is in this tiny space of discomfort and mistreatment. No matter how many times I've seen it and the team has seen it, it's just a horrible thing to see any animal go through," O'Meara said.
"What we've been able to do in our campaign is to show how the dogs are brutally extracted from their cages and brutally killed. From start to finish, it's absolute abuse and misery," she said.
Humane International has shut down 13 dog-meat farms in South Korea and saved more than 1,600 dogs since January 2015, with its most recent October rescue resulting in 200 dogs being saved and flown to the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands.
The types of dogs farmed vary with beagles, poodles, Korean Jindos, Tosas, spaniel mixes, Chihuahuas, mastiffs, huskies, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers all being breeds that have been rescued by Humane Society International.
The owner of the dog-meat farm where the five dogs were rescued shut down his operations and transitioned into farming water parsley, O'Meara said. Every rescue the organization has done has been with the cooperation with the farmers who willingly give up the trade in exchange for a new livelihood.
“The willingness and desire to close these farms has increased exponentially as people get to know who we are in South Korea,” O'Meara said. “Across the board, all of them have been saying it's a dying industry, and they want out.”
The Humane Society helps the farmers transition into other careers and also creates contracts with the farmers, who promise they will no longer do business in animal agriculture.
O'Meara said younger generations in South Korea increasingly see dogs as companions, helping to accelerate the transition, O'Meara said.
One of the rescued dogs, Bruce, has been adopted, and Tofu is taking a trip soon to a behavioral training program in Pittsburgh to help him acclimate before he is ready for adoption.
"Shelters aren't the best environments for dogs who are overly stressed or traumatized," Petalas-Hernandez said. "In foster homes they can get better. In the case of Bruce, his foster owners gave him the opportunity to come out of his shell. He made leaps and bounds from when he first came to us."
Tofu also has made progress with his foster owners, getting more comfortable with people.
"They got him to the point where he would like to hangout in the living room while they were watching TV or would enjoy nose scratches," she said.
The other three dogs, Jewels, Jake and Rachel, also are in foster care and getting acclimated to domestic life.
Looking for help
Dogs that have undergone traumatic situations or abuse need space, Petalas-Hernandez said. They may not be the typical cuddly companion craving attention, she said, but they still have a lot to offer.
"They'd have to co-exist with you, and that's really the best thing you can do for them," Petalas-Hernandez said.
However, it's difficult to find foster and forever families for animals that have undergone trauma, she said.
Petalas-Hernandez said those interested in volunteering as foster parents can reach out to Humane Indiana at 219-922-3811.
"We always need more foster homes," Petalas-Hernandez said. "Having more foster owners would enable us to be able to take in more rescues like this. We don't have a huge foster base right now, but we want to be able to set up a larger crisis foster program."
O'Meara said she has heard countless success stories around the world of these rescue dogs who have been fostered back to health.
"We've been able to take them out of horrible environments and get them the TLC they deserve and vet care they need," O'Meara said. "Then they can start to emotionally recover. It's utterly amazing to see the before and after. In so many instances, there's an amazing physical and behavioral transformation."
Two craft breweries have closed in Lowell in south Lake County in less than a year.
After Route 2 Brews fizzled out last February after a four-year run, The Old Lowell Watering Hole and Bub's BBQ shuttered recently as the result of a soured business arrangement.
The brewery and restaurant were located in the newly renovated former water plant, a historic downtown building that had been closed since the 1990s before it was transformed into a modern dining space.
The Old Lowell Watering Hole plans to reopen at a new location in town with a new restaurant partner. Bub's BBQ told customers on its Facebook page to "stay tuned for the next chapter."
Meanwhile, a new restaurant is coming to the old water plant at 241 N. Liberty St.
"The restaurant closed a couple weeks ago, the partners have parted ways, and I sold the building," attorney Richard Zunica said. "The new owners will be opening in a couple months. Hopefully, people will enjoy the new place they are opening as well."
The Old Lowell Watering Hole and Bub's BBQ opened in August after Tony Kinnis, a Lowell resident who's also a home builder, spent more than a year and a half transforming the all-brick water plant into a brewery and family-friendly barbecue restaurant. He preserved water tanks, pipes and the historic feel of the unique venue.
He brewed beers like the H20 Hops Light IPA, Old Rusty Pipe Red Ale, Tank Sludge Porter and Bub's Brew Cherry Smoked Porter.
But the business arrangement went south and the place closed in December. Kinnis said there were disagreements over the vision for the business, which he said was originally supposed to be a brewpub but was "changed over to pretty much a restaurant."
"Reopening is in the works," he said. "The taproom will still be in Lowell. I'm trying to get something together and may be able to announce by the end of the month."
Kinnis said there would be more of a focus on beer at a new location, and that he would look to bottle and distribute craft beer under The Old Lowell Watering Hole name. The brewery is no longer affiliated with Bub's BBQ, which is going its own way.
"Once I get back up and running, we'll be bottling our beers," Kinnis said. "The Carmel Apple Ale seasonal was so popular we had to brew a second batch. It's kind of an apple cider sour. It's a very unique beer."
VALPARAISO — Announcing his office will no longer prosecute the innocent, new Porter County Prosecutor Gary Germann moved Friday to dismiss the murder and arson case against an Ogden Dunes man accused of burning his mother at their home.
"This case for sure represents a great personal victory for Mr. (Frederick) Fegely, but even more importantly, a great victory for our Porter County criminal justice system by maintaining the integrity of our Constitution," he said in a prepared statement read in court.
"My hope (is) also the public will see this result as a victory for them as well," he said.
Germann's motion to dismiss the case was granted without comment by Porter Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Clymer.
Fegely, who has been locked up for three years on the charges, thanked the court for providing the "substantial" amount of money needed to allow his public defender, Bob Harper, to hire the experts needed for his defense.
The 70-year-old was charged with murdering his mother, 94-year-old Wanda Maxine Wunder, by burning her alive at their home on April 16, 2015. He faced charges of murder and arson.
"Our defense was simply this fire was not arson," Harper said in a prepared statement lauding the experts and investigators in the case.
"I have been convinced of Mr. Fegely's innocence since I started working on this case and it is gratifying to me to know he will be released," Harper said.
Germann said prior to taking over the prosecutor's office on Tuesday, he reviewed the evidence in the case and met with investigators, who he said "conducted a cutting edge investigation in this extremely complicated and science-driven arson case."
He said they all agree there is no way to pursue a successful prosecution of Fegely for felony murder.
While the basement of the home in question was identified as the origin of the fatal fire, "the cause of the fire has not and cannot be established," Germann said.
There is no evidence of an accelerant either at the site or on the clothes Fegely was wearing at the time, he said.
Another theory that there was a second area of origin for the fire on the first floor of the house was also found to be without support, Germann said.
Germann lauded Harper's efforts in pursuing the facts in the case, particularly while serving as a public defender.
"Few lawyers, let alone a public defender, would have spent the time he did on this case," Germann said.
Harper said during a hearing in November he was under the impression prosecutors intended to drop the case at that time because of a breakdown in the evidence against his client.
But at the suggestion of then-Chief Deputy Prosecutor Matt Frost, the case was set for a status hearing after the start of the new year so Germann, as the new prosecutor, could decide on how to proceed.
"It seems only fair," Frost had said.
Frost said his office, under the control of outgoing Prosecutor Brian Gensel, had reviewed the recent developments in the case and decided it could not dismiss the murder charge.
Harper had said a breakdown in evidence means prosecutors are no longer able to pursue claims Fegely was found to have a flammable liquid on the pajama bottoms he wore after claiming he was awakened by the fire and retreated to a neighbor's house.
He said a fire investigator for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, who was serving as a witness for prosecutors in this case, has quit his job after making disputed claims in a fatal fire in southern Indiana.
Harper also said he had sent evidence from his own expert and a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives expert to the Ogden Dunes police chief, fire chief and a detective, but prosecutors told the investigators not to read the material.
In August, Clymer granted Fegely's request to withdraw his insanity defense.
"I was afraid it will look like I did the crime" and was looking for a "way out," Fegely had said.
Fegely was committed to the Logansport State Hospital on Oct. 21, 2016, after three psychological evaluations were done, two of which determined he was incompetent to stand trial. He was returned to the county jail early in 2017 after it was determined he was competent to aid in his defense.
VALPARAISO — A 28-year-old Portage woman is seeking a second bond reduction after being picked up on drug-related charges 10 years after pleading guilty to driving drunk and causing a crash that resulted in the death of her close friend.
Alysha Ramos has been unable to afford the current $4,500 bond that was reduced from $7,500 nearly three months ago, according to her defense attorney Bob Harper.
Harper requested a further reduction Friday, saying Ramos is scheduled to graduate next week from the Chemical Dependency and Addictions Program at the Porter County Jail.
She has been given instructions from the juvenile courts about what will be required of her if she is reunited with her children upon her release from jail, Harper said.
Harper said her co-defendant in the case is scheduled to be released next week week per the terms of a plea agreement.
Porter Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Clymer, who granted the first bond reduction, said he would first like to see Ramos graduate from the substance abuse program at the jail.
He scheduled a bond hearing for Jan. 18.
When Clymer first reduced the bond in October, he said he offered the reduction as a sign of hope and encouraged her to participate in drug treatment if she wants to see the bond reduced further.
Ramos faces charges of possessing heroin, hypodermic needles and other heroin-related paraphernalia, according to court records. She is charged with possessing and dealing marijuana, possessing synthetic marijuana, allowing drug use at her Portage home and possessing crack pipes and other drug paraphernalia.
Ramos also is accused of allowing illegal drugs to be sold in the presence of her 6-year-old child, according to court records.
She vowed in October that if released from jail, she would not stick with the father of one of her children if there were drugs around.
"My kid is more important to me than he is," Ramos said.
She said she needs to be out of jail in order to begin the counseling, drug screens, home checks and other efforts required to reunite her with her three children.
Clymer has said he would consider allowing Ramos to have supervised visits with her children, along with undergoing weekly drug tests, if she is released from jail.
"I believe you love your child," he said. "I'm concerned about your children."
"I want you to have a good, healthy relationship with yourself, too," Clymer said.
Ramos was sentenced in August 2009 to two years of home detention and 57 months of probation after she pleaded guilty in the driving death case. She went on to violate her probation three times by using drugs, according to court documents.
Ramos was released from probation unsatisfactorily in 2015 but was not sent to prison.