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September 12, 2004

Week in Review


BENZIE
      Doctor in Unger case: Death was no accident
      BEULAH - Florence Unger suffered a head injury that would have killed her, but before she could die someone moved her from a concrete slab into Lower Herring Lake where she drowned, a medical examiner testified.
      Dr. L.J. Dragovic said Wednesday at first-degree murder suspect Mark Unger's preliminary examination that the woman's death at a resort in southern Benzie County last October was a three-step process.
      First, someone pushed or kicked Unger's 37-year-old wife from the roof of a boat house.
      Next, she fell 12 feet to the concrete slab below and suffered what ultimately would have been a fatal head injury.
      "And the third, her unconscious body was placed in a body of water and, as a result of which, she died," Dragovic said. "Once the body was submerged, the inability of lungs to get air stopped the head injury from causing death."
      Defense lawyers hotly contested Dragovic's testimony and tried to have it excluded, then cross-examined him rigorously on each conclusion.
      The hearing will be continued at a later date when Unger's attorneys may call witnesses. Mark Unger, 43, pleaded not guilty.

EMMET
      Bay Harbor, utility quarrel over lake taint
      PETOSKEY - Finger-pointing has already begun over who's responsible to stop highly alkaline water from leaching through cement kiln dust piles at the Bay Harbor resort into Little Traverse Bay.
      A Bay Harbor spokeswoman, Jaime Rae Turnbull, blamed the problem on a former Bay Harbor partner, CMS Energy, formerly Consumers Power. The company sold its interest in the mega-resort in the fall of 2002.
      A CMS spokesman said Tuesday the company only agreed to address leachate from one kiln dust pile, where it installed a collection and treatment system. Department of Environmental Quality officials discovered at least three other piles leaching alkaline water.
      Local health officials declared a public health hazard and closed off about 600 feet of Bay Harbor shoreline recently. The alkaline water seeping into Little Traverse Bay is capable of causing second-degree burns upon contact.
      Parts of the Bay Harbor mega-resort were built over kiln dust piles that accumulated at the former Penn Dixie cement plant.
     
      Nurse replacements cost hospital $14M
      PETOSKEY - Northern Michigan Hospital suffered an $11 million operating loss in 2003, most of it attributable to more than $14 million spent to replace striking nurses there, hospital documents show.
      The numbers show the costs of a full year of striking by nurses.
      About half of Northern Michigan Hospital's then-470 nurses went on strike Nov. 14, 2002. The nearly 21-month-old work stoppage is the longest nursing strike in U.S. history. The striking nurses are represented by Teamsters Local 406.
      Financial documents show the hospital spent more than $1 million in legal expenses in 2003. That's well over double its attorney fees from two years ago, before the strike.

GRAND TRAVERSE
      Township board OKs The Village project
      ACME - The township board has approved the massive mixed-use development project known as The Village - but the debate appears far from over.
      The board late Tuesday night granted unanimous conceptual approval for the plans, but held off on adopting a formal resolution and a special-use permit until attorneys for the township and the developers can hammer out their specific language.
      Opponents were upset with the action, and afterward wouldn't rule out another legal challenge against the development which is planned for a 182-acre site south of M-72 west of Lautner Road.
      Some residents questioned whether the outgoing board should decide the controversial project, after four of the five board members failed to win seats at the Aug. 3 primary election and all five will leave office as of Nov. 20.
      But township officials chafed at criticism for taking up the decision with just over two months left in their term, citing a letter from legal counsel from the Michigan Townships Association which said the outgoing board has a "duty" to decide the issue.
     
      Police probe holiday weekend burglaries
      TRAVERSE CITY - Traverse City Police are investigating two burglaries of area businesses over the Labor Day holiday weekend.
      Capt. Steve Morgan said the first incident occurred overnight Sept. 3 at Crusted Creations on 14th Street, where someone pried open the back door before getting away with $600.
      Morgan said the second incident occurred at the Hair Shack, 128 W. State St., sometime late last Sunday night. An unknown suspect broke through a small window on the rear side of the building before stealing cash and an electronic game.
     
      Home invasion calls keep authorities busy
      TRAVERSE CITY - Two unrelated home invasion calls just hours apart kept the Traverse City Police busy on Labor Day.
      Just before 4:30 a.m. Monday, police responded to calls of gunshots on Baldwin Street near Barlow, where they found Jeremy Ross Sheahan, 28, with a rifle.
      Capt. Steve Morgan said Sheahan drove directly at a police officer, who took cover and was not injured.
      A pursuit ensued to Traversefield Industrial Park Drive off Hammond Road, where police said Sheahan drove off the road before he surrendered.
      At 6 a.m., less than an hour after Sheahan's arrest, officers responded to another home invasion call, this time in the 200 block of 14th Street, where a 25-year-old Gaylord man broke a small, front-door window while trying to gain access to a residence.
      Police say the suspect ran from the scene after being confronted by the 49-year-old male homeowner. The department's canine unit tracked the suspect, who was found a short time later on 15th Street near Maple.
     
      Crash inquiry hinges on 'black box' chip
      TRAVERSE CITY - It may take another week for police to determine what caused the fatal accident that claimed two female students at Traverse City West Senior High.
      Christan DeWitt, 16, and Adrian Morris, 17, were killed Aug. 25 in a two-car crash on South Airport Road as Morris attempted to turn left in her GEO Prizm out of Grand Traverse Crossing.
      The Prizm was struck broadside by a sport utility vehicle driven by Timothy William Schubert, 37, of Kalkaska.
      Schubert was not seriously injured, nor was Ivy Worm, 14, a passenger in the back seat of Morris' car.
      Grand Traverse County Sheriff Scott Fewins said Tuesday he met with family members to discuss the investigation, which still hinges on a "black box" chip in Schubert's GMC Envoy that can record speed and other readings during accidents.
      Railroad firm revokes dinner train's rights
      TRAVERSE CITY - The Grand Traverse Dinner Train Company is stuck at the station over a contract dispute.
      The dinner train's lawyers filed suit in Grand Traverse County Circuit Court after Tuscola and Saginaw Bay Railroad Co. revoked the company's right to use the line Tuscola operates under a state lease.
      James E. Shepherd, CEO and majority shareholder of the Owosso-based railway company, said the Grand Traverse Dinner Train owes thousands of dollars and he accused the business of keeping unsafe cars on its line for nearly a year.
      Grand Traverse Dinner Train President Ella Cooper called the revocation of its line use unfounded. Her company wants restitution for lost revenue and access to the line as it prepares for its busiest season.
      Dinner train attorney Jason Eckerly said a third party inspected the train over the Labor Day weekend and found it was safe for operation.
     
      Bank files lawsuit against mortgage firm
      TRAVERSE CITY - The owners of a local mortgage company are being sued for nearly $900,000 that Fifth Third Bank officials say was wrongly diverted.
      A lawsuit filed by Fifth Third alleges Twin Bay Title owner Ronald L. Willmes wrongly diverted more than $800,000 intended as a second mortgage on his Traverse City home.
      Court records show that in August 2003 the bank forwarded more than $870,000 to Willmes' company, Twin Bay Title, but the bank said Willmes converted all or most of the loan intended to pay off his first mortgage to other uses, causing default.
      The lawsuit also names Willmes' son, Eric, and wife, Anita, as well as Fidelity National Title Insurance Co.; Holt-based Elm Investments and owner Thomas LaCosse; and Gove Associates Inc. of Kalamazoo.
      Twin Bay unexpectedly closed its doors late last month. Repeated calls to Twin Bay Title and the Willmes home went unanswered.
      Willmes also is being sued by Members Credit Union for failing to repay $156,000 he borrowed last year to purchase a luxury motor home.
     
      BATA, city consider settling legal objection
      TRAVERSE CITY - The city and Bay Area Transportation Authority are considering a proposed settlement of a legal objection to a proposed downtown bus station.
      Attorneys on both sides declined to discuss details.
      Neighbors of the site in June appealed the city commission's 4-3 vote to approve the bus station, which BATA wants to build at 115 Hall St. Harbour View Centre owners Bernard and Pamela Stover and Donna Folgarelli, owner of Folgarelli's Import Food Market, objected to the bus station, saying it would create congestion, pollution, noise and other problems.
      Oral arguments were to be held last week but were postponed to allow discussion of a settlement proposal from the plaintiffs.
     
      Resort, board settle value, avert tribunal
      ACME - The township settled a dispute over the value of the Grand Traverse Resort in an agreement that could cost state and local governments more than $50,000 in tax revenues.
      The Acme Township Board last week unanimously approved a 2004 assessed value of $11,821,800 for the three major resort parcels - the resort's main lodge and tower, the three golf courses and its two water well properties.
      The settlement averts an appeal by owners - the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians - of the original assessed value that was headed to the Michigan Tax Tribunal.
      The board settled the case because officials said it would cost the township up to $100,000 in legal and consulting fees to fight the case at the state level, for what amounts to about $2,000 a year in township tax revenue.
      Other taxing units have more at stake. The $2 million difference between the settlement and the township assessor's value estimate for the disputed properties will cost the state school aid fund about $36,000 in yearly taxes. Grand Traverse County will lose more than $10,000 a year.
     
      Attorney retains seat on human rights panel
      TRAVERSE CITY - Two city commissioners opposed the reappointment of Albert T. Quick to the Human Rights Commission, saying Quick had a "confrontational and adversarial" attitude.
      Quick, a Traverse City attorney, was appointed to the nine-member commission in April 2003. He was reappointed for a three-year term by a 5-2 city commission vote last week. City commissioners Rick Csapo and Phill Orth voted against him.
      The city commission also reappointed Mary O'Connor to a three-year term and appointed Harry Wright, a semi-retired psychologist. Wright replaces Blake Ringsmuth, who did not wish to be reappointed.
     
      City provides funds for TART trail project
      TRAVERSE CITY - The city will chip in more than $22,000 to build a portion of the Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation trail.
      The payment will help fund a $108,835 project to connect the TART and Leelanau trails. That connection is part of a larger $790,800 TART project that includes two other segments, a shoulder along Bunker Hill Road and another trail from Lautner Road to M-72 at Bates Road.
      The city commission last week agreed to pay $22,406 for its portion of the project, which will create a continuous 23-mile long route from Suttons Bay to Acme.
      The Federal Highway Administration awarded a $628,000 grant for the total project. The remaining $162,800 comes from local matches such as the city's, a recent fund-raising campaign and an earlier grant from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.
     
      Jury trial scheduled in deadly accident case
      TRAVERSE CITY - A woman is set to face a jury next month on charges she caused a deadly traffic accident after smoking marijuana.
      Delores Marie Derror, 40, of Traverse City, charged with operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs causing death, as well as three charges of causing serious injury, is scheduled to go to trial Oct. 26.
      Derror was driving a sport utility vehicle and pulling a trailer east on M-72 over snow-covered roads Jan. 11 when she lost control and hit a car driven by Randy Elkins.
      Elkins' girlfriend, Angela Grierson, 28, was killed in the collision, which also paralyzed two of his daughters, Brittany, 10, and Eden, 11.
      Also hurt in the accident was Natosha Elkins, 4, who suffered a broken neck and jaw, and Tegan Elkins, 2, who broke her collarbone.
      If convicted on the four charges, Derror could face a maximum of 30 years in prison.
     
      City rejects plan for State Street project
      TRAVERSE CITY - Development of a piece of city-owned property will be delayed after officials rejected one plan and continue to negotiate "the best price and best project."
      City commissioners last week rejected a Christman Capital Development Co. proposal for the former city parking lot at the southwest corner of State Street and Boardman Avenue.
      City manager Richard Lewis said the city required $300,000 for the property, but Christman offered $285,000.
      The city commission's decision will give others a shot.

LEELANAU
      Group ordered to pay citizens' legal fees
      LELAND - An Elmwood Township citizens group will have its legal bills paid by a development group they foiled in court.
      Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers ordered Meadows-Elmwood LLC to reimburse the Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth up to $8,400 in legal fees it incurred defending the township's zoning ordinance.
      Formerly known as Lincoln Meadows LLC, the development company led by John "Jack" Armstrong and John D. Stewart filed suit against the township last fall alleging it was bound to issue permits for the proposed development in an agriculture district.
      Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth interceded and the court subsequently dismissed the suit.

MANISTEE
      Man seriously injured in head-on collision
      MANISTEE - A Bear Lake man was seriously injured in a head-on collision early Monday morning on U.S. 31.
      The crash occurred shortly after 3 a.m. when a northbound Ford Probe crossed the centerline and struck a southbound Buick Century driven by Timothy M. Miller, 28, of Hart, the Mason County Sheriff's Office reported. The accident occurred north of Hoague Road about a mile south of the county line.
      The driver of the Probe, a 25-year-old man from Kaleva, was treated at West Shore Hospital. His name has not been released.
      Pedro Gomez, 18, of Bear Lake, who was a passenger in the Probe, was airlifted along with Miller to Spectrum Health Butterworth Campus in Grand Rapids, where both men are in intensive care.
      Police said alcohol is suspected to be a factor in the accident, which remains under investigation.

WEXFORD
      Police say drunken driver caused death
      CADILLAC - Police said a 42-year-old Cadillac man was drunk when he struck a car on M-115 that resulted in the death of a Holland motorist.
      Clifford Wilkinson, 42, was arrested after his release from the hospital and arraigned Tuesday on charges of causing death and serious injury while operating a vehicle intoxicated. He also was charged with being a fourth-offense habitual offender.
      According to Wexford County sheriff's reports, Wilkinson attempted to pass a car driven by a Traverse City man early Monday before he veered into the oncoming lane and struck head-on a vehicle driven by Shawn Wiersma, 36.
      Wiersma was pronounced dead at the scene. Wilkinson is being held on $100,000 bond.
     
      Sheriff seeks help solving theft of guitars
      MESICK - A residential larceny late last month in Mesick has the Wexford County Sheriff's office asking the public for help.
      The breaking and entering occurred on Walter Street early Aug. 29, according to police. Three electric guitars were stolen from the home.
      Anyone with information is asked to contact the sheriff's office at (231) 779-9211, or Silent Observer at (800) 528-8234.
     

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