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August 14, 2005

Week in review

BENZIE
Motorcycle-car crash claims deputy's life
      LAKE ANN - Cory Lee Gunther enjoyed his leisure time - fast cars, snowmobiling and hunting - but when duty called as a Benzie County Sheriff's deputy or as a Frankfort volunteer firefighter, friends said he always wanted to be first on the scene.
      Gunther, 27, died Tuesday morning while riding a motorcycle on Reynolds Road near the intersection of Fewins Road in Benzie County when a passenger car pulled out in front of him, police said.
      Benzie sheriff's officials released a statement that Gunther, who was a four-year member of the department, was off-duty when the accident occurred just after 7:30 a.m.
      Michigan State Police from Traverse City said it appeared a 2002 Buick Century driven by a 20-year-old woman pulled out from Fewins Road and into the path of Gunther's motorcycle.
      A memorial fund has been set up for Gunther's family.
      Memorial contributions can be made to the Cory Gunther Memorial Fund, Honor State Bank, P.O. Box 67, Honor, MI 49640.
     
CHARLEVOIX
Coast Guard airlifts sick man from island
      BEAVER ISLAND - A 29-year-old man was airlifted by a U. S. Coast Guard helicopter from Beaver Island after suffering stomach pains.
      Coast Guard officials were called to the island just before 11 p.m. last Sunday for a medical call regarding Rory Connagahn, who officials said was suffering severe abdominal pains.
      A HH-65B "Dolphin" rescue helicopter landed at the island airport a short time later before airlifting Connagahn to Charlevoix Airport, where he was then transported by ambulance to the hospital.
     
Deputy's daughter helps crack theft case
      CHARLEVOIX - The Charlevoix County Sheriff's Department has a new partner in crime-fighting: Deputy Aaron Westrick's 12-year-old daughter, Andrea.
      Westrick, while off-duty, was driving his daughter home from Camp Daggett when Andrea spotted a pickup truck being loaded with canoes at a home along the road. Andrea recognized two of the canoes stolen from the camp.
      Westrick stopped and questioned the young adults who were loading the canoes, Sheriff George T. Lasater said in a release.
      When Westrick began his shift, he did some checking and the suspects ultimately confessed to taking the canoes two weeks earlier and using them for an Upper Peninsula river trip, Lasater said. The canoes were confiscated and returned to Camp Daggett.
      Information on the status of any criminal investigation was not available Tuesday. Lasater said he presented Andrea Westrick with a Sheriff's Appreciation Certificate.
     
Convicted felon slips through hole in system
      CHARLEVOIX - A hole exists and needs to be filled in a system that allowed a convicted felon to hold an administrative position with the Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District, Charlevoix County's sheriff said.
      Sheriff George T. Lasater and county prosecutor John Jarema want state Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, R-Bellaire, and Sen. Jason Allen, R-Traverse City, to introduce legislation that would mandate criminal background checks that include a state and federal review of fingerprints for all employees and volunteers who work with children.
      Their request comes after the July 31 arrest of Arthur Kirk, 70, of Charlevoix Township, on felony weapons charges. The school district contracted with Kirk as an AmeriCorps volunteer in 2001, unaware he had a lengthy felony criminal history under the name Arthur Kirkeby.
      He served more than five years in prison after being convicted in 1981 of first-degree criminal sexual conduct involving an 8-year-old boy in Macomb County.
      Kirk's criminal past was revealed during a fingerprint check as he applied for a concealed weapons permit, Lasater said.
      Kirk faces felony charges of purchase and possession of firearms by a felon, false statements on a concealed weapons permit application and habitual offender - fourth offense. The habitual offender charge increases the potential maximum penalty to life in prison.
     
CHEBOYGAN
School board restores $288,632 in cuts
      CHEBOYGAN - Bus routes will remain the same and extracurricular activities will be free after the Cheboygan school board restored some $288,632 in budget cuts following the recent successful millage election.
      A first-grade teacher and two intervention specialists also will not lose their jobs.
      School board members voted unanimously Monday night to restore those four cuts.
      Voters overwhelmingly approved a tax increase of up to 1.25 mills on businesses, seasonal homes and other investment properties.
     
CRAWFORD
Project redirects storm water from Au Sable
      GRAYLING - A $1 million storm water project is under way in Grayling to keep runoff water from splashing directly into the Au Sable River.
      As much as 80 percent of the polluted runoff from paved surfaces in Grayling will be redirected to filter systems when the project is completed next year. One of the primary sources of pollution in the Au Sable watershed is from storm water runoff, which carries oils, greases, sediment, trash, pesticides and other materials.
      A $758,000 Clean Michigan Initiative grant will pay for most of the work and city leaders contributed $127,000. Various other conservation groups and businesses also chipped in for the local match portion of the state grant.
      The first phase of the project will be completed by late autumn. Retention basins will be installed in road right-of-ways, along with oil-grit separators, in the neighborhood south of the river. That area includes Madsen, Brink and Lawndale streets.
     
EMMET
Ettawageshik keeps seat in tribal election
      PETOSKEY - Incumbent Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians Tribal Chairman Frank Ettawageshik easily defeated a challenge from former chairman Gerald Chingwa in tribal elections.
      Ettawageshik and Vice-Chairman William Denemy defeated Gerald Chingwa and George Anthony 753-344 in Monday's election, said Michael Smith, administrative assistant to the tribal chairman and council. The chairman and vice-chairman terms are four years, Smith said.
      Winning four-year terms on the tribal council were Alice King-Yellowbank, Fred Harrington Jr., Beatrice Law, Dexter McNamara and Melvin Kiogima. Winning two-year council seats were Rita Shananaquet, Shirley Oldman, Regina Bentley and Mary Ann Roberts.
     
Health officials confirm whooping cough cases
      PETOSKEY - Public health officials said confirmed whooping cough cases in Emmet County should drive home the importance of immunization.
      The Northwest Michigan Community Health Agency identified eight cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, in the county. Seven of the cases are related, and include adults and adolescents whose immunity to the disease waned and children who were not immunized. The eighth case involves an infant.
      Pertussis was one of the most common childhood diseases and major causes of death of children early in the 20th century. The incidence of pertussis has decreased significantly since the widespread use of vaccines.
     
GRAND TRAVERSE
City eyes ordinances on blight, weedy lawns
      TRAVERSE CITY - Weedy yards and parked cars are the target of multiple city ordinances attacking blight.
      The city commission Monday agreed to talk more about several new rules that would prohibit parking cars in the front yard, allowing grass to grow more than 8 inches tall and leaving a damaged building in disrepair. A fourth ordinance would let the city withhold in escrow a portion of fire insurance payments to force the repair or removal of a damaged structure.
      The ordinances are scheduled to be introduced at the commission's Aug. 15 meeting. A vote to approve the rules could occur in early September.
     
Truck-train collision results in fuel spill
      TRAVERSE CITY - No one was injured in a truck-train collision that resulted in a diesel fuel spill in Grand Traverse County.
      Officials from the Grand Traverse Rural Fire Department responded to the accident about 11 a.m. Monday after an Eastwood Excavating truck collided with a train on Sparling Road.
      Fire officials said the collision punctured the truck's saddle tanks, spilling 50 to 100 gallons of fuel on the road.
      Officials from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality were called to Sparling Road, which was closed for the investigation.
      No one was injured in the accident, officials said.
     
Missing cello leaves big void for student
      INTERLOCHEN - Josue Gonzales began playing the violin when he was 3, but it was the sight of the cello that caught the young boy's attention.
      Gonzales, 18, is again longing for the string instrument after his $9,500 cello went missing recently at the Interlochen Arts Academy.
      Gonzales was to spend time with his parents in New York before traveling to Ohio, where he has been accepted at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
      Gonzales said his future teachers in Cleveland are "concerned" that he may be unable to practice music sent to him to make sure he is on track when he arrives at the conservatory.
      Gonzales said he has contacted local music dealers to warn them of the missing instrument and is offering a $1,000 reward for anyone who turns in the cello or provides information to the school or the Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Office about its whereabouts.
     
City considers fee hikes to cover budget gap
      TRAVERSE CITY - The city commission is contemplating increasing the cost of more than 100 fees and services.
      City officials recommended the fee increases in response to the city's fourth-straight budget shortfall. Commissioners hacked away at the deficit in June by cutting back on lifeguards, ice-skating rinks and holiday lighting, among a long list of other services.
      The city commission is scheduled to consider approving the higher fees at its meeting Monday.
      The city is allowed to charge for services "not to make profit but to cover our costs," said city manager Richard Lewis, during a recent commission study session.
      The city clerk, engineering, planning and fire departments each recommended charging more for services they provide, with some fees doubling.
      Rates at Oakwood Cemetery for dozens of burial-related services and to purchase lots could also jump, most by $25 to $50.
     
New rules won't affect existing textbooks
      TRAVERSE CITY - A new policy won't keep Traverse City students from seeing abortion references cut from some textbooks when they return this fall.
      The textbook adoption rules, amended by the school board in June, require written approval from the superintendent for any alteration of book content.
      But Superintendent James Feil said that policy won't change anything for the upcoming school year, since the cutting happened before its adoption. He said students will continue to use the altered books unless they buy their own, and any future content changes will come to him for written approval.
      Board president Gerald Morris agreed the updated policy doesn't require Feil to retroactively review changes. The district's science curriculum is up for review this year, and continued use of the same biology text will be addressed then, Morris said.
     
Boy suffers broken legs in zoo train accident
      TRAVERSE CITY - Stephanie Walker never expected her son to end up with two broken legs when she dropped him off with her parents for a trip to Clinch Park Zoo and a train ride on the Spirit of Traverse City.
      Walker's son, Joshua Chapin, a developmentally disabled 18-year-old, and her father, Bill Parish, were injured Tuesday when the miniature zoo train struck a diesel hose laid across the tracks by a Schmuckal Oil worker refilling a diesel tank.
      Their injuries are more serious than indicated Tuesday by Traverse City officials, who shortly after the incident reported only minor injuries.
      Both Parrish, 64, and Joshua were seated in the first car when "a mist" of fuel from the hose ignited on the engine's hot surface and caused a fire that sent passengers scrambling for safety.
      Walker said Joshua suffered two broken legs in the chaos and has casts from his knees to his ankles and can't walk. Parrish suffered broken ribs, she said.
      Walker, of Howell, said Traverse City officials offered to pay current medical expenses, but she hasn't heard a word from the Schmuckal Oil Company, which she said "really seems to be at fault."
      Walker said she was upset by police and city officials who mentioned only "minor injuries," and said a woman who sat behind her father and son suffered a broken femur.
     
Developer's plans test city's height ordinance
      TRAVERSE CITY - Design ideas for a West Front Street development will test the city's tall buildings ordinance.
      Developer Michael Uzelac will ask the city to interpret its height rules as he plans a multistory public parking and residential complex.
      Some city officials anticipate opposition to one of his ideas to maximize residential space.
      The redevelopment of the 100 block of West Front Street includes a three-story project on the north side of the street. The planning commission expects to start a site plan review there Sept. 7.
      But most questions surround plans for a building across the street at the corner of West Front and Pine streets. Here, buildings can reach a height of 85 feet with a special land-use permit. Another 15 feet, stretching the height limit to 100 feet, is allowed for rooftop mechanical equipment and elevator shafts.
      Uzelac asked city officials to let him weave residential space into the extra 15 feet at the top. His plan would screen the equipment and leave as much as 20,000 square feet of usable space.
      Uzelac floated the idea at a meeting of the city planning and Downtown Development Authority sub-committee last week.
     
Recount confirms win by foes of big-box ban
      ACME - The township's big-box showdown vote stands: opponents of a temporary ban on sprawling stores maintained their seven-vote victory after a recount.
      County election officials said results of an Aug. 2 special election remained at 907 to 900 after Thursday's recount, requested in the wake of a narrow defeat of a proposed nine-month ban on big-box development projects of 50,000 square feet or more.
      The big-box ban was approved by the township board in April but quickly challenged by citizen petition.
      The county canvassing board counted all 1,407 ballots cast by hand, but found no discrepencies from recent unofficial vote totals.
      A group that endorsed the moratorium, Acme Citizens for Responsible Growth, sought the recount because of the thin margin, but representatives said they weren't counting on a reversal.
     
East Bay officials OK tax abatement policy
      TRAVERSE CITY - East Bay township officials approved a tax abatement policy intended to spur development - and new jobs - in the township's industrial parks.
      The township board last week unanimously adopted an abatement plan created with the help of local economic development officials in hopes of attracting some activity in the mostly vacant Meadowlands and Peninsula business parks.
      Tax abatements, also known as industrial facility exemptions, were established under a 1974 state law allowing companies to get a local property tax break on real and personal property.
     
KALKASKA
      Suspect charged in baseball bat assault
      KALKASKA - A Kalkaska man is being charged with felonious assault after he allegedly hit another with a baseball bat.
      Gary Horner, 47, is being held in the Kalkaska County Jail on $50,000 bond on a 10-year felony charge of assault with intent to do bodily harm less than murder.
      Kalkaska County Sheriff William Artress said officers were called to a residence in Excelsior Township just before 8:30 p.m. last Sunday on reports of an assault in progress involving a baseball bat.
      After interviewing the 36-year-old victim, whom police said suffered bruises and a broken wrist, Horner was arrested and lodged in jail on the charges.
      Artress said the assault investigation is still open.
     
Firefighter still listed as critical, but stable
      KALKASKA - A firefighter remains in critical condition at a Flint hospital as officials continue to investigate the cause of a fire that destroyed the Bear Lake Township Fire Station.
      Rolland Sargent, 48, is in critical but stable condition at Hurley Medical Center with third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body, said Kalkaska County Sheriff William Artress.
      Sargent was injured Aug. 4. A passing motorist reported the fire at the M-72 station just before 1:30 a.m.
      Officials said Sargent and other department members were attempting to save equipment from the burning structure when the roof collapsed.
     
LEELANAU
Deputy on probation involved in fatal crash
      TRAVERSE CITY - A Leelanau County sheriff's deputy who pleaded guilty to a charge of drunken driving last month was not at fault for an accident last weekend that killed a motorcyclist, police said.
      Motorcyclist Jeffrey Jay Lewis, 52, of East Lansing, died of injuries after he hit a vehicle driven by off-duty deputy Mark Stevens, 45, about 3 p.m. Aug. 6.
      Sheriff Mike Oltersdorf said Stevens had just left work 10 minutes before and was on his way home after working a shift at the Leelanau County Jail when the accident happened.
      State police said Lewis was at fault in the accident after he apparently crossed the centerline of County Road 643 while traveling north in Centerline Township before striking Stevens' car.
      Lewis was thrown from the motorcycle and pronounced dead at the scene, while Stevens was treated at Munson Medical Center for minor injuries.
      Stevens pleaded guilty to drunken driving last month and was sentenced to six-months probation after he was pulled over by a state trooper July 13.
      Stevens, a deputy investigator with the Traverse Narcotics Team, returned to work on Aug. 3 after being reassigned to the sheriff's corrections division.
      There are currently no restrictions on Stevens' driving license, according to the Michigan Secretary of State.
     
Woman gets prison term in sex abuse case
      GRAND RAPIDS - A federal judged sentenced a 25-year-old Leelanau County woman to prison for sexually abusing a minor during 2002.
      Simone Raphael pleaded guilty to one count of sexual abuse against a minor and will serve 27 months in prison and three years of supervised release. She was also ordered to pay a $100 special assessment.
      Raphael's encounter with the 13-year-old victim occurred at a home located on the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians reservation. The federal government has concurrent jurisdiction over major felonies with tribal defendants occurring on trust land.
     
Board members block supervisor's choices
      TRAVERSE CITY - Two more attempted appointments to Elmwood Township's planning commission hit a wall last week, and at least one board member said he'll continue to oppose the supervisor's picks.
      "It's not going to work," said trustee James O'Rourke. "Not these two."
      Supervisor Derith Smith's appointments of Erik Saxon and Dave Hanawalt failed 4-3, with O'Rourke, treasurer Debbie Street, clerk Connie Preston and trustee Terry Lautner opposed. Smith's appointments must gain approval from a board majority.
      Smith's previous attempts to appoint Saxon and Hanawalt also failed by the same 4-3 split. The four holdover members from the previous township board have blocked Smith's attempts to appoint members who didn't serve on the commission that was dissolved earlier this year amid questions about term lengths.
      An exception came in June when Preston voted to support Smith's appointment of Diane Gilbo, filling five of the panel's seven seats. The commission has continued to conduct business with that quorum. Board members in May approved reappointment of Jeff Aprill, Jack Kelly, Jeff Howell and Steve VanZoeren.
     
MANISTEE
Florida man killed in crash near Bear Lake
      BEAR LAKE - State police are investigating a two-car accident that killed a Florida man and left his wife and three daughters with serious injuries.
      Police said Martin Aguilar-Hernandez, 32, of Florida, was killed on U.S. 31 near 8 Mile Road in Bear Lake Township about 3:40 p.m. Wednesday.
      Hernandez was driving with his family southbound on U.S. 31 when a passenger car driven by Blanche Lewis, 62, of Wellston, apparently attempted to cross the highway from 8 Mile, police said.
      The vehicles collided and Hernandez's Chevy Blazer rolled several times and ejected some of the occupants before coming to rest on the passenger's side.
      Police said Hernandez's wife, Guillermina Aguilar, 31, and the couple's three daughters - ages 8, 10 and 12 - were seriously injured.
      Lewis sustained possible injuries and was taken to West Shore Medical Center for treatment.
     
OTSEGO
Courtrooms could get digital video recorders
      GAYLORD - The 46th Circuit's courtrooms in three counties may be outfitted with digital video recording systems.
      Court administrator Rudi Edel said the equipment could be installed in circuit courtrooms for Otsego, Crawford and Kalkaska counties for about $47,000 each. The money would come from the court system's building restoration fund.
      Otsego and Kalkaska county commissioners approved the proposal at their meetings Tuesday. Crawford County commissioners will consider the project this week.
     
Fire department gets grant for equipment
      VANDERBILT - The Vanderbilt/Corwith Township Fire Department received a $15,800 grant from AAA Michigan to buy new lifesaving extrication equipment.
      The money will be spent on extrication equipment for the unit's 72-square-mile response area, which includes high-traffic highways, such as I-75 and Old U.S. 27.
      The nearest Jaws of Life equipment is 20 to 25 minutes away, said Paul Weber of AAA Michigan.
     
Bagley Twp. recall try hits certification snag
      GAYLORD - Recall petitions for three Bagley Township officials are filed, but it's unclear who will certify the signatures.
      Otsego County clerk Suzy DeFeyter said the recall petitions for township trustee Richard Sumerix, clerk Jim Szymanski and treasurer Mary Yager were filed just under the deadline for recall issues for the Nov. 8 election.
      She had until Friday to ensure the petitions are in order before sending them to the township to be checked against the voter registration roll.
      Petition circulators turned in 673 signatures to recall Sumerix, 670 for Szymanski and 665 for Yager. Szymanski can't certify that at least 525 registered voters signed the petitions because petitions call for his recall, according to state election law. That duty would fall to his deputy clerk, Janet Szymanski - his wife.
      The state election law is designed to prevent any conflict of interest in recall situations.
      DeFeyter said she consulted state election officials and was advised that Janet Szymanski would not make an appropriate impartial substitute. DeFeyter hopedto find another township clerk from Otsego County to step in.
     

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