Local News Archives

Land Bank Receives Bids For Vacant Industrial Property

Three bids have come into the Berrien County Land Bank for the vacant Alreco Metals property in Benton Harbor. Berrien County Treasurer Bret Witkowski tells WSJM News two of the three met the county’s requirements for consideration. However, both of those two involved using the vacant industrial property for medical marijuana production. Witkowski says the land bank won’t sell the property to either of them if the city of Benton Harbor has not signed off on the possible use.. ...Read Full Story

MI House Advances Mental Health Bills

From the Associated Press — Michigan lawmakers have approved legislation that would upgrade mental health resources in hospitals and schools as part of a slew of reform bills shuffling through the state House. One bill passed Wednesday in Lansing would create an electronic database for the state’s inpatient psychiatric bed registry. Representatives voted 106-3 for the measure which aims to streamline hospital placement and emergency room wait times for psychiatric patients. Another bill requiring all public schools in Michigan to adopt a mental health first-aid course for teachers also cleared the House by a 107-2 vote. The legislation creates an optional course on recognizing and responding to mental illness symptoms as part of training for teachers. Three bills that enact time limits on psychological evaluations for court defendants and potential prison parolees also passed.. ...Read Full Story

Covert School Official Talks Security

Last week’s mass shooting at a high school in Florida has many parents around the country nervous about sending their kids to class each day, but school leaders in southwest Michigan say they do all they can to ensure a safe environment is always maintained. Covert Public Schools Director of Communications Brittany Millan tells WSJM News visitors to the school will have to answer some questions before being let in.. ...Read Full Story

Credit Union Donates To Flood Relief

Among the businesses in southwest Michigan that have stepped forward to help flood victims is United Federal Credit Union. UFCU announced on Tuesday a $5,000 donation to United Way of Southwest Michigan and the Berrien Community Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund to help with the recovery needs of families impacted by flooding. Not only that, but starting this week and running through March 28, UFCU will match donations made to the fund for a total of up to $10,000. UFCU President Terry O’Rourke says, “Emergencies like this can create lasting financial hardships and we are hoping to help alleviate some of that burden.” He adds the situation is “heartbreaking.” Donations to be matched by UFCU can be dropped off at any UFCU branch location. You can also make a donation directly through the United Way of Southwest Michigan’s website at UWSM.org/Relief.. ...Read Full Story

Prosecutor Issues Statement On School Threat Investigations

The Berrien County Prosecutor’s office is putting out word to parents and children in the area that it takes any potential threat to a school seriously and will pursue criminal charges when applicable. Prosecutor Michael Sepic tells WSJM News in recent weeks there has been a rash of statements by students in some local schools amounting to potential threats of violence. The prosecutor’s office and police have investigated incidents at public school districts in Bridgman, St. Joseph, Watervliet, and Berrien Springs, along with at Andrews Academy in Berrien Springs. Sepic says in most cases, it was determined no threat was actually made. However, in the cases involving Watervliet Schools and Andrews Academy, a petition will be filed with the Berrien County Juvenile Court alleging threatening electronic communications. Sepic says it is unknown whether the cases will be accepted by the court. He adds in each case, law enforcement has taken considerable time and acted with great speed.. ...Read Full Story

Man Convicted Of Drunk Driving For Lawn Mower Ride

It took a Cass County jury about ten minutes to conclude that driving a riding lawnmower while intoxicated is enough to warrant a drunk driving conviction. Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz tells us the case involves 32-year-old Steven Bakeman of Dowagiac. The prosecutor says Bakeman was arrested the night of June 11 when sheriff’s deputies found him riding a John Deere lawnmower down Middle Crossing Road in Silver Creek Township. The deputies had been called to the area by nearby children concerned about Bakeman’s level of drinking. When deputies found him on the mower on the dark road, it had no lights. The prosecutor says Bakeman failed to complete a field sobriety test and his blood alcohol level tested for more than three times the legal limit. A trial this week ended with a unanimous guilty verdict from the jury on a charge of operating while intoxicated. It was his third drunk driving conviction, and he faces up to five years in prison.. ...Read Full Story

Upton: Gun Control Talks Underway

It’s possible Congress will approve some gun control measures following the nation’s most recent mass shooting, this time at a high school in Florida on Valentine’s Day. That’s the thought of Congressman Fred Upton, who tells us the bipartisan “Problem Solvers” have talked about the issue this week. Upton spoke with students from Parkland High School in Florida on Tuesday, and tells WSJM News the talk about gun control is serious.. ...Read Full Story

Flood Relief Fund Raises More Than $20,000 In First Week

Southwest Michigan residents are proving to be caring when it comes to their neighbors. The United Way of Southwest Michigan tells WSJM News the disaster relief fund it set up last week to help out folks affected by floods this month has already raised more than $20,000. That’s in just about five days. United Way’s Anna Murphy tells WSJM News the money will be used for a variety of needs.. ...Read Full Story

Snyder Approves Income Tax Exemption Bills

From the Associated Press — Michigan residents will get a $25 tax cut per individual within a few years under legislation signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder. The Republican governor signed the bills Wednesday at his Capitol office in Lansing. GOP legislative leaders who pushed for the tax relief joined him for the bill-signing event. The measure also clarifies that Michigan’s personal tax exemption continues,
after concerns were raised that the recent federal tax cuts could eliminate it due to how the state code is linked to the U.S. code. The main bill gradually raises the personal exemption until it gets to $4,900 in the 2021 tax year – $600 higher than what it was scheduled to reach. That is a $25.50 tax cut per individual, or $102 for a family of four.. ...Read Full Story

Berrien Bridge Projects To Start This Week

A whole lot of bridge work is about to get started in Berrien County. Michigan Department of Transportation spokesperson Nick Schirripa tells WSJM News MDOT will be doing repairs on the bridges going over I-94 at M-239, Kruger Road, Lakeside Road, Maudlin Road, and Union Pier Road starting this Thursday. There’s a reason why all are being done at the same time.. ...Read Full Story

Search Underway For Missing Kayaker

The Berrien County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team is searching the Paw Paw River for a missing kayaker. Emergency crews were called to the river near the 42-hundred block of R. Smith Street in Watervliet just before 8 p.m. Tuesday after two kayakers hit a log in the river and were tossed out of their watercraft. One was able to swim to shore, but a 35-year-old Niles man remains missing. The dive team resumed the search at daybreak today.. ...Read Full Story

Probation For Deadly Oronoko Twp. Crash

A year of probation is the penalty for a Buchanan man for the deaths of two people from Indiana last April in a crash. 81-year-old Charles Habenicht pulled out in front of a motorcycle in Oronoko Township, hitting the bike and killing David and Christine Cox of Granger. Habenicht pleaded no contest to a single charge of a moving violation causing death, and will also have to pay almost $31,000 in court costs, restitution for funeral expenses and fines. He’s not allowed to drive for the next year and will also have to perform 250 hours of community service as part of the plea deal and sentencing agreement. Habenicht was sentenced in a Berrien County courtroom yesterday.. ...Read Full Story

Vandalism Under Investigation In Bridgman

The Bridgman Police Department could use the public’s help in catching some vandals who have damaged windows around town. The department says on its Facebook page someone’s been shattering glass doors and windows with what appears to be a pellet gun or small caliber firearm. Anyone who has information that could lead to an arrest in the case is asked to call the Bridgman Police Department or Crimestoppers. Tipsters can remain anonymous.. ...Read Full Story

Legislature Quashes Marijuana Transportation Bill

From the Associated Press — State legislators have stalled an attempt to repeal a statute that regulates vehicular transportation of marijuana. The Michigan Senate voted 19-16 Tuesday against the House bill Tuesday. It would annul a law that classifies vehicle transportation or possession of marijuana as a misdemeanor, unless it’s enclosed in a case in the trunk or – if there’s no trunk – in a case not readily accessible from the vehicle’s interior. Proponents of the bill say the current restriction is unnecessary because marijuana is prohibited in all scenarios without a medical card, while medical marijuana patients are already exempt from the rule. In 2016, the state’s Court of Appeals ruled that medical marijuana patients in compliance with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act cannot be prosecuted for
violating the vehicle transport provision.. ...Read Full Story

Thief Hits Southside St. Joseph Gas Station

The search is on in St. Joseph for a man who robbed a gas station in the 2800 block of Niles Avenue Tuesday night. Public safety tells WSJM News the suspect is a white man who was wearing a ski mask, and they don’t have any other information on him, including his height or an approximate weight. The robbery happened as the St. Joe Mart Marathon station was closing around 10:30 p.m., and St. Joseph Public Safety and St. Joseph Township police spent about 90 minutes at the scene and searching the area between Niles Avenue and Lakeland Hospital. A K-9 was unable to track the suspect, who had made off with all the money from the register. We’ve not been told if a weapon was used in the holdup. If you have any information, call St. Joseph Public Safety or 9-1-1.. ...Read Full Story

Report Examines West MI Economic Recovery

A new report from the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research takes a look at west Michigan’s economy now versus at the start of the Great Recession. Upjohn economist Brian Pittelko tells WSJM News they looked at data from January of 2007 through the end of 2009. What’s striking is how slow the economic recovery was.. ...Read Full Story

Proos Talks Flood Damage

State and federal leaders from southwest Michigan are waiting for Governor Rick Snyder to accept Berrien County’s disaster declaration following this month’s floods. State Senator John Proos tells WSJM News he toured Berrien Springs and Niles Monday and was convinced the Berrien County Board of Commissioners was justified in declaring that disaster.. ...Read Full Story

Orchards Mall In Danger Of Foreclosure Again

The Berrien County Treasurer’s office says the Orchards Mall in Benton Township is once again facing foreclosure. Treasurer Bret Witkowski tells WSJM News the mall’s owners owe $275,000 in property taxes from 2015, and if it’s not paid by April 3, then the county will foreclose. Witkowski will not allow a payment plan for the mall.. ...Read Full Story

Cook Refueling Outage Starts This Week

Unit 2 of the Cook nuclear power plant is about to undergo another refueling outage. Cook plant spokesperson Bill Schalk tells WSJM News Unit 1 just wrapped up a refueling outage late last year. When Unit 2 shuts down at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, there will be a large number of extra workers on site to help with maintenance.. ...Read Full Story

Several Roads Still Closed In Berrien County

Road closures remain in effect in several locations throughout Berrien County due to this month’s flooding. The Berrien County Sheriff’s Department tells us drivers should stay away from roads that are barricaded until the roads get the all-clear. In some cases, the road department needs to do engineering inspections done on the roads that were left impassable due to flooding before they can reopen.. ...Read Full Story

Plan Unveiled To Prevent Abuse Of Young Athletes

A plan to prevent the sexual abuse of young athletes has been introduced in Lansing. On hand for a press conference Monday for the package’s unveiling were victims of former MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar. State Representative Beth Griffin has a bill in the plan that would add coaches, assistant coaches, and athletic trainers to the list of authority figures required to report evidence of abuse. Griffin, a former teacher, told us more adults should have to look out for young athletes.. ...Read Full Story

County Offering Flood Damage Reporting Service

If your home has been damaged by flooding, the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department wants you to know the right way to report that damage. It’s set up a webpage where damage reporting can be done, and there is also a phone line open for that purpose. You can find the webpage right here, and the phone number to call is 1-800-815-5485. The dedicated phone lines for flood damage reporting will be staffed through this Friday. The hours are 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. . ...Read Full Story

Kalamazoo Authorities ID Flood Victim

The Kalamazoo Public Safety Department has released the name of the man whose body was found by a kayaker in the floodwater near a business along Riverview Drive on Sunday. Captain Shannon Bagley says 48-year old James Jackson’s family has been notified of his passing. The investigation continues. They say that his car was found submerged not far from where his body was found in the deep water under the rail viaduct and the intersection of East Michigan and Riverview. An autopsy was conducted. They are now waiting for toxicology tests which could take a month or more.. ...Read Full Story

Education Department Investigating Nassar Case

From the Associated Press — The federal Education Department has opened an investigation into how Michigan State University handled allegations of sexual assault against Dr. Larry Nassar. Nassar was a campus sports doctor who has been sentenced to decades in prison
for sexually assaulting gymnasts and other women and girls and for child pornography crimes. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says investigators will look at “systemic issues” with regard how to the school deals with such complaints. She says Nassar’s actions “are unimaginable.” She adds, “The bravery shown by the survivors has been remarkable.” DeVos says the university’s acting president, John Engler, has ordered the school to cooperate fully with the investigation. The Michigan Attorney General’s office also is investigating Michigan State’s handling of Nassar.. ...Read Full Story

State Offers Wetland Lessons To Middle SChoolers

From the Associated Press — Teachers looking for a way to work Michigan’s animals and plants into their lessons have a new option to choose from. The state Department of Natural Resources has developed a curriculum called Michigan’s Wondrous Wetlands and Waterfowl. It’s intended for students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades and will provide information about the importance of local wetland ecosystems. The six lessons focus on waterfowl species, their biology and life cycles, plus wetland management and history. The program also recommends a field trip to a local wetland. Educators are asked to register for the classroom program by March 30. Materials will be provided via email to eligible educators.. ...Read Full Story

Red Cross Shelters Remain open

The American Red Cross of Southwest Michigan is providing shelters for residents whose homes are flooded in Berrien County. American Red Cross of Southwest Michigan Director Breeze Ettle tells WSJM News they’re teaming up with the Berrien Community Foundation and the United Way of Southwest Michigan to raise money to help local residents.. ...Read Full Story

Berrien Springs High School Fundraiser For Flood Victims

There will be a fundraiser this week at Berrien Springs High School for local residents affected by flooding. Academic studies teacher Andrea Sprague tells WSJM News she’s going to teach an apple pie-baking class on Thursday, and then the pies will be sold the next day. All money raised will go to the families of about 30 students who had to evacuate the River Springs Estates mobile home park.. ...Read Full Story

“Do Not Drink” Orders Issued For Two Mobile Home Communities

Two mobile home communities in Berrien County are now under “Do Not Drink” orders when it comes to the water. The Berrien County Sheriff’s Department tells us the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has requested the water at the River Springs Estates mobile home park in Berrien Township and at the Meadow Streams Mobile Home Community in Sodus Township not be consumed until further notice. The DEQ recommends only consuming bottled water. That’s because flooding in the past week could have caused contamination. The “Do Not Drink” orders are in effect until further notice.. ...Read Full Story

UPDATE – Boil Water Order Now “Do Not Drink” Order

If you’re in the River Springs mobile home park of Berrien Springs, do not drink the water. The Berrien County Sheriff’s Department has issued a “Do Not Drink” order for the mobile home community stemming from the floods there. The sheriff’s department tells WSJM News the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has requested residents in the area only consume bottled water until further notice. The DEQ is working with the Berrien Springs Public Works Department to disinfect a water main which could possibly have been contaminated by flood waters in the mobile home community.. ...Read Full Story

Sheriff’s Department Assessing Flood Damage

The Berrien County Sheriff’s Department has started its damage assessment in the Berrien Springs and Niles areas following this month’s flooding. Chief Deputy Robert Boyce tells WSJM News the sheriff’s department’s damage assessment team was checking out homes in the River Springs Estates mobile home park Monday.. ...Read Full Story

Plea Entered In Cass County Stabbing

There has been a guilty plea in a 2017 workplace stabbing in Cass County. The Cass County Prosecutor’s office tells us 24-year-old William Henderson on Monday pleaded guilty to second degree murder, admitting he stabbed Jan Mendez in the neck, killing him at Ameri-Kart in Mason Township last year. It was in January of 2017 that prosecutors say Henderson stabbed his co-worker. As part of the plea deal, he’ll get a minimum sentence of 30 years in prison. Henderson will also be required to plead guilty to armed robbery in a separate case in Elkhart County, Indiana. Sentencing in the Michigan case will be held in April.. ...Read Full Story

River Levels Drop In Grand Rapids

From the Associated Press — River levels are dropping in Michigan after flooding last week and over the weekend because of heavy rains and melting snow. The National Weather Service says the Grand River in Grand Rapids crested Sunday above 20 feet, more than 2 feet higher than flood stage, after peaking Friday in the Lansing area. Still, local states of emergency were in effect Monday along portions of the river. In southwestern Michigan, where body of a 48-year-old man was found floating in floodwaters Sunday in Kalamazoo, the Kalamazoo River was receding after peaking above a 1947 record. Police say the man’s vehicle was found submerged and the death didn’t appear
suspicious, but the cause is under investigation. Over the weekend, some used kayaks and jet skis in flooded areas.. ...Read Full Story

United Way Taking Donations For Flood Relief

The United Way of Southwest Michigan is already looking at the long-term needs of Berrien and Cass counties when it comes to flood cleanup. United Way of Southwest Michigan President Anna Murphy tells WSJM News that’s why the organization has teamed up with the Berrien Community Foundation for a disaster relief fund. Money donated to the new disaster relief fund will be held by the Berrien Community Foundation, and then go to the American Red Cross of Southwest Michigan.. ...Read Full Story

Road Money Before State Senate

The state Senate is poised to take up legislation passed last week by the House to spend an extra $175 million this fiscal year on road repairs. Republican Representative Laura Cox of Livonia said before the House vote last week that no area is being left out.. ...Read Full Story

MDOT Enforcing Weight Restrictions

Truck weight restrictions took effect Monday to avoid damaging Michigan roads as the weather begins to warm up. The restrictions are imposed on all state highways from the Michigan-Indiana and Michigan-Ohio state lines north to Muskegon County. Dan Weingarten is with the Michigan Department of Transportation, and spoke with Michigan News Network about the weight restrictions.. ...Read Full Story

LaSata Campaign Co-Chairs Announced

State Representative Kim LaSata has announced her campaign co-chairs as she runs for the Michigan Senate in the 21st District, and they’re some well-known names. LaSata tells us her chair for Berrien County will be Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey, the chair for Cass County will be Southwestern Michigan College President Dave Mathews, and the chair for St. Joseph County will be former state Senator Cameron Brown. Berrien, Cass, and St. Joseph are the three counties that make up the state Senate 21st District. LaSata says having “the support of these amazing community leaders is a tremendous early boost to my campaign.” She’s running to replace state Senator John Proos in the Michigan Senate after less than one term representing the 79th District in the Michigan House. Also running for the Republican nomination for that Senate seat is state Representative Dave Pagel of Berrien Springs.. ...Read Full Story

Police Offering Skywarn Training

The arrival of spring can provide some interesting and sometimes severe weather, and the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department would like to sign up some volunteers to help spot it. Lieutenant Robert Kirk tells WSJM News there will be  Skywarn Spotter training on March 10.. ...Read Full Story

Sheriff’s Department Works With Schools On Safety Planning

Being prepared for emergencies is among the top priorities for schools in Michigan, and here in Berrien County, helping them is a function of the sheriff’s department’s emergency management and homeland security division. The office’s Captain Rockey Adams tells WSJM News the department teams up with local police agencies to have plans for possible scenarios like school shootings.. ...Read Full Story

Salvation Army Looking At Next Stage Of Flood Relief

The Niles Salvation Army is doing what it can to help those who have beenaffected by flooding in Berrien County. Niles chapter Lieutenant Joseph Hixenbaugh tells us volunteers were out and about this past week giving people food and water. The Salvation Army is also starting to think about what’s next. The long-term question is one of cleanup.. ...Read Full Story

Plan Would Reduce Some Vehicle Fees

A new plan from state Senator John Proos is designed to allow more wheelchair-accessible vehicles to receive a state registration fee deduction. Proos tells us the idea applies to vehicles that have been specially-modified for wheelchair use. He says those modifications can cost quite a bit, leading to higher state registration fees. He says the new legislation could help. Proos notes there is a current registration reduction in place for wheelchair-accessible vans, but not other types of vehicles. Under Senate Bill 815, the registration fee reduction would be offered on any passenger vehicle with a permanently-installed wheelchair lift or permanently-installed hand controls whether it’s a van, truck, or anything else. The plan is now before a state Senate committee.. ...Read Full Story

Bill Aims To Streamline License Process For PGA events

Legislation supported by state Representative Kim LaSata is designed to pave the way for smoother large events like the Senior PGA Championship. She tells us the bill which passed the House this week would enable vendors at PGA golf tournaments in Michigan to apply for a national sporting event liquor license so that local venues don’t have to get those licenses themselves.. ...Read Full Story

SJ Schools Getting Robotics Facility

St. Joseph Public Schools has announced plans to build a new robotics facility. To be named the Edward J. Todd Innovation Center, the 7000 square foot building will be adjacent to the Career Technical Center of the high school with access from Lakeview Avenue. The building will be used by the district’s robotics program, which sponsors 12 teams made up of students from grades two through twelve. The lead donor for the facility is Edward J. Todd, a St. Joe High School grad from the class of 1954. The district tells us he’s a strong supporter of improvements for schools. Another backer is the Hanson Family Foundation. St. Joseph Public Schools Board of Education President Amy Porritt-Peirce tells us the new robotics facility will enhance the success and opportunities of the district’s FIRST Robotics program and also strengthen its emphasis on STEAM education. Construction on the robotics facility is scheduled to start this spring and be finished by the end of the year.. ...Read Full Story

Pagel Discusses Race For MI Senate

Experience. That’s what state Representative Dave Pagel says he has heading into the race for the 21st District Michigan Senate seat. He has announced he’s running to replace the term-limited state Senator John Proos. Pagel tells WSJM News he wants to better fund public education. He’s been concerned about some legislative action on that front.. ...Read Full Story

What’s Next After Disaster Declaration

The Berrien County Board of Commissioners on Friday declared a Local State of Emergency due to the flooding this week. Berrien County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Robert Boyce tells WSJM News the declaration is the first step in getting either state or federal aid to clean up. The move enables the county to pursue assistance from the state when it comes to flood cleanup.. ...Read Full Story

State Seeking Volunteers For Frog, Toad Survey

From the Associated Press — Michigan biologists are looking for volunteers to help with an annual survey of frogs and toads. Declining numbers of frogs, toads and other amphibians have been documented worldwide since the 1980s. Studies suggest they’re disappearing because of habitat loss, pollution, disease and collection. Lori Sargent of the state Department of Natural Resources says Michigan has
seen a decline in Fowler’s toads and mink frogs over the past 20 years. They have a limited range in Michigan, unlike other frog and toad species. The surveys are conducted by volunteer observers along a system of permanent routes, each consisting of 10 wetland sites. They listen for calling frogs and toads at each site, identify the species and estimate abundance. If you’re interested in volunteering, contact Sargent at 517-284-6216 or SargentL@michigan.gov.. ...Read Full Story