Local News Archives

Advocacy Groups Praise State Budget

Governor Rick Snyder signed the new state budget on Friday. It’s a plan some analysts describe as both promising and concerning. Rachel Richards, with the Michigan League for Public Policy, tells us the $56.5 half billion state budget includes several measures to help the state’s most vulnerable residents. They include extending the “heat and eat” program and more funding for the “Double Up Food Bucks” program, both of which increase access to healthy foods. Richards adds the budget also improves child-care assistance, by increasing eligibility and raising payments to providers.. ...Read Full Story

One Charged In Child Porn Case

The Cass County Sheriff’s Department has made an arrest in a child pornography case. It tells us it searched a home in the 13,000 block of US 12 in Union on Monday and found a computer containing pictures it believes are child porn. The search was conducted after the department got a tip. Police also say they also found methamphetamine in the home. A 44-year-old man has been arrested and faces charges of possession of child pornography, possession of methamphetamine, and possession of meth with intent to deliver. His name has not yet been released.. ...Read Full Story

Opioid Deaths Continue To Rise In Michigan

The number of drug overdose deaths skyrocketed in Michigan last year. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says 1,689 people died from opioid-related overdoses in 2016, up from 1,275 in 2015. Health Department spokeswoman Jennifer Eisner told Michigan News Network there is one key factor in the increase.. ...Read Full Story

Van Buren Youth Fair Gets In Full Swing Monday

The 62nd annual Van Buren Youth Fair gets truly underway on Monday. Fair secretary Iris Swift tells WSJM News Monday’s events will include animal shows and a talent show. It’s also Armed Forces Day when veterans and military personnel get in for free. Tuesday brings the tractor pull. The fun doesn’t end there.. ...Read Full Story

One Arrested In Benton Twp Drug Bust

One person is facing charges following a drug bust in Benton Township this week. The Berrien County Sheriff’s Department tells us the Southwest Enforcement Team searched a home in the 1,200 block of Parkway Drive on Thursday. It was the culmination of an eight month investigation into the distribution of marijuana and cocaine. Officers say they seized more than six ounces of marijuana, ammunition, several prescription opioid medications, a vehicle, and $500 in cash. Information on the suspect has not been released. The Southwest Enforcement Team is made up of law enforcement agencies from all over southwest Michigan.. ...Read Full Story

Former West MI Golf Course Turns Into Hilly Grassland

From the Associated Press — A former golf course in western Michigan has transformed into hilly grassland for hikers to walk through and for nature to thrive. The Grand Rapids Press reports that the Blandford Nature Center officially opened The Highlands to the public in Grand Rapids Thursday. The trail was formerly known as the Highlands Golf Club and is now considered an extension to the nature center.
The nature center acquired the more than 120-acre former golf course in February in partnership with Land Conservancy of West Michigan and has nearly doubled the size of the center. Blandford President Jason Meyer says that The Highlands’ hilly terrain is different from the original nature center and allows for more access to winter activities such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.. ...Read Full Story

Snyder Signs State Budget

From the Associated Press — Governor Rick Snyder has signed a $56.5 billion budget, capping months of work with lawmakers on the state’s next spending plan. The Republican governor signed the bills Friday in Grand Rapids, at a career tech center run by the Kent Intermediate School District. He says the budget includes record spending on K-12 schools, including a big boost for at-risk students and to buy equipment for career and technical education programs. Snyder says the budget “will make a difference” in people’s lives. The plan includes a $35 million deposit into a state infrastructure fund, more spending on roads and bridges, and extra debt payments as part of an agreement to steer more newly hired school employees into a 401(k)-only retirement plan.. ...Read Full Story

Michigan To Steer New School Workers Into 401(k)-Only Plan

Governor Snyder has signed into law a plan to steer more newly hired school employees into a 401(k)-only retirement benefit instead of one with a pension. Republicans say Thursday’s move will prevent future underfunding, while teachers unions worry the measure could ultimately lead to closing the pension system entirely to new hires. Starting February 1, new school workers will be automatically enrolled in a 401(k)-only plan like what state employees receive. They could opt out and instead pay more of their salary toward a pension than current school workers do, assuming more of the risk of underfunding. New school employees have qualified for both a pension and a small 401(k)-type plan since 2010. It’s unknown how many new hires will take just the 401(k). Currently, 20% do.. ...Read Full Story

Mackinac Center Applauds Teacher Pension Reforms

Governor Rick Snyder has signed into law some teacher pension reforms. The plan is expected to largely move new teachers in Michigan over to 401(k) style retirement plans, rather than being put into the old traditional pension system. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s James Homan tells WSJM News it’s better for teachers.. ...Read Full Story

Part Of Red Arrow Highway Dedicated In Honor Of Fallen State Troopers

Red Arrow Highway between US-12 and Union Pier has now officially been dedicated as the Trooper Charles Stark and Trooper Gary Rampy Memorial Highway. That’s after Berrien County Commissioners approved a resolution Thursday stating as much. Commissioner Ezra Scott helped to usher through the move to honor the two Michigan State Police troopers who were shot and killed by a drunk driving suspect the night of December 31, 1971. He told WSJM News it took loo long.. ...Read Full Story

Lakeshore Schools To Seek $21 Million Bond

Lakeshore Schools has locked in a date to ask voters for a 25 year, $21 million bond. The board of education has bene thinking for several months about asking voters for the improvement funds. They would be used for parking lot work, door and window replacements, electric upgrades, and improvements to the high school auditorium. Lakeshore Superintendent Philip Freeman has told us the work is the second half of what the district had in mind when it pursued a $36 million bond. District officials note this latest bond would not cause taxes to go up because it’s coming up right as another millage expires. The bond will appear on your ballot in November, according to The Herald Palladium.. ...Read Full Story

Borgess-Lee Hospital Donates $10,000 To SMC Nursing Expansion

Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital in Dowagiac is helping Southwestern Michigan College with its big nursing program expansion. The hospital this week announced a $10,000 donation to SMC as it works to roughly double the number of nursing students it can accommodate. The college is awarding bids this month for the expansion of its nursing building to more than twice its current size. Borgess-Lee Hospital representatives say they’re contributing to the SMC effort because the hospital will directly benefit from the college’s nursing program. SMC is spending $9.6 million to expand the program, partly in response to a growing need for nurses in the region.. ...Read Full Story

Girls On The Run Chapters To Merge

Girls on the Run of Berrien County is merging with Girls on the Run of Van Buren-Cass-St. Joseph counties. Berrien Girls on the Run Director Julie Bos tells WSJM News the national program wanted to consolidate some chapters, so essentially, Berrien is taking over the other regional county operations. This will not affect next spring’s Girls on the Run event in Berrien Springs.. ...Read Full Story

Cass Co. K9 Credited With Locating Missing Man

Cass County Sheriff’s Department K9 “Faust” is once again being saluted for his efforts to help law enforcement. The department tells our newsroom deputies were called out to the 69,000 Block of Hazel Road in Union around 10:30 a.m. Thursday on a report of a man who’d gone missing. Deputies were told the man had taken a large amount of prescription drugs following an argument with his wife before disappearing. The sheriff’s department called in its K9, “Faust.” The dog found the missing man unresponsive in a field a short time later. Deputies performed first aid and the man was taken to a hospital by ambulance. The sheriff’s department was assisted in the situation by Porter Township Ambulance and Medflight.. ...Read Full Story

Overdose Deaths Up Last Year, Many Involving Opioids

From the Associated Press — State officials say overdose deaths jumped by 18% last year in Michigan with the majority of cases involving opioid abuse. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday that nearly 1,700 of the 2,335 overdose deaths in 2016 were opioid-related. There were 1,275 opioid-related deaths in 2015. Opioids include heroin, prescription opioids, and nonpharmaceutical fentanyl. The state’s Health and Human Services department has launched a media campaign to raise awareness about opioid use, treatment options and proper storage and disposal of prescription drugs. Earlier this year, Michigan received more than $16 million in Opioid State
Targeted Response funds from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The grant is being used to promote prevention and increase access to treatment by funding state initiatives.. ...Read Full Story

Van Buren Youth Fair Starts Saturday

Fair season in southwest Michigan starts Saturday. The Van Buren Youth Fair will run from July 15-22. Monster trucks will be featured this year for the first time with the Michigan Monster Truck Shootout Wednesday night. Friday night will close with a fireworks show, and the last evening event next Saturday will be the demolition derby. This is the 62nd year for the Van Buren Youth Fair.. ...Read Full Story

Websites Push For Net Neutrality

Wednesday was Net Neutrality Day of Action as websites of all stripes posted messages to their visitors asking them to reach out to the FCC on the issue of maintaining an open internet. The agency is on the verge of repealing rules which require internet service providers to allow equal access to all sites. Industry consultant Amanda Lotz, with the University of Michigan, tells us consumers will pay the price if some websites receive a lower level of service because they can’t pay.. ...Read Full Story

Governor Signs Police Body Camera Legislation

From the Associated Press — Beginning in January, Michigan will have rules in place for the disclosure and retention of audio or video recordings from body cameras worn by police officers. Legislation signed by Governor Rick Snyder Wednesday exempts the recordings from
public-records request under certain circumstances, including if the recordings were made in a “private place.” Recordings also will be kept private during ongoing criminal or internal investigations but only for listed reasons such as public disclosure interfering with law enforcement proceedings or invading personal privacy. Body camera recordings retained as part of civil lawsuits will not be considered public records.
The law also requires law enforcement agencies that use body-worn cameras to develop a written policy regarding their use by officers.. ...Read Full Story

Police Release Identify Of Man Killed Overnight In SJ Township

Police have identified a man killed in St. Joseph Township this week when he was struck by a vehicle. 23-year-old James Servillas, of St. Joseph, was pronounced dead from his injuries at Lakeland Hospital Wednesday morning. He was found laying in the road in the area of South Lakeshore Drive near Victoria Path, just north of Kay Manufacturing, shortly before 3 a.m. The driver who hit him and a passenger, both juveniles, returned to the scene and spoke to police. The accident report will be sent to the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office for possible charges.. ...Read Full Story

MI House Approves “Good Jobs for Michigan” Plan

From the Associated Press — The Michigan House has approved the Good Jobs for Michigan tax incentives plan. Qualified companies that create hundreds or thousands of Michigan jobs would receive state tax incentives under bills approved by lawmakers. The votes Wednesday come six years after Governor Rick Snyder and fellow Republicans ended such breaks in favor of a scaled-back economic development program. Advocates say the new incentives are structured better and will help Michigan compete with other states to land new good-paying jobs. Critics call the Snyder-backed legislation “crony capitalism” and say it comes at the expense of individuals who also deserve a tax break.
Snyder has pushed for passage of the “Good Jobs” program this summer, as Michigan tries to persuade Taiwanese electronics contractor Foxconn to build a 5,000-employee display panel factory in the state.. ...Read Full Story

Pedestrian Killed In St. Joseph Twp

A deadly hit-and-run accident this morning is under investigation in St. Joseph Township. WSJM News has learned a person was found laying in the road in the area of South Lakeshore Drive near Victoria Path, just north of Kay Manufacturing, shortly before 3 a.m. That victim was pronounced dead from his injuries at Lakeland Hospital. The driver and passenger, both of whom are juveniles, returned to the scene and were questioned by police. The accident report will be sent to the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office for review and possible charges. It’s not clear at this point if either youngster were taken into custody. No names have yet been released.. ...Read Full Story

Storms Knock Out Power In Berrien County

Strong thunderstorms are responsible for several thousand Indiana Michigan Power customers being without any electricity this morning. After the first round of storms rolled through, there were 4,655 customers in the dark in Berrien County, with 23 separate outages. Nearly 15-hundred of those were in the Benton Harbor area, with just over 500 south of Coloma. More outages are possible throughout the day as storms continue to push through.. ...Read Full Story

Hundreds Turn Out For Courthouse Memorial Walk, Vigil

Several hundred people have marched to remember two fallen heroes and to express support for law enforcement in southwest Michigan. A memorial walk on the one year anniversary of the Berrien County Courthouse shootings was held Tuesday night. The procession took everyone from the courthouse to the Law Enforcement Memorial along the bluff in St. Joseph to remember Joe Zangaro and Ron Kienzle, two court security officers killed last year when an inmate grabbed a court security officer’s gun. Denise Fisher, with the Fraternal Order of Police, told us the community has really come out in support for police in the last year.. ...Read Full Story

South Haven Schools To Hold Town Hall

A town hall is planned for this week in South Haven for everyone to learn more about what the programs offered at the local public school district. South Haven Public Schools spokesperson Amy Nichols tells WSJM News this is a sort of “State of the Schools” event to spread the word about the district.. ...Read Full Story

Coloma Area Double Murder Suspect Going To Trial

The man charged in a 2016 double murder case in Coloma is going to trial. On Tuesday, a Berrien County judge found there is enough evidence for Alex Perez to be tried in the deaths of Renee Mitchell and her father, John Mitchell. The two were found beaten to death in their Coloma area home on January 15 of last year. Perez was later arrested in Colorado. Mitchell relative Stephanie Kopaceski told WSJM News there was a lot on her mind in the courtroom.. ...Read Full Story

Watervliet Man Charged After Tuesday Chase With Police

A 42-year-old Watervliet man is in the Berrien County Jail following a chase with the Berrien County Weighmaster Tuesday. Michigan State Police tell WSJM News the weighmaster pulled over a vehicle on County Line Road for a traffic violation around 12:15 p.m. While talking to the driver, the suspect’s vehicle took off, dragging the weighmaster with it. He managed to get free, and then chased the suspect north on County Line Road before finally crashing and overturning at 70th Street near 48th Avenue. The weighmaster was taken to a hospital for treatment, while the suspect’s vehicle was found abandoned not long after. A Berrien County Sheriff’s Department K9 found the suspect hiding in the woods. The suspect is now charged with fleeing and eluding, drunk driving, and driving on a suspended license.. ...Read Full Story

Benton Harbor Athletic Director Steps Down

Benton Harbor Area Schools is now looking for a new athletic director. Fred Smith has submitted his resignation, effective immediately. Benton Harbor Area Schools Superintendent Dr. Shelly Walker tells us Smith will be missed, adding, “He has been dedicated to Benton Harbor’s success these past two years.” Smith issued a brief statement saying he has not had the time needed to lead Benton Harbor in the direction it needs to go because of family issues. The position of athletic director will be posted shortly.. ...Read Full Story

Pokagon Casino Looking To Fill 1,200 Jobs

From the Associated Press — Four job fairs are being planned for positions at the tribal casino that’s under construction in northern Indiana.
The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians expects to have about 1,200 positions at the casino in South Bend when it opens early next year.The job fairs are July 22 and Sept. 9 at Jackson Middle School in South Bend, with the others August 5 at Four Winds Field and Oct. 3 at Century Center. The South Bend Tribune reports Pokagon spokeswoman Paige Risser wouldn’t disclose pay ranges for the jobs, saying only that they’ll be “market competitive.” Risser said she couldn’t yet specify an opening date for the casino. The Pokagon Band currently has Four Winds casinos at three southwestern Michigan locations, with its largest in New Buffalo.. ...Read Full Story

State Expected To Tighten Firewood Rules At Parks

From the Associated Press — Michigan is expected to tighten rules about firewood in state parks and some other public lands starting next year as part of efforts to curb destructive invasive species. Jason Fleming, resource protection and promotion section chief for the Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Division, tells The Holland Sentinel that an official policy is being developed. He says specifics could be
finalized this fall. Fleming notes that invasive species and disease can travel on firewood, whether the wood is brought from another state or just outside the park. Michigan already has some restrictions in place to prevent the spread of invasive pests and tree diseases. MLive.com reports campers, for example, might have to buy firewood at a park from an approved vendor or bring in wood that’s been certified.. ...Read Full Story

Memorial Walk, Candlelight Vigil Today To Remember Courthouse Victims

Today marks one year since the deadly shootings at the Berrien County Courthouse in St. Joseph that claimed the lives of security director Joseph Zangaro and bailiff Ron Kienzle. The two were killed by an inmate trying to escape after he had stolen the gun of Deputy James Atterberry Jr. Atterberry survived being shot, as did a woman who was in the courthouse, and responding officers killed the inmate. Berrien Strong Community In Action and the Fraternal Order of Police Blossomland Lodge #100 are holding a memorial walk tonight starting at 8:30 from the courthouse to the Law Enforcement Memorial in St. Joseph, where a candlelight vigil will be held. If you plan to walk, you’re urged to arrive at the courthouse no later than 8:15.. ...Read Full Story

Child Drowns In Galien Township

The Berrien County Sheriff’s Department is investigating after a seven-year-old-girl drowned in a Galien Township pond on Monday. It tells our newsroom deputies were called out to a swimming hole on a rural property along Jeffery Road near Spring Creek Road about 7:15 p.m. Sadie Geigler, of Michigan City, was pulled from the water. Despite efforts by emergency responders to save her, the girl was pronounced dead at Lakeland Hospital in Niles. The sheriff’s department was assisted at the scene by the Three Oaks, Police Department, the Pokagon Tribal Police Department, Three Oaks Ambulance, the Galien Township Fire Department, the Weesaw Township Fire Department, and the Bertrand Township Fire Department.. ...Read Full Story

St. Joseph Commission Approves Whirlpool Tax Break

St. Joseph City Commissioners have taken the biggest step they needed to take in order to help a Whirlpool Tech Center expansion move forward. On Monday, they approved a commercial rehabilitation district certificate for the area of Upton Drive where the tech center work could take place. Rob Cleveland, with Cornerstone Alliance, tells us the next step is to get support from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.. ...Read Full Story

Son Of Van Buren Sheriff Charged In Connection With Shooting

The son of Van Buren County Sheriff Daniel Abbot is facing charges in connection with a Bangor murder case early this year. MLive reports 23-year-old Nikolas Abbot is charged with being an accessory after the fact to a felony, felony firearm, and a false report of a felony connected to the February 3 shooting of Eddie Holland at a park. Prosecutors say Holland was shot by Thurman Fletcher, and that Nikolas Abbot provided the gun. Abbott is also accused of later reporting that handgun stolen and then selling it in Benton Harbor. Police have since recovered it. Fletcher is charged with murder in the shooting, which was related to a drug deal. Abbot is due for a preliminary exam on July 26.. ...Read Full Story

Snyder In Support Of “Good Jobs For Michigan” Plan

You can count Governor Rick Snyder as among the supporters of a plan to give a big tax incentive to companies that create a large number of jobs in Michigan. The Good Jobs for Michigan plan would allow employers to capture a portion of the income taxes their new employees pay if the employer has created at least 250 jobs that pay the regional average. Snyder thinks such an incentive could create a whole lot of opportunities.. ...Read Full Story

Paul Clements Talks New Congressional Campaign

Once again running for Congress in Michigan’s Sixth District is Paul Clements. He’s a professor at Western Michigan University who tells WSJM News President Trump and Republicans, in general, have been motivating more to vote Democratic. He thinks he could beat Congressman Fred Upton this time, despite losing to Upton twice.. ...Read Full Story

Court Nixes Big Drug Bust On SW Michigan Highway

(St. Joseph, MI – AP) – The Michigan appeals court is throwing a flag at the seizure of 15 pounds of marijuana in southwestern Michigan. The court says the marijuana can’t be used to prosecute a Florida man. The court says detaining Kevin Kavanaugh while state police waited for a drug-sniffing dog violated his rights. The appeals court says it’s applying a legal precedent by the U.S. Supreme Court and throwing out Kavanaugh’s conviction. His car was stopped on Interstate 196 in Berrien County in 2014. The appeals court says the traffic stop should have ended when Trooper Michael Daniels said he only would give a warning for Kavanaugh’s driving violations. The trooper called for a police dog when Kavanaugh declined to allow a search of the trunk. The 3-0 decision was released Friday.. ...Read Full Story

Gas Prices Move Up; SWMI Lowest In State

Southwest Michigan has the state’s lowest gas prices to start the week. According to the latest survey from Triple-A Michigan, the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph average is up nearly 15¢ from last week at $2.38. The statewide average rose 13¢ to $2.42, which is the third-largest jump in the country. The state’s most expensive gas is being sold in Jackson at $2.48 a gallon. GasBuddy spotters note Niles has the lowest prices in the state at $2.03, and South Haven’s prices range from $2.29 to $2.32 a gallon.. ...Read Full Story

Part Of Euclid Avenue To Close Next Week

The Berrien County Road Commission will start rebuilding South Euclid Avenue in Benton Township next week. The road will only be open north of Napier to the county animal control facility starting Monday. Crews will raise the road grade in sections by a foot, widen it, and then have a double layer of tar and stone applied. The road commission expects the work to be done by Labor Day, and the project is costing the county $199,000.. ...Read Full Story

Benton Harbor Officer Hurt In Crash

A Benton Harbor Public Safety officer is recovering at Lakeland Medical Center after being injured in a Sunday morning crash on East Britain Avenue at Columbus Avenue. The Berrien County Sheriff’s Department tells us the officer was responding to a priority call of an assault in progress and had his lights and sirens going. The driver of a Ford Expedition was in front of the officer and started to turn left onto Columbus as the officer was passing him on the left, and the impact sent the patrol SUV rolling several times before coming to rest in a vacant lot. Other Benton Harbor officers had to use the “jaws of life” to extricate the injured officer from his patrol vehicle, and he was alert and conscious when he was taken to the hospital. The driver, an adult passenger, and six kids who were in the Ford were not hurt. The crash is still under investigation.. ...Read Full Story

100th Anniversary Celebration For Jean Klock Park Set For This Month

A celebration is being planned to mark the 100th anniversary of Benton Harbor’s Jean Klock Park this month. The Lake Michigan shoreline attraction was dedicated to the children in 1917 by J.N. Klock and his wife, Carrie, in honor of their deceased daughter. Since then, it’s gone through many ups and downs, and its 100th birthday will be celebrated on July 15. People will gather for a low-key, respectful event from 10 a.m. to 3 pm. They’ve got some games for the kids planned, and anyone who needs help getting down to the party can call Dial-A-Ride.. ...Read Full Story

Search Called Off For Possible South Haven Drowning Victim

Emergency responders have called off the search for a possible drowning victim in South Haven. The search started Friday night after witnesses reported seeing a man walk off the south pier into Lake Michigan and then not resurfacing. The Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department, South Haven Area Emergency Services, and the U.S. Coast Guard searched the water all day Saturday and found nothing. They say they’ve found no evidence of the man in the water. As of Saturday night, there were no plans to resume the search.. ...Read Full Story

Analyst: 1 In 60 Chance Of Straits Pipeline Spill By 2053

From the Associated Press — Analysts say there’s a small chance but serious risk of an oil spill from a nearly 65-year-old dual pipeline underneath the Straits of Mackinac in northern Michigan. Engineer James Mihell of Dynamic Risk Assessment Inc. says there is a 1 in 60
probability that the section of Enbridge Energy Inc.’s Line 5 pipeline running through waters that connect lakes Huron and Michigan will fail between now and 2053. The state hired the analysts to assess potential energy delivery alternatives in the area. Environmental activists have accused Dynamic Risk of underestimating the potential of a spill. Mihell disputed suggestions the firm was low-balling or sugar-coating the risk.
Analysts didn’t recommend a specific course of action by the state, but described several alternatives to the pipeline section, including construction of a new trench or tunnel crossing at the same location.. ...Read Full Story