Local News Archives

Big Apartment Fire Displaces Niles Residents

Fire investigators are trying to figure out what sparked a massive three-alarm blaze at the North Niles Villa apartments on North 5th Street in Niles. The flames went through the roof in Building A of the complex last night, displacing residents of more than a dozen units. Niles Fire Chief Don Wise tells our reporting partners at WNDU NewsCenter 16 that in his more than three decades of fighting fires, this was among the worst he’s seen. The American Red Cross was on hand to help those people find shelter for the night. It’s believed the fire started in the attic, and investigators say it does not appear that the smoke detectors were working. One resident was hospitalized for smoke inhalation.. ...Read Full Story

Heritage Museum Welcomes New Director

A new director has come to the Heritage Museum and Cultural Center in St. Joseph. Elizabeth Andrews, a St. Joe native, is taking over the position. She’s the replacement for Amy Zapal, who left the Heritage Museum early this year to lead St. Joseph Today. Andrews returns to the area from Ann Arbor where she’d most recently lived. She previously spent 17 years working for Berrien RESA, leading arts education around the county. The museum tells us Andrews “brings a passion for local history and culture, exuberance for learning and a deep commitment to philanthropy in the public and private sector.” It adds the new executive director will now lead efforts to increase technology-enhanced preservation of local artifacts and to increase the museum’s long-term sustainability.. ...Read Full Story

State Reports Increase In Cases Of Hepatitis A

Cases of Hepatitis A are on the rise in the state, prompting the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to activate its Community Health Emergency Coordination Center. Department Spokesperson Angela Minicuci tells Michigan News Network that will provide more help to healthcare providers and facilities. Many of the hepatitis A cases are associated with those who have a history of substance use, people in transient living conditions, those in jails, and healthcare workers.. ...Read Full Story

Benton Harbor High School To Be Added To State Partnership Agreement

Some additional schools in Benton Harbor will be forming partnership agreements with the Michigan Department of Education in order to stay open. The department announced Tuesday Benton Harbor High School and the Mildred C. Wells Preparatory Academy have been added to the list. Their persistently-low test scores have caused them to be identified by the state as in need of extra intervention.. ...Read Full Story

MI Lawmakers Approve Supplemental Spending Bill

From the Associated Press — Michigan lawmakers have approved a $62.8 million supplemental budget bill that includes spending vetoed by Governor Rick Snyder months ago. The bill passed by the House Tuesday would restore about half of the $5 million in proposed general spending nixed by the Republican governor. An education budget bill already on Snyder’s desk includes another $1.2 million in spending he previously vetoed. Lawmakers say Snyder is now on board after reconsidering. Added back in is $150,000 to train grocers and others to prepare and clean equipment used to serve draft beer. A law expanded the type of businesses that can let customers fill growlers for consumption off-site. There’s also $280,000 for a Muskegon charter school and $700,000 for a study on the potential of genomic testing to improve opioid prescribing practices.. ...Read Full Story

Fire Destroys Berrien Center Home

A more than 100 year old farm house is a total loss following a fire in Berrien Center Monday night. Eau Claire Fire Chief Norman Carl tells WSJM News the fire was reported at a home on Painter School Road near M-62 around 9:15 p.m. One member of the family woke up and got the rest of the family out. Responding fire departments were from Eau Claire, Sodus Township, Indian Lake, and Pokagon Township. A preliminary investigation finds the cause of the fire was likely a wood-burning stove, although the fire marshal is working to determine the official cause. Carl says no one was hurt in the blaze. He says the house was fully involved when firefighters arrived and there was no saving it. The family is staying with relatives. Firefighters were at the scene as late as 3 a.m. because of heavy winds that re-ignited the flames.. ...Read Full Story

Benton Harbor Officer Pleads Guilty To Misdemeanor

The employment status of a Benton Harbor public safety officer remains up in the air following his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of neglect of duty. The Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office says 36-year-old Reginald Gee has been sentenced to paying fines and court costs of $535 and won’t serve any jail time or probation, but the Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety is still working through its own investigation. Gee had reported finding a stolen vehicle at Wings and Things on East Main street in Benton Harbor early in the morning of September 14, and called to have it towed. However, further investigation found there was someone in the car that he knew, and Gee had a conversation with that person before calling in the discovery of the 2003 Honda Element. That person is still under investigation, and charges remain possible. Gee entered a guilty plea on Monday, and was sentenced the same day.. ...Read Full Story

Vandalia Man Hurt In Rollover Crash

A Vandalia man is recovering from minor injuries after crashing his car in Cass County. The sheriff’s department says alcohol was a factor, but did not indicate what the blood-alcohol level was for 57-year-old Leland Scott when he rolled his vehicle on Old 205 near Cassopolis Road just after 10:30 last night. He was not wearing a seat belt and was taken by ambulance to Elkhart General Hospital in Indiana for treatment. Deputies tell us Scott failed to navigate a curve, causing his vehicle to leave the road and roll.. ...Read Full Story

Paw Paw To Patch Briggs Mill Dam Breach

The Village of Paw Paw will spend $225,000 to patch a breach in the Briggs Mill Dam with an earthen dam and an emergency spillway. A consultant presented five options to the Village Council Monday night, for both temporary and long term repair. The concrete dam was 113-years-old when it breached during a record rainfall just over two weeks ago. The consultant says he can have it fixed before the end of the year.. ...Read Full Story

Meth Charges In Watervliet Township

Police say one man is facing charges as part of a crystal meth investigation in Berrien County. The Southwest Enforcement Team tells us it arrested 39-year-old Manowar Ahmed Jones last Thursday in Watervliet Township. Officers say they seized about a half ounce of meth and several ounces of marijuana. That followed a three week investigation into crystal meth distribution. Police say the suspect tried to destroy some meth he had on him as the arrest was being made, but officers were able to wrestle it away from him. Charges in the case include delivery of methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, resisting and obstructing police, and destruction of evidence.. ...Read Full Story

Lest We Forget To Host Veterans Day Ceremony

When Veterans Day is marked this November in St. Joseph, the ceremony will be held in a new venue and with a new host. Lest We Forget’s Hank Richmond tells us the annual ceremony previously organized by a Korean War veterans group in St. Joe has been handed over to his organization. So, Veterans Day will be marked on Saturday, November 11 at the Whitcomb.. ...Read Full Story

Health Experts Urge Moderate Halloween Candy Consumption

As you prepare to send your young ones out for a night on the town of trick or treating, the American Heart Association is reminding you to practice a little moderation with the candy consumption. The group’s Stacy Sawyer tells us while a few days of increased sugar intake around Halloween might not be a make or break for long-term health, the much larger problem is general sugar consumption in the United States.. ...Read Full Story

Democrats To Unveil New Wage Theft Legislation

Bills to prevent wage theft will soon be introduced in the Michigan legislature. A report from the Economic Policy Institute earlier this year found Michigan workers across all demographic groups are losing $429 million every year as a result of wage theft. Lauren Rosen of Hazel Park told Michigan News Network this week she used to work for a restaurant in downtown Detroit that would not give workers their tips.. ...Read Full Story

MDOT Adding New Safety Features To SWM Roads

New safety features are being added to roads around southwest Michigan, and you may not even notice them. The Michigan Department of Transportation’s Nick Schirripa tells WSJM News the agency has identified areas where cars are more likely to leave their lanes, and it’s started adding features to help protect drivers.. ...Read Full Story

Snyder Signs Bills Allowing Electric Bicycles On Trails

From the Associated Press — New Michigan laws will allow bicyclists to use electric-assisted bikes on roads and paved trails. The legislation signed by Governor Rick Snyder on Monday defines the bikes in law and classifies them based on speed and other factors. Under current law, e-bikes are treated the same as a moped, requiring licensing and insurance. Certain e-bikes will be allowed on paved multi-use trails unless local communities opt out. Other electric bikes will be allowed if authorized by the local authority or state agency with jurisdiction over the trail. Snyder says the bills, which take effect in 90 days, will help bicyclists “experience the beauty of Pure Michigan in a new, exciting way.” The Michigan Environmental Council says the laws will encourage healthier lifestyles and reduce vehicle emissions.. ...Read Full Story

Woman Reaches Plea Deal Over Mosque Bomb Threat

From the Associated Press — A woman accused of making threats outside a western Michigan mosque has reached a plea agreement to resolve the case. The Grand Rapids Press reports that 34-year-old Kari Moss of Ada pleaded no contest Monday to making a false bomb threat, which carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison. She’s jailed on $500,000 bond ahead of sentencing, which is scheduled for December 12. A stiffer charge of making a false threat of terrorism was dismissed under the deal. Her mother says she’s suffered from mental illness for many years. Kentwood police say members of the At-Tawheed Islamic Center told investigators a woman was outside the mosque’s locked doors on Jan. 2 demanding money when she made the threat. No weapons were found. No services were being held.. ...Read Full Story

Police Investigate Fatal Hit And Run Near Paw Paw

The Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department is investigating a fatal hit and run reported on Monday. Sheriff’s deputies were called out to the scene on M-43 east of 37th Street near Paw Paw around 8:30 a.m. A driver had stopped to help a dog that was sitting by the side of the road when the victim was discovered. The victim has been identified as 25-year-old Keaton Dorman. Police say he was lying in the ditch on the north-side of M-43. Deputies determined he’d been walking his dog the previous night when he was struck by a vehicle. The approximate time for the hit and run is sometime between 12 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Monday. Police say evidence at the scene has shown them the vehicle involved was a tan Ford model. It should have heavy damage on its passenger side. Anyone with information on the crash is asked to call the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department.. ...Read Full Story

Secretary Of State Reminds Voters About New Election Equipment

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson is reminding everyone there will be local elections in the coming month. The date is set at November 7. Johnson tells us many voters will be using brand new voting machines this time around, so they may want to familiarize themselves with the new technology. That new equipment will be in use in 49 Michigan counties, including Berrien. Specifically, they’ll be rolled out in the Stevensville, Benton Harbor, and St. Joseph areas.. ...Read Full Story

Michigan Gas Prices Fall About 7¢

We’re not paying as much to fill up to start the week. In the area, Triple-A Michigan says the average gas price for the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph region is down 9¢ a gallon from last week to $2.50. Statewide, we’re averaging $2.51, down about 7¢. The auto club says the Saginaw-Bay City-Midland area has the state’s lowest prices at $2.43, while the most expensive gas is in the Upper Peninsula in Marquette at $2.58. South Haven, which is not included in AAA’s survey, has gas prices at most stations at $2.38 and $2.39, with GasBuddy spotters noting one station is as high as $2.49. AAA says Michigan is 21st in the nation for the most expensive gas price.. ...Read Full Story

New Law Bans Local Soda Taxes

From the Associated Press — Municipalities in Michigan will be prohibited from levying local taxes on food and beverages under a bill signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder. The Republican governor OK’d the measure Thursday after it recently won overwhelming legislative approval. No local governments in Michigan are considering an excise tax on sugary and artificially sweetened beverages. But business groups and others that lobbied for the law pointed to soda taxes in Philadelphia and the Chicago area as reason enough to move quickly. Health advocates opposed the bill. Cook County, Illinois, recently repealed its tax due to a backlash.. ...Read Full Story

Whirlpool Slightly Scales Back Tech Center Plans

St. Joseph City Commissioners have approved a new Industrial Facilities Exemption Certificate for Whirlpool as it moves forward with its plans to invest in the tech center on Upton Drive. Rob Cleveland of Cornerstone Alliance tells WSJM News a new tax abatement certificate was needed because Whirlpool has reduced the cost of the project from about $35 to $25 million.. ...Read Full Story

MI House Votes To Strengthen Prenuptial Agreements

From the Associated Press — The Michigan House has approved legislation to clarify the enforcement of prenuptial agreements due to concerns that an appellate court ruling could lead judges to invalidate prenups because assets aren’t apportioned equally. The bill was approved 63-43 Thursday, with majority Republicans in support and Democrats opposed. The legislation would add instances when a prenuptial contract is unenforceable. They would include cases of fraud, duress or mistake, or if financial information is hidden from a party before signing.Courts could not enforce a prenup if its terms are “unconscionable.” Supporters worry that without the bill, judges could disregard a contract and apply a “standard of living” test to distribute marital property. Critics worry it would prevent judges from fairly looking at the totality of circumstances.The bill moves to the Senate.. ...Read Full Story

State Salutes LMC For Work With Veterans

Lake Michigan College has been recognized by the Michigan Veterans’ Affairs Agency for its work to attract and accommodate veterans. It’s been named a gold-level Veteran Friendly School. LMC Vice President of Student Engagement Barbara Craig tells WSJM News the college does a variety of things to be welcoming to those who have served in the military.. ...Read Full Story

Economic Development Groups Question BH Income Tax Proposal

Benton Harbor-based employment and economic development organizations Kinexus and Cornerstone Alliance both have their concerns about the city’s proposal for a local income tax. Representatives of both groups chatted with WSJM’s Pat Moody this week about the ballot proposal. Kinexus CEO Todd Gustafson said he does understand the need for infrastructure work in Benton Harbor.. ...Read Full Story

Home Winterization Demonstration Monday

The Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency is working to help Benton Harbor-area residents prepare for the coming cold weather by showing them how winterize their homes. The agency’s Sandra Clank tells WSJM News they’ll do a demonstration Monday at a home in Benton Harbor. She adds teaching people how to winterize can help them be self-sufficient.. ...Read Full Story

LaSata Opposing Short-Term Rental Legislation

St. Joseph City Commissioners have heard from state Representative Kim LaSata on the question of short-term rentals. It’s been a hot button issue for the commission since legislation was introduced in the state House and Senate to remove the authority of local governments to regulate short-term rentals. LaSata at a meeting this past week told commissioners she’s against the bill, and supports local control. She said short-term rental regulation is a simple matter of quality of life.. ...Read Full Story

Upton Calls For Additional Anti-Opioid Funding

President Donald Trump’s declaration of an opioid public health emergency this week is supported by Congressman Fred Upton. He tells WSJM News opioid addiction and overdoses affect every community across the country, including southwest Michigan. Upton tells us he attended some committee hearings this week on the subject.. ...Read Full Story

Haunted Walking Tours This Weekend In St. Joseph

Coming up this Sunday will be some haunted walking tours of downtown St. Joseph. Tracy Gierada with the Heritage Museum and Cultural Center tells WSJM News they’re going to start at Bear Park at State and Market Street at 1 p.m. Sunday. Participants will be taken around the area to learn the spooky aspect of local history.. ...Read Full Story

LMC Receiving $3 Million In Federal Funds

Lake Michigan College has been awarded $3 million in federal grants to help students. LMC is the only Michigan community college selected by a U.S. Department of Education to receive the Title III Strengthening Institutions grant in this latest round of funding. The college tells us the grant is designed to help educational institutions improve outcomes for academically under-prepared and low-income students. Only seven colleges received the grant out of 103 institutions that applied nationwide this year. . ...Read Full Story

New Law Helps Gas Stations Fix Leaky Tanks

From the Associated Press — Rick Snyder has signed legislation so Michigan spends more to reimburse gas station owners to clean up their leaky, environmentally risky fuel tanks. The Republican-backed measure, which was opposed by Democrats, creates a program allowing gas station operators to be reimbursed for addressing leaks from underground petroleum tanks discovered and reported before late December
2014. They currently can be reimbursed for leaks discovered after that point. Critics say Michigan’s first responsibility is cleaning up known threats at abandoned gas stations – not helping owners of sites already cleaned up. Supporters counter Michigan has surplus revenue that’s accumulating more quickly than can be spent solely on orphan sites. The law signed Thursday also lets a fund be used to reimburse local
governments for costs to address contaminates spilled on roads.. ...Read Full Story

Verizon Testing 5G Speeds In Michigan

Ann Arbor has been chosen as the site for Verizon to test its new 5G technology in Michigan. The tests are taking place this week. Verizon’s 5G bus is giving city leaders, automakers, and researchers a a firsthand look at how 5G works on various platforms. Verizon’s Steve Van Dinter spoke with Michigan News Network about the development.. ...Read Full Story

Box Factory To Offer Makers Market

Coming soon to the Box Factory for the Arts in St. Joseph will be a maker’s market. The Box Factory’s Cara Garnett tells WSJM News southwest Michigan has all kinds of creators who make artisan products. This market will give you a chance to see what they have to offer and pick some of those things up.. ...Read Full Story

Court Sides With City Over Blighted Home

A judge has ruled in favor of the city of St. Joseph in the ongoing fight over a blighted property on Niles Avenue. At Monday’s meeting, the city attorney informed commissioners a judge has sided with a city panel’s decision that the dilapidated house at 1015 Niles Avenue be demolished. You may know the house as the one near the AT&T store that’s had a tarp on the roof for quite a long time. The city has been seeking the blighted home’s demolition for most of the year after local inspectors determined it to be unlivable. Now that the Berrien County Circuit Court has found in the city’s favor, there is a 21 day appeal period. If that happens, it would be before the Michigan Court of Appeals. The city’s attorney told commissioners she has not yet heard of an appeal being filed, though. She also said repair work continues on other blighted homes on Wayne and Hoyt Street owned by the same person.. ...Read Full Story

Cornerstone Chamber Opposing BH Income Tax Proposal

You can add the Cornerstone Chamber of Commerce to the list of organizations opposed to Benton Harbor’s income tax proposal. The chamber’s Chris Heugel tells us the board has passed a resolution officially opposing the tax. He says the board does not think it’s what Benton Harbor needs right now. Huegel tells us, “Our members drive jobs in this community and they have said that an income tax is detrimental to their operations and hinders their ability to grow and hire more individuals.”. ...Read Full Story

Snyder Signs Bill Requiring More Concussion Training For Coaches

From the Associated Press — Coaches and others involved in youth sports will have to complete concussion awareness training at least once every three years under legislation signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder. The law enacted Thursday takes effect in 90 days. It updates 2012 concussion laws that require a concussion protocol for youth athletes and an awareness program for coaches, volunteers and others.
A new requirement says concussion training must be completed once every three years, unless the state Department of Health and Human Services recommends more frequent training. The state will have to periodically review the training program and make recommendations.
The law also clarifies that universities and colleges do not need to secure parental waivers for students participating in intramural sports.. ...Read Full Story

Feds Recommend Additional Action To Protect MI Drinking Water

From the Associated Press — Federal regulators say Michigan should increase funding and staffing of its Department of Environmental Quality and take other steps to ensure its drinking water is safe. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made the recommendations Thursday in a report evaluating the state’s overall performance but emphasizing the situation in Flint, where residents were exposed to lead-contaminated water for at least 18 months. EPA says its review found numerous deficiencies in how Michigan operates its drinking water program. Among them were inadequate electronic data management and a “notable failure” to carry out its rule on lead and copper pollution. The report covers the period from October 2013 through September 2015, when the Flint crisis was at its height. Michigan officials say they’ve already dealt with many of the problems EPA identified.. ...Read Full Story

Schuitmaker Drafting Plan To Protect Rape Victims From Losing Partial Custody

State Senator Tonya Schutmaker is working on new legislation in response to a recent situation in Sanilac County in which a man convicted of rape was briefly awarded joint custody of a child. Schuitmaker tells WSJM News the mother of a child conceived through that rape almost partially lost custody because she applied for public assistance, triggering a paternity action. Shuitmaker says her plan will prevent those situations.. ...Read Full Story

St. Joseph Doctor Pleads To Opioid Charges

A St. Joseph podiatrist could get up to 20 years in prison on some opioid-related charges. The Berrien County Prosecutor’s office tells WSJM News Dr. Craig Sherwood pleaded no contest on Thursday to ten felony charges. They are five counts of diverting opioids and five counts of healthcare fraud. The prosecutor tells us Sherwood between 2014 and 2016 wrote prescriptions in the names of family members who were not his patients. He’s also accused of writing opioid prescriptions to his patients and encouraging them to bring back any unused portions to him. Many of those prescriptions were paid for by private insurance. The prosecutor does note the Southwest Michigan Enforcement Team investigation did not find evidence Sherwood sold any of those drugs. He’s now in the process of giving up his DEA license, which authorizes him to write prescriptions. Sherwood is free on bond and awaiting sentencing on December 11.. ...Read Full Story