Local News Archives

Treasurer Holding Payment Plan Meetings

Three meetings will be held next month by Berrien County Treasurer Bret Witkowski to get property owners signed up for tax payment plans. Witkowski tells WSJM News this is for those property owners who are behind, especially for 2017 or previous years. Those who haven’t yet paid for 2017 face foreclosure on March 31. He says he’s holding the meetings in multiple locations around the county at varying times for those who can’t make it to his office. He notes the county has made much progress in recent years with helping people avoid foreclosure.. ...Read Full Story

Benton Harbor Audit Meeting Next Week

A meeting of the Benton Harbor City Commission will be held on Tuesday for commissioners to hear the city’s latest audit report. The audit is a snapshot of the financial health of the city and also outlines how Community Development Block Grant and city income tax dollars are being handled. Tuesday’s meeting will be at 7 p.m. at Benton Harbor City Hall. In addition, the city commission has a meeting scheduled for January 29 to interview Interim City Manager Ellis Mitchell for the city manager job long-term. Mitchell is the only candidate now in the running after the commission’s other candidate passed on the job. The interview with Mitchell will be at 7 p.m. at city hall.. ...Read Full Story

Cass County Park Gets Dark Sky Designation

The Dr. T.K. Lawless County Park in Cass County has been designated as an International Dark-Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association, making it one of only two areas in the state with that distinction. The Cass County Parks and Recreation Department says the title comes after more than 2 years of preparation, education, and modification. The Dark Sky Designation goes to areas “possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.” Cass County parks officials say Lawless County Park, nine miles east of Cassopolis, had to be open a certain number of nights for star viewing and provide special night programming events to qualify. The county is planning a dark sky celebration for the designation in April.. ...Read Full Story

Life Sentence Set Aside In Cass County Murder Case

From the Associated Press — A judge has set aside a life sentence for a man who was convicted of killing his pregnant girlfriend when they were teenagers and burying her body in southwestern Michigan. The decision Monday by a Cass County judge means 43-year-old Robert Leamon will get a new sentence and a chance for parole. Rebecca Stowe was strangled, and her body was buried in a rural area. Leamon was 16-years-old at the time of the death. Leamon’s case is being reopened because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that minors can’t automatically get no-parole life sentences like adults.. ...Read Full Story

Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Running For Berrien County Prosecutor

With Berrien County Prosecutor Mike Sepic not seeking another term, the first to announce his candidacy for the office is Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Steve Pierangeli. He has been with the office for more than 15 years, and has been the chief assistant prosecutor since 2018. In making the announcement, Pierangeli notes his experience prosecuting cases from traffic tickets to homicides, including the recent murder case against the wife of a U.S. Army sergeant who was ambushed and murdered while home on leave on New Year’s Eve 2018. Pierangeli developed a program on internet safety and cyberbullying for school-aged children and has presented the program to schools throughout the county. He also developed a similar program for adults on the topic of keeping children safe on the internet and has presented this program at schools, churches, and service organizations around the county. No other candidates have announced they’re running for the office as yet.. ...Read Full Story

State House Moves To Improve Child Protective Services

The Michigan House of Representatives has approved legislation designed to better protect Michigan’s vulnerable children and improve the performance of the state’s Children’s Protective Services division. State Representative Matt Hall of Marshall tells us his bill requires CPS to gather information on the safety of all children in a home where suspected child abuse or neglect has occurred within 24 hours of a report.. ...Read Full Story

New Buffalo Gets Trail Grant

The city of New Buffalo has been awarded a $112,000 grant from the state to further develop a local trail system. The office of state Representative Brad Paquette says the money comes from the 2019 Recreation Passport Grant Fund for the Marquette Greenway. The Marquette Greenway is a 58 mile trail running along the coast of Lake Michigan from Chicago to New Buffalo. Paquette says it’s an example of why “people travel from all across the state and country to see the beauty our communities offer.” The Recreation Passport grants are supported with funds raised by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Recreation Passports.. ...Read Full Story

Planning Commission Salutes Bridge Project

Some awards to recognize those who have worked to improve infrastructure in the past year around southwest Michigan have been announced by the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission. Associate planner Kris Martin tells WSJM News the group’s board has given its annual Graham Woodhouse Intergovernmental Effort Award to the entities who worked on the Sink Road Bridge Replacement Project in Cass County’s Pokagon Township.. ...Read Full Story

State House Speaker Seeks To Reduce Prison Population

Suggestions are being heard in Lansing on how to reduce jail populations. The 21-member Jail and Pretrial Incarceration Task Force was created by Governor Gretchen Whitmer and has support from Republican legislative leaders, like Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield. He spoke to Michigan News Network this week about the work the task force is doing.. ...Read Full Story

Hospitality Industry Working To Fight Human Trafficking

We reported this month that Michigan State Police are working with the trucking industry to help stop human trafficking. Another industry that is responding to the crime is hospitality. Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association President Justin Winslow tells WSJM News his group represents more than 5,000 restaurants and hotels in Michigan with more than 595,000 workers. The group is training staff how to spot signs of human trafficking and how to report it.. ...Read Full Story

Upton Hopeful About PFAS Bill

Congressman Fred Upton is hailing House passage last week of the PFAS Action Act. He tells us the legislation would designate the substances under the EPA’s Superfund program to accelerate the clean-up process at military facilities and in communities. It also would establish grants for communities to clean up PFAS. The White House has threatened a veto, but Upton is hopeful.. ...Read Full Story

Muskegon Agrees To Hire Sharpshooters To Kill Up To 30 Deer

From the Associated Press — A Lake Michigan community has voted to spend $20,000 to kill as many as 30 deer at two parks in western Michigan. The unanimous vote by the Muskegon City Commission is an effort to control growing herds, although there are different opinions among residents. The Muskegon Chronicle reports the cull by sharpshooters must be completed by March 31. Residents in favor of a special kill have talked about damage to vegetation and concerns about tick-borne illnesses. Some critics say the deer should be considered a community asset.. ...Read Full Story

Cost Of Recreation Passports To Go Up Slightly

The cost of a Michigan state parks Recreation Passport is about to go up. Michigan Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Chief Ron Olson tells WSJM News the price will go up by $1 in March, bring the passports to $12 per year. You can sign up for a Recreation Passport when renewing your vehicle registration. With it, you can get into any of the 103 state recreation areas for one year. Olson says the program has been popular since launching in 2011.. ...Read Full Story

Pedestrian Bridges Being Constructed With New International Crossing

The Michigan Department of Transportation unveiled five pedestrian bridges being built as part of the new Gordie Howe International Bridge to Canada in Detroit last week. Speaking on the MDOT podcast, Talking Transportation, the governor’s point man on the crossing, Andy Doctoroff, said the pedestrian bridges being built over the Gordie Howe’s interchange with I-75 show the design of this project is taking into account the needs of the community.. ...Read Full Story

City Approves Medical Marijuana Permits

Nobo of Michigan, LLC has been granted the permits it needs to move forward with opening a medical marijuana production and processing facility in Benton Harbor. The Benton Harbor City Commission, after much discussion, granted permits to Nobo for growing and processing at a meeting Wednesday night. Commissioner Juanita Henry wanted more of a commitment from Nobo on creating local jobs and supporting the community.. ...Read Full Story

Police Look To Prevent Gun Violence

Benton Harbor Public Safety Director Dan McGinnis hopes to help bring about a change of attitudes in the community as he works to reduce gun violence. He tells WSJM News gun crimes have been increasing in recent years. Part of the reason is the availability of firearms.. ...Read Full Story

Upton Meets With Army Corps, FEMA To Talk Coastal Erosion

Congressman Fred Upton has met with representatives of FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to discuss shoreline erosion and high water levels in the Great Lakes. He tells WSJM News he and two other Michigan reps asked for tactical assistance in finding ways to mitigate the threat to shoreline property owners and communities during a meeting last Friday.. ...Read Full Story

Soo Locks Close For Maintenance

The Soo Locks have been closed for routine maintenance and repairs. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will use the shutdown period, which runs through March 25, to work on the gates and electronics, and also to do structural repairs. With the annual closure, vessel traffic ceases through the Soo Locks for the season. This year during the closure, the Poe Lock will be dewatered. The last vessel to traverse the Poe Lock for the current shipping season was the 1,000 foot freighter Burns Harbor. The ship was up-bound from Burns Harbor, Indiana headed for Superior, Wisconsin for winter lay-up. It passed through on Wednesday. More than 4,500 vessels, carrying up to 80 million tons of cargo, maneuver through the locks each year.. ...Read Full Story

State Lawmaker Apologizes For Comments To Female Reporter

From the Associated Press — A Michigan lawmaker has apologized after telling a young female reporter that a group of high school boys could “have a lot of fun” with her. State Senator Pete Lucido, a Republican from Macomb County’s Shelby Township, issued a statement Wednesday addressing the incident that occurred outside the Senate chamber Tuesday. Lucido referred to a group gathered nearby from an all-boys Catholic high school and told a 22-year-old reporter from Michigan Advance: “You should hang around! You could have a lot of fun with these boys, or they could have a lot of fun with you.”. ...Read Full Story

Task Force Urges Overhaul Of Michigan Jail, Pretrial System

From the Associated Press — A task force says Michigan should reclassify many traffic offenses as civil infractions, release more defendants before trial without requiring them to pay money and take other steps to reduce jail populations that tripled in under 40 years. The 21-member group was created by Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer with support from Republican legislative leaders. It delivered its findings and 18 recommendations to lawmakers Tuesday. Suggestions include giving police more discretion to issue appearance tickets instead of arresting people, shortening the time people spend in jail between their arrest and arraignment, and reducing maximum probation terms for most felonies.. ...Read Full Story

Michigan House Votes To End State’s Ban On Stun Guns

From the Associated Press — Michigan would lift its ban on stun guns under legislation advanced by lawmakers. The bill would allow the sale, possession and “reasonable use” of a stun device by those 18 and older. Michigan currently allows law enforcement and people with a concealed pistol license to use a Taser, which is a different type of self-defense device than a stun gun. The Republican-led Senate will consider the measure next after it cleared the GOP-controlled House on an 84-24 vote Tuesday. Supporters say the stun gun ban contradicts court rulings. They contend that people may prefer nonlethal forms of protection over guns.. ...Read Full Story

Board Trustee To Resign

Benton Harbor Area Schools Board of Education Trustee Patricia Rush is resigning. At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Rush said she ran for the board in 2018 because of her commitment to social justice, and upon being seated, threw herself into understanding the intricacies of school operations. However, she said she doesn’t see how she can move forward with the way she’s been treated lately by Board President Joseph Taylor.. ...Read Full Story

Board Hears Report On Incident Following Basketball Game

The Benton Harbor Area Schools Board of Education has received a report on last week’s incident involving district cheerleaders as they left a basketball game in Battle Creek. Following the Tiger victory over Battle Creek Central, the Benton Harbor cheerleaders and their coach allege they were harassed and attacked while walking out to their bus. At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Benton Harbor Interim Superintendent Robinson said Battle Creek Central is a longtime rival of Benton Harbor, and in the future, more will be done to protect the athletes when they go to these rival games.. ...Read Full Story

Lawmaker Vows To Restore Grant For Paw Paw

State Representative Beth Griffin says she’s fighting to restore a $200,000 downtown facade improvement grant for the village of Paw Paw. She says the funds from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation were cut off when the governor and state Legislature had an impasse over the state budget last year. The governor had line item vetoed nearly $1 billion in spending approved by the Legislature, much of which was later restored. Griffin tells WSJM News the grant for Paw Paw remains held up.. ...Read Full Story

Grand Rapids Graduates Get Free Tuition At Community College

From the Associated Press — Graduates of public and private high schools in Grand Rapids can attend a local community college for free. The Grand Rapids Promise Zone scholarship was announced Monday. It covers tuition for 60 credits at Grand Rapids Community College, as well as books and other fees. Students qualify for a full scholarship if they live in the city and attend a local high school for at least three years. A graduate who spends two years at a high school would get a 50% scholarship. The money is coming from Grand Rapids Community College and local donors.. ...Read Full Story

Hunter Ice Festival This Weekend In Niles

The 16th annual Hunter Ice Festival is set for this week in Niles. You might not think the weather is appropriate, but the winter celebration will feature thousands of pounds of ice blocks being carved into art. The ice fest starts on Friday and will run through Sunday, featuring live music, a 5K, and plenty of food. That includes the popular Hunter Ice Cream Booth on the south side of Main Street in the 100 block. The Hunter Ice Festival was started as a way to celebrate the Hunter Brothers Ice and Ice Cream Company, which was a commercial ice harvesting business that operated in the area in the late 1800s and early 1900s. You can find the full festival schedule right here.. ...Read Full Story

Vehicle Strikes Stevensville Cracker Barrel

No one is hurt after vehicle crashed into the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Stevensville on Tuesday. The Lincoln Township Police Department says it happened at 9:45 a.m. A 93-year-old man was backing out of a parking spot when he struck another vehicle. He then put the car in drive and mistakenly accelerated, jumping the curb and running through the north side wall of the building, into the retail area. Although no one was injured, the driver was taken to Spectrum Health Lakeland Hospital by Medic 1 to be checked out. The restaurant was evacuated, and police say it will remain closed for the rest of the day. The incident remains under investigation. The Lincoln Township Police Department was assisted by the Lincoln Township Fire Department, the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office, Michigan State Police, and Medic 1.. ...Read Full Story

Benton Harbor Cheerleading Coach: We Were Attacked

There’s a good chance this will be brought up at tonight’s Benton Harbor Area Schools Board of Education meeting. High school cheerleading coach Ronnella Booker says her squad was attacked by Battle Creek Central High School fans last week while walking to their bus after the boys basketball game. Booker tells our partners at WSBT-22 they didn’t feel safe from the time they arrived in Battle Creek.. ...Read Full Story

Decatur Man Killed In Car-Pedestrian Crash

Michigan State Police are investigating a crash in Decatur that killed a pedestrian. It happened shortly after 10 Monday night on 39th Street near Burgess Road. Troopers say 33-year-old Devin Mattis was hit by a northbound vehicle on 39th, and they don’t know why he was in the road at the time. The crash remains under investigation.. ...Read Full Story

AARP Offering Tax Filing Help

Tax season officially starts in a few weeks, and hundreds of volunteers are finalizing their training so they can help Michiganders prepare their returns. The AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide Program runs from February 1st until April 15th, and volunteer preparers can assist filers with their forms and identify possible credits or deductions. Peter Elliott heads up the group’s Michigan Tax-Aide Team, and says roughly 800 counselors will be available at 150 sites.. ...Read Full Story

State Police Spreading Awareness About Human Trafficking

With January being National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, Michigan State Police are making an extra effort to spread awareness about the crime. MSP Sergeant Scott Morrison with the motor carriers division tells WSJM News troopers are reaching out to truck drivers with pamphlets and cards listing signs of human trafficking and how to report it. Morrison says truckers are in a unique position to spot human trafficking.. ...Read Full Story

State Police Investigating Possible Fraud At Breathalyzer Vendor

Michigan State Police are investigating possible fraud involving contract employees of a firm that calibrates breathalyzer machines around the state. The agency says it has stopped its contract with Datamaster vendor, Intoximeters, and is advising officers to use blood draws to determine drunk driving until it has been able to confirm the machines are all properly calibrated. The agency says its investigation so far has uncovered discrepancies at several police departments, including at the Niles Police Department and the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department. When a discrepancy is found, state police say the results can be double checked through additional testing. Michigan State Police say they will pursue criminal charges where it is determined an employee of the breathalyzer vendor committed fraud. In the meantime, the agency has taken all of the 203 affected machines out of service.. ...Read Full Story

State Offers Great Lake Shipwrecks Map

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has put together a map of Great Lakes shipwrecks. It says there are more than 1,500 shipwrecks submerged in Michigan waters. Some, like the Syracuse, recall the Great Lakes sailing heyday, when goods and people routinely plied the lakes along well-used routes. The Syracuse, a two-masted schooner carrying a cargo of coal, sank in Lake Huron on November 10, 1863. There are more recent wrecks as well, including the 600-foot Cedarville, which sank while transporting a cargo of limestone on May 7, 1967. The DNR says the Michigan Shipwrecks Public Web App is now up, offering everyone a closer look at shipwrecks as well as the locations of lighthouses and boating access sites. Users can search for wrecks by name or location or customize and print their own PDF maps. Here in southwest Michigan, the map lists the Havana as a local shipwreck. The 135 foot schooner was lost on October 3, 1887 after it encountered rough waters north of Benton Harbor. You can find the shipwreck map right here.. ...Read Full Story

Clinics Awarded Grants To Help Uninsured, Underinsured

From the Associated Press — Nearly four dozen clinics will share $860,500 through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s strengthening the Safety Net program. Blue Cross says the funding will help the clinics provide free or low-cost medical, dental and
mental health care services to uninsured and underinsured Michigan residents. The funding also pays for substance use disorder treatment. Grants of up to $25,000 each were awarded to 17 clinics. Another 30 clinics were awarded up to $15,000 each. Recipients expect to provide care to more than 60,000 people this year. Health care organizations offering primary care services also received
more than $190,000 in matched funding through the program.. ...Read Full Story

Nessel On LGBTQ Protections: It’s Time

“It’s time.” Those are the words of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nesel regarding protections for LGBTQ people under Michigan’s civil rights law. Currently, a petition campaign by “Fair and Equal Michigan” is trying to gather more than 340,000 names of registered voters to send the proposal to the state Legislature:. ...Read Full Story

Waves Take Out Part Of Beach Stairs

The staircase at Cherry Beach in Chikaming Township has been closed as a result of the wild action on Lake Michigan lately. Chikaming Township Parks, Preserves, and Beaches posted pictures of the staircase to its Facebook page over the weekend showing the bottom section of the stairs are gone. The group says it’s now about an eight-to ten-foot drop down to the beach from what’s left of the stairs. The issue at Cherry Beach isn’t the only one Chikaming Township has had with its beaches as of late. Harbert Beach has also been closed due to damage to the stairs. Due to high water levels in Lake Michigan and plenty of wave action this past weekend, coastal areas have been seeing even more erosion. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is predicting things will continue like this throughout the year.. ...Read Full Story

Allegan County Sheriff’s Department Looking For Missing Woman

The Allegan County Sheriff’s Department is looking for a missing woman. It says 28-year-old Alexa Christine Knooihuizen was reported missing by family on December 30 after she didn’t come to visit her children over Christmas. The department says she is known to use narcotics and could be in danger. Anyone who knows of the woman’s location is asked to contact the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department.. ...Read Full Story

Secretary Of State Working On Offering Third Gender Option On Licenses

From the Associated Press — Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office is working to add a third gender option on Michigan licenses and ID cards. According to The Detroit News, Benson had previously attempted for a third gender designation, but the department’s software prevented her from doing so. She instead opted for a new policy making it easier for people to change their gender designation from male to female or female to male on state-issued driver’s licenses and ID cards. The possibility to add a non-binary option might be completed by 2021.. ...Read Full Story

St. Joseph City To Consider Harbor Authority Joint Meeting Tonight

The St. Joseph City Commission is expected to approve holding a joint meeting later this month with the Benton Harbor City Commission and St. Joseph Charter Township Board tonight. The three are set to discuss establishing a group to work on recommendations for the development of the St. Joseph Harbor. Benton Harbor and St. Joseph Township each approved the concept last week. The joint meeting of the three is likely to be held on Wednesday, January 22. The efforts have been ongoing for a few years, spurred by an Andrews University and Southwest Michigan Planning Commission Twin Cities Harbor Study sponsored by the city of Benton Harbor in 2015.. ...Read Full Story

MDOT Clearing Brush, Adding Trees Along I-94

Drivers in Van Buren County are being advised to watch out for intermittent lane and shoulder closures along I-94 for the next few years. Michigan Department of Transportation spokesperson Nick Schirripa tells WSJM News crews will be doing tree and shrub removal along the highway. They started this week. They will also be planting new pine trees. There’s a reason for that.. ...Read Full Story

Two Charged In Connection With Niles-Area Standoff

Two Niles residents are facing charges resulting from a standoff last week in Cass County’s Milton Township. Officers from the Fugitive Apprehension Street Team and US Marshal’s Service Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force went to their home on Redfield Street last Wednesday afternoon looking for 41-year-old Adam Neiman and retreated once Neiman pulled a gun. He was finally arrested after a standoff that lasted over 12 hours when he and 41-year-old Clemie Chapman came out of the home more than five hours after police were able to get a child out of the house.. ...Read Full Story

Workshop To Discuss Service Animals

The Disability Network Southwest Michigan will hold a workshop on service animals and emotional support animals this month. Disability Network Community Education Coordinator Miranda Grunwell will lead the discussion, titled “Do’s and Don’ts: Assistance Animals.” She tells WSJM News they held a few similar presentations last year.. ...Read Full Story

Upton: New Trade Deal Will Mean Jobs

The new United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement will be good for the U.S. economy. That’s the thought of Congressman Fred Upton, who hailed House passage of the NAFTA replacement just before Christmas. He tells WSJM News the new agreement will be good for the auto industry.. ...Read Full Story

Program Enables Credit Union Employees To Support Communities

Employees of United Federal Credit Union have been able to donate more than $16,000 around their communities in the past year thanks to the organization’s Pay it Forward program. With Pay it Forward, UFCU gives each employee $15 to donate to those in need. They get to pick who they support. Many times, departments and branches combine their funds to create a more substantial donation. United CEO Terry O’Rourke tells WSJM News Pay it Forward was created at the request of employees.. ...Read Full Story

New Superintendent to Start Next Month

The Benton Harbor Area Schools Board of Education has approved a contract for new Superintendent Andrae Townsel. The board voted on the agreement this week with Townsel in attendance. He then sat in with the body for the rest of its meeting on Tuesday. Townsel comes to Benton Harbor from the Detroit area, where he is currently assistant superintendent at Wayne-Westland Community Schools. He tells WSJM News he’ll start February 17, and plans to hit the ground running.. ...Read Full Story