Local News Archives

Gas Prices Fall For First Time In Over Two Months

There is some easing of the pain at the pump to start the week, but Triple-A Michigan is cautioning that it could be short-lived due to supply and demand pressures as we get closer to Memorial Day next month. Average gas prices in Michigan are down a dime a gallon to $2.82, marking the first time that prices have fallen to start the week in more than two months. The average in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph is down 9¢, but still the third-most expensive average in Michigan at $2.85. The lowest prices are to our north in the Grand Rapids-Holland-Muskegon area along with Flint, where they’re down to an average of $2.75. The highest prices are in the U.P. in Marquette, where they’re paying $2.90 a gallon. GasBuddy says South Haven prices, which aren’t part of AAA’s survey, are as low as $2.67 as of Monday morning.. ...Read Full Story

Napier Shell Robbed In Benton Township

Benton Township police are looking for a man accused of robbing the Napier Shell gas station on Napier at I-94 early Monday morning. A search by a Michigan State Police K-9 was unable to track the man after he ran off from the station. The robbery happened around 3 a.m. when a six-foot-tall black man wearing all gray with a hoodie and a mask over his face entered the convenience store, pulled a gun, and demanded money. The clerk complied, no one was hurt, and the suspect made off with an undetermined amount of cash. Anyone with information is asked to call Benton Township Police or Crime Stoppers.. ...Read Full Story

Restoration Of Historic Building Completed

Work to renovate a historic building in downtown Lawton is finished, and the new owners plan to rent the place out for events. Rene Rodriguez is a representative for Jessica and Jeff Michael, who bought Red Brick Hall on Main Street and fixed it up. Rodriguez tells WSJM News the building was constructed in 1880 and played a role in local affairs.. ...Read Full Story

Talks Underway Regarding Fire Department Consolidation

Talks are underway regarding a possible consolidation of the fire departments in Baroda Township, Lake Township, and Bridgman. Baroda Township Supervisor Jim Brow tells WSJM News the idea came up a few months ago, and one meeting between local firefighters has been held so far. He says sharing resources, especially for taking calls, could have benefits.. ...Read Full Story

Fire Marshal Steps Up Prevention Efforts

Michigan State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer has announced a statewide campaign to put more smoke detectors into homes. A FEMA grant of $525,000 is helping to fund MI Prevention, the statewide campaign to promote the alarms and fire safety awareness. Sehlmeyer spoke with WSJM News about the effort.. ...Read Full Story

School Board To Hear Updated Graduation Projections

Benton Harbor Area Schools CEO Robert Herrera says an update on the high school graduation numbers for this year will be given to the board of education next month. At this past week’s CEO Meeting, Herrera said board members will get a presentation on what’s been done since last month when he announced only 38 high school seniors out of 138 were on track to graduate this year.. ...Read Full Story

School Safety Grants For Van Buren County

State Representative Beth Griffin of Mattawan is applauding news that Michigan State Police school safety grants are going to the Van Buren Intermediate School District and Mattawan Consolidated Schools. She tells us Michigan State Police recently announced $25 million in safety grants for schools around the state. The Van Buren ISD is receiving $380,000, and Mattawan Consolidated Schools will receive $43,000.. ...Read Full Story

Secretary Of State Pushing For Branch Updates

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says you should be able to do more things with her department’s website and also with the self-service kiosks in its branch offices. Benson this week released a list of recommendations for how services at branch offices could be improved. She tells WSJM News she thinks the kiosks should be revamped so they break down less often, and she wants more of them.. ...Read Full Story

Empty The Shelters Pet Adoption Event Coming Up

Another Empty the Shelters pet adoption event is coming up, thanks to the Bissell Pet Foundation. It tells us on Saturday, May 4, you can adopt an animal at a participating shelter for just $25. Bissell will pay the rest. All adoptable pets available during Empty the Shelters will be microchipped and spayed or neutered. Shelters taking part in the Empty the Shelters event include Berrien County Animal Control, Van Buren County Animal Control, and the Al-Van Humane Society. Anyone who wants to provide a forever home to a critter as part of the Empty the Shelters Day is advised to contact their shelter in advance as many shelters require that someone go through an application process. You can find out more about the big event right here.. ...Read Full Story

Pokagons Announce Major Green Initiative

A new green initiative has been announced by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. Tribal leaders say they’ve eliminated Styrofoam and single-use plastics like straws, cups, and cutlery at Pokagon offices, and are stepping up conservation efforts at all Four Winds Casinos. They will replace all plastic straws with biodegradable straws at the casinos starting on May 1, and the kitchens are also implementing recycling programs. Additionally, Pokagon-owned hotels are now using a recycling program for used amenities like soaps, shampoos, body washes, and plastic packaging.. ...Read Full Story

Health Department Spreads Awareness About Addiction Recovery Services

The Berrien County Health Department wants everyone to know there are resources available in the community for those who may be struggling with a drug addiction. News came last week from the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office that overdose deaths have gone up recently, possibly because of fentanyl mixed into heroin. Berrien County Health Department Communications Manager Gillian Conrad tells WSJM News fentanyl is an extremely potent painkiller.. ...Read Full Story

South Haven Project Getting $750,000 Grant

A development project in South Haven is getting a $750,000 state grant. The office of state Representative Beth Griffin tells us South Haven Center, LLC is getting the Michigan Community Revitalization Program grant from the Michigan Strategic Fund for a mixed-use development planned downtown. The plan includes 18 residential units, retail or commercial space, and parking. It’s expected to generate total investment of $4.5 million. The goal is to add density and promote walkability in the downtown area of South Haven while increasing the tax base. Griffin says she appreciates “the Michigan Strategic Fund recognizing South Haven as a place worth investing.”. ...Read Full Story

Upton Speaks At Global Leadership Conference

Congressman Fred Upton was the keynote speaker at a gathering of 125 Kalamazoo area leaders on Thursday. They were there to discuss the global leadership role of the United States, and Upton talked about why it’s important to national security and Michigan’s economy. Panelists were concerned about the Trump administration’s plan to slash funding for international affairs by 24%.. ...Read Full Story

Sheriff’s Department Warns About Phone Scam

The Berrien County Sheriff’s Department is sounding the alarm about a new phone scam. It says this latest one involves a caller who claims to be a sheriff’s deputy. The caller will tell you there is a warrant out for your arrest, but you can avoid jail by posting bond with the use of a pre-paid debit card. The Berrien County Sheriff’s Department says there is no such program. The caller will claim it’s new, but it simply doesn’t exist. Don’t fall for such calls, and report them to your local police department. The sheriff’s department says it’s gotten reports of this phone scam over the past few days.. ...Read Full Story

Improvements Being Made At Warren Dunes State Park

Visitors to Warren Dunes State Park in Sawyer may see occasional closures throughout the spring and summer as two renovation projects get underway at the area. Crews have already started a more than $1 million project to renovate Red Arrow Highway, which serves as the main entrance to the sand dunes and lakeshore beaches. The Michigan Department of Transportation is overseeing the road repairs, and a lane addition to reduce traffic buildup. The efforts should be completed by May 20. A more than $2 million project will also begin this month to replace toilets and bathhouse buildings in the park’s day-use area. Plans call for making more room for additional food truck vendors. The upgrades should be finished by November.. ...Read Full Story

LGBTQ Advocates Supporting New Legislation

LGBTQ advocates are speaking out in favor of three bills just introduced in the Michigan Legislature that would outlaw discrimination on the basis of religion or sexual orientation by state-funded adoption and foster-care agencies. They would reverse laws passed in 2015 that allowed such practices in the name of religious freedom. Erin Knott, with the group Equality Michigan, supports the bills.. ...Read Full Story

Local Celebrities To Be Dunked For Alex Mandarino Foundation

A fundraiser for the Alex Mandarino Foundation will be held this Saturday at North Pier Brewing Company in Benton Harbor, and on hand to be dunked will be state Representative Pauline Wendzel. She tells us North Pier sells a brew named for Alex Mandarino, who died at the age of 5 after a battle with cancer. The beer is called 415AM, and the brewery will donate $1 from each pint of the white IPA sold to the foundation.. ...Read Full Story

Jobs For Michigan’s Graduates Testimony Taken In Lansing

Testimony on the value of the Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates program was taken this week by a Michigan Senate subcommittee. As lawmakers put together the next budget, it’s hoped that funding for Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates can be restored. Youth Solutions Director Kristin Harrington was there for the hearing, and tells WSJM News Tamia Clay, a Benton Harbor High School senior active in FIRST Robotics, spoke about the difference Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates has made for her.. ...Read Full Story

911 Dispatcher Of The Year Award Announced

Berrien County’s 911 Dispatcher of the Year is Nikki Metz of the Niles Police Department. At Thursday’s meeting of the Berrien County Board of Commissioners, Metz received the award for her role in helping to identify a counterfeiting suspect this past winter. She told us dispatchers often work by the side of police.. ...Read Full Story

Firm Awards Check To BH Marching Band

$500 has been awarded to the Benton Harbor High School Marching Band by Sudexo, the school district’s food service provider. At Tuesday’s Benton Harbor Area Schools CEO meeting, a Sudexo rep presented the ceremonial check to the band director. The award was for Benton Harbor High School’s participation in the Healthy High School Challenge. It encouraged students to understand the importance of healthy eating and to eat healthy snacks. The money will be used for the needs of students in the marching band.. ...Read Full Story

Benton Harbor Schools CEO To Interview Two For School Board Vacancy

Interviews will be held late Friday afternoon by Benton Harbor Area Schools Superintendent and CEO Robert Herrera of two candidates for a vacancy on the school board. The opening was created with the recent resignation of Angelika McGowan, though she is still listed as being a board member and the board treasurer on the district’s website. Herrera will interview Marian Tripplett and Michelle Crowder in a special meeting at 4 p.m., and will choose between the two at the end of the meeting. The interviews and the meeting are open to the public and will be held at Benton Harbor High School.. ...Read Full Story

Berrien County Board Not Looking Into LaSata Campaign Email Allegations

There continue to be plenty of rumors circulating regarding potential campaign law violations connected to state Senator Kim LaSata, but at this point WSJM News has learned there is no active investigation underway by the Berrien County Board of Commissioners or state elections officials. Following up on a tip that the commissioners may have been given emails similar to those which Lansing’s MIRS News has obtained that allegedly show Judge Charles LaSata using his county email account for his wife’s campaign, we are told those have not been provided to the county board. The judge’s email records are protected by law from being released through the Freedom of Information Act, as is anything sent or received by the legislative email account of Senator LaSata. One county commissioner told WSJM News regarding a decision on a county probe, “that’s above my pay grade.”. ...Read Full Story

New Measles Cases Reported, Exposure Sites In Grand Rapids

New numbers regarding the measles outbreak in Michigan have been released, and this time, there are a couple of Grand Rapids locations listed as possible exposure sites. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Lynn Sutfin tells us a person infected with measles traveled to the area and was at the Baymont by Wyndham Grand Rapids Airport hotel early in the morning of April 12. They then went to the Urgent Care Med Express office on Plainfield Avenue that night.. ...Read Full Story

Lawmaker Pleased With PFAS Work So Far

State Representative Beth Griffin has been pleased with progress on addressing the PFAS problem in the water systems of two Kalamazoo County communities. PFAS, a group of harmful chemicals, were found in the water in Parchment and Cooper Township last year. Griffin tells WSJM News Governor Gretchen Whitmer has set up a PFAS Commission tasked with setting standards for PFAS levels.. ...Read Full Story

Motorcyclist Killed In Baroda Crash

A 31-year-old Berrien Springs man is dead as the result of a crash between his motorcycle and a delivery truck in Baroda. The crash happened at the intersection of Stevensville-Baroda Road and Linco Road just a few minutes before 6 a.m. today. Baroda-Lake Township police say the driver of the truck was a 27-year-old from North Liberty, Indiana and was not hurt. He told police he had stopped at a stop sign and then continued west on Linco Road, but never saw the motorcycle before it was too late. The bike did not have a stop sign at the intersection. No names have been released.. ...Read Full Story

United Federal Credit Union To Buy Former Whirlpool Bldg For New HQ

The former Whirlpool Corporation office building at 150 Hilltop Road in St. Joseph is changing hands. United Federal Credit Union is purchasing the roughly 80,000 square foot facility and will transform it into its new headquarters. The sales price is not being disclosed. The renovations are expected start in June or July and take about a year once the sale has been finalized. The credit union has no plans to shut down either the Niles corporate office which opened in March 2015 or the current corporate building on South State Street in St. Joseph, which was also remodeled about four years ago. Whirlpool and UFCU worked with Cornerstone Alliance to get a special Commercial Rehabilitation District established for the property through the city of St. Joseph and the Berrien County Board of Commissioners. No new jobs are expected immediately as a result of the purchase of the building, but a UFCU spokesman says it will give them room for future growth.. ...Read Full Story

Former Stamp Farms Owner Pleads Guilty To Fraud

The former owner of a large Decatur farm is facing prison time for fraud. U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge says 46-year-old Mike Stamp of Decatur pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and conspiracy to commit crop insurance fraud. His 38-year-old wife, Melissa, earlier pled guilty to a felony charge in the case. Mike Stamp admitted he fraudulently landed a $68 million operating loan from Wells Fargo Bank in December 2011 by lying about how much land he farmed and the value of the farm’s assets. Stamp also copped to defrauding the federal crop insurance program by filing false claims, falsifying harvested crop records, and getting crop insurance in the names of other people. His wife admitted she knew what he was doing, helped hide money from Wells Fargo, and didn’t tell police what was going on. The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not say when sentencing will be, or outline the possible penalties.. ...Read Full Story

Nessel Pledges To Not Prosecute Abortions If Roe Is Reversed

From the Associated Press — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says if the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision is overturned, she won’t enforce state laws on the books that ban abortion. The Democrat told a Planned Parenthood conference Tuesday that it’s “likely”
the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion will be reversed. But she says “we can and we will fight back.” She pledges to never prosecute a woman or her doctor for terminating a pregnancy. Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer also spoke at the meeting in Lansing. She pointed to a new Ohio law that would ban most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Similar legislation has passed in Georgia. Whitmer says if Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature moves similarly, abortion rights activists have “a powerful backstop in a veto from my office.”. ...Read Full Story

School CEO Holds Regular Meeting

Benton Harbor Area Schools CEO Robert Herrera says an update on the high school graduation numbers for this year will be given to the board of education next month. At this week’s CEO Meeting, Herrera said board members will get a presentation on what’s been done since last month when he announced only 38 high school seniors out of 138 were on track to graduate this year.. ...Read Full Story

Upton Hopes To Renew Older Americans Act

Congressman Fred Upton is hoping to help approve a renewal of the Older Americans Act sometime this year. He spoke to the Area Agency on Aging’s Legislative Forum last week, and tells WSJM News that’s one of the things he mentioned as a priority. Upton says the Older Americans Act provides funding for a wide variety of programs for seniors.. ...Read Full Story

Three Berrien County Fire Departments Could Consolidate

Talks are underway regarding a possible consolidation of the fire departments in Baroda Township, Lake Township, and Bridgman. Baroda Township Supervisor Jim Brow tells WSJM News the idea came up a few months ago, and one meeting between local firefighters has been held so far. He says sharing resources, especially for taking calls, could have benefits.. ...Read Full Story

Documents Show Sheriff Used County Email In Connection With LaSata Campaign

“A mistake” is how Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey characterizes his use of his county email in an exchange with a staffer for the Senate campaign of Kim LaSata last fall. Bailey made that comment to MIRS News after WSJM News obtained over 1,100 of his emails from October 2018 through a Freedom of Information Act request. The FOIA request was made in search of emails MIRS has obtained that were sent from the county email account of Judge Charlie LaSata, allegedly campaigning for his wife.. ...Read Full Story

Prosecutor: Opiate Overdoses Up By “Extraordinary” Numbers In Berrien County

Berrien County is experiencing a sharp increase in suspected opioid overdoses. Prosecutor Michael Sepic says heroin-based OD death numbers have been averaging around 30 per year in the county, with a slight downward trend since the introduction of Naloxone to counter the effects during the past year. But that has all changed in the last two weeks. Sepic says his office has received reports of “an extraordinary number of overdose deaths and overdose recoveries.” He notes while the deaths have not been confirmed yet through autopsies to be opioid overdoses, death scenes suggest that’s the cause. Sepic adds the spike in overdoses may be related to mixtures containing a higher-than-usual percentage of fentanyl, which is less expensive than heroin. He says if you are aware of anyone using opiates, tell them the source of their supply could be part of the recent deadly mixture and encourage them to seek substance abuse treatment.. ...Read Full Story

Mattawan Schools Cracking Down On Vaping By Students

A crackdown on vaping in schools is underway in Mattawan Consolidated Schools. Superintendent Tim Eastman has sent a letter to parents reminding them that students are banned from anything that provides them with nicotine while in class, and they can be suspended if caught. The crackdown includes sending students to the office to be searched if they’re caught loitering or congregating in locker rooms and bathrooms, and officials are also going to restrict access to parking lots during the school day. Vaping has been steadily increasing among teens, with some studies showing as many as 43% have used electronic cigarettes. Along with facing suspension for using the e-cigs, any student caught with a vape that contains THC, the active drug in marijuana, they’ll possibly face criminal charges.. ...Read Full Story

Area FIRST Robotics Teams Qualify For World Championship

It’s on to the World Championship in FIRST Robotics for several area high school teams. Three, including St. Joseph and Berrien Springs, performed well enough at the state championship recently at Saginaw Valley State University to move on, and the World Championship is set for next week in Detroit. Tim Dunaj works with all the teams as the area’s FIRST Robotics representative and says Michigan is a special place for robotics.. ...Read Full Story

SHAES Calls Downtown South Haven Drill A Success

A success is how a massive training exercise involving South Haven Area Emergency Services and six other fire departments went on Sunday in downtown South Haven. SHAES Chief Ron Wise says the purpose of the event was to verify how much water could be pumped from the city’s water system and the Black River along with figuring out the best places to stage fire fighting vehicles.. ...Read Full Story

Upton Campaign Raises $323,000 In First Quarter

The first quarter of fundraising for another term in the U.S. House is in the books for Congressman Fred Upton. The St. Joseph Republican says his campaign has raised $323,000 in the quarter and has more than $300,000 cash on hand. Upton calls the quarter a “strong fundraising period” and says he’s grateful for the continued support. He touted his role in the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, of which he is the vice chair, saying they played a major role in ending the partial shutdown of the federal government earlier this year. Upton adds he continues to fight for what he calls “common-sense solutions on a number of Michigan priorities,” noting those include protecting the Great Lakes and drinking water and keeping the economy moving in a positive direction. To date, his only announced challenger is Democratic state Representative Jon Hoadley of Kalamazoo, and Upton says it’s a little too early to start being concerned about the 2020 election.. ...Read Full Story

Rotary Club Announces Scholarship Essay Contest Winners

The Rotary Club of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor and Berrien RESA are honoring the winners of this year’s Rotary Scholarship Essay Contest. Lakeshore High School’s Carter Welch took first place and earned a $2,000 scholarship, with second place going to St. Joseph High School’s Kaila Nichols and third place being won by Caroline Miota of Lake Michigan Catholic High School. Nichols earned a $1,000 scholarship, while Miota received one for $500.. ...Read Full Story

Paw Paw Woman Sentenced For Stepdaughter’s Murder

A Paw Paw woman will spend between 31 and 50 years in prison for killing her three-year-old stepdaughter. Kate George was sentenced Monday after pleading guilty earlier this spring to charges of second-degree murder and child abuse for the death of Sophia Ernst-Kucsera last September. The 32-year-old’s husband, Corey Kucsera, has also pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and will be sentenced April 29. Both were charged with first-degree murder and could have been sentenced to life without parole.. ...Read Full Story

Deadline Approaching To Run For Benton Harbor City Commission

Any Benton Harbor residents looking to run for the five city commission offices up for election this year has just a few more days to turn in nominating petitions. The deadline is next Tuesday, April 23 at 4 p.m., and those need to be dropped off at City Hall at the clerk’s office. Mayor Marcus Muhammad has already announced he is seeking a second four-year term. The other four offices that will be up for grabs are two at-large seats along with the First Ward and Second Ward. All are for four years. To be on the primary election ballot on August 6, you’ll need to turn in a petition with at least 25 signatures of registered voters, and for the First and Second Ward seats, all of those need to be in those districts.. ...Read Full Story

Bridgman Police: Abduction Attempt A Hoax

Bridgman police say the abduction attempt reported last week was a hoax. In a Facebook post, police say the student who reported the stranger danger situation admitted to making it up due to an unrelated disagreement with a friend. The case is now in the hands of the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office for possible charges of filing a false police report against the child. Chief Dan Unruh says even though the allegation was unfounded, it’s is critical for parents and their children to remain vigilant in recognizing any suspicious or dangerous behavior and reporting it. Unruh adds the department appreciates the community support, cooperation and help over the past week during the investigation.. ...Read Full Story

Road Department Wins Awards

The County Road Association of Michigan has given awards to the Berrien County Road Department for three of its projects in 2018. Berrien County Road Department Managing Director Jason Latham tells WSJM News one of the IMPRESS Awards is for the department’s response to flooding last spring. He says staff worked 24-7 to keep drivers safe.. ...Read Full Story

Grant Means New Home For Hartford Library

The Hartford Public Library is now ready to move forward with plans for a new home thanks to a $400,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Library Director Stephanie Daniels tells WSJM News the goal is to acquire the old Red Arrow Elementary School on East Street, and then replace it with a new facility to be called the Art and Bonna VanDerlyn Community Center and Hartford Public Library.. ...Read Full Story

Health Department Urges Alcohol Education

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and the Berrien County Health Department is urging parents to keep an open dialogue with their kids about the dangers of underage alcohol abuse. Substance Abuse Prevention Specialist Lisa Peeples-Hurst tells WSJM News alcohol is harmful to developing brains, adding the drinking age of 21 is based on science.. ...Read Full Story

United Way Planning Pop Up Giving Event

Coming up next month will be the third Pop Up Giving event to be held by the United Way of Southwest Michigan. The United Way’s Jennifer Tomshack tells WSJM News Pop Up Giving events allow attendees the chance to vote for one of three non-profits who will make a presentation on planned projects.. ...Read Full Story

Adopt A Highway Events Underway

Starting this Saturday, hundreds of volunteers will take to the highways across Michigan to pick up litter as part of the annual Adopt a Highway spring clean-up. The Michigan Department of Transportation says the clean-ups will run through April 21. Businesses, churches, non-profits, and families adopt stretches of highway around Michigan to clean up trash each year. MDOT tells us there are 59 active Adopt a Highway clean-up groups in Berrien County, and last year they picked up more than 1,600 bags of trash. Two Berrien County landfills — Orchard Hill and the Southeast Berrien County Landfill — also take the material free of charge. When the volunteers take to the roads this Saturday, drivers are urged to give them plenty of space. MDOT says it could also use some more help picking up litter along more rural stretches of I-94. Anyone interested in creating an Adopt a Highway volunteer group should check MDOT’s website.. ...Read Full Story