Local News Archives

SWMI Housing Market Cools Off In January

2019 is starting off a little quieter than the past few years for sales of existing homes in the area. The Southwestern Michigan Association of Realtors says sales fell 8% last month compared to 2018. Association Executive Alan Jeffries says a drop in January numbers is not unusual given the normal push to close by the end of December for both buyers and sellers. Prices are also down, with the average sales price slipping 6% from January 2018 to just over $199,000 and the median price falling 8% compared to last year to $137,500. Jeffries notes the inventory of available homes on the market fell 4% last month year-over-year, and there is just a 4.9 month supply.. ...Read Full Story

Ford Investigating Whether Gas Mileage Was Overstated

From the Associated Press — Ford says it has launched an investigation into whether a flawed mathematical model caused it to overstate gas mileage and understate pollution from a wide range of vehicles. The company says a group of employees reported possible problems with the model in September. It has hired an outside firm to test the 2019 Ford Ranger. If problems are found, then Ford will start looking at models going back to 2017. Ford says it has no evidence yet that mileage or pollution numbers are wrong, but the investigation has just started. The company says it’s too early to tell how many and which models might be involved. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California regulators have been informed about the situation, according to the automaker.. ...Read Full Story

No-Reason Absentee Voting Now Allowed

From the Associated Press — Michigan voters can start casting an absentee ballot without giving a reason. Thursday is the first day residents can request to vote by mail in the May election. It is the first election since voters last fall approved no-reason absentee voting as part of a ballot initiative. Previously, absentee voters had to be at least 60 years old, be out of town when the polls are open or be unable to vote on Election Day due to a physical disability, religious tenets or incarceration. Requests for an absent voter ballot can be submitted in writing to the local city or township clerk. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Flint Township Clerk Kathy Funk are holding a news conference Thursday to welcome the new era of no-reason absentee voting.. ...Read Full Story

County To Seek Waterway Grant For St. Joseph River

The Berrien County Board of Commissioners has agreed to pursue a Michigan Department of Natural Resources Waterways Grant to develop four public access points along the St. Joseph River in St. Joe and Benton Harbor. Cornerstone Alliance President Rob Cleveland tells WSJM News the idea is to spend about $350,000 on new infrastructure so the river can be used for travel by anyone.. ...Read Full Story

Cassopolis Residents Charged In Death Of Girl

Two Cassopolis residents are facing charges in the meth-related death of a 10-year-old girl in northern Indiana. Prosecutors say the girl and her 9-year-old sibling were taken to an Elkhart home last June by 34-year-old Brandon Hobbs and his 30-year-old girlfriend, Erica Reschke. Hobbs is the father of the children. The 10-year-old girl died at the home as a result of methamphetamine ingestion. Toxicology tests revealed high levels of the drug in her body. Hobbs and Reschke are now charged with neglect of a dependent, and Reschke is also charged with neglect of a dependent resulting in death. Their trial is scheduled to start May 6 in Goshen.. ...Read Full Story

Attorney General: Church Sex Abuse Investigation Could Take Years

From the Associated Press — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says an investigation into possible sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in Michigan may last two years, and she has asked the state’s seven dioceses to suspend their own internal review processes until the probe is complete. She said Thursday there ultimately could be more than 1,000 victims, and there are hundreds of thousands of pages of documents to review. Nessel’s predecessor last year opened an investigation after a Pennsylvania grand jury report said more than 1,000 children had been molested there since the 1940s. The Archdiocese of Detroit says Nessel has not asked it to stop its internal review process, which it says is used to restrict or remove from ministry anyone who has committed sex abuse.. ...Read Full Story

Commission Waives Old Property Fees

Benton Harbor City Commissioners have opted to give a break to some property owners, along with the city’s own assessment department. At Tuesday’s meeting, the commission narrowly approved a request from City Manager Darwin Watson to waive some old fees faced by property owners who did not file paperwork with the assessor in a timely fashion when their property changed hands. Watson said there are a large number of fees going back years in those cases.. ...Read Full Story

Trial Date Set In Murder Of Army Sgt In St. Joseph Township

The murder trial for the widow of US Army Sergeant Tyrone Hassel III and her lover will start April 30 in St. Joseph. Kemia Hassel is accused of using Snapchat to plan her husband’s murder and sending boyfriend Jeremy Cuellar to St. Joseph Township while they were all on leave over the New Year’s holiday to carry out the killing. Army Specialist Jaquan Hamilton testified yesterday that Cuellar admitted to the crime.. ...Read Full Story

Vail Rubber Works Announces Royalton Township Expansion

Vail Rubber Works is set for an expansion in Royalton Township. The St. Joseph manufacturing firm is planning to build a 58,000 square foot production facility on 30-acres it owns at the southwest corner of Hollywood Road and Glenlord Avenue near Rogers Foodland. Pearson Construction will handle the build, and Vail is partnering with Abonmarche for the development. Construction will start this spring and is expected to be complete early next year. The expansion will create about 10 new jobs, and Vail will continue to operate its facility on Langley Avenue near downtown St. Joseph along with another near Mobile, Alabama. The family-owned company was founded in 1892.. ...Read Full Story

Democratic Group Put Upton On Retirement List

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has placed Congressman Fred Upton on its retirement watch list for 2020. The committee, which bills itself as “the official campaign arm of the Democrats in the House of Representatives,” said Tuesday many House Republicans “are slowly coming to the realization that life in the minority, with no end in sight, just isn’t worth the hassle.” It says it won’t be surprised if Upton winds up among them. WSJM News asked Congressman Upton if he had a comment.. ...Read Full Story

Cornerstone Announces Facade Grants

A new grant program at Cornerstone Alliance aims to help St. Joseph and Benton Harbor area businesses save energy and spruce up their facades. The Small Business Facade Grant program will provide funds for the repair, maintenance, or rehabilitation of exterior faces on commercial buildings. Additionally, Cornerstone tells us combining facade enhancements with I&M’s energy efficiency upgrades will ensure a “universal approach to business improvement.” By implementing energy saving proposals, businesses can then become eligible for up to $100,000 in rebates through I&M’s Prescriptive and Custom programs. The facade grants are targeted at downtown Benton Harbor, the Arts District, Niles Road between Napier Avenue and Hilltop Road in St. Joe, and the M-139 Corridor in Benton Township. Grant applications can be found on the website of Cornerstone Alliance.. ...Read Full Story

Petition Deadlines For BH Elections Announced

Anyone interested in running for elected office in the city of Benton Harbor can now submit nominating petitions to the city clerk’s office. The clerk says primaries for five positions will be held on August 6. The offices to appear on the ballot will be mayor, two commissioner at-large seats, and the seats for city commission in Wards 1 and 2. All of the positions have four-year terms. The clerk says those who submit petitions need at least 25 valid signatures from residents within the relevant jurisdiction. The deadline to turn in petitions is 4 p.m. on April 23.. ...Read Full Story

Governor Blocks Plans For Immigration Detention Center

From the Associated Press — Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has blocked the sale of a former Michigan prison that was proposed as the site of a privately operated federal immigration detention center. Immigration Centers of America was the sole bidder for the former Deerfield Correctional Facility in Ionia, which closed in 2009. A spokeswoman for the Democratic governor says concerns included whether
adults who had been separated from their children might be held there. Plans for the facility had moved forward last year under then-Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican. The $35 million facility was proposed to house adult immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement who hadn’t been charged with or convicted of criminal offenses. Immigration Centers of America had planned to house 500 to 600 detainees and employ more than 250 workers.. ...Read Full Story

Niles Township Man Convicted Of Wife’s Murder

He tried to blame his wife’s murder on two men who broke into their Niles Township home, but a jury wasn’t buying it. John Lewis has been found guilty of killing his wife, Carla Lewis, in 2017. Jurors returned with the conviction Tuesday after starting deliberations last Friday. She was shot and killed inside a marijuana grow room in their home. Lewis called 9-1-1 after the shooting to report two suspects had broken in, shot her, and left in her car. The vehicle was found a few days later in a Cass County cornfield. He will be sentenced to life in prison without parole on March 25.. ...Read Full Story

March Madness At Van Buren District Library

The Van Buren District Library is putting a different spin on March Madness with a bracket competition called March Book Madness. The library’s Kay McAdam tells us they’re putting 64 works of literature up against each other, and the theme is old versus new. For example, the public can vote on things like The Lord of the Rings versus Game of Thrones or Fahrenheit 451 versus The Hunger Games. McAdam says this is the first time they’ve tried such an event.. ...Read Full Story

City Officials Talk Street Work

Benton Harbor City Commissioners have heard plenty from residents frustrated with the state of local streets, and they say some relief will come but patience is needed. At a Tuesday meeting, City Manager Darwin Watson said some work has been underway to address potholes.. ...Read Full Story

Upton Aims For Reauthorization Of Violence Against Women Act

When President Trump last week signed a funding package to avoid another partial government shutdown, one thing that was not included was a re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Congressman Fred Upton, a longtime supporter of the act, tells WSJM News it was removed last minute from the deal. Now, he expects action on just that issue. He says there is time.. ...Read Full Story

Movement Of House To Result In Traffic Disruptions

The Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department is advising drivers of a traffic disruption to occur this week due to the movement of a house. It tells us the house move will begin on Main Street in Mattawan just south of the Shell station Thursday. The route will be north on Main Street, over the I-94 overpass to Red Arrow Highway. From there, the route will be Red Arrow Highway into Paw Paw, then north on Hazen Street to just north of Paw Paw on County Road 665. Due to the size of the house being moved, the entire road will be inaccessible while it’s going by. The move will begin at 9 a.m. Thursday and is expected to take about an hour. Drivers who take part of the affected route during that time are advised to pick a different route.. ...Read Full Story

South Haven Working To Prevent Shore Erosion

High lake levels and winds along with constant wave action within the Black River Channel in South Haven have caused increased erosion between the channel and the north parking area at South Beach. South Haven Director of Public Works Bill Hunter told WSJM News what is happening and what the city is doing about it.. ...Read Full Story

Headliner Announced For BBQ, Blues and Bluegrass Festival

St. Joseph Today has announced rhythm, blues, and rock singer JD McPherson will be the headliner for this year’s BBQ, Blues and Bluegrass Festival. To be held at Whirlpool Centennial Park in St. Joseph on May 18, the festival will be a chance for anyone to take in live music with Lake Michigan serving as the backdrop. St. Joe Today’s Amy Zapal tells WSJM News McPherson is a retro rocker.. ...Read Full Story

State Police Trooper Facing Embezzlement Charge

A Michigan State Police trooper assigned to the Niles post is facing a felony charge of embezzlement. Michigan State Police tell us Jesse Binns was arraigned in the Cass County District Court on a charge of embezzlement between $1,000 and $20,000 from a non-profit or charitable organization on Tuesday. The charge was authorized by a special prosecutor assigned out of Kalamazoo County. The criminal charge results from Binns’ employment as the assistant chief at Cass Central Fire Department. However, state police suspended Binns without pay in September of 2018. In a statement, Michigan State Police say the department has a “long-standing tradition of demanding the highest possible standards of professional conduct from its enforcement and civilian members.” Binns will remain on suspension pending the outcome of the case.. ...Read Full Story

Consumers Energy Announces Natural Resources Grants

The Consumers Energy Foundation has announced it’s providing $1.5 million to non-profits around Michigan this year for projects aiming to preserve, restore, and protect natural resources. Consumers spokesperson Brian Wheeler tells WSJM News the first Planet Awards will go to two or more Michigan non-profits looking to make a positive impact on the state’s land, water, or air.. ...Read Full Story

ABC News’ “20/20” To Air Two-Hour Documentary On Kalamazoo Massacre

A two-hour documentary will air on ABC TV stations Friday night diving deeper into the mass shooting that shattered Kalamazoo and other southwest Michigan communities three years ago tomorrow. ABC News has released a preview of the “20/20” program called “The Deadly Ride” about convicted killer Jason Dalton’s murderous spree during which he killed six people and injured two while still picking up fares for Uber.. ...Read Full Story

State Police Looking For Missing SWM Man

Michigan State Police are looking for a man missing out of Allegan County. They say Todd Lilge was last seen Monday around 10 a.m. at the Plainwell Police Department. His vehicle was later found in Allegan County at a state gaming area on 125th Avenue near 43rd Street. Lilge is described as a white male, about 5 foot 11 inches and 240 pounds. He has gray and brown hair and brown eyes. Anyone who knows where he is should contact Michigan State Police at the Paw Paw post.. ...Read Full Story