Local News Archives

Senator Nesbitt Talks Auto Insurance Reform

Senate Bill 1 for the new legislative session is signaling the intent of majority Republicans to go after the high costs of auto insurance in Michigan. The bill, introduced this week by Senator Aric Nesbitt of Lawton, would allow drivers 62 and older to opt-out of the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association lifetime medical benefit coverage by using Medicare or other health insurance, and also lets younger drivers opt out and chose less coverage. Nesbitt tells WSJM News it’s time to shut the lobbyists that have blocked reforms for years out.. ...Read Full Story

Engler Could Be Ousted As Interim MSU President

It looks like the end is looming for John Engler’s tenure as interim president of Michigan State University. Following recent comments in which the ex-governor said some of the survivors of sexual abuse by former MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar are enjoying the spotlight, the university’s Board of Trustees will hold a special meeting Thursday morning at 8 in East Lansing. Trustee Brian Mosallam, who has been trying to get Engler out as president for almost a year, tells the Detroit Free Press, “John Engler’s reign of terror is over.” Board chair Dianne Byrum has confirmed to Crain’s Detroit Business that the meeting is to be solely focused on the future of Engler’s employment. He took over after Lou Anna Simon resigned due to the Nassar scandal, and she is facing criminal charges related to the university’s cover-up.. ...Read Full Story

Niles-Buchanan-Cass Cities Area Transportation Study Lists Road Priorities

The Niles-Buchanan-Cass Cities Area Transportation Study has compiled a list of road projects that should be a priority in the next four years around southern Berrien County and Cass County. Southwest Michigan Planning Commission Associate Planner Brandon Kovnat tells WSJM News the list of recommendations comes out of a December 18 meeting of several municipalities and road departments.. ...Read Full Story

School Board Meets With CEO

The Benton Harbor Area Schools Board of Education has begun a new year with a clearer idea of its role in the district. On Tuesday, the board met with district CEO Robert Herrera and agreed to hold its regular meetings each month on the Thursday before Herrera’s CEO meeting the following Tuesday. This way, the board can advise the CEO on any action he might take. New board President Steven Mitchell told WSJM News having more input will be a benefit.. ...Read Full Story

Chili Tour, Beer Fest Next Week In St. Joseph

There will be plenty to do in downtown St. Joseph next weekend as the seventh annual Downtown Chili Tour takes place on Friday and the fourth annual outdoor Winter Beer Fest is set for Saturday. St. Joseph Today’s Daniele Crevier tells WSJM News that beer fest will offer a wide variety of locally-produced brews.. ...Read Full Story

Email Problems Creating Headache For Cass County Officials

From the Associated Press — Officials say problems with an email system used by a county in southwestern Michigan are hampering government operations. The South Bend Tribune reports the problems began several weeks ago when the email system used by Cass County became inoperable. Kerry Collins, information systems director for the county, said Monday that email functions have since
improved but the system remains unreliable. At times, some emails weren’t delivered as expected. Collins proposed switching to a different email system, but some commissioners balked at the more than $100,000 cost. The commissioners plan to discuss possible solutions again at a meeting Thursday. Last week, Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz highlighted the issue for the county’s Board of Commissioners. He noted that they’re “dealing literally with life and death issues.”. ...Read Full Story

State Food Benefits To Go Out Early For Next Month

Due to the partial federal government shutdown, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is planning to issue Food Assistance Program benefits early for February. The department tells us February benefits will start to go out on January 19. Those who don’t get them that day should get them the following week. The move is being made so the 1.2 million Michigan residents who receive food assistance will have the benefits to feed their families in February even if the partial government shutdown continues into next month. It comes following a directive from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to states. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is urging everyone who gets food assistance to budget out the extra funds they get this month so they will last all of next month because there will be no funds given out in February. Meanwhile, the state believes Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, benefits will be available in February without interruption. That program covers more than 200,000 mothers, pregnant women and children in Michigan.. ...Read Full Story

Guns Stolen From Niles Business

Police are investigating after guns were stolen from a store in Niles on Tuesday morning. The Niles Police Department tells us officers responded to the Firing Pin on 5th Street around 4:15 a.m. when a vehicle crashed into the building, allowing access. Officers searched the place and found several guns were gone. The suspects had fled. The owners of the Firing Pin are doing an inventory to determine just how many firearms were taken. Police believe there were several suspects involved. Police found the owner of the vehicle that had crashed into the store and learned it had been stolen overnight from the owner’s Niles home. The owner had left the keys in the unlocked car. Police continue to investigate and ask anyone with information to contact them.. ...Read Full Story

RESA Recognizes School Board Members

Berrien RESA is marking School Board Recognition Month, when the members of local school boards across the county are celebrated for the extra work they do for their communities. RESA tells us its school board members bear responsibility for an annual budget of $49 million, more than 25,000 students, 300 employees, and a variety of classrooms and buildings located throughout Berrien County. RESA says those volunteers are regular citizens whose decisions affect children and build our communities. Berrien RESA Superintendent Kevin Ivers says showing appreciation for the work of school boards should be a year-round process. He adds, too often, citizens neglect to recognize “the dedication and hard work of these men and women.” This January, Berrien RESA is asking all members of the community to take a moment and thank a school board member.. ...Read Full Story

All-Clear Given At St. Joseph High School After Early Morning Threat

An anonymous tip about what St. Joseph Public Safety calls a “potential threat of harm” at St. Joseph High School has turned out to be inaccurate and unfounded. Interim public safety director Steve Neubecker says in a statement they received the call around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday and responded along with Michigan State Police and the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department. He adds after multiple interviews, they determined there was no credible threat.. ...Read Full Story

South Haven Officials Discuss Marijuana Options

There is a lot of interest among South Haven residents to see what direction the city takes on marijuana businesses. An overflow crowd packed city council chambers for an informational meeting Monday that included a presentation from the city attorney and an outside consultant, with the intention to help the city council give direction to the Planning Commission. City Manager Brian Dissette says the council went person-by-person to lay out what categories for both recreational and medicinal marijuana they wanted studied by the Planning Commission.. ...Read Full Story

Three Oaks Police Looking For Credit Card Theft Suspect

Three Oaks Police are asking for help identifying a woman accused of stealing credit cards from vehicles and then using them at gas stations and stores south of the border in South Bend and Mishawaka. Authorities have released surveillance photos of a silver Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and of the suspect. Details such as when the thefts began and exactly where they’ve happened have not been released. The suspect is a white woman, who had her hair covered by a knit hat and her neck covered by a scarf in a Meijer store in the surveillance photos released by Three Oaks Police.. ...Read Full Story

Details Still Being Hammered Out For St. Joseph Non-Discrimination Ordinance

Work is progressing toward the city of St. Joseph potentially becoming the 45th local government in the state to add specific civil rights protections for the LGBT community into a local ordinance. A draft of the proposed non-discrimination ordinance is likely about a month away from being presented to the commission by city attorney Laurie Schmidt. Mayor Pro Tem Laura Goos tells us the city will be moving forward as it doesn’t look likely that the state House and Senate will take up any potential changes to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act anytime soon. We asked her about the reaction from residents and businesses around the city she’s spoken with.. ...Read Full Story

Treasurer To Hold Meetings With Property Owners

A series of three meetings is planned over the next couple of months for Berrien County property owners who are behind on their taxes to get signed up on a payment plan. Berrien County Treasurer Bret Witkowski tells WSJM News letters have gone out to the folks who still owe for 2016 and 2017. He says he’s bringing staff to meetings around the county to talk with those who are behind.. ...Read Full Story

Report: Enrollment At MI Universities Down

From the Associated Press — Figures show enrollment at Michigan’s public universities has declined for the seventh consecutive year. MLive.com reports the collective headcount at the 15 institutions totaled 286,854 in the fall off 2018, down 3,884 or nearly 1.4 percent from the fall of 2017. Enrollment peaked in the fall 2011 at 301,919. It’s declined largely because of a shrinking number of college-age students in Michigan and nationwide. The Michigan Association of State Universities ` 2018 enrollment report notes that freshman enrollment was a bright spot, with the schools having 41,452 first-time freshman in fall 2018, up 1.5 percent in fall 2017. Currently, about 60 percent of Michigan students enroll in college the fall after they graduate high school. About 34 percent of Michigan adults age 25 to
34 have at least a bachelor’s degree.. ...Read Full Story

Top Auto Awards Go To Hyundai And Ram

From the Associated Press — The Hyundai Genesis G70, Hyundai Kona and the Ram pickup have received North American car, sport utility and truck of the year awards. The awards were announced Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. This year’s car finalists also included the Honda Insight and Volvo S60/V60. Truck finalists included the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500.
SUV finalists also included the Acura RDX and the Jaguar I-Pace. Last year’s winners were the Honda Accord, Lincoln Navigator and the Volvo XC60. About 55 automotive journalists serve as judges. Eligible vehicles must be new or substantially changed. Organizers accept no advertising, though automakers try to capitalize on the marketing value of the awards, which are now in their 25th year.. ...Read Full Story

South Haven City Council To Talk Marijuana Tonight

Marijuana will be discussed tonight in South Haven. The City Council has a special meeting starting at 6 p.m. to get a presentation on the legal status of both medicinal and recreational weed in the state. Following public comment and remarks by experts, the council will be asked to come up with direction and guidance for city staff and the Planning Commission for possible ordinances for both.. ...Read Full Story

Thieves Hit Vehicles In Grand Junction Neighborhood

A 21-year-old Grand Junction man and two men from the Holland area who are 20 and 18 are in the Van Buren County Jail after being caught breaking into vehicles in the Grand Junction area early Sunday morning. They are accused of breaking into two vehicles and a work trailer in the four-thousand block of 48½ Street in Columbia Township. The three were caught due to their tracks in the snow leading Van Buren County Sheriff’s deputies to a nearby home. All the stolen items were recovered. The three are facing charges of larceny from a motor vehicle, and the youngest suspect is also going to be charged with breaking and entering of a vehicle. They’re being held without bond pending their arraignments.. ...Read Full Story

Decatur Library Picked For Traveling Exhibit On Small Town Life

The Smithsonian is bringing a traveling exhibit to Van Buren County this year. The Van Buren District Library’s Kay McAdam tells us the Decatur branch will host “Main Street’s Crossroads: Change in Rural America” this fall. It’s one of six locations in Michigan to be selected as a site for the display. It’s all about how small towns became centers of commerce, trade, local politics, and culture in the United States. McAdam says they also have to put together locally-relevant programs.. ...Read Full Story

CEO Looks To Work With School Board

A meeting of the Benton Harbor Area Schools Board of Education could take place this coming week as district CEO Robert Herrera aims to work more closely with trustees on a vision for the district. After this Tuesday’s CEO meeting, Herrera said he was working to set a meeting date with the board as three new trustees have been elected and another needs to be appointed. He told WSJM News after much organization since he was brought in working under the state, he’d like school board input.. ...Read Full Story

Dryers For Gloves Donated To Area Schools

Berrien RESA has been charged with delivering more than 500 glove dryers to schools throughout the county thanks to a donation from Consumers Energy. Consumers spokesperson Roger Morgenstern tells WSJM News the Green Glove Dryer School Project is a statewide effort involving K through fifth grade schools.. ...Read Full Story

Wife Of Murdered Soldier In Jail On Murder Charges

The wife of an Army sergeant who was shot and killed on New Year’s Eve in St. Joseph Township is in jail on murder charges, according to several news outlets. Berrien County Jail records show 22-year-old Kemia Nekenah Hassel was booked Saturday on murder charges involving a gun and a family member. The St. Joseph Township Police Department tells us two people have been arrested in the death of 23-year-old Tyrone Hassel III. He was shot several times at a home in the 2,000 block of Colfax Avenue while home on leave. Police say a tip that came in on Friday led to the two arrests. They have not released the names of either suspect. The Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office is expected to release more information on the case Monday.. ...Read Full Story

Program Has Teens Teach Each Other About Safe Driving

Students at Benton Harbor High School will take soon take part in a driver safety program offered by the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning and Ford Motor Company. Office of Highway Safety Planning spokesperson Kari Arend tells WSJM News Strive For a Safer Drive is a peer-led traffic safety campaign that allows the kids to use a $1,000 grant to reach out to their classmates about safe driving.. ...Read Full Story

State AG Reviewing Law On Pipelines

One of Governor Whitmer’s first acts was to ask state Attorney General Dana Nessel to deliver a legal opinion on the validity of Public Act 359 – the law authoring a petroleum pipeline replacement in the Mackinac Straits. But can the governor come up with a compromise that works or will it be a politics as usual decision pleasing some while alienating the other half of the state?. ...Read Full Story

Arrests Made In Murder Of Active Duty Soldier

The St. Joseph Township Police Department says it’s made arrests in a fatal shooting that occurred on New Year’s Eve. Tyrone Hassel III was shot several times at a home in the 2,000 block of Colfax Avenue. Hassel was an active duty Army sergeant who was home on leave. St. Joseph Township police say they got a tip in the case on Friday, and that resulted in the arrest of two suspects. No names are yet being released. More information will be released on Monday. The St. Joseph Township Police Department was assisted in the investigation by the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department and Michigan State Police.. ...Read Full Story

Public Input Sought On Parks Plan

As the Berrien County Parks Commission works to create a new five year plan for parks, the public has a chance to offer its thoughts. Berrien County Parks Director Brian Bailey tells WSJM News there will be two town hall-style meetings this coming Wednesday for input on the plan. The document will guide parks development from 2020 to 2024. Bailey says it includes planned improvements. He gave us some examples.. ...Read Full Story

Discover Winter Nights Returning To Cass County Park

The Cass County Parks and Recreation Department is gearing up to resume Discover Winter Nights for the season. Discover Winter Nights is a program held at Dr. T.K. Lawless Park each year. Now that the snow’s here, the celebrations will resume January 19 and be held each Saturday through February 9. It’ll include lighted hill tubing, three miles of lighted cross-country ski trails, a bonfire, crafts for the kids, tractor-pulled sleigh rides, winter biking, and star gazing. Discover Winter Nights takes place from 5 to 9 p.m. and each date is weather permitting. It’s $2 to get into Discover Winter Nights, and you can find more information right here.. ...Read Full Story

Court Launches Education Program For Moms

The Van Buren County Circuit Court is starting a new program for mothers to help them better communicate with their children and the fathers of their children. “Understanding Dad: An Awareness and Communication Program for Moms” will be a nine week program delivered through two hour weekly sessions starting January 17. The circuit court’s Amanda Hoefle tells WSJM News it’s intended to help families going through a divorce.. ...Read Full Story

Michigan Economy, Revenues Expected To Be Stable In 2019

From the Associated Press — Michigan’s economy will keep growing but at a slower rate, resulting in stable tax revenue growth at a time new Gov. Gretchen Whitmer begins working to put her imprint on state spending. That is among the takeaways from Friday’s semiannual meeting where the state treasurer and legislative fiscal experts agreed to consensus economic and tax projections. The Democratic governor will use the numbers when drafting her first budget proposal, due to the Republican-led Legislature in March. Economists gave a largely positive update to state officials but also warned of risks. U.S. auto sales are expected to dip, impacting a state that is bracing for job cuts at General Motors. Economists said Michigan’s strong labor market should help some workers who lose their jobs find work more quickly.. ...Read Full Story

United Way Organizations To Merge

The Van Buren County United Way is merging with the United Way of Southwest Michigan. The merger will be complete on July 1, and the back office operations are being combined immediately. According to a statement from the United Way of Southwest Michigan, the consolidation is being done to “increase efficiencies, reduce duplications and build on the collective thought.” UWSM CEO Anna Murphy and VBCUW executive director Vera Sebree say the merger will also provide more resources for residents and nonprofits in Van Buren County. Sebree says both organizations are excited about the move.. ...Read Full Story

Commission Discusses Fuel Spill In County Drain

Someone dumped around 500 gallons of fuel into a Berrien County drain, and the county board of commissioners would like to know who it was. At this week’s meeting, the Berrien County Board of Commissioners instructed County Administrator Bill Wolf to study options when it comes to paying for the clean-up of the drain at Napier Avenue and Park Road in Bainbridge Township. Drain Commissioner Christopher Quattrin tells WSJM News the spillage was discovered last week when the drain was reported clogged. A contractor found red fuel in a manhole. Quattrin says, fortunately, the blockage in the drain stopped the fuel from spreading far.. ...Read Full Story

SMC Celebrates Opening Of Expanded Nursing Facility

The newly-expanded nursing facility at Southwestern Michigan College is now open. The completion of the $9.6 million expansion was celebrated Wednesday with an open house at the Dowagiac campus. The expansion roughly doubles the capacity of the SMC nursing program, says SMC President David Mathews. He tells WSJM News this will help address a nursing shortage in southwest Michigan.. ...Read Full Story

South Haven To Hear Assessment Appeals

Property owners in the city of South Haven who don’t agree with the assessed value of their property will be able to appeal that assessment starting in March with the board of review. City Manager Brian Dissette spoke with WSJM News about the plan after a city council meeting this week.. ...Read Full Story

County Seeks Input On Parks Plan

As the Berrien County Parks Commission works to create a new five year plan for parks, the public has a chance to offer its thoughts. Berrien County Parks Director Brian Bailey tells WSJM News there will be two town hall-style meetings next Wednesday for input on the plan. The document will guide parks development from 2020 to 2024. Bailey says it includes planned improvements. He gave us some examples.. ...Read Full Story

Pedestrians Struck By Vehicle In Niles

Three young people are recovering from minor injuries after they were hit by a vehicle in Niles on Thursday. The Niles Police Department tells us it happened just before 3 p.m. at 13th and Sycamore Streets. First responders learned a vehicle driven by a 40-year-old Niles resident was northbound on 13th and had stopped at the stop sign. Four juveniles were walking west on the sidewalk of Sycamore, and when the vehicle started moving north again, it struck three of the pedestrians when they stepped over the curb and into the street. They were taken to area hospitals. Alcohol or drugs are not believed to have been factors in this crash, and the Niles Police Department continues to investigate.. ...Read Full Story

Upton Repeats Call To End Partial Gov’t Shutdown

Eight Republicans in the U.S. House joined with Democrats last week to approve legislation to reopen the federal government without including any money for President Trump’s border wall as a first step to end the partial shutdown. As we reported then, Congressman Fred Upton was among them, and he was the only Republican from Michigan to do so. He says it’s time to move on.. ...Read Full Story

Two Hurt In Bainbridge Crash

The Berrien County Sheriff’s Department is investigating a two vehicle head-on crash in Bainbridge Township Wednesday that left one of the drivers trapped in their vehicle. The department tells us it happened just before 5:30 p.m at Napier Avenue and Arent Road. The driver of a Nissan Sentra crossed the center line and struck a GMC Sierra pick-up. The pick-up then left the road and hit a utility pole, breaking the pole in half. The driver of the Nissan Sentra had to be freed from their vehicle by first responders and was then taken to Lakeland Hospital. The driver of the pick-up was also taken there. Police believe alcohol was a factor, and the names have not yet been released. American Electric Power was brought in to replace the utility pole. The crash caused traffic in the area to be re-routed for several hours.. ...Read Full Story

New County Commissioner Talks Priorities

New Berrien County Commissioner Bob Harrison is ready to get to work now that he’s been sworn in. Harrison, the former president of Lake Michigan College and now county commissioner for the Seventh District, told Moody in the Morning Wednesday he sees the declining population as a major problem for Berrien County.. ...Read Full Story

Meth Ring Busted In Southwest Michigan

A major meth ring has been busted in Kalamazoo. Michigan State Police tell us after a six month investigation also involving federal and local detectives, it was found the drug trafficking organization had delivered more than 400 pounds of methamphetamine from California to Kalamazoo in the past two years. On Tuesday of this week, the Southwest Enforcement Team got information that another shipment was on the way. Officers were able to intercept it, finding 27 pounds of ice hidden in a vehicle. Officers from SWET, the DEA, and troopers from the Michigan State Police Paw Paw post then executed a search warrant in Kalamazoo, finding two men in their 50s — one from Kalamazoo and one from California — who were taken into custody. While this was going on, officers in California found another 30 pounds of meth. The case is now being turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Grand Rapids, who will be working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in California to prosecute.. ...Read Full Story

BH Schools Lead Work About Finished

All but one of the water fixtures in need of replacement due to lead at Benton Harbor Area Schools have now been replaced. That word at this week’s district CEO meeting. Benton Harbor Area Schools had the water at all of the district’s facilities tested for lead after recent issues in the community and announced in November five fixtures were found to exceed the federal action level of 15 parts per billion. In addition, the district applied the stricter state standard of five parts per billion, finding a total of 20 fixtures above that. It then announced it would replace all of them. 19 are done. The one that has yet to be replaced requires some electric work as well, causing the delay. The district COO said at Tuesday’s CEO meeting that work is slated to be completed this Thursday.. ...Read Full Story

State Announces Blight Elimination Grants

From the Associated Press — Blight elimination funding is available for land banks and governmental units in Michigan counties with fewer than 50,000 people. The Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority says the Michigan Rural Community Demolition grants are designed to help communities remove vacant and abandoned structures from neighborhoods to prepare the areas for developments that spark business investment and provide good jobs. The maximum award per proposal is $50,000 and can be used toward dealing with vacant and abandoned, blighted commercial or residential structures. Proposals will be evaluated based on their anticipated impact in promoting
public safety, enhancing economic development, public and private investment in the project and alignment with the community vision or other place-making efforts. Applications will be accepted until 2 p.m. on February 15.. ...Read Full Story

Lawmakers Look To Reform Civil Forfeiture Laws

From the Associated Press — Republicans and Democrats in the Michigan House want to make it tougher for law enforcement to take ownership of property seized in drug cases that don’t result in convictions. The first bills introduced in the 100th Legislature Wednesday relate to asset forfeiture. Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield joined Democrats, including Attorney General Dana Nessel, to back the legislation. One bill would prohibit prosecutors from permanently confiscating assets thought to be associated with criminal activity unless a defendant is convicted of a drug crime, has entered into a plea agreement or no one claims any interest in the assets. The measure wouldn’t apply in seizures of property and cash worth more than $50,000, excluding the value of contraband. The House passed similar legislation last year, but it died in the Senate.. ...Read Full Story