Woman sentenced for leaving boys in hot van

ANGOLA — A Camden, Michigan, woman who left two young children in a sweltering vehicle in an Angola parking lot was sentenced to two years of incarceration Monday morning in Steuben Superior Court.

Sallie M. Wireman, 24, pleaded guilty to two Level 6 felony charges of neglect of a dependent and misdemeanor theft.

She was arrested June 18, 2020, after Angola Police Officer Evan Howe rescued the children by breaking out the driver’s-side front window of the vehicle, court documents say. The vehicle allegedly registered 128 degrees on its interior with the outside temperature around 90. Police were contacted by concerned citizens who saw the two boys, ages 2 and 3, crying inside the locked van.

Monday, Judge William Fee accepted a plea agreement, sentencing Wireman to two years for each count of neglect, with one year of each suspended. After serving two years, Wireman will be on probation for two years. The sentence for the theft count, 180 days, will run concurrently to the other terms. Wireman received two days credit for time already served.

Three rescued from falls through ice

STROH — Three men had to be pulled from Big Turkey Lake after falling through the ice on Wednesday, said a news release from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Law Enforcement.

Indiana Conservation Officers responded to a report of three fishermen who had fallen through at about 3:30 p.m.

One man had fallen into the lake as he was going out to ice fish with his father. He was freed from the water by two other fishermen, and as they were returning to shore, they all went in.

Brad Levitz, 61, of LaGrange, and his son, Bradley Levitz, 40, of Hudson, were attempting to walk on the ice to go fishing when the incident occurred. Brad Levitz, realizing the danger, had begun to return to shore when his son fell through the ice approximately 200 yards from shore.

Jason Smith, 48, of Auburn, and Bert Wolfe, 47, of Albion, who were fishing nearby, helped the younger Levitz out of the water, and those three attempted to return to the shore. Those three men fell through the ice approximately 60 yards from shore and were assisted out of the water and onto land by fire department personnel on the scene.

Smith and Wolfe were treated on the scene by medics and released. Bradley Levitz was transported by ambulance to Cameron Memorial Community Hospital in Angola for evaluation.

Teens face charges in Hamilton Lake drowning

HAMILTON — Juvenile charges will be filed in connection with a drowning that occurred at Hamilton Lake in August, claiming the life of an 18-year-old man from Ohio, authorities said.

At about midnight Aug. 22, Mason Shuey, 18, of Ottawa, Ohio, lost his grip on the swim platform of a Supra ski boat he was being pulled by. He and two others were passengers in the boat, driven by a 17-year-old boy from Ottawa, Ohio. The others in the boat were a girl, 17, and another boy, 14.

All except the driver were in various states of intoxication, say documents from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Law Enforcement. Shuey reportedly was under the influence of marijuana, the DNR report says, and was quite intoxicated, the other teens told officers.

Because youths are not being charged as adults, their names are not being published. The owner of the boat was Charles Jeffery Meyer, 51, of Ottawa, Ohio, father of the boat driver.

The driver is being charged with the adult equivalent of failure to report a boating accident resulting in death, which would be a Level 5 felony; obstruction of justice, a Level 6 felony; false informing, a Class B misdemeanor; and transportation of alcohol by a minor, a Class C misdemeanor. The other two juveniles face charges of obstruction of justice, false informing and minor consuming an alcoholic beverage, a Class C misdemeanor.

Three of four local counties rated red

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s statewide COVID-19 ratings map is redder than ever, with three of four counties in the northeast corner again earning the worst rating.

Noble County remains the only local county to stay in orange representing high spread of COVID-19, while LaGrange, Steuben and DeKalb counties received red ratings indicating very high spread.

Overall, Indiana’s ratings grew worse compared to last week, with 57 counties now in red compared to 45 a week ago. Once again there were no counties rated blue for low spread and also none in yellow for moderate spread. The 35 others were all in orange.

Locally, ratings haven’t shifted much in recent weeks, although this week LaGrange County returned to red after a one-week stint in orange following Christmas.

DeKalb County has been rated red for six straight weeks, although if the county could make a slight improvement in positivity to drop below 15% it would hit orange for the first time since Nov. 25.

Steuben County has been in red for three straight weeks after going through a yo-yo period between orange and red for a period of weeks in November and December.

Noble County remains in the orange for the 11th straight week.

Legislator wants voice in future emergencies

INDIANAPOLIS — State Rep. Ben Smaltz wants Indiana legislators to have a say about future long-term emergencies.

Smaltz, R-Auburn, is co-authoring a bill that would allow state lawmakers to call themselves into session in future crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under current state law, only the governor can call a special session of the Indiana General Assembly. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb chose not to do that in 2020, making rules for the pandemic by himself through executive orders.

“I felt so helpless sitting on the sidelines for the last nine months,” Smaltz said last week. “I really would have liked it if we would have been able to help.”

The bill Smaltz is co-writing with Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, would allow the legislature to convene after a governor’s emergency order was in place for 30 days. The Speaker of the House and president of the Senate would have the power to call their chambers into session. Both would have to agree in order for a special session to occur.

Smaltz said he believes the governor’s emergency powers were intended for short-term situations such as floods and tornadoes.

Man found dead had been struck by train

GARRETT — A man who was found dead Dec. 29 along the CSX railroad tracks near the Taylor Road crossing in Garrett had been struck by a train, Indiana State Police said Monday.

The body of Michael Dale Griffith, 30, of Charleston, West Virginia, was discovered along the railroad tracks.

Griffith’s death has been ruled accidental. Police detectives have found no evidence at this time to suggest a crime had been committed.

In an autopsy, the cause of Griffith’s death was ruled to be the result of blunt-force trauma.

DeKalb commissioners to discuss new jail

AUBURN — DeKalb County Commissioners will begin weekly special meetings to discuss construction of a new DeKalb County Jail.

“We’re going to go every week for a while. We’ve got a lot to iron out — a lot to decide,” Commissioners President William Hartman said Monday. The first meeting will be Monday, Jan. 11.

The meetings will begin at 1:30 p.m. in the Commissioners Court on the second floor of the DeKalb County Courthouse, 100 S. Main St., Auburn. They will be open to the public.

The commissioners hope to select an architect by the end of January to design a potential new jail, Hartman said in his monthly report to the DeKalb County Council.

The existing jail opened in the mid-1980s on East 8th Street, one block east of the courthouse. It has been overcrowded for several years, with the county paying for jails in Noble and Steuben counties to house overflow inmates.

The jail also has been plagued by structural problems, in part due to settling caused by unstable soils at its location near the floodplain of Cedar Creek, which flows one block to the east.

In previous discussions of a potential new jail, county officials have focused on a site near the new Community Corrections Center that opened 11 months ago at the west edge of Auburn, north of S.R. 8.

Health order closes Michiana Event Center

SHIPSHEWANA — The Michiana Event Center in Shipshewana has been shut down by the LaGrange County Health Department for alleged repeated violations of state and local orders aimed at protecting the public from the spread of COVID-19.

The order that closes the large events venue was hand-delivered to representatives of the MEC on Thursday, said LaGrange County Health Department attorney Jeff Wible.

At issue, says Wible, is that the MEC’s owners and managers have repeatedly refused to implement coronavirus protections as required by state order, such as limiting crowd sizes and requiring those guests wear face masks and observe social distancing at events.

Wible explained health department officials have had several meetings with MEC officials outlining the health department’s position. LaGrange County Health Officer Dr. Tony Pechin sent MEC CEO Dennis Fry two letters in December explaining observed violations at the MEC and reminding Fry of the crowd limits imposed on businesses by the state during the surge of new coronavirus infections in the area.

LaGrange County has received a red rating from the state representing very high spread of COVID-19 for eight of the last nine weeks. That rating limits public gathering sizes to no more than 25 people, with no exceptions.

LaGrange commissioner dies after COVID bout

LAGRANGE — The flags outside the LaGrange County Office Building, home of the LaGrange County Commissioners, flew at half-staff Thursday in honor of LaGrange County Commissioner Larry Miller, who died at his home on Wednesday.

Miller, 69, was recovering from a serious case of COVID-19 that hospitalized him for nearly two months. He had recently returned home and been back to attending public meetings virtually before his death this week.

The news of Miller’s death hit former LaGrange County Commissioner George Bachman very hard.

“He was my best friend,” Bachman said in a phone call Thursday morning. Bachman choked back tears while he spoke. “I talked to him almost every day, and encouraged him, and asked if I could come and see him, but he told me the doctors didn’t want him to see anyone just yet.”

Miller, a Republican, spent the last 5 1/2 years serving as the president of the LaGrange County Board of Commissioners.

Virus outgreak leads to limits on jail inmates

ALBION — The spread of the coronavirus at the Noble County Jail has caused Sheriff Max Weber to limit the intake of new prisoners “unless it is for a major felony,” according to a memo Weber wrote dated Dec. 31.

In an interview Dec. 29, Weber said there 12 inmates with COVID-19, with three being symptomatic.

In the Dec. 31 memo, Weber said the number had grown to 23 inmates who have tested positive for the virus with five showing symptoms.

Weber has ordered that the co-pay normally levied for a doctor or nurse visit to an inmate be waived for the coronavirus situation. He said the inmates who are symptomatic are at worse suffering from a mild fever and chills.

Four staff members have also tested positive for the virus, Weber said.

The Noble County Jail has approximately 140 inmates, with approximately 20 staff members, including kitchen help.

On Monday, Weber said the situation was in hand, with all of the coronavirus-positive inmates segregated into one cell block.

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