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October 26, 2003

Week in Review

      TC teen charged as adult in drug robbery
      ELK RAPIDS - A Traverse City teen is charged as an adult on accusations he robbed a teen from whom he tried to buy marijuana.
      Adam Patrick Lockwood, 15, faces five charges including an armed robbery charge, which carries up to life in prison, Antrim County Prosecutor Charles Koop said.
      Police believe Lockwood tried to buy marijuana from an Elk Rapids teen near the village harbor Monday evening. When the deal went bad, he pulled a gun and robbed him of the drug, Koop said.
      Later, the alleged victim and two friends saw Lockwood and chased him. One of them got Lockwood's gun away and threw it into Elk River. Sheriff's divers later recovered it.
      Lockwood is being held without bond and will likely be transferred to a juvenile holding facility in Muskegon, Koop said.
      Marina owner gets OK for expansion
      KEWADIN - A Torch River marina owner may proceed with expansion plans following three hours of contentious debate Tuesday before Milton Township planners.
      John Peal, owner of Torch River Marine, wants to excavate a 115-by-222-foot strip of land between his existing marina facilities and the adjacent Rosemary's Marina. The project would add 58 covered boat slips to Peal's existing 88 slips.
      The marina also features dockside space for about 10 other boats, and off-water rack storage of boats.
      Many project opponents are residents along the Torch River between Torch and Skegemog and Elk lakes. They cited the potential for erosion and increased boat traffic in an already busy area.
      Peal said he has received permits from both the state Department of Environmental Quality and Antrim County Soil Erosion. The marina has a waiting list of over 100 for boat slips, he said.
      Police seek ex-con in grandmother's murder
      HONOR - Police believe a parolee robbed and killed his 78-year-old grandmother in her Benzie County home.
      Lillian Mae Ross, 78, who lived alone off a dirt road in a neatly kept trailer home in Homestead Township, was shot in the neck, Sheriff Bob Blank said.
      Police are looking for her grandson, John Thomas Robertson, 31, and his companion, Robert David Eckstein, 23, both of Flint. Both men were released from prison in the past year.
      Murder warrants were issued Tuesday for Robertson and Eckstein by Prosecutor Anthony Cicchelli, Blank said.
      Robertson and Eckstein became suspects after police found evidence tying them to a stolen pickup which had been abandoned up the road from the victim's home, Blank said.
      A vehicle the pair allegedly took from Ross' home was found abandoned Tuesday in Alorton, Ill., near East St. Louis. Police said the pair may be headed to Oklahoma or New Mexico in a black Ford Mustang.
      The Federal Bureau of Investigations has joined the manhunt because the suspects have crossed state lines.
      Court upholds ruling that ousted officials
      GRAYLING - The Michigan Court of Appeals has affirmed a circuit court judge's opinion, saying the Crawford County Board of Commissioners had authority to remove two road commissioners accused of violating the state's Open Meetings Act.
      The Court of Appeals ruled that 46th Circuit Trial Court Judge Dennis Murphy was correct to uphold the removal of former Crawford County Road Commissioners Raymond Swiercz and Robert Nelson.
      The pair of road commissioners were ousted from their seats on the road board in January 2000 for violating the state's Open Meetings Act for discussing negotiations with unionized road commission employees.
      Former teacher fined $2,830 in bomb threat
      GRAYLING - A former Grayling Middle School teacher who called in a bomb threat in order to get the day off will have to pay the Crawford AuSable Schools District $2,830.
      Kathryn Anne Olson must pay attorney fees the Crawford AuSable Schools District incurred from the time she confessed to calling in the bomb threat to the day she resigned from teaching, plus pay for hourly employees who did not work the day of the initial bomb threat and funds spent on tracing the phone records.
      Olson, 45, phoned in the bomb threat to the home of Doniel Pummell, the former middle school principal, on March 11, 2002. Olson pleaded guilty to making a false bomb threat last March.
      She has served a four-month jail sentence as well as a two-month probationary period on an electronic tether.
      NCMC has partnership with six universities
      PETOSKEY - North Central Michigan College on Tuesday unveiled its new University Center program. Partnering with six Michigan universities, the program will allow students to receive more affordable bachelor's and master's degrees while attending the Petoskey campus.
      The program will allow students to "stay in the community, earn the degrees they want and stay here and work," said George Griffin, northern regional director for center partner Spring Arbor University.
      NCMC president Cameron Brunet-Koch said the college has come a long way from the 85 students and six courses it started with 45 years ago. This fall's enrollment set a new record with 2,738 students, up nearly 8 percent from the previous fall, she said.
      Duck hunter fatally shot while in a boat
      MACKINAW CITY - A 59-year-old Cheboygan man was killed Tuesday while duck hunting in a boat.
      Thomas Gary Alexander was fatally shot about 10 a.m. on French Farm Lake in Emmet County's Wawatam Township near Mackinaw City, the Emmet County Sheriff's Department reported.
      Alexander was hunting with a family member, Detective Sgt. Bobra Johnston said. The sheriff's department did not release the family member's name because the death is still under investigation,
      Johnston said reports will be forwarded to the Emmet County prosecutor's office to determine if the matter is deemed a hunting accident or reckless discharge of a firearm.
      Pair face charges of raping woman at trailer
      PETOSKEY - Two Emmet County men face first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges for the alleged rape of a 25-year-old Boyne City woman at an Alanson trailer Oct. 18.
      Jason Todd McNeil, 20, of Petoskey, and Harley Jefferson Smith, 20, of Alanson, were charged Monday in Emmet District Court. Both face up to life in prison if convicted.
      Both men remain in the Emmet Jail in lieu of $500,000 bond. A preliminary examination for both men is scheduled for Oct. 29 in district court.
      grand traverse
      County cuts retirees' supplemental insurance
      TRAVERSE CITY - Scores of retired Grand Traverse County workers are facing hundreds of dollars in extra monthly health care costs, thanks to the county board.
      The county notified more than 60 former employees that commissioners are eliminating a supplemental insurance program that's been in place for retirees for more than 20 years.
      The benefit is a supplement or "wrap" program that fills in the gaps in Medicare coverage once retirees reach age 65.
      Up to now, the county had fully paid the cost of that supplemental coverage. Now the $300-plus monthly coverage costs will be shifted to retirees.
      Commissioners decided to eliminate the insurance rider, effective April 1, among steps to trim more than $3 million from next year's $33 million general fund budget.
      Former GT Auto parcels for sale at $5.7 million
      TRAVERSE CITY - The former Grand Traverse Auto dealership properties at West Front and Pine streets, long considered prime candidates for redevelopment, have been put up for sale for nearly $5.7 million.
      The three parcels have been vacant since the dealership relocated in 1997.
      The properties are among the last few sizable parcels in the immediate downtown area, he said.
      The Calcutt family, which owns the sites, hired realty agent Bill Stireman of the Coldwell Banker Real Estate firm to market the properties, which are the former Grand Traverse Auto showroom and service department ($1,675,0000, the former Mitsubishi showroom ($1,250,000) and the former Grand Traverse Auto used car lot at 305 W. Front at the southwest corner of Pine ($2,750,000).
      Last year the Calcutts were granted a brownfield development designation, which means potential buyers and developers can tap into about $1 million in reimbursements to pay for demolition, lead and asbestos removal, site preparation, soil testing and engineering costs.
      Disabled applicant files suits over job rejections
      TRAVERSE CITY - A man who suffers from cerebral palsy has filed lawsuits alleging two businesses turned down his job application because of his disability.
      Steven Stropp claims he failed to land jobs loading and unloading packages for United Parcel Service and as a stock person for Art Van Furniture because he is disabled, according to lawsuits filed last month.
      In the suits, Stropp, 31, maintains he is capable of lifting heavy objects and therefore is qualified for the positions.
      But according to his attorney, Blake Ringsmuth, Stropp's "mild" case of cerebral palsy affects the right side of his body and prompted supervisors to turn him down. Ringsmuth is seeking more than $25,000 in damages in each case.
      Accused molester found competent to stand trial
      TRAVERSE CITY - A Community Mental Health patient accused of kidnapping two children and attempting to molest one of them is competent to stand trial.
      Thomas H. Edwards Jr., 45, who is accused of luring two boys, ages 12 and 13, to his home in August with the promise of video games, faces up to life in prison on charges of kidnapping and criminal sexual conduct.
      District Court Judge Michael Haley found Edwards competent to stand trial after he reviewed a report from the Michigan Department of Community Health Center for Forensic Psychiatry.
      While Edwards has suffered severe mental illness in the past, there was no indication he was experiencing psychotic symptoms at the time of the alleged sexual assault, according to the report.
      Edwards, a registered sex offender, spent seven years in prison in New Jersey for sexual assault.
      Opera House receives OK for tax credit plan
      TRAVERSE CITY - The restoration of the City Opera House will get a $1.5 million boost in the form of historic tax credits through a lease agreement approved by the city commission Monday night.
      The commission unanimously approved a long-term lease agreement developed by the City Opera House Heritage Association to access state and federal tax credits for the ongoing renovations and restoration of the 1891 downtown landmark. The idea was brought up earlier this year as a way to revive fund-raising efforts for the $8.5 million project.
      City officials said the regulations of the tax credit program require the city to lease the opera house to a for-profit entity that would be responsible for operation and maintenance of the building. The entity would then transfer the historic tax credits to a private investor that puts up the money for the renovations in exchange for the tax credits.
      National City Bank's community development corporation is purchasing the credits. City manager Richard Lewis said about half of the money should be available within the next several months, with the rest coming with completion of the project. The agreement is also subject to approval from the federal Department of Interior, Lewis said.
      Drain commissioner hands in resignation
      TRAVERSE CITY - Grand Traverse County's drain commissioner shocked county commissioners Tuesday morning when she handed them her resignation, saying she wanted to spend more time with her children.
      Maureen Kennedy Templeton said she's been frustrated by the enforcement of soil erosion control laws in the case of Bill Clous, an East Bay Township developer accused of environmental violations in the Mitchell Creek Watershed.
      But she insisted those concerns did not prompt the resignation.
      Templeton proposed that deputy drain commissioner Pete Bruski be named as her replacement. The county clerk, prosecutor and probate judge will name the interim drain commissioner who will serve until an election in 2004.
      Templeton's resignation takes effect Dec. 31.
      County considers plan to remove two dams
      TRAVERSE CITY - The county might back a state idea to remove two dams along the Boardman River - but that support could hinge on the state easing opposition to the county's plans to build the Hartman-Hammond bridge.
      Department of Natural Resources officials met Tuesday with Grand Traverse County commissioners to discuss a long-range plan to remove the Boardman and Sabin dams on the Boardman River.
      Removing the two dams would significantly improve the river's fish habitat, DNR officials said.
      Grants and private funds probably also would be available to remove the dams at little or no cost to the county, state officials said.
      The county-owned dams are operated by Traverse City Light and Power, although utility officials say both are losing money. The utility would agree to abandon both structures once some maintenance loans are paid off over the next three years, Light and Power officials said.
      Judge tosses lawsuit over power pole
      TRAVERSE CITY - The installation of an 80-foot power pole along Wadsworth Street violates no state or city laws governing historic districts, a Grand Traverse judge ruled.
      Circuit Judge Philip Rodgers dismissed the lawsuit against Traverse City Light and Power filed by a group of Central Neighborhood residents.
      The lawsuit, filed in January, claimed the tower "blights the entrance" to the historic district in their neighborhood.
      The pole is just within the Central Neighborhood's historic district, one of three within the city. Plaintiffs were neighborhood residents Pete Jurica, Stewie Zacks and Tim Hall.
      The court granted the utility's motion to dismiss the suit, ruling that the application of the city's historic areas ordinance is limited to buildings of at least 200 square feet in area, or other enclosures or shelters for people or animals.
      Raid at TC Wal-Mart nets 5 illegal workers
      TRAVERSE CITY - Authorities arrested five illegal workers at the Wal-Mart store in Traverse City and three others at the Wal-Mart in Coldwater early Thursday.
      The two Michigan raids were among 60 conducted at Wal-Mart stores across the country, resulting in the arrest of more than 300 illegal workers.
      The workers, members of cleaning crews the company hired through a contractor, were arrested as they finished their night shifts at stores in 21 states.
      All were in the country illegally, said Garrison Courtney, a spokesman with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
      The arrests stem from a November 1998 investigation done in conjunction with the Pennsylvania attorney general's office.
      Judge's ruling shields trees in right-of-way
      MANISTEE - Utility crews can cut some, but not all, of the trees they marked in the Village of Onekama.
      Circuit Judge James Batzer ruled Wednesday that Consumers Energy can fell and trim trees agreed to by private property owners but must wait before acting on plans for trees growing in the village right-of-way.
      Batzer also said he didn't know if the village council, which voted 5-1 to allow the utility company to cut or trim the trees, had the right to do so with so many residents speaking out against the project.
      Consumers Energy spokesman Jon Hall said the trees have grown too close to electrical lines, increasing chances of power outages and making it easier for children and pets to climb the trees.
      But members of TREES - Trees' Rights Equal Environmental Sense - said the plan violated a franchise agreement the company has with the village and the state Environmental Protection Act.
      Man faces life sentence in stepdaughter's death
      GAYLORD - The case against a 22-year-old man accused of killing his 3-year-old stepdaughter has advanced to Otsego County Circuit Court.
      Charles Lewis Schriner waived his preliminary exam in Otsego County District Court Tuesday.
      Schriner faces life in prison on an open count of murder for allegedly smothering or strangling his stepdaughter, Emily Rose Payton on July 2, Otsego County Prosecutor Kevin Hesselink said.
      Schriner was watching Payton while her mother, Jeanette Schriner, was at work.
      Upon arrival at the house trailer where the couple lived in Otsego Lake Township, Jeanette Schriner found the child not breathing and turning blue. She called 911, but emergency responders and police were unable to revive the girl.
      Group seeks easements to protect bear habitat
      CADILLAC - The Cadillac Area Land Conservancy is focusing its sights on bear migration routes in four counties in an effort to preserve them for more than 100 bears that live there.
      The conservancy wants to obtain conservation easements to the corridors and general wildlife habitat in Wexford, Missaukee, Osceola and Lake counties.
      All of the migration routes run through large swaths of federal and state land. Some of the private land in those areas is being developed, said Larry Visser, a Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist.
      The areas where the group hopes to obtain easements extend northwest to the Mesick and Hodenpyl Dam; north to Manton and the Manistee River; southeast to McBain, Marion and the Muskegon River; and southwest to Baldwin and Idlewild.
      The conservancy already has secured four easements in the corridor, with others in the works.
      School officials eye protocol on death talks
      MESICK - A panel of school officials wants to avoid a repeat of a recent incident in which a student graphically described his parents' murder-suicide to his sixth-grade classmates.
      The Mesick Middle School principal and three school counselors are setting a protocol to follow whenever discussing the deaths of a student's immediate family members.
      Meanwhile, counselor Linda Baynes, who school officials said asked the boy if he wanted to share his story with classmates, was suspended for two days during an investigation, Superintendent Ron Ford said.
      The panel's efforts were spurred by a student's talk in Carole Rycenga's sixth-grade class on Oct. 6 regarding his parents' deaths downstate in September. The boy moved to Mesick to live with relatives and enrolled in classes here.
      The new guidelines will be submitted to parents for their review before adoption by the committee, Ford said. So far, the plan includes allowing only adults to address classes on such matters.

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