01-17-19 Coloma girl dies in 2 car accident; VB sheriff suspects alcohol a factor

CELEBRATING SCHOOLEY… Watervliet Board of Education President Bill Spaulding presents former Watervliet Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Schooley with a plaque of appreciation Monday night during the district’s regular board meeting. Schooley accepted a superintendent’s position at South Haven Area Schools. (TCR photo by Kristy Noack)

Police Reports

By Annette Christie

Coloma girl dies in 2-car accident

A 6-year-old Coloma girl is just one of the victims who passed away due to injuries received in a 2-car accident last Saturday, January 12, 2019.

The Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department responded to the accident located in the 60000 block of Red Arrow Highway in Hartford Township at approximately 2:35 p.m.

An off-duty patrol sergeant called in the crash and immediately began assisting the injured parties. First responders began arriving and assisting in life saving measures. The injured parties were transported to local hospitals by ambulance.

Van Buren County Sheriff Daniel Abbot stated it appears that the driver of a 2007 White Chevy Equinox was traveling east bound and crossed the center line hitting a 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee head on in the west bound lane.

The driver of the Jeep, a 73-year-old female from Paw Paw was deceased at the scene. The 6-year-old girl in the Chevy Equinox was transported to Lakeland Hospital, Watervliet where she succumbed to her injuries.

The driver of the Chevy Equinox, a 23-year-old male from Benton Harbor was transported to Lakeland Medical Center, St. Joseph in critical condition. Another passenger in that vehicle, a one-year-old male from Benton Harbor was transported to Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo and is also in critical condition. A passenger in the Jeep Cherokee, a 57-year-old female from Paw Paw was transported to Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo and is also in critical condition.

Abbot said that alcohol is believed to be a factor. The investigation will be forwarded to the Van Buren County Prosecutor’s Office for review.

Driver of Bainbridge Township accident four times legal limit; not his first offense

The Berrien County Sheriff’s Office responded to a two-car accident on January 9 at approximately 5:26 p.m. in Bainbridge Township.

Emergency responders coming to the scene located at Napier Avenue and Arent Road discovered that a 2002 Nissan Sentra was traveling west on Napier near Arent when it crossed the center line and struck a 2000 GMC pickup truck. The truck operated by a 69-year-old Dowagiac man left the roadway and struck a utility pole, breaking it in half.

The driver of the pickup truck sustained serious injuries and was transported to the hospital for treatment. The driver of the 2002 Nissan Sentra, 43-year-old Dean A. Kietzer of Cassopolis, had to be extricated from the vehicle by the Sister Lakes Fire Department. He was transported to a local hospital for treatment of several non-life threatening injuries.

Kietzer appeared to be intoxicated at the time of the crash and the investigation revealed that his blood alcohol level was almost four times the legal limit.

Criminal Charges of Operating a Motor Vehicle while Intoxicated, 3rd Offense and Operating a Motor Vehicle Causing Serious Injury were authorized by the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office and the Berrien County Trial Court.

Wife arrested; charged with plotting husband’s murder

Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic has announced that charges have been filed in the death of Benton Harbor native Tyrone Hassell III, 23. On New Year’s Eve at approximately 11:00 p.m., Hassell, an active duty U.S. Army sergeant stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia, was shot and killed outside his father’s home on Colfax Avenue in St. Joseph Township.

He and his wife, Kemia Hassel, 22, of Allenhurst, Georgia, also an active duty U.S. Army soldier stationed at Fort Stewart, were residing on Colfax while on leave over the holidays with their 1-year-old child.

Sgt. Hassel had been at a family gathering on Lincoln Street in the city of Benton Harbor during the evening hours. He returned to the Colfax home around 11:00 p.m. to bring Kemia some food from the family gathering. After leaving her the food, he was returning to his pickup truck in the driveway of that home to return to Lincoln Street when he was confronted by an assailant who shot and killed him. Investigators from the St. Joseph Charter Township Police and Berrien County Sheriff’s Department explored numerous leads before receiving information from the U.S. Army base at Fort Stewart, Georgia.

An investigation by the Army CID (Criminal Investigation Division) unit at Fort Stewart and follow up investigation in Berrien County that included officers from the St. Joseph Township Police Department, the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department detective bureau, the Berrien County Homicide Task Force and the Michigan State Police, has led to murder charges against two individuals.

It is alleged that Kemia Hassel and Jeremy Cuellar, also an active duty U.S. Army soldier stationed at Fort Stewart, were in an extramarital relationship and plotted to kill Kemia’s husband, Tyrone. Further, it is alleged Cuellar travelled from Fort Stewart to Chicago several days prior to December 31, waited for directions from Kemia Hassel to ambush Tyrone, and did so finally on New Year’s Eve. The motive for the two to plot Sgt. Hassel’s death may have been to continue their relationship and reap the Army’s death benefit from his murder.

Kemia Hassel is charged with First Degree Premeditated Murder, a life offense without the possibility of parole. She is in the Berrien County Jail. At her arraignment on Monday, her bond was set at $2,500,000 with GPS tether. A pre-exam conference is set for Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019 and a preliminary exam hearing set for Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, both at 8:30 a.m.

Jeremy Cuellar, 24, of Hinesville, Georgia, is also charged with First Degree Premeditated Murder and additionally with Felony Firearm, a 2-year consecutive sentence. He is in custody in the Liberty County, Georgia jail awaiting extradition proceedings.

 Sepic said that the charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

Schooley send-off and superintendent search dominated Watervliet School Board meeting

By Kristy Noack The only thing missing from Monday’s Watervliet Board of Education meeting was a box of Kleenex. Otherwise, the meeting honoring former Superintendent Kevin Schooley, as well as the celebration of board member appreciation month, went off without a hitch. Schooley who left Watervliet Public Schools after serving two decades during which he was a teacher, principal, and superintendent was presented with a plaque honoring his commitment to the district. He was also feted with a performance on the auditorium stage by South Elementary School students. Additionally, the North School choir and director Brandon Mattson created a video of their rendition of Green Day’s “Time of Your Life,” with a few artistic modifications that personalized the song to Mr. Schooley and his service. Prior to presenting the plaque to Schooley, Board of Education President Bill Spaulding shared with the audience of over 125 people, “It has been my profound pleasure to work with Kevin Schooley for 15 of his 21 years of service to Watervliet Public Schools.” Spaulding complimented Schooley on his “two decades of vision and achievement” and his request that the board establish “formal goals that would provide [Schooley] or any Superintendent the road map he needed to deliver the results our community wanted.” Spaulding continued, “So, how did those goals work out for WPS over the last nine years? High school test scores have ranked us consistently in the top four in the county, top 50 in the state, and recognized nationally every year by U.S. News and World Report magazine. “District enrollment has grown every year of [his] tenure as Superintendent and this year we exceeded 1,500 students for the first time in almost four decades. “Conference, district, and regional championships have been won by almost every varsity sport, while our band and choir programs continue to receive very high ratings at state competitions. In addition, the fine arts department is bringing another musical production to this very stage in March of 2019. “Kevin, you have led WPS to accomplish what the parents, community members, and students of Watervliet wanted to accomplish – Excellence.” Spaulding concluded, “I thank you for your vision, leadership, partnership, and friendship.” Schooley thanked the board members, schoolchildren, parents, and community members in attendance for their support. His tenure as superintendent of South Haven Area Schools began January 2. Members of the board, including Spaulding, Eric Laws, Matt Clay, John Oliphant, Ted Tees, Andy DeHaven, and Amanda Morlock-Fisher were also celebrated Monday for their service. They were given cards and gift certificates and listened to a special song performed by South School students as part of school board appreciation month. Superintendent search is on! The board approved the hiring of Dave Killips from Michigan Leadership Institute (MLI) to provide services related to the posting, selection process, and hiring for the next Watervliet schools’ superintendent. Killips provided the board with a very thorough explanation of the next steps in the superintendent search, calling the schedule “aggressive.” Killips advised the position for superintendent was posted January 3 and will close February 15. He notified the board members that “many applicants come in the last seven to 10 days.” The public input process began Tuesday, January 15 when a three-question survey was released on the Watervliet schools website (www.watervlietps.org). The survey is open to the public and will be available until January 20. Additionally, focus groups consisting of community leaders, teachers, administrators, city officials, and stakeholders are being held Thursday, January 17 in an effort to gauge what interested parties want out of the new superintendent. According to Killips, results from the online survey and focus groups will help provide additional, targeted details to supplement the profile of the position. He also advised that he has already been contacted by a few interested parties about the position. Beginning February 25, the board will review all applicants, who will be identified by number not name. Once the board determines who will be interviewed, names will become public. Typically, first round interviews for the position of superintendent last one-and-a-half hours, and two interviews are held per night. Killips advised the board there “is no magic number of interviews.” He relayed that most boards select four to six applicants to interview, and then narrow that number down to two to three for second round interviews before selecting a final candidate. First round interviews will be held March 4-6 at 6:30 p.m. Interviews will be open to the public. Second round interviews will take place March 12-13, also at 6:30 p.m. A candidate may be selected following the second round of interviews and would then enter into contract negotiations with the district. Board appointments and committee assignments made Bill Spaulding will continue on as board president following a unanimous vote Monday evening. Eric Laws was selected as vice president. Matt Clay will continue in the role of secretary, and John Oliphant was appointed to the position of treasurer. The finance committee will include Spaulding, Clay, and Laws with Tees as the alternate. The superintendent review committee is comprised of Spaulding, Laws, and DeHaven with Clay as alternate. Clay, Tees, Morlock-Fisher, and alternate DeHaven will make up the negotiations/ personnel committee. The capital projects committee is Clay, Oliphant, Morlock-Fisher, and alternate Laws. Spaulding, Laws, Clay, and Oliphant as an alternate, will join forces on the Board of Education goals committee. The Board Policy Review committee will be comprised of Laws, Morlock-Fisher, Tees, and alternate Clay. Clay will also represent Watervliet as the district’s representative to the Berrien Regional Education Service Agency. Spaulding, Dr. John Jarpe, interim WPS superintendent, and Oliphant will act as signers of the district checkbook. Board approved additional measures during meeting The board approved the resignation of middle school math teacher Kourtney Sattler and middle school art teacher Samantha Zalewski. Additionally, General Fund expenses in the amount of $1,103,125.15 were approved for payment. Of that figure, $769,830.65 was related to payroll expenses.

Coloma cracks down on traffic violators

By Nancy Albright

On January 14, the Coloma City Council announced that people illegally parking in spots designated for handicapped drivers could face fines of up to $150.

At the request of Commissioner Fred Reeves on December 17, 2018 to better enforce the handicapped parking law as dictated by State of Michigan statute, the price for breaking the law will now be $100 if paid within one business day after the ticket is issued; an increase of $75. If not paid within 15 days the fine jumps to $130; 16-30 days, $140; and $150 if not paid after 30 days.

The council also adopted a new State Uniform Traffic Code for the City of Coloma. In addition to handicapped parking violations, the code prohibits parking on any city street between 2:30-6:00 a.m. The code also includes parking rules concerning curbs, land between sidewalks and streets, parking between designated parking lines, blocking driveways, and parking on the street facing the wrong direction.

The State Uniform Traffic Code takes effect on February 4, 2019 and will be posted in its entirety on the City of Coloma website.

No more semi traffic on Badt Drive

As a result of stop signs and street signs being habitually damaged by Menasha Packaging and Amhawk Steel semi traffic, the city adopted Traffic Control Order #35 which prohibits semi traffic moving east or west on Badt Drive. No Semi Truck signs will be placed in the appropriate areas to prevent future damage and cost to the city.

Speeders beware

As a result of citizen complaints and requests to crack down on speed violators in the City of Coloma, Interim Chief of Police Lt. Wes Smigielski reported that the department conducted two traffic speed studies in town using LIDAR (laser radar) in the area near the Speedway gas station at 481 S. Church St. and by the Dairy Queen at 141 E. St. Joseph St.

The speed limit prior to the Speedway on Church St. near the city border is 35 mph, and 25 mph just past the station. The study revealed an average speed of 29 mph and the highest recorded speed as 41 mph. LIDAR clocked an average speed of 27 mph and a high speed of 42 mph near Dairy Queen with traffic moving west off Red Arrow Highway into the city.

Burglary investigation in progress

Lt. Smigielski also reported that a handgun was stolen during a burglary of eight unlocked vehicles near Morrison and Washington streets. Smigielski advised, “It’s not a good idea to keep guns in unlocked vehicles. There is now a handgun out on the streets of our city.”

The police department has in their possession video of three suspects spotted near the Wesco gas station at 339 N. Paw Paw St. and is working with Berrien County to get a clear image to use as evidence before charging the three in question.

Council solidifies marijuana committee

Mayor Polashak announced that the City Council has formed a committee to investigate the advantages and disadvantages of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in Coloma. The decision to form the committee was made at the December 10, 2018 council meeting at the request of residents who debated the financial benefits these types of businesses could potentially bring to the area.

Commissioner Linda Freitag will chair the committee and Commissioners Jason Hicks and Fred Reeves will serve as members.

Chairman Freitag reported that the committee plans to work with Coloma native Charlena Berry of Cannabis Business Growth – a professional firm that helps start-ups in the U.S., Canada and Zimbabwe operate legally compliant and licensed cannabis businesses – to determine whether to opt out before the law takes effect in December of 2019. Michigan is now one of 33 U.S. states that voted to legalize recreational marijuana for citizens 21 and over – the first in the Midwest.

Financial news

The proposed fire department budget for 2019 reflects increases of $7,000 for the City of Coloma, $32,000 for Coloma Township and $28,000 for Hagar Township. When questioned about the higher price tags by audience member Bill Smith, Mayor Polashak responded that the cost of materials has increased, as well as life and health insurance premiums. “The costs of turnout gear has increased 23% and we have no control over health and life insurance costs. It’s imperative that our firefighters have good coverage in these areas,” stated Polashak.

“I’m all for the fire department, they do a hell of a job, but these are some big numbers to dump on the city and two townships,” said Smith. “I understand we need additional firefighters and that vehicles are getting older and require maintenance. I just want to make sure we’re getting the biggest bang for our buck.”

The 2019 Fire Budget will be finalized at the January 28 City Council Meeting.

In other financial news, the council approved the motion to pay city bills and payroll in the amount of $107,149.08 and reported that a check received in the amount of $1,330.51 for the Randall Park project was deposited into the general operating fund. The next city budget meeting is scheduled for Feb. 23, 2019 at 9:30 a.m. at City Hall.

Winter tax deadline extended

A reminder that the deadline for paying winter taxes has been extended to February 28, 2019 at 4:00 p.m. Taxes paid after the deadline will be subject to penalty.

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