By Annette Christie
Coloma Township Police Activity
The Coloma Charter Township Police Department had a busy month in October. They had a total of 245 complaints investigated and 30 arrests, of which five were felony arrests. Officers performed 75 traffic stops and gave 21 tickets. Chief Wes Smigielski said that his department has stepped up some patrols in some of the problem traffic areas in an effort to get cars to slow down.
He also said his office has seen an increase in property checks, as many of the summer residents have camera systems in their summer homes and have been contacting the department to check out suspicious behavior. October brought over 460 property checks.
Smigielski warns that deer movement has been a problem and they are seeing quite an increase in deer vs. car accidents, as a matter of fact of the 21 accidents in October, 18 were due to the fall moving animals. The chief mentioned that they have secured another officer, which now puts them back at the full staff level. He recently hired Zach Weber who comes to the department with three years of experience from the Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety.
Unbuckled helmet helpless as motorcyclist dies in Benton Harbor crash
The Berrien County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a fatal motorcycle accident that took place on Union Street in Benton Charter Township. On November 16, 2020 at approximately 9:11 p.m., emergency personnel responded to a 911 call to Public Safety Dispatch for a report of a vehicle crash involving a motorcycle and a car. Upon arrival, deputies found an unresponsive 35-year-old male lying on the street. The victim, Thomas Hoiles of Benton Harbor, was transported to Spectrum Lakeland Medical Center and was pronounced dead by ER doctors shortly after arrival. Investigators on scene found that the motorcycle driven by Hoiles was traveling northbound on Union Street approaching the entrance to Briarwood Apartments when a southbound vehicle made a left turn into the apartment entrance, ultimately pulling into the path of the motorcycle. The motorcycle impacted the car on the passenger side and the operator was ejected from the bike.
The investigation showed that the motorcycle operator had a helmet on at the time of the crash; however, it was not buckled and came off during the collision. The driver of the car, Anthony Terrel Wilson of Benton Harbor, fled the scene, but the suspect vehicle was located by police a short time later.
The Berrien County Sheriff’s Traffic Crash unit was contacted to reconstruct the collision. Wilson was subsequently arrested and lodged in the Berrien County Jail for multiple offenses including operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated causing death, leaving the scene of an injury accident, and drug charges. The investigation into the crash continues. The charges are merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
Residents warned of scammers posing as Sheriff’s Office The Berrien County Sheriff’s Office is once again letting everyone know that a phone call in which someone claims to be with their office and attempts to ask for money or payments is a scam and as any scenario like that will always be. The scam goes like this:
A resident gets a phone call and the caller claims to be with the Sheriff’s Office or a local law enforcement agency, telling the resident that they have a warrant for their arrest. It’s usually for a reason that the first instinct may be to wonder if they missed something important, like telling the caller they failed to answer a subpoena or missed jury duty. Sometimes they identify themselves as a randomly chosen position and name like “Lt. Smith” which was recently used by scammers, despite the fact that the Sheriff’s Office employs no one by that name. The scammers will also look up local information on deputies and county employees’ names and use those names to make the scam more believable.
The number that shows up on the phone could be a number ‘spoofed’ to look like it’s coming from a 269 area code, or it could even be made to look like it is coming from the Sheriff’s Office, Berrien County, IRS, and/or the Treasury Department. Once the resident is told that there is a warrant for their arrest, the caller lets the resident know that they will only be arrested if they refuse to pay bond of the stated amount.
A lot of scammers in these kinds of calls may even pretend to transfer you to the “Sheriff” who is really someone else or the same person carrying out the scam, but the calls always end the same way. The caller will instruct the resident to purchase some kind of gift card, usually either a green dot card (a kind of prepaid credit card) or a VISA card in very specific amounts and then call them back with the numbers or mail the cards and receipts to provide payment. If the resident does go through with providing the numbers for the payment, they may also ask the resident to bring the card to the Sheriff’s Office for verification, but by the time you would have arrived at the Sheriff’s Office, the money will be gone off the cards. It is impossible to refund or get the money back from these pre-paid cards or gift cards, which is why this is the most popular request form of payment from scammers. This is a classic phone scam that comes in many varieties; people claiming to be tech support, impersonating the IRS, posing as grandchildren in trouble and often pretending to be the police. The Berrien County Sheriff’s Office, nor any local police department, will never call residents and ask them to provide finances of any sort under the thread of arrest. If a resident is ever unsure about the legitimacy of a call from someone claiming to be law enforcement, hang up and then call the local law enforcement agency directly.
The Sheriff’s Office has provided the following tips: Be suspicious of callers who demand immediate payments; never give out personal or financial information to unsolicited callers including account numbers, social security numbers, passwords, or other verifying information; never wire money, provide debit or credit card numbers or Green Dot, Money Pak, or pre-paid credit card numbers to someone unknown; if a resident gets an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a governmental agency seeking personal information, they should hang up and call the phone number on the account statement or the agency’s website to verify the authenticity of the call/request; don’t answer calls from numbers that are unknown. As spoofing becomes more common, residents should question the number on the caller identification, be cautious and verify the person on the other end of the phone; don’t be afraid to tell the caller that this is a scam and that the resident is reporting this to the police.