Periodic closings set Tuesday at Griffith CN Railway crossing

GRIFFITH | The Canadian National Railway crossing at Broad Street in downtown Griffith will experience short, period closures beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday to accommodate railroad repairs.

The closures will affect all traffic and last about 15 to 20 minutes each. Broad Street will not be fully closed. Traffic will be allowed through the crossing before and after each of the short closures.

Flaggers will direct traffic through the construction zone. The timeframe for those closures is undetermined, the Griffith Public Works Department said.

Construction activity is expected to last 12 hours.

Questions can be directed to public works at (219) 924-3838.

10 minutes ago
3 county courtrooms in Gary still displaced

GARY | Things are slowly getting back to normal at the Robert D. Rucker Building in Gary after a fire in August disrupted operations. 

Senior Lake Superior Court Judge John Pera said the Lake County Superior Court Civil Division 4 resumed operations Monday out of the Gary courthouse.

Pera said the Lake County Superior Court Civil Division 3 courtroom, which overseas family court, is still temporarily operating out of the Lake County Government Center in Crown Point. The Lake County Superior Court County Division 1 courtroom and the juvenile IV-D courtroom have not yet moved back into the Gary courthouse.

Pera said officials do not yet know when the courtrooms will resume operations in Gary. 

Marilyn Hrnjak, the executive chief deputy clerk for Lake County, said the Lake County clerk's office in Gary along with other departments were expected to move back into the courthouse this week. 

Operations at the courthouse were disrupted Aug. 28 after a fire in the building's basement severely damaged the electrical system. 

Pera called officials response to repairing the building magnificent. 

"All of them have gone above and beyond the call of duty in swiftly getting this courthouse back up and running," Pera said.

10 minutes ago
Whiting FOP holds haunted hayrides on three nights

WHITING | The Whiting Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 68 holds its Haunted Halloween Hayride Spooktacular on Friday, Saturday and Halloween night at Whiahla Beach.

Hayrides begin at 6 and run until 10 p.m. Because of the demand during last year's hayride, two wagons will be run this year, reducing wait times.

Advanced tickets are available at the Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce by calling (219) 659-0292 or by stopping by at 1417 119th St. in downtown Whiting.

In addition to the hayride, the event features a pumpkin patch, movies, games, a concession stand and kookie cookie decorating.

Event sponsors include service clubs from  Whiting and Clark high schools, the Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce, the Whiting Community Improvement Fund, and Pie-Eyed Restaurant.

For years, Whiting FOP ran the haunted house in Whiting Lakefront Park. Because of construction in the park last year, the FOP ran a hayride instead "and the response was fantastic," said John Sopo, event chairman.

Proceeds help a number of local community organizations.

For more information, visit darkinthepark.net or call (219) 659-0292.

10 minutes ago
School Board hopefuls focus of Oct. 30 Hammond forum

HAMMOND | The Hammond Council PTA hosts a Candidate Night Forum for School City of Hammond board candidates from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m Oct. 30 at the School Administration Center, 41 Williams St.

10 minutes ago
East Chicago offers haunted hayrides Friday at golf course

EAST CHICAGO | Haunted hayrides will be offered from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at McArthur Golf Course hosted by Mayor Anthony Copeland and the East Chicago parks staff.

The evening includes the hayrides, marshmallow roasting, an egg hunt and costume contest.

It's for those ages 3 to 13 and costs $3 a person. The costume contests are for three different age groups. The first 200 children to come receive a bucket filled with treats.

The golf course is in the 3900 block of Indianapolis Boulevard near Central High School.

In case of bad weather, the event will be moved to the Roxana Center at 900 Shell St., East Chicago.

10 minutes ago
Lake property taxes are due next month

CROWN POINT | Lake County Treasurer John Petalas reminds property owners the final installment of 2014 property tax bills are due Nov. 10.

Petalas said his offices will have extended hours from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. that day only at his offices at 2293 N. Main St., Crown Point; 232 Russell St., Hammond; and 11 E. 4th Ave., Gary.

The offices typically are open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays.

He said anyone who doesn't have questions or problems with their bills can pay at the branch offices of these banks: American Savings FSB, Centier Bank, Chase Bank, DeMotte State Bank, First Federal Savings and Loan, First Financial Bank, First Midwest Bank, Dyer Bank & Trust, BMO Harris Bank, Horizon Bank, Lake Federal Bank, Main Source Bank, People's Bank and the Indiana branches of Tech Federal Credit Union.

Petalas said property owners also can pay online at www.lakecountyin.org by e-check. They also can pay online by credit card. The credit card company, not the county, will charge a fee for that service.

He advised the public that as the deadline approaches, his office will be receiving a high volume of calls so anyone calling for information will need to be patient.

15 minutes ago
Today in History: Oct. 21, 1914

Whiting still remains in quarantine as the result of the smallpox epidemic. The Oil City now has 21 cases of the dreaded disease.

15 minutes ago
GUEST EDITORIAL: Penny-pinching at DCS keeps money from kids

Nearly a decade has passed since Gov. Mitch Daniels created the Department of Child Services to protect children from abuse and neglect. It was and continues to be a wise move to split the agency from the behemoth Family and Social Services Administration in an effort — as we said in 2004 — to increase the state's "responsiveness and responsibility."

While much improved from its troubled beginnings under founding Director James Payne, there are clues that DCS still lacks the resources to meet its responsibility to Indiana children in need. One is the outright acknowledgment that the agency doesn't have enough caseworkers to keep track of children at risk. A lawsuit alleging DCS violated the Fair Labor Standards Act is even more alarming.

Lake County case managers Arlene Nunez and Veronica Martinez have filed a lawsuit in federal court in Hammond, claiming DCS denied them and other employees payment for overtime work. They allege the agency deducted time from weeks when they had worked more than 40 hours and shifted it to weeks they had worked fewer to avoid paying the higher rate, court records state.

The suit also alleges Nunez and Martinez were required to work through lunch hours and that on-call shifts and emergency calls prevented them from getting five hours of continuous sleep. The case managers claim they were required to spend extensive time outside regular work hours responding to emergencies, investigating calls and writing reports — work for which they receive no overtime pay.

When they complained, according to the lawsuit, they were told by supervisors, "Don't even bring it up."

Nunez is a 14-year employee; Martinez has worked for child protection services for 36 years, according to state records.

Their attorney, Adam Sedia of Dyer, said there is evidence that DCS employees in other cities may have faced similar demands. He is seeking a class-action lawsuit.

A DCS spokesman would not comment last month on the pending litigation. But before the Child Services Oversight Committee last month, Director Mary Beth Bonaventura said the agency has a 17 percent turnover among caseworkers. About 100 caseworkers have been hired in the past year and another 10 positions will be filled before year's end.

Adding to the complexity is the absence of reliable data on caseloads. State law requires case managers assigned to new cases to have responsibility for no more than 12 cases at a time because of the serious needs of the children involved. Family case managers who oversee established cases are limited to no more than 17.

Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, said during the oversight panel last month that hiring caseworkers is difficult because of low starting wages and job pressures. He said he hopes to get the agency more funding in the next biennial budget.

But funding is just one part of the equation. DCS, like most other agencies, has reverted money toward the state's $2 billion surplus. In the last fiscal year it reverted more than $4?million earmarked for child protection services; in 2013 about $3.8 million went unspent. The figures represent a small percentage of the agency's $550?million-plus budget, but it is proportionately higher than reversions by the Department of Natural Resources, veterans affairs and homeland security.

The outcry over DCS' early, stumbling steps made it clear that the public expects the state to serve children in crisis. Lawmakers answered with tougher oversight and increased funding. When it comes to reversions, DCS should take a pass and put all available resources toward responding to abuse and neglect. It can begin by making sure case managers get paid for the long and difficult hours they work.

- The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette, Oct. 8

15 minutes ago
Aide to Sen. Coats coming to LaPorte library Thursday

LAPORTE | A staff member of U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., will visit LaPorte on Thursday to meet with local residents and assist those experiencing problems with any federal agency.

The staff member will be present from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the LaPorte Public Library, 904 Indiana Ave.

15 minutes ago
Just before big election, jobless rate drops
Just before big election, jobless rate drops

One month before the 2012 presidential election, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (information furnished by the Census Bureau) reported Oct. 5 the unemployment rate miraculously dropped from 8.1 to 7.8. These figures are almost statistically impossible for a one-month period.

Surprisingly, about one month before the upcoming midterm elections (Nov. 4), the unemployment rate dropped again from 6.1 to 5.9. Wow! What a coincidence! You don't suppose the present administration ... naw, they wouldn't do that.

Have you noticed gas prices lately?

- Bill Atkins, Crown Point

15 minutes ago
Young man risked his life to protect mine

I am a 79-year-old widow whose car suddenly stopped in the middle of U.S. 30 at around noon today. A young gentlemen in a green SUV risked his life to remove me out of harm's way.

He stopped traffic in all lanes so I would not get rear ended and proceeded to push my car from the middle lane off into plaza parking — all while the stopped traffic sat there and watched. Maybe about 20 cars. Not one person helped this poor young man.

I will never forget the fear in his eyes. He was so afraid I would get hit he told me to please get in the car and just steer. And then suddenly the fear was now placed on my shoulders. Now I feared for him.

Such a young man, I kept thinking. Please let him remain safe.

Once I was off the road, he immediately ran to move his car and was gone. I don't know his name, nor did he know mine. Yet he risked his life to help this great-grandmother.

- Gloria G. Ramos, Merrillville

15 minutes ago
Letter writer judged police without all evidence

I am writing in response to the letter from Brian Watson of Wichita, Kan. Watson seems to believe the Hammond police are guilty of some vicious crime, based on a few minutes of video he viewed on the Internet or TV.

I, for one, am sick and tired of people who automatically assume guilt based on a fraction of evidence. The Hammond police have the full video that was taken of the traffic stop Watson refers to.

Nowhere in the local news reports or the video clip that was released, does it refer to the fact that both of the adults in the vehicle were convicted criminals.

Nowhere does it say the male occupant refused to exit the vehicle when asked by the police.

Nowhere does it say that the female driver tried to drive away after being stopped. And once again the race card is being played to point blame at the police department. 

Northwest Indiana has sadly seen the result of the lack of respect for our police. Two officers gave their lives while trying to protect us.

- Pat McCarthy, Merrillville

15 minutes ago
Deniers simply distort images they don't like

President Barack Obama's family has hung up a giant mirror to the nation and the world. Some of us recognize ourselves. Others deny what they see; they say if you don't see it, it isn't so, and we have Fox. Still others are so deep in their spider hole, the sight of humanity can't reach them.

Deniers simply distort any images they don't like.

- Robert Buchler, Kouts

15 minutes ago
GUEST COMMENTARY: Lost opportunity for early childhood education

Since taking office last year, one of the most exciting things to see in Indiana has been the growing momentum and support for early childhood education.

Republicans and Democrats, business leaders and labor organizations, and most importantly parents and teachers have all agreed it is important to invest in our future and to make high quality pre-K available to our children.

That is why I was shocked when Gov. Mike Pence reversed course and would not sign the submission of an $80 million federal funding grant for early childhood education last week.


Last year, with the governor's full support, Indiana applied for a federal “Race to the Top” grant to improve early childhood education in our communities. We did not get the grant, largely because Indiana had not made the substantial investments in our educational infrastructure needed to build a high quality system.

Thanks to support of members of Congress from both parties, the federal government announced a new round of grants this year, focused on states that needed to build the exact infrastructure that Indiana lacks. 

Indiana had the potential to qualify for the most funds in the country, almost $80 million over four years. Those funds did not require a match of Hoosier taxpayer dollars and would have jettisoned Indiana to the front of the pack on innovation in early childhood education.

Again, the governor reiterated his support to seek these funds. Under my leadership, our Department of Education worked in a collaborative manner with the Family Social Services Administration and community leaders to make the case for a strong application from Indiana. We demonstrated what Hoosiers want more than anything from government: The ability to work together for the common good of all our citizens and especially for this and future generations.

After months of work and continued assurances, we were ready to submit Indiana’s plan for pre-K and ready to put Indiana on the national stage as a leader in innovative educational opportunities.   

Then, without warning, Pence changed his mind. Published reports indicate the governor was under intense lobbying from out-of-state special interests. Those special interests wanted to reject federal support for early childhood education. Whatever his motivation, one thing is clear: Pence's about-face with little or no notice to those who had worked in concert with his administration on the grant application is bad for our state and our children.


Here are the facts. First, the grant did not require a state or local match. Second, the funds would not have resulted in kindergarteners taking tests to qualify to enter kindergarten. But, third, we would finally have had the ability to ensure our children come to kindergarten ready to learn. 

We need high quality early childhood education.

In every corner of our state, Hoosiers know the jobs and educational opportunities of the future are directly tied to our investments in early childhood education. I vow to continue to work with others in education, government, business, and community to advance early learning and take full advantage of funding opportunities.

15 minutes ago
Dismal reports discount value of recent letter

David Casson’s recent letter contained a list of “the many good things” President Barack Obama has done for average Americans.

I suggest he read the Sept. 25 business section: Middle class feeling the squeeze; net worth plummets; incomes fell 17 percent from 2010 to 2013 according to Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 7.3 million individuals have found only part-time work; the September 2014 labor participation rate was 62.7 percent, the lowest rate in 36 years.

Casson says Obama’s economic policies have brought down unemployment. But “discouraged workers” (who have given up looking for a job) are not counted. The unemployment rate came down for one reason – fewer Americans are looking for work.

Casson praises Obama for doubling stock market levels. If we had a Republican president, Casson would be complaining about Wall Street fat cats getting richer and the poor getting poorer!

- Mary-Beth Ferrebee, Lansing

15 minutes ago
Abraham Lincoln said:
Abraham Lincoln said:

“Blood cannot restore blood, and government should not act for revenge.” - Abraham Lincoln, May 17, 1864.

15 minutes ago
14 days until election
14 days until election

Election Day, Nov. 4, is approaching rapidly. Before you cast your ballot, visit nwi.com/politics to read about the races, study candidates' responses to The Times' questionnaire, watch videos with some of the candidtes, and see The Times Editorial Board's endorsements in select races.

And watch for The Times voter guide in print on Nov. 2.

15 minutes ago
Police: Woman tried attacking relative in wheelchair
Police: Woman tried attacking relative in wheelchair

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP | A Washington Township woman was arrested Sunday after lunging with a knife at a relative in a wheelchair and fighting with officers.

Bethany Hermance, 25, was charged with intimidation, battery by bodily waste, resisting law enforcement and criminal mischief.

Police were called about 4:30 p.m. Sunday to a home in the 300 North block of County Road 325 East for a report of a woman with a kitchen knife causing a disturbance.

A relative told police Hermance became angry when her parents refused to give her a ride to a friend's house. According to police, she began to threaten family members, picked up a kitchen knife and lunged at another relative who is confined to a wheelchair.

After a short struggle, the knife was taken away from Hermance by one of her relatives, so she kicked and bit that relative.

When police arrived at the home Hermance had barricaded herself in her bedroom behind furniture and storage bins.

Police said Hermance threw a stool at officers and knocked over shelves on top of officers.

As officers handfcuffed Hermance she tried to kick and head-butt them, according to police reports.

Police said Hermance tried to bite and kick officers while being placed in the back of a patrol car. Once in the car she pressed her legs against the front seat causing about $300 damage to the seat.

Police said Hermance was "resecured" and a spit-hood was placed over her head.

She was taken to the Porter County Jail where the jail staff had to place her in a restraint chair for officer safety, according to police.

3 hours ago
Convicted sex offender named as suspect in region murders
Convicted sex offender named as suspect in region murders

GARY | A Gary man described Monday as a serial killer was charged in the homicide of a woman found dead Friday at a Hammond motel.

Convicted sex offender Darren D. Vann, 43, who allegedly has admitted to killing at least seven women, was charged with murder, murder in the perpetration of a robbery and robbery resulting in serious bodily injury.

Vann has only been charged in the homicide of Afrika Hardy, 19, who was found dead Friday in a bathtub at the Motel 6 in the 3800 block of 179th Street in Hammond. A probable cause affidavit filed in the case does not mention or name the other women Vann has allegedly admitted to killing.

Hammond police said Vann has admitted to being involved in the deaths of at least six other women who were found last weekend at various locations in Gary. 

Officials at a news conference Monday at the Hammond Police Department described Vann as a serial killer.

Hammond Police Chief John Doughty said it's possible the investigation will lead to more victims and that the slayings could date back to the early 1990s.

Vann, of the 1400 block of West 50th Court in Gary's Glen Park area, was convicted of sexual assault in 2009 in Austin, Texas, and was current with his required registration as a sex offender in Indiana, state records show.

The Austin Police Department issued a statement Monday saying it would review missing persons and cold cases to determine if there could be a link to Vann, the Associated Press reported.

In the local incident, Vann contacted Hardy through www.chicagobackpage.com, where she was advertising herself as an escort, court records state. Vann, who used the screen name "Big Boy Appetite," first contacted Hardy on Oct. 16. The two never met that day because Vann said he was unable to find a babysitter, according to the affidavit.

At 5:13 p.m. Friday, Hardy contacted a friend to tell her Vann contacted her again and she planned to meet him at a room at Motel 6. According to the affidavit, the friend started to get worried after a long period of time passed and she had not heard from Hardy.

The friend told police she called Hardy five to eight times but her calls went unanswered. The friend then received a text message from Hardy that didn't make sense, which made her think someone else had Hardy's phone. 

The friend and another male friend went to Hardy's hotel room and found Hardy strangled to death in the hotel room's bathtub.

According to the affidavit, Hardy's arms and neck were covered with a black piece of clothing. The shower was on when the friends found Hardy. 

Hammond officers traced "Big Boy Appetite's" account to a home in the 600 block of West 49th Avenue in Gary, where Vann was arrested. 

According to the affidavit, surveillance video from the motel also shows Vann going into the motel room Oct. 17. He later is seen running from the room and into a 2013 blue Jeep. 

Officers found a phone believed to be Hardy's in the Jeep and a box of condoms that match a wrapper found in the motel room where Hardy was found dead, according to the affidavit.

Vann allegedly admitted to driving his sister's Jeep to the motel room to have sex with Hardy, according to the affidavit. He said the two started to fight while having sex. 

According to the affidavit, Vann said he used his hands and a brown extension cord to strangle the woman to death. He then placed her in the bathtub. Officers found the cord in the Jeep, the affidavit says.

The Lake County coroner's office and the Hammond Police Department did not report Hardy's homicide until Sunday.

Chief Doughty said Vann told detectives about other crimes in hopes of reaching a deal with prosecutors. The information led investigators to the bodies in Gary.

Doughty said Vann is cooperating with investigators and has offered no motive.

Doughty said Vann told investigators he “messed up” by committing a crime in Hammond and was surprised at how quickly they tracked him down.

The bodies of three more women were discovered in Gary on Sunday night, bringing the total to seven found in Gary and Hammond believed to be linked to Vann. Three of the women were found in the same abandoned home in the 400 block of East 43rd Avenue, officials said.

In addition to Hardy, Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville, was discovered Saturday night in the home on East 43rd Avenue. The cause of Jones' death is pending autopsy results, according to the coroner's office.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said family members reported Jones missing to Gary police Oct. 8.

Jones' car was last seen near 49th Avenue and Louisiana Street, according to a flier police passed out after her disappearance. Vann lives in the area.

Teaira Batey, 28, of Gary, was found early Sunday in a vacant home in the 1800 block of East 19th Avenue, officials said. Batey was identified Monday by the coroner's office and Hammond police, who spelled her first name Teairra.

Batey's cause of death also remains under investigation, the coroner's office said.

An unidentified black woman was found early Sunday in an abandoned home in the 2200 block of Massachusetts Street. She was wearing a pair of blue jeans and white Nike shoes.

Christine Williams, 36, of Gary, was found Sunday night inside a home at 4330 Massachusetts St., police said. She was strangled, according to the coroner's office.

Two more unidentified women were found Sunday night inside the home where Jones was found on East 43rd Avenue. The causes of their deaths remained under investigation.

Lake County Coroner Merrilee Frey urged patience as her staff works with law enforcement officials to identify the women.

"It is with sadness that I extend my heartfelt condolences to the families of those whom have lost their loved one in recent days," Frey said in a statement issued Monday. "As I determine the cause and manner of death of each victim as well as their identity, I will continue to work closely with and provide this information to our law enforcement, prosecutors office and media."

LeAnne Springer said Monday the discovery of the bodies in her neighborhood is unsettling.

“I’m a little nervous, a little scared,” Springer said as she dropped off her grandson with a sitter at a home a near where one of the bodies was discovered.

“There’s a lot of abandoned homes in Gary, and I feel if there’s no purpose of them being up, they should knock them down, for real," Springer said. "I’m worried about the kids’ safety. I’m worried about us women’s safety. It just makes me nervous.”

Sheria Givens visited a friend Monday near the home where three bodies were found.

“I grew up on this block so, you know, it shocked me,” Givens said. “I can’t believe it.”

Givens said she knew a couple of women who used to live in the house in question. Her grandmother’s former home on the block now sits vacant.

“It’s scary, though," Givens said, saying she hopes police have the right suspect in custody.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said Monday that residents should feel at ease.

"It is good that this person has been taken into custody and apprehended," she said.

Freeman-Wilson praised investigators from Gary and Hammond for their collaborative efforts on the case.

"I think the teamwork that has been displayed by the Hammond Police Department, Gary Police Department, Gary Fire Department and the Lake County prosecutor's office has been noteworthy," she said.

Freeman-Wilson said she could not confirm if the other victims were also involved in prostitution.

Gary Police Chief Larry McKinley said there could be less than a dozen active missing persons cases in his city. Investigators there are working to see if the murder victims fit the profiles of the missing persons.

4 hours ago Photos