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BZA approves controversial tower location

The Grant County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) continued its consideration of two proposed 300-foot radio towers at its regular meeting Monday.

Despite public push back, the board approved one location at Walnut Creek Golf Course and tabled a decision on a tower at the former Liberty Elementary School at Strawtown Pike and 800 S in Fairmount.

Randy Ballinger, who owns the Walnut Creek Golf Course, told the BZA he has given his permission to use the site on his course for the tower. As part of the agreement, he has asked that he and his brother Gregg Ballinger’s company, Eastern Indiana Wifi, be given a spot on the tower for their ongoing project to bring better internet connectivity to southern Grant County.

Ballinger claimed the deal is a fair partnership and is not about a business trying to make money off of the county. Instead, he said it is a matter of public safety.

The proposed towers are part of Phase 2 of the county’s central dispatch plan and will help provide better radio coverage to first responders county-wide, according to previous Chronicle-Tribune reports. The phase of the project is estimated to cost $3.8 million, according to county commissioner reports.

“I understand nobody wants this in their backyard,” Ballinger said. “Nobody wants to look at a tower, I understand that. My golfers are going to look at the tower, but that wasn’t part of my decision. What we have to look at is public safety here.”

The planned towers also saw support from EMA Director Bob Jackson, who said many Grant County firefighters have struggled with inadequate radios.

After the BZA requested alternative locations at its August meeting, officials presented another location on a different portion of Ballinger’s land as a possible alternative location. Due to elevation issues, that site would have necessitated the tower to stand an additional 50 feet in height and cost an addition $80,000 to build, according to officials.

Randy Richards, Ryan Richards and Miles Lefler all spoke in opposition to the planned location. Ryan Richards owns the adjacent property, the Sports Lake campgrounds, and stated in previous meetings that the tower going in at its planned location would harm his business at the campground.

“Somehow I think that this project will have a negative impact on me as a business owner,” Richards said Monday. “I didn’t realize we were bringing in everyone who was for it. I thought it would just be the land owners speaking. I could bring 100 people who live with me six months a year that pay good money to live on my lake.”

The fact that multiple parties were there to speak in support of the project surprised Richards, who said he felt outnumbered.

“I can’t fight two people,” Richards said. “You saw my frustration last time. I expected to go up against Randy Ballinger, not Pyramid Consulting in lieu of Grant County in adjacent conjuncture with Randy Ballinger.”

Richards stressed the importance of that land that he and his father Paul have owned for 50 years. He also raised concerns that his private personal aircraft would not be able to launch off of the peninsula, as it would be too near the tower for Federal Aviation Administration guidelines.

Miles Lefler, who had previously spoke in opposition to the plan as his investment into adjacent homes would be affected by the tower, offered a piece of his own personal land to the county for free to prevent the tower from going in to the originally planned location.

Lefler said the land is a mile from the original site, and is near an existing fiber line in a commercial zone that would prevent the issues surrounding the current location.

Lefler also said he was concerned about the safety of having the tower near homes in the event of the tower failing.

Randy Richards, owner of the land south of the construction site in question, addressed the lack of information he had been given on the site.

“I found out about this tower about six weeks ago,” Richards said. “Now if this has been in the works for over a year, wouldn’t you think that something this important would be brought up to the neighbors?”

Richards said that he and all of his neighbors in the area had not been informed of the plan in a timely manner and had not properly been informed on the intentions of the project.

“Nobody wants to ask me,” Richards said. “I’m just the low man on the totem pole. So, if you want to just trample over we the people then maybe you guys are going to wind up making the same mistakes that previous people have made, and put us in the situation we’re in today.”

More than an hour after discussion on the issue began, the BZA passed a motion 4-1 to accept the original tower location at Walnut Creek as presented. Lois Jones was the lone dissenting vote.

After the meeting adjourned, Randy Richards approached board members again, stating the board would think differently if the tower went in their backyard.

The BZA postponed a decision on the Liberty School tower site until the next board meeting due to the large overrun in time while discussing the first tower and its location.


News
featured
Brookhaven hosts community blood drive

Brookhaven Wesleyan Church was the home to a different kind of gathering than normal on Monday as it hosted the Marion Community Blood Drive this year.

Versiti, which was previously known as the Indiana Blood Center, operated the event.

Donors from across Grant County like Terry Himelick came to the church to donate.

Himelick is married to a nurse and said that he understands the importance of giving blood. The free COVID-19 antibody testing that Versiti now offers with all successful donations also played a role in his choosing to donate, he said.

“I’m giving blood, one, because they need blood,” Himelick said. “Also they are doing free antibody testing for all who give today, and that is really important too.”

Summer is always a lean time for blood donations, according to Chrissy Bristol, a phlebotomist and team leader for Versiti.

“In the summer time especially, it [the turnout] can be very low,” Bristol said. “We don’t have donations and people don’t turn out like normal because of vacations. Schools are not in session. We get a lot of our blood supply throughout the year at high schools. It’s not high on their priority list.”

Bristol said she was pleased with the turnout on Monday.

“They’ve got a really good turnout here,” Bristol said. “These people were dedicated.”

The American Red Cross website states that every two seconds someone in the United States needs either blood or platelets. There is a major shortage of blood and there is a constant need for donations due to the short shelf life of blood, Bristol said.

“Whole blood like these people are doing here today could last up to six weeks,” Bristol said. “Some other products like platelets we need a constant influx. We need it all, all the time, but platelets are only good for about five days. So, we need to have those dedicated donors.”

Another complication to the blood shortage is the emergence of COVID-19. New treatments involving plasma are being developed, but they cannot continue without donations.

Versiti is part of the Food and Drug Administration’s trial on convalescent plasma, Bristol said. Those who gave blood Monday and had positive COVID-19 antibodies as part of the free antibody testing could potentially be asked to donate plasma in the future, and thus play a role developing a treatment for COVID-19.

Bristol said that people can give blood every 56 days.

People who attended the event had to wait 10 minutes before leaving upon donation as standard procedure and were offered juice and cookies as sustenance for their donations.


News
Stop sticks end high-speed pursuit

Two Michigan men were arrested early Tuesday morning after a traffic stop and subsequent vehicle pursuit, according to Marion Police Department (MPD) Deputy Chief Stephen Dorsey.

On Sept. 15 at approximately 2:53 a.m., a MPD officer initiated a traffic stop at the 264 mile marker of Interstate 69 northbound after a 2011 Mercedes Benz passed reportedly going 82 miles per hour in the 70 mph zone, Dorsey said.

The officer activated his lights on the exit 264 ramp and instructed the drive to pull off of the ramp and onto the Ind. 18 east shoulder out of traffic.

Dorsey said the driver, Jacob Dukes, 23, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, was asked to sit in the officer’s vehicle as he was going to receive a warning ticket, not a citation. Another officer arrived on scene shortly after to assist the first officer.

When the first officer confronted Dukes about an odor of marijuana he detected at the vehicle window, Dukes reportedly exited the officer’s vehicle and began to walk toward his vehicle and a struggle began, according to reports.

The second officer gave several warnings that he would use his Taser on Dukes if he did not comply and then fired the Taser, Dorsey said. Dukes reportedly became more violent with his resisting after being tased and was tased a second time by the first officer, according to police.

Dukes then reportedly broke one of the taser probes and opened his car door. The initial officer took hold of Dukes while he was in his car but was not able to pull him out, and Dukes put the vehicle into drive, Dorsey said. The officer backed away from the vehicle to avoid being dragged from the car, and Dukes fled the scene in his vehicle east on Ind. 18.

Dorsey said Dukes started on Ind. 18 east and then traveled north on Ind. 5, to County Road 200 North and to Interstate 69 northbound. According to police, the vehicle reached speeds estimated at 120 miles per hour on I-69, and MPD lost sight of the suspect vehicle and ended the pursuit at mile marker 281.

Later on, MPD officers learned Indiana State Police troopers successfully used stop sticks to stop Dukes’ vehicle, and Dukes and his passenger Laramie Bush, 21, of Kalamazoo, Michigan were both taken into custody.

Dukes is being held at the Grant County Jail on a $1,805 bond on charges of resisting law enforcement with a vehicle, battery to a public safety official and dealing in marijuana more than 30 grams, all Level 6 felonies; false informing and possession of marijuana under 30 grams, Class A misdemeanors.

Bush is being held at the Grant County Jail on a $605 bond on charges of dealing in marijuana more than 30 grams and possession of marijuana under 30 grams.

Dorsey said the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department, Huntington County Sheriff’s Department, Wells County Sheriff’s Department, Allen County Sheriff’s Department, Warren Police Department and Markle Police Department all assisted MPD and ISP.


Local
ISDH updates COVID-19 count

ISDH updates COVID-19 count

The Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) Tuesday announced that 758 additional Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 through testing at the state laboratory, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and private laboratories. That brings to 107,229 the total number of Indiana residents known to have the novel coronavirus following corrections to the previous day’s dashboard.

A total of 3,235 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19, an increase of 20 from the previous day. Another 225 probable deaths have been reported based on clinical diagnoses in patients for whom no positive test is on record. Deaths are reported based on when data are received by the state and occurred over multiple days.

To date, 1,254,731 unique individuals have been tested in Indiana, up from 1,247,293 on Monday. A total of 1,756,019 tests, including repeat tests for unique individuals, have been reported to ISDH since Feb. 26.

To find testing sites around the state, visit www.coronavirus.in.gov and click on the COVID-19 testing information link.

MRCC instructor attends Computer Science Academy

This past summer, Marion Regional Career Center’s (MRCC) Information Technology and Cyber Security Instructor Travis Hueston was one of only 25 educators across the country invited to attend the Computer Science Academy for teachers at Carnegie Mellon University.

The Computer Science Academy is a unique professional development opportunity for advanced instructors about merging computer science topics in their courses along with the fusion of cybersecurity and advanced coding and programming.

“Even though the program was done virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions, I must admit it was one the most informative, challenging, and enjoyable professional development experiences I have had in my career,” Hueston said. “The Carnegie Mellon Professors, staff, and all of the other Instructors from across the nation who attended were great to learn and work with, and we have all made lasting connections that help us connect our students with the 21st Century and beyond.”

MRCC Director Nate McNeely said he was not surprised that Hueston was chosen to participate.

“Dr. Hueston has done a tremendous job with the MRCC’s Cybersecurity and Information Technology program, and that effort does not go unnoticed by others in the field,” McNeely said. “Dr. Hueston prides himself on providing up-to-date and expert education for his students, and he models the way through his dedication to life-long learning.”

MRCC programs are available to students from schools across Grant County. Anyone interested in taking MRCC classes should contact their high school counselor, or call 765-664-9091 for more information.


News
MPD eliminates choke holds from use of force policy

The Marion Police Department’s (MPD) updated standard operating procedure (SOP) policies regarding officer use of force no longer includes neck restraints as an appropriate action.

The Marion Board of Works (BOW) reviewed and approved the updated policies at its meeting last week.

“Occasionally we will review this policy,” MPD Chief Angela Haley told the board. “This is the second time I believe that we’ve brought this policy before the Board of Works for some corrective measures.”

Officer Jared Reel, MPD’s lead defensive tactics instructor and firearms instructor, said neck restraints, such as choke holds, previously were included as an acceptable “hard empty hand control.” According to the SOP, these controls “have some degree of probability of causing possible injury,” such as kicks, striking with the hand, elbow or knee or take down holds.

“We don’t really teach neck restraints anymore,” Reel said. “The academy has kind of gotten away from that too, so we’ve removed that from our SOPs.”

The SOP details the different levels of what is called the resistance control continuum which describes varying escalating levels of police use of force depending on the situation.

The lower end of the continuum includes officer presence, where an officer’s arrival is sufficient to control a situation; verbal direction; and soft empty hand controls such as strength techniques and pressure points that are unlikely to cause injury.

Reel said if an individual is physically attacking or pushing an officer, the next phase of the continuum includes Taser deployment, defensive aerosols like water-based pepper spray, hard empty hand controls and intermediate weapons, which include improvised weapons like flashlights or broomsticks or bean bag/rubber rounds. The end of the continuum is the use of lethal force through firearms.

“Those are the kind of levels that we look at when you have somebody that is resisting, and our policy along with the state of Indiana and most of the country is that one plus one,” Reel said. “We go one higher than what we’re seeing because you can’t give the same amount of force otherwise you never get anywhere. So we have to go one step above of what is being used against us to gain control.”

Haley said the level of force used must be that which is “reasonably necessary to modify resistance or gain control of a subject or situation.”

The SOP states the officer must evaluate the situation to determine appropriate use of force, taking into account the level of resistance; age, skill level and size of the officer and individual; influence of alcohol/drugs on the individual; injury/exhaustion of the officer; availability and proximity of assistance and/or weapons available to the subject; and any other environmental factors.

Haley said while high profile police use of force incidents are analyzed down to the millisecond after the fact, every situation is unique and can play out in a matter of seconds.

“The videos that you will see on TV, people have the luxury of dissecting those frame by frame by frame, and it happens in 10 seconds,” Haley said. “So you may arrive on scene and have to elevate to deadly force very, very quickly and not get to engage in some of the other stuff. So it truly is dependent on what we see and what we’re dealing with to what level we go to.”

Reel said as situations change in an instant, officers also try to de-escalate situations if possible to avoid escalating to higher uses of force.

The SOP states any use of force an officer uses is to be reported in a Use of Force report. The chief or a designee is then tasked with investigating the involved subjects and witnesses and determining relevant facts, whether the use of force was necessary and in compliance with policies and what, if any, injuries are evident or alleged.

The policy states officers will be placed on paid administrative leave upon his or her completion of required reports if an incident results in death or “serious physical harm” to an individual.

“Administrative leave shall not imply the officer has acted improperly,” the policy states. “Administrative leave is intended to: a. Protect the officer and allow time for any necessary counseling; and b. To protect the public’s interest.”

The BOW asked how “serious physical harm” is defined in these scenarios, and Reel said it is best to be left vague to cover any number of injuries that may occur and to not exclude certain injuries or situations.

Reel said all uses of force that result in injuries are reviewed internally with the findings forwarded to the prosecutor’s office for review. In cases of serious injury, Haley said Indiana State Police conducts a criminal investigation and refers information to the prosecutor’s office. It is ultimately the prosecutor’s decision whether to take a case before a grand jury for possible charges, Haley said.

Board members asked about the language of “shall” versus “should” in areas of the SOP regarding advisements that officers seek counseling following traumatic use of force incidents and monitor individuals or call EMS at the scene following incidents.

Haley said the department cannot force an officer to go to counseling, but it can mandate a review to determine whether or not they are fit for duty. The department chaplain, peer counselors and trained psychologists are all available to any officer at the department’s expense following a serious use of force incident.

“That’s something this profession is getting better at but we still have a ways to go because honestly we’re in a profession of tough guys and in the past it was frowned upon,” Haley said of seeking out counseling or other help after traumatic incidents. “You were weak if you needed to reach out for help. That is changing.”

As for the policy that officers “should” monitor individuals and call EMS, Reel said not every injury requires an EMS call and it is left to the officers’ discretion. However, Haley said most of the people who are arrested using force have to go to the hospital for medical clearance before the Grant County Jail accepts them.

Reel said the remainder of updates to the SOPs were more clarifications and updates to language, such as changing “conductive electronic weapon” to “conductive energy weapon,” commonly referred to as the brand name Taser.