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Couple dies in alleged murder-suicide

State and local law enforcement are investigating a reported shooting in a moving vehicle in Gas City Monday that resulted in the deaths of a Marion couple.

According to Indiana State Police (ISP) Sgt. Tony Slocum, the Gas City Police Department requested ISP’s assistance at approximately 4:27 p.m. following the report that two individuals who had been driven by a family member to Gas City Town Hall had died.

Slocum said preliminary evidence shows Eric Huffman, 48, and his wife Telina Huffman, 43, of Marion, were passengers in a 2010 Chevrolet Traverse being driven by a 69-year-old family member of Eric Huffman’s. The couple reportedly got into a verbal argument during the car ride, and at some point Eric Huffman allegedly pulled out a handgun and shot Telina Huffman, according to Slocum.

The driver and Eric Huffman reportedly then wrestled for control of the gun, and the family member lost control of the vehicle during the struggle, according to reports, crashing into a parked semi-trailer at a business at 520 East First St. in Gas City.

Police said initial reports indicate that the family member lost control of the handgun during the crash impact, and Eric Huffman recovered the gun and allegedly then shot himself.

The vehicle’s door was damaged from the crash to the point where the family member driving could not get out of the vehicle, so he then drove to Gas City Hall at 211 E. Main St., according to reports. The family member blew the vehicle’s horn until employees came out to assist him, and Gas City Fire Department firefighters extricated the family member from the vehicle.

Slocum said the investigation into the incident is ongoing and anyone with information about the case is asked to contact ISP Detective Mike Lorona at 765-473-6666. An autopsy is also scheduled to be conducted.

Humane shelter sees surge, asks for support

More than 100 kittens have been surrendered at the Marion-Grant County Humane Society in the past two months.

Since the snow began to melt in late March, the influx of strays, surrendered pets and litters of kittens have been overwhelming staff at the humane society, decimating their supplies, resources and employees, shelter manager Angie Martz says.

“It’s just been a nightmare,” Martz said. “I had eight adoptions in one week, which was a week and a half ago, and those cages were full again. I can’t get kennel space. We’ve got crates in the hallways. We’ve had to hire more staff because the more dogs you have the more staff you need. Of course that puts a strain on our finances.”

The bills are adding up fast, too. Whenever a kitten is brought in, it must be quarantined until it’s tested and vaccinated. Tests cost $25 each and vaccinations come with a $10 price tag. The bills are paid by the humane society, a nonprofit organization that relies on donations and fundraising efforts, and the high supply of animals in need is causing the shelter to add more people to the payroll in order to keep the quality of care up to the society’s standards, which Martz said remains high despite the added stress.

Emergency veterinary procedures, overflowing kennels and a lack of volunteers to walk dogs are causing staff to work overtime.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been there at 9:30 at night trying to keep a kitten alive and had it just die on me,” Martz said. “It’s just a really stressful time at the shelter right now, and we really need the community’s support and for them to pull together for us. We need them to donate cleaning supplies, time – like to walk the dogs.”

A major issue contributing to the situation is a lack of spaying and neutering cats and dogs, Martz said.

“I’m kind of disappointed in our community. We have spay and neuter options,” she explained. “A person can come to us and get a community cat spayed or neutered for $25, and they should be. My phone should be ringing off the hook. I want my phone to ring off the hook.”

The shelter offers a reduced-cost spay and neuter clinic on every third Monday of the month, where pet owners can schedule an appointment by contacting the shelter. People who participate can get sterilization services for $25. Qualified pet owners can also go to www.petfriendlyservices.com to get certificates, Martz says, where participating vets in the area will spay and neuter dogs and cats for $25 anytime of the month.

She said the lack of sterilization is needlessly causing kittens and puppies to die at alarming rates since dogs and cats will have unplanned offspring that pet owners aren’t equipped to manage or care for. She shared a story where one dog owner has had three litters in a row that has cost the humane society hundreds of dollars due to veterinary bills, payroll and the care needed to try and save the animals lives.

“He could have got her spayed for $25,” she said. “Think of how many puppies that wouldn’t have to have died.”

Martz said their bill at Pipe Creek Veterinary Clinic is becoming an issue due to the increased demand for help to keep animals alive. She said people who want to help can call Pipe Creek directly at (765) 384-4525 to make a donation toward their growing bills.

People can also drop much-needed supplies at the shelter, located at 505 S. Miller Ave. in Maraion, like kitten litter, cat and dog food, bleach, laundry soap, paper towels, blankets and other things to care for the cats and dogs. People can email marionhumane@gmail.com to get a link to the organization’s Amazon wish list of items needed at the shelter, too.

Martz said the humane society is planning a community block party to raise funds in September, although a date has not been set yet. There will be live music, food and entertainment. People who are interested in attending can follow Marion-Grant County Humane Society at https://www.facebook.com/mgchs to keep an eye out for more details on the event or ways to help the shelter.

There is also a donate button located on the humane society’s website menu. The url is http://marionhumane.com/. The phone number for the shelter is 765-618-9293.

Martz also mentioned that the city of Marion is cracking down on pet owners who have not spayed or neutered their pets in accordance with Indiana and local laws. Pet owners found to be in noncompliance could receive a citation, where they will have a certain time frame to get their pet in compliance before a court order or additional actions are taken, she says.

Commissioners review battery backup, paving projects

Grant County Commissioners tabled a decision on purchasing a maintenance and service plan for the central dispatch’s battery backup system at Monday’s regular meeting as the board awaits more details on the purchase.

IT Director Marcus Elliott said he had received quotes for getting the system back under warranty and service agreement after it had lapsed recently, following the board’s request at the last regular meeting.

Elliott said C.M. Buck & Associates quoted a price of $13,335 for a three-year agreement and $22,060 for a five-year agreement.

“I would prefer to get the five-year because a big battery backup system like that, that’s not just something you can swap out,” Elliott said. “It’s something you’d have to take the power down there with that sort of thing, so I think the smarter thing would be to go with the five-year agreement and then at the end of that five years we can figure out if you need to go with a different system or if we just want to keep it going as long as we can.”

Commissioner Mark Bardsley said it still needs to be determined which line item the agreement will be paid from, as the county 911 fund was used to purchase the original maintenance agreement that has since expired. He also noted there is not much of a discount given, only $33 a year over the five years, for going with the five-year over the three-year.

Auditor Jim McWhirt noted there was also a discrepancy in the presented quotes where the language within the five-year quote said three-year at some points, so that will need to be resolved and updated. McWhirt also asked if it would be possible to pay a yearly rate rather than a lump sum, which would make it easier to include in each annual budget.

Elliott said he would need to check back with the vendor to see if that would be possible, as for now the quote was presented to him as a lump sum. He said the quotes are good for 90 days, so the commissioners have some more time to get more information before making a decision.

In other business, commissioners approved awarding a bid to Brooks Construction for $80,429 for the paving of County Road 900 East between 1200 South and Wheeling Pike. Highway Superintendent David White said the project was part of the Community Crossings program, so the county will cover half of the cost with the state covering the rest.

MCS discusses literacy program

Marion Community Schools teachers and administrators updated the school board on ongoing elementary literacy program efforts at a regular meeting last week.

Chief Technology and Academic Officer Scott Hoeksema said the district began its new Pre-K through fourth grade literacy plan last school year and is looking to build on the initial work this school year. He said the goal is for children to learn to read from prekindergarten through second grade, and then transition to reading to learn in second through fourth grade and beyond.

Hoeksema said there has been an intentional focus on professional development and training as well as materials and curriculum to best set up teachers and students for success.

Riverview Elementary School Academic Specialist Marcia Shepherd said district leaders envision literacy as a pyramid, with students needing to build a firm foundation of blocks at the base to reach the goal of being a successful reader.

Shepherd said the base of the pyramid is phonological awareness, or students being able to hear and identify different sounds in their head and thinking through what to do with those sounds they hear. The next step is phonics instruction, which leads to the goal of fluency and comprehension, meaning “you can read in a way that is pleasant for yourself and others and understand what you’ve read when you finished.”

The ultimate goal for the new program is for 80 percent of all students to be at the top of the pyramid when finished with second grade, Shepherd said. Since it is only the second year of the program, the second-graders in the 2022-23 school year will be the first to have experienced all three years of the program as intended.

To help reach this goal, the district has adopted curriculums including Phonics First, which provides a systematic, hands on, multisensory and cumulative approach. Shepherd noted the curriculum works well for all types of students, including those who are struggling, advanced, English language learners, average and have learning disabilities like dyslexia, without singling out students.

Frances Slocum Elementary School Assistant Principal Alicia Morrell said there are six components of Phonics First, with the first three helping to reach about the top 60 percent of a given class. For the bottom 40 percent of the class who is struggling, the additional three components offer different engaging and multisensory lessons to help encourage learning.

Morrell said assessment of where each individual student is on their literacy journey will take place on a biweekly basis, with educational assistants and academic specialists being targeted into classrooms during reading instruction and intervention times.

Elementary teachers and others went through summer training to be better equipped to use the curriculum well, and Morrell said Phonics First also offers a number of ongoing resources, guides, kits and online help for teachers.

“I was really excited in that training. Every day I learned something new,” Morrell said. “So as an administrator, I feel better prepared to help my teachers write their lesson plans. I feel better prepared to model instruction for teachers when they’re not sure.”

Morrell said the curriculum also stresses to teach to the stage each child as at, rather than their age, as a second grade classroom could have a student reading at a kindergarten level, a student reading at a fourth grade level and another at a second grade level who will need different instruction.

Frances Slocum fourth grade teacher Savannah Crouch said the training gave her hands on, practical tools for reaching each student no matter what stage they are at. She said she is also excited about the multisensory aspect of the program, where students are taking a more active role while learning.

Allen Elementary second grade teacher Lauren Vermilion said second-grade teachers had a daunting task last year because they were trying to cram all three years of the program into one year, but even with that constraint she saw progress from her students.

Vermilion said in her five years of teaching she had struggled feeling she had a good grasp on teaching phonics, but the engaging nature of the Phonics First program has been encouraging.

“I love this program. It is hands on, it’s engaging,” Vermilion said. “...I never truly knew if I was doing the right things, if it was helping, and this year I’m sold on this curriculum because you’ll see in the data that it works.”

Kendall Elementary Principal Olivia Wright said second-graders were given a practice IREAD test at the end of last school year. The assessment focuses on 13 skills, with the first eight being baseline skills and the remainder focused on more complex skills.

The practice data has shown that third-grade teachers will not have to spend as much time on the baseline skills this year and can instead focus on the higher level skills in preparation for IREAD, Wright said. Regardless of where a student is, teachers are equipped with data to get them moving forward and provide the right supports they need right out of the gate next school year, she said.

COVID-19 vaccine information

Road closures planned

South Gallatin Street between Third & Fourth streets will be closed Thursday and Friday, July 22 and 23, and Monday and Tuesday, July 26 and 27, in order to bring in equipment for apartment projects, according to Virgil Hartley of the Marion Engineering Department. For more information, call Jason Edwards at 317-927-8300.

Washington Street from Third to Sixth streets will be closed Friday, July 23 from 4:30-9:30 p.m. as part of the Discover Marion Downtown “Christmas in July” event. For more information, call Kayla Johnson at 765-382-3797.

COVID-19 vaccine information

COVID-19 vaccines are now available to Hoosiers 12 and older. To schedule at a facility within the state system, visit ourshot.in.gov or call 211. Vaccines are free, but insurance may be charged an administrative fee. Appointments for the second dose will be made when the first dose is administered if receiving a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine that requires two doses.

The Grant County Health Department is operating a vaccine clinic locally within the state system. Appointments can still be scheduled, but walk-ins are also now accepted at this time. Children ages 12-17 are only permitted to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

The Marion Walmart and Meijer locations, Walgreens locations at 1323 N Baldwin Ave. and 2620 S. Western Ave. in Marion and CVS at 4630 S. Washington St. in Marion are also offering COVID-19 vaccinations at their in-store pharmacies as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program (FRPP). Eligible customers can schedule a vaccine appointment via the stores’ respective websites.

Visit uplandfamily pharmacy.com or call 765-998-8072 for information on Upland Family Pharmacy’s vaccine clinic that offers the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

All veterans can now receive a COVID-19 vaccine from VA Northern Indiana Health Care System (VANIHCS) regardless of their enrollment status or character of discharge. Caregivers, Spouses, CHAMPVA Recipients and Veterans who are not enrolled in VANIHCS, please call (800) 360-8387 ext. 71101 to preregister. Phone lines are open 8 a.m. 4 p.m., Monday-Friday.

VANIHCS will host two walk-in J&J vaccination clinics on Saturday, July 24 and 31 from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the Marion and Fort Wayne Campuses. All veterans, caregivers and spouses are welcome. The Fort Wayne campus is located at 2121 Lake Ave., Fort Wayne, IN 46805 and the Marion campus is located at 1700 E. 38th St., Marion, IN 46953.

If you have recently received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, flu-like systems within the first few days of vaccination are part of the body’s normal immune response to the vaccine. Those symptoms include pain, redness and swelling in the arm where you got the vaccine, as well as tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea.

Anyone who develops a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, shortness of breath or leg swelling within three weeks after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should contact a health care provider and inform the provider of the symptoms and recent COVID-19 vaccination.

According to the IDOH COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, 21,318 Grant County residents have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 21,212 are fully vaccinated through receiving both doses of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single dose required for the J&J vaccine. Statewide, IDOH reports 2,872,825 Hoosiers have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine requiring two doses, and 2,902,532 Indiana residents are fully vaccinated by receiving two doses or the one-dose J&J vaccine.

IDOH updates COVID-19 count

The Indiana Department of Health (IDOH) Tuesday reported 713 new COVID-19 cases statewide. That brings to 762,127 the number of Indiana residents now known to have had the novel coronavirus following corrections to the previous day’s dashboard.

A total of 13,530 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19. Another 428 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, a total of 11,062,438 tests, including repeat tests for unique individuals, have been reported to IDOH since Feb. 26, 2020.