27 January 2014

Ada man pinned in SUV for 3 hours in massive I-94 crash: 'Very fortunate to be here'

Story first appeared on MLive.com.

ADA, MI – An Ada man who was trapped in his mangled SUV for three hours during Thursday's 46-car pileup on I-94 in Indiana said he feels fortunate to have walked away with only minor injuries.

Jeff Rennell, 48, was driving home from a work trip in Chicago on Thursday, Jan. 23, when he became trapped in the mile-long wreckage that killed a Grand Rapids couple and a Chicago man.

Weather conditions in Chicago were sunny and calm, Rennell said, but he ran into snow as he reached Michigan City, Ind., around 2:30 p.m.

He was traveling in the middle lane of eastbound I-94 when snow blew across the highway. As the snow cleared, he saw a semi jackknifed across three lanes about 200 yards ahead. He figured he had time to stop.

"When I put on my brake, the ice was so slick I accelerated, and that was the problem," Rennell said Friday from his Ada home. "It was whiteout conditions with the ice and that was so treacherous. I hit the semi in front of me and then other cars hit me."

The front of Rennell's Ford Explorer became wedged underneath the semi truck. The passenger seat was pushed up against his right side, and his body was stuck in a small space between the window and passenger seat.

Coolspring Township Fire Chief Mick Pawlik said vehicles were smashed together and some were on top of others when rescuers reached the crash scene. Rennell's Ford Explorer was so crushed that crews couldn't determine the vehicle's make.

Rennell's feet were trapped in the front of the vehicle under the semi. He wasn't sure if his feet were injured, but he was able to stay calm because he figured he was in decent shape regardless.

Rennell was among more than 20 people injured. He made it out with a sprained ankle, a cracked fibula that requires a leg brace and contusions. He also suffered from hypothermia in the freezing conditions.

He noted that the first responders were cold, too, but they worked tirelessly.

"The heroes are the firemen and the paramedics," Rennell said.

Rescuers repeatedly dug at and cut his SUV, and at one point attempted to remove the semi with a tow truck. One paramedic stayed with him and called his wife during the long, "delicate" process it took crews to free him.

Rennell plans to meet and thank the paramedic.

"He was miraculous. He was just my little friend during that incident," he said. "He was like 'Jeff, I'm going to be here with you. I'm going to get you out.'"

Relaxing at home on Friday with his wife and two children, ages 4 and 6, Rennell said he's blessed. The crash won't alter his outlook on life as he said he has always prioritized family first.

"I do appreciate the fact that I'm very, very fortunate to be here," he said. "I'm back home now and with my family, and I know that there's other people that aren’t as lucky."

22 January 2014


Story first appeared on UpNorthLive.com.

BENZIE COUNTY -- The woman accused of killing her newborn baby in Benzie County was back in court Tuesday, and her court appointed attorney is asking for more money for the defense.  If you have been wrongly accused, contact a Flint Child Abuse Lawyer today.

Alyce Morales' defense attorney said he needs the money to pay for another forensic expert to look at the evidence in the case.

Morales is being charged with one count of open murder and one count of manslaughter in the death of her newborn baby at the Platte River Campground. She was arrested after giving birth at the campground in July.

Investigators said Morales had been hiding her pregnancy from her parents and gave birth alone in a tent while vacationing with relatives.

Defense attorney Jesse Williams claims Morales' mother knew she was pregnant. 

The medical examiner and the doctor who performed the autopsy testified the child died from blunt force trauma to the head and the abdomen.  Contact a Muskegon Child Abuse Lawyer for more information on Michigan abuse laws.

Williams is hoping to find another expert to shed more light on exactly what happened to the baby.

“We need to locate a person qualified to do that, and that's what I asked the court for permission to do, or at least some time to do to file a motion,” said Williams.

Williams says there is no clear timeline for the case as the defense waits to get approval from the court to bring in another forensic expert.

Morales' trial was set to start Wednesday, but was delayed.

16 January 2014


Story first appeared in the Traverse City Record Eagle.

For Traverse City and its sewer plant partners, replacing the membrane filters that make the wastewater treatment plant work isn’t a simple “pay me now or pay me later” deal. Not replacing the filters creates the risk of a sewage spill if the membranes get clogged, and that’s simply not acceptable.  They may need Wastewater Storage Tanks.

Further, the city needs to get buy-in from its partners in Acme, East Bay, Garfield, Peninsula, and Elmwood townships that this is an ongoing operational cost that won’t go away any time soon.

More of the membranes, which the firm that operates the plant say are nearing the end of their operational life, will have to be replaced in the future, and the time to start setting aside money to pay for those repairs is now.

City Treasurer Bill Twietmeyer says the city needs to increase its monthly base sewer rate by 9 percent, or $3, to pay for the new membranes. That would bring the monthly charge to $37. Twietmeyer recommended the new rate go into effect at the start of the city’s fiscal year, July 1 and be divided based on plant usage. He said it will take about a year to pay off.

But because there are eight membranes that must eventually be replaced, he thinks the price hike will have to remain in place for some time to come.

Naturally, nobody wants to see their sewer rates go up. Users across the region have seen rates rise in recent years and won’t be anxious to see them rise again. But some things can’t be put off or left to their own devices. Maintaining the plant is crucial to keeping Grand Traverse Bay as clean as possible. There are problems enough from stormwater runoff, which can wash animal waste, fertilizers and other pollutants into the bay, without having the wastewater treatment plant add to the problem.

Traverse City has a sophisticated sewer treatment system that works very well but isn’t cheap. Replacing the membranes is part of that cost. Replacement is expected to run $825,000, and there are eight membrane filters. Replacement is going to cost a lot over a prolonged period.

That makes looking for options or ways to prolong the life of the membranes a top priority for the city and townships.

But in the meantime they need to figure what it is going to cost and set aside the money to pay for the work. Nicking ratepayers a bit more every time a membrane needs to be replaced is poor public policy. Charge what’s needed now and ensure that when fixes are needed we can afford them.

Walmart Arson, iPad Theft Caught on Tape

Original Story: WoodTv.com

NILES TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - A man made off with thousands of dollars in Apple products after setting a fire at a Walmart in southwest Michigan -- and it may not have been his first attempt. A Berrien County Car Accident Lawyer is watching the story closely.

"This is certainly a brazen attack," Det. Lt. Greg Sanders of the Berrien County Sheriff's Department said.

The man was captured on surveillance cameras from the moment his car pulled into the parking lot of the Walmart on S. 11th St. in Niles Township before 5 a.m. Sunday.
His face hidden by a mask, he entered the store and went to an apparel department. There, he set a fire.

"What he does is pile up baby clothes and then use some type of liquid to start the fire," Sanders said.

Then he headed toward the electronics department. On the way, he stopped and pulled out a duffel bag he had hidden under a dark-colored sweatshirt or coat, the surveillance video shows.

He then went behind the electronics counter, went directly to the display case holding the Apple products, and smashed his way into it with some sort of tool.

He then loaded more than a dozen boxes of what appear to be iPads -- worth thousands of dollars -- into his duffel and left the store.

A Walmart employee can be seen chasing him through the parking lot before he gets back in his car and drives away.

There was no license plate on his car to help authorities track him.

But they think they have his face on camera.

The day before the successful theft, detectives say it appears the same man tried and failed to steal the iPads.

Surveillance video shows an unmasked man enter the Walmart just after midnight Saturday and go to the electronics section. He circled briefly and then went behind the counter to the same case from which the Apple products were stolen Sunday.

But before the man could take anything, an employee arrived and apparently scared him off.

Authorities say they are worried about what the thief may be willing to do next if he had no problem setting a fire.

"To go this far has got us very concerned," Det. Lt. Sanders said. "Somebody could've been seriously injured."

The store was evacuated and the suppression system put out the fire. Fog from the suppression system can be seen on the surveillance video.

The Walmart is expected to be closed for damage assessment and cleanup until Tuesday.

The thief is described as a white male with a thin build. He was wearing brown pants and a dark-colored shirt. This vehicle was a newer model, dark-colored, four-door sedan.

Sanders had a succinct message for the thief:

"We're coming."

Anyone with information is asked to call the Berrien County Sheriff's Department at 269.983.7141 ext. 6242 or Crime Stoppers at 800.342.STOP.

10 January 2014


Story first appeared on USAToday.com.

If the St. Joseph Lighthouse could talk, it would probably say, "I'm ready for my close up," or, "If you want to talk to me, call my people."

Daunting photos of the ice-encrusted structure on Lake Michigan and the pier attached to it have gone viral around the world during these last couple of days of polar vortex-dom, as social media users offer their contacts examples of just how fierce weather can be. Some might say that photos of the lighthouse with gigantic masses of ice appearing to drip from it have become the symbolic face of this week's frigid weather.

The photos of the structure in the resort town of St. Joseph, Mich., about 90 miles northeast of Chicago, have gone so viral that they have spun off confusion. People have claimed on social media to have taken photos of the decommissioned lighthouse that they did not take. Three news organizations have published stories on photographers that they present as the artist whose photos have gone the most viral. And as it turns out, what might be the most shared photo was actually taken about a year ago.

"That one was taken Jan. 23 of 2013," says photographer John McCormick, 51, of Vestaburg, Mich., who shot the now-famous picture. "That's the most viral I've had an image go, for sure."

The retired auto supplier worker who lives about 120 miles from the lighthouse says he has not been out to photograph the structure since the polar vortex rolled in because it has just been way too cold. "My camera probably wouldn't even function," he said.

But normally, he enjoys running out to the lighthouse in the winter. In order to take the photo of the lighthouse that has gone viral, he had to stand on a mound of ice jutting out into Lake Michigan about 300 or 400 feet from actual land.

"I love being out in that kind of weather," he says.

McCormick was tickled when he got a telephone call from his son a couple of days ago, saying that his photo of the lighthouse was circulating via Reddit and other sites. Mashable published a story pointing out the often-shared photo was taken last January, and Buzzfeed published a story, too. CNN called to ask questions, McCormick said.

The attention turned out to be a good thing for McCormick, who also takes photos for the state of Michigan that are used on billboards. His website, www.MichiganNutPhotography.com, has gotten an additional 40,000 hits over the last couple of days and the number of "Likes" on his Facebook page are up about 1,700 to almost 20,000.

McCormick, however, isn't the only photographer whose winter images of the lighthouse are being shared during the cold snap. The Kalamazoo Gazette and its website, www.Mlive.com, published a story touting the arresting photos of Thomas Zakowski of South Bend, Ind., who has been taking pictures since high school.

The Herald-Palladium out of St. Joseph published a piece mentioning not only McCormick and Zakowski, but also Chicago-based photographer Tom Gill, who also has shot the lighthouse. The photos of the structure are being shared as far as the U.K., Italy and China, according to the news organization.

There have been various versions of the St. Joseph Lighthouse, but the one drawing people's attention in recent days was built in 1846. The catwalk today is used by walkers, runners and bikers, according to the stjoelighthouse.com website.

Something about that particular lighthouse in winter just seems to touch people, McCormick said.

"It looks like so many different things," he said. "It might resemble something people see on a video game, a Buddha or an ice monster. It's just really unique."