July 22 • 10:41 AM

Growth, growing pains and more round out Top Ten stories of 2007

Keihin President and CEO Kentaro Kato addresses crowd while Capac Village President Mark Klug and Governor Jennifer Granholm look on during July’s groundbreaking ceremonies for the auto parts supplier’s plant.

January 02, 2008
TRI-CITY AREA — Growth, growing pains, painful situations, the strength of the human spirit and seemingly outright miracles were central themes in a number of stories that affected area communities during the past year.

As always, we went through the archives to bring our readers a quick, but comprehensive review of the stories that made major headlines throughout the area.

Though we literally covered hundreds of events and happenings over the past 12 months, following are the most remarkable stories that made their way onto this year's Top Ten list:

1) Layoffs, buyouts and plant closings. It wasn't a good year for Michigan's automotive industry, that is, except for the village of Capac. In April, a Honda parts supplier announced they would build a manufacturing plant in the village's southern limits. Keihin Michigan Manufacturing has since begun hiring some of the 100 associates they will employ and has nearly completed major construction on their 120,000 square foot plant at Capac and Koehn roads. They plan to up their workforce to 260 by 2010.

In July, Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm participated in groundbreaking ceremonies at the building site.

With a Michigan Economic Development Corporation grant package, Keihin received a $3 million state employment credit and $350,000 in public infrastructure improvements which the village oversaw.

Keihin plans to begin producing intake manifolds and HVAC systems sometime this spring.

2)Onetime Imlay City High School student athlete standout Milli Martinez returned to her alma mater in August with basketball star husband Corey Maggette to present the school district with a generous donation—enough to complete the new girls' softball field. In gratitude, the district will name the complex, Milagro Field, in honor of the 1998 graduate.

"I'm very blessed to be able to do this," she said.

"This is part of my mission from God. I really appreciate this school."

Corey, a member of the NBA's L.A. Clippers, Milli and their son, Sergio, reside in California.

The couple's donation will help equip the field with a two-story press box and concessions stand, cement block dugouts, a scoreboard, fencing, batting cages, bleachers and more.

Imlay City Alumnus Milli Martinez (center) and husband Corey Maggette returned to her alma matter in August bestowing a donation to the district for a new state-of-the-art softball field. Also taking part in the occasion were Supt. Gary Richards (left) Athletic Director Steve Plunkitt and softball coach Jean Bannister.

3)Dr. Kurt Henkel, a veterinarian, sits in the Lapeer County Jail, awaiting trial on several charges related to a Jan. 31, 2006 standoff with police at his Imlay Twp. home.

The 43-year-old took his 24-year-old wife, Amber, hostage, handcuffing her to a pole in the couple's basement and proceeded to load two guns with extra magazines and brandish a knife in anticipation of the arrival of law enforcement. In their struggle, Amber had managed to grab a cell phone and dial 911, alerting authorities.

Henkel did fire a shot that nearly hit his wife and later held a knife to her chest, demanding that she give him the access code to her cell phone voicemail. On the stand, Amber said she believed her husband was acting out of jealousy for her outgoing personality.

Henkel told police he had left a bomb at his daughter's day care center in Lapeer, which proved to be false.

After several hours of negotiations with police, Henkel freed his wife and gave himself up to police about a half-hour after that.

He faces charges of unlawful imprisonment, false report of a bomb threat and several others. His attorneys have suggested Henkel suffers from a mental illness but in April, forensic experts found him competent to stand trial.

4)The fate of Almont Township's building department still hangs in the balance. Late this fall, township officials and the Bureau of Construction Codes were attempting to set up a hearing before an administrative law judge in Lansing to hash out proposed reforms. After a pair of homeowners filed complaints with the state agency that former inspector Paul Wilcox overlooked shoddy construction work, the agency revoked Almont's authority to possess a building codes department in January. The township appealed that decision and entered into negotiations with the state.

The state did offer that if the township agreed to certain stipulations such as reinspections and annual training for current inspectors Joe and Tim Israel, they would let the township keep their own inspectors.

As of October, Supervisor Gary Groesbeck said he was confident a settlement could be reached.

Wilcox retired from his post in Almont last November. According to bureau officials last month, an investigation into his practices was still ongoing.

5)It was one big birthday party. The village of Capac came to life in July during its sesquicentennial celebration, marking 150 years in existence. The streets were packed for Saturday's grand parade led by grand marshal, then-103-year-old Harold Schoneman. Visitors also enjoyed the weekend's opening ceremonies, a pet parade, skateboarding demonstrations, carnival rides and games, a Miss Capac pageant, Cutest Baby Contest, a Civil War reenactment and much more.

The weekend was made even more special when Keihin Michigan Manufacturing hosted Governor Jennifer Granholm during groundbreaking ceremonies for their new plant. The company also unveiled a new clock which they donated to the village in honor of Capac's sesquicentennial.

6) The first time around, voters weren't so generous, but in May, the Ruth Hughes Memorial District Library saw their one mill ballot proposal approved. The previous August, a county wide 1.25 mill proposal failed. When the district, which serves Imlay City and Imlay and Attica townships, tried the same millage request on their own in November 2006, it again failed.

The third and successful request was essentially a renewal of the current funding the library was receiving. The library board was forced to make about $40,000 in cuts in late 2006 which included scaling back branch hours, which, since May, have been reinstated.

7)Charges of animal abuse against an Imlay Twp. family were thrown out by a Lapeer County District Court Judge, but not after the story garnered headlines around the world.

Mark and Ellen Mills and children, Kate and Andrew, disputed allegations that they let a horse starve to death, didn't properly care for several lambs which also died and weren't properly caring for their dogs.

Although 20-year-old Kate was the first to be cleared from prosecution because she was not living at home at the time of the alleged abuse, media outlets played up the fact that she was a reigning 4-H queen in Oakland County.

In September, Judge Laura Barnard dismissed the abuse charges against the rest of the family, citing a lack of evidence. A pathologist testified that the horse died of 'choke,' something that could have been caused by factors other than abuse or malnutrition. The Mills claimed that the lambs were stillborn.

8)The battle over a proposed asphalt plant in Imlay Twp. continues. The most recent court opinion, handed down by the Michigan Supreme Court, sends the lawsuit back to Lapeer County Circuit Court and Judge Nick Holowka. In the past, Holowka has sided with the township, which claims its master plan allows for heavy industrial use land on Graham Rd., not at Summers and Newark roads where paving magnate John Carlo wants his plant.

As it has progressed through the courts, the zoning debate has caught the attention of municipalities across the state, just as the township's attorney David Syzmanski predicted. The final ruling could set a precendence as it relates to a municipal board trying to strike a balance between development and open spaces.

At the urging of residents who live around the proposed site, the township board voted unanimously to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court in February. Finally, in early December, the justices remanded the suit back to Holowka, asking that he again address whether Imlay's zoning ordinance is exclusionary to heavy industrial uses.

9)After lots of speculation and rumors, Kroger became the new proprietor of Imlay City's lone grocery store. The switch came in June when the Greater Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, the parent company of the original store, Farmer Jack, announced a series of cuts that included closing and selling more than 20 Farmer Jack's in Michigan.

Kroger closed the store for about a week in late June for the change over.

Hundreds of job seekers lined up for interviews at the Country Side Banquet Center including former Farmer Jack employees. Some were rehired, they said, but took a slight pay cut.

10)A cross in a fir tree—what Goodland Twp. resident Dawn DeSutter took to mean as a sign of hope went on to touch lives around the globe.

It was during her husband Steve's hospital stay for Fournier's gangrene in August that Dawn spotted the unique growth in the evergreen and took comfort in the sign 'from above.' Months later, the cross remains—a confirmation to Dawn of her faith and belief in miracles.

Her story, which was posted on the Tri-City Times and Detroit Free Press Web sites, was quickly picked up by other news outlets and read by thousands. She received calls from local folks who were interested in seeing it for themselves and even sent out a photo of the cross to a woman in Alberta, Canada who offered to make a donation for the request, since she couldn't access the story online.

Honorable mention: Just three weeks after a farm accident left Kaleb Parsch with serious injuries, the Goodland Twp. teen was able to return home, in style. Family friend and Country Smokehouse owner Steve Francis whisked Kaleb and his mom, Sandy, home from C.S. Mott Childrens Hospital in Ann Arbor in his helicopter. Sandy and husband, Louis, credited the groundswell of support from people like Francis and countless other family and friends for their son's remarkable recovery.

Kaleb suffered multiple fractures, including both arms, on Nov. 5 when his coat became caught in a tractor's moving power take-off (pto) shaft. He, his dad and brother Seth were in the process of building a winter shelter for Kaleb's animals at their Kohler Rd. home. He continues to make great strides in his recovery, mom Sandy reports through the family's online Carepage postings.

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