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Small towns, big stories in 2008


Sad realities and surprising triumphs make list of area's top ten stories



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December 31, 2008
TRI-CITY AREA — It's hard to believe 2008 is almost gone, but there were plenty of newsworthy events that defined the last 12 months in Lapeer and St. Clair counties. It's a mix of sad realities and surprising triumphs, and serves as a reminder that big things happen in small towns.

Here are the top ten stories of 2008:

1) A 51 year-old Capac man will likely spend the rest of his life in prison for attempting to shoot and kill three people outside of his William G. Drive home on April 16.

Donald Burke was found guilty on all charges in October by a jury in Judge Daniel Kelly's courtroom.

From his front porch, Burke aimed a .22 caliber rifle at Chief Raymond Hawks and tow truck driver Mike Thorpe, who were parked in his driveway, and Sheriff Deputy Tim O'Boyle who was behind the wheel of his patrol car, driving toward Burke's home.

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Dozens of police agencies rushed to the village of Capac in April when two police officers including Chief Raymond Hawks were shot and injured while on duty. The police presence continued for another 12 hours while they searched for the shooter, Donald Burke.

Hawks was struck in the abdomen with one bullet and O'Boyle was grazed in the head by another. The body of Thorpe's tow truck protected him from the shots.

Thorpe and several neighbors—Bill Klobnock, Monica Teem, Sandy Jaros and Andy Kokoszka—came to the aid of the badly injured Hawks. They managed to remove him from the scene on the back of Thorpe's tow truck.

Meanwhile the manhunt for Burke ensued. Police from dozens of neighboring agencies descended on the village. Once they learned Burke had fled his home, the manhunt went village-wide. Almost 12 hours after the shooting, he was found by St. Clair County Sheriff deputies in a parked truck at Pirrone's Produce, not far from his home.

He was taken into custody but not jailed until several weeks later. Burke had suffered a heart attack soon after his arrest and underwent open heart surgery.

Hawks suffered from severe internal bleeding. The bullet had caused damage to several organs and he underwent multiple surgeries. Hawks was then placed in an induced coma for 17 days. He spoke to the media for the first time late May and eventually returned home where he continues to receive therapy to rebuild his strength.

O'Boyle was treated and released from the hospital the day of the shooting and soon thereafter returned to work. He, Hawks, Thorpe and dozens of others testified at Burke's trial in October.

In November, Judge Daniel Kelly sentenced Burke to serve 30 to 60 years in prison.

2)Only months after forming, Capac's Metal and Soul robotic team went on to wow their opponents by earning a first place finish at the West Michigan Regional FIRST competition at Grand Valley State University in March and the Michigan FIRST Rookie Pilot competition at Kettering University of Flint.

The West Michigan Regional win earned them a trip to Atlanta and the 2008 World Championship Robotics FIRST competition where they finished 22nd out of 84 participants.

Teams members included Tina Hadley, Kevin Veltman, Brandon SaintOnge, Caius Schneider, Josh Hill, Aaron Sawicki, Ben SaintOnge, Cody Laeder, Corey Green, Grant Pentecost and Jeremy Paluch. They were led by coach Tracy Stoldt and mentors John Antilla and Bill SaintOnge.

3) After 36 years in law enforcement, Imlay City Police Chief Arlan Winslow announced his retirement in January.

The 1969 graduate of Imlay City High School said he hoped to capitalize on his good health and do more golfing, hunting and fishing.

Winslow was hired in as a patrol officer at the age of 21 by his former football coach and mentor, Chief Larry Dougherty. He briefly worked for the Lapeer County Sheriff's Department before returning to Imlay City's force. Winslow then trained as an EMT and went on to become the instructor/coordinator for the former Imlay City Ambulance Service.

Winslow went on to earn sergeant and lieutenant titles before succeeding Dougherty as chief in 1994.

He said he was proud to leave knowing his officers had developed a connection with the community.

Later in the year, Winslow received the Edgar A. Guest award from the Attica/Imlay City Masons.

John Stano, a detective with the Warren Police Department, was named Winslow's successor.

4) An Imlay City landmark was destined for demolition before the Imlay City Alumni Association stepped in to restore the Grettenberger Field grandstands.

The structure, built in the 1930s as part of the federal government's Works ProgressAdministration program, had become unsafe due to to age and the elements. Without the extra money themselves, the Imlay City School District put out the call for help and the Alumni Association answered.

They established a fundraising drive, 'You're a Grand Old Grandstand' and managed to collect $30,000 in donations and grant monies.

This summer Rick Duthler and his R-Squared Builders crew started authentic restoration work on the covered wooden bleachers. They put up new siding, restored the bleacher seats, laid a new roof and facade and engineered a new door system. It also received a new coat of paint. Soon a new sign will be installed.

The field was named in honor of longtime Superintendent R.A. Grettenberger who was instrumental in its construction.

The Alumni Association was named Imlay City Chamber of Commerce's Service Group of the Year, in part for their grandstand campaign.

5)In June, Seven Ponds Nature Center in Dryden Twp. kicked off their Capital Campaign to raise $1.8 million for renovations and additions to the current facilities and begin an endowment.

A groundbreaking was held this fall and construction is currently underway.

As of this summer, $1.2 million in pledges, gifts and grants had already been received including sizeable grants from the Lapeer County Community Foundation and the Four County Community Foundation.

Once completed, the facilities will be renamed the Schemm-Naish Interpretive Building.

6) The small hamlet of Allenton was shocked when a man robbed the CSB Bank branch on Capac Rd. on a Monday morning in March. The man's face was caught on surveillance tape but an anonymous tip eventually led police to Scott Berry's home in Washington Twp. He was also charged with robbing another bank in Macomb County.

In May, the 37 year-old pleaded guilty to charges of bank robbery and was sentenced to spend one year in jail, with 180 days suspended upon repayment in full of restitution. According to court documents, Berry owed CSB more than $4,000 and the MPG Credit Union $6,600. He repaid those amounts in July.

7) Longtime Capac Elementary School Principal David Rees' employment contract was terminated in November after charges of indecent exposure were leveled against him.

Pursuant to state law, individuals like Rees who have been convicted of certain crimes, including some misdemeanors, cannot be employed by a Michigan school district.

According to police and court reports, Rees was arrested following an incident at a Utica park in June 2008 and that following a pre-trial hearing in August, his case has been deferred for one year.

Rees started his career in the Capac district in August of 1996. He began working as a contractual employee in August 2008, Jennex said.

Kathy Kish, high school assistant principal, was named as acting elementary administrator.

8) Heavy snow and ice were to blame for the roof collapse of the Imlay City Ford Lincoln Mercury new car showroom in February. Two Lapeer County Sheriff's deputies happened upon the scene when they smelled natural gas. The fallen roof had severed the gas line but one of the deputies was able to shut off the line before greater damage—such as an explosion—could occur. Damage was estimated at $500,000.

Within a matter of days, demolition crews were on scene and owner Paul LaFontaine Jr. was hoping to speed up plans for a new modern, state-of-the-art showroom which was already in the works before the roof collapse. The showroom is now nearing completion.

9) Bugsy's North Bar and Grill succumbed to flames in July. Five departments—Imlay City, Almont, Attica, Goodland and Mussey—battled heavy smoke and flames using nearby hydrants, tanker trucks and water from the Belle River. Damage was estimated at more than $400,000 and seven were left unemployed as a result. It appears the blaze started in the basement.

The burned out debris became an eyesore after several months passed and no clean up had been done. The city was in the process of deeming it a dangerous building when the site was eventually cleared.

10) In January, members of St. Paul's Lutheran Church and other volunteers from the community rolled up their sleeves and opened the church doors for locals in need of a free meal. 'Food for Families' was born and in less than 12 months, the group has fed more than 1,500 meals to the needy and started a food pantry and household collection. Meals are served every Monday and Wednesday from 4-5:30 p.m.

Volunteers are pleased to serve the community and grateful to everyone who's donated their time, food or money. The Imlay City Chamber of Commerce recognized the 'Food for Families' program with the Merit Award in December.

News items worthy of an honorable mention include:

•Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) had been the topic of discussion at recent city commission meetings when one of the lifesaving devices mysteriously showed up on city commissioner Greg Dennis's front door on Thanksgiving Eve. The city had just decided to purchase three AEDs to equip the police and fire departments. Earlier in the year, resident Gary VanDenBerg had brought it to the commission's attention that neither department had one.

Dennis said no one he knew would take credit for the generous gift. AEDs carry an average cost of $2,500.

•At the request of four landowners, the village of Capac saw 155 acres of land along Capac Rd. annexed into the village limits. The county board of commissioners approved each request and the state gave their final stamp of approval in November. Officials are hopeful the land, with frontage on Capac Rd., will be attractive to developers like Keihin Michigan Manufacturing who built their plant in the very southern limits at Koehn and Capac roads.

•It was the subject of controversy and long delays, but construction of the Almont Twp. Fire Hall was finally completed this year. The township and department hosted an open house for the public in August.

Located at the northwest corner of Tubspring and Howland roads, the hall hold ten firefighting vehicles and lots of space for training and meeting. It was paid for with a voter-approved one mill tax.

Wrangling between the contractor and township over code requirements and other matters delayed its opening.

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