Category Archives: Elkhart County

Elkhart Latinos respond to Trump and other post-election coverage

Monday Dec. 4, 2016

Participants in the Elkhart County Republican Party caucus on Friday Dec. 2, 2016, in Goshen. GOP committeemen picked a replacement to fill out Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill's term when he takes over in January as Indiana attorney general. By Tim Vandenack

Participants in the Elkhart County Republican Party caucus on Friday Dec. 2, 2016, in Goshen. GOP committeemen picked a replacement to fill out Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill’s term when he takes over in January as Indiana attorney general. By Tim Vandenack

Election coverage didn’t end with the counting of votes the night of Nov. 8.

I kept busy in the days afterward as well, analyzing and understanding the results and what they meant.

In Elkhart County, the election of Donald Trump as president alarmed some Latinos and immigrant advocates, and they gathered to mull the implications of his selection:

The election of Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill as Indiana attorney general was noteworthy in the context of racial politics. He’s the first African-American GOPer, near as I can tell, and one of only a handful of African-Americans ever elected to statewide office in Indiana, but race seems to have factored little in his contest.

“I’d like to believe that we’re at a point in 2016 where there are just people. There are Hoosiers. There are Americans,” Hill said in an interview with me.

Here’s the story:

U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski resoundingly won a third term and the GOPer was pretty ecstatic about the prospects, in combination with Trump’s victory.

“Now I see a path forward,” she said, alluding to hope for repeal of Obamacare, more aggressive action against ISIS extremists in Syria and an end to what she sees as stifling federal overregulation.

Here’s the story:

Me, Tim Vandenack, on far right, at taping of WNIT's Politically Speaking, aired Nov. 13, 2016. We discussed Nov. 8 elections. Screen grab from program.

Me, Tim Vandenack, on far right, at taping of WNIT’s Politically Speaking, aired Nov. 13, 2016. We discussed Nov. 8 elections. Screen grab from program.

Just last Friday, I covered the caucus of Elkhart County Republican Party committeemen to pick someone to fill the unfinished term of Hill, who’s term as prosecutor still has two years. They tabbed Chief Deputy Prosecutor Vicki Becker and also picked replacements for two other officials elected to higher office last November. The story was pretty straightforward (look here), but it offered the chance to flex some tweeting muscles and I reeled off 17 of them, reporting all the action — and Becker’s naming — in real time.

As in other cycles, I appeared on “Politically Speaking,” the political show on local public station WNIT, as a wonk, discussing and analyzing the election results:

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PETA blasts duck treatment, the Elkhart high school saga, Main Street rubble

Monday Oct. 17, 2016

Top right: Jan Hardy surveys the rubble remaining from the Main Street building next door to his, which burned down last July. Top right: Elkhart police investigators peer into the car containing the bodies of two children allegedly killed by their mother. Bottom: Elkhart school officials discuss the proposed reorganization of the district. By Tim Vandenack

Top left: Jan Hardy surveys the rubble remaining from the Main Street building next door to his, which burned down last July. Top right: Elkhart police investigators peer into the car containing the bodies of two children allegedly killed by their mother. Bottom: Elkhart school officials discuss the proposed reorganization of the district. By Tim Vandenack

Never a dull moment.

With our bare bones staff, I cover a lot of territory — animal rights activism, the double murder of two kids by their mom and moves to radically reshape the Elkhart school district, to name a few topics of late. To wit:

Inhumane duck treatment: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a video depicting harsh treatment of ducks at a duck farm in Elkhart County and the agency asked Indiana State Police to investigate its contention that workers violated Indiana animal cruelty laws, “PETA charges Middlebury-based Culver Duck Farms with inhumanely treating ducks,” Oct. 13, 2016.

Fallout from the killing of two children: I was winding down my day on Sept. 26, 2016, when a strange, scary message came across the scanner — two dead kids had been found in a car. Turns out it was behind the police department and a woman had flagged down an officer to inform him of the children in the back seat of her auto. She later confessed to killing them, authorities say, and she now faces two murder charges. I spent around five hours that first day camped out behind the police department, where the cordoned-off car sat, awaiting any scrap of news from police. I ended up helping dig into the sad, tragic story, among many on the staff, and attended a memorial for the children, Liliana Hernandez, 7, and Rene Pasztor, 6, both of Fort Wayne. For one story, I spoke to family from the father’s side of the family, also from Fort Wayne, who spoke of the hard feelings they felt and their suspicions surrounding the case, “After kids found dead in Elkhart: pain, sorrow and anger for family left behind,” Sept. 30, 2016.

School reorganization: Talk has been swirling for months about merging the two high schools here in the Elkhart school district, creating one super high school. A preliminary proposal came out last April and then officials in late September, after months of debate and discussion, solidified the plan with a more formal plan, which still has to be ratified. I wrote a story detailing the new proposal, published just ahead of its unveiling, “Elkhart high school consolidation still on table in latest draft of reorganization plan,” Sept. 28, 2016, then did a follow-up story that same day after the formal announcement, “New unified Elkhart high School could open in 2019, per proposal.”

Torched building: I’ve followed the seemingly slow process to remove the rubble of a building that burned down last July on Main Street in the heart of the downtown area. For my latest installment, I focused on the efforts of the next-door neighbor, the operator of a bar, to get his building back into shape and reopen the business, pulling together a quick update, “Hardy’s Bar owner anxious to reopen as clean-up of burned building next door edges forward,” Oct. 6, 2016.

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Ex-Elkhart man’s advocates turn to Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill in push for pardon

Thursday Sept. 29, 2016

Screen grab of online Sept. 22, 2016, Elkhart Truth story about Keith Cooper.

Screen grab of online Sept. 22, 2016, Elkhart Truth story about Keith Cooper.

The Indianapolis Star and Chicago Tribune have followed the case of a former Elkhart man seeking exoneration in a 1996 armed robbery here, recounting the the twists and turns that led to his unjust conviction and, ultimately, his release in 2006.

The trial and fight for his release all occurred before my time here at The Elkhart Truth and I’ve not done much crime stuff, in general, until the last year or so.

But when I learned of a new push by Cooper’s advocates to get him pardoned, I figured it was time that we, as the hometown newspaper where everything went down, look into the story. I didn’t repeat the digging done by the Indianapolis Star or Chicago Tribune — they’ve done some intense work — but I quickly got up to speed, reading their archives, talking to one of the advocates, looking into recent turns in the push.

Gov. Mike Pence also came out, saying he wasn’t prepared to pardon Cooper, who was let go from prison early based on proof pointing to his innocence but never exonerated. It turned into a pretty decent story, I think:

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Elkhart County push against undocumented immigrants stirs controversy

Monday Sept. 26, 2016

Candida Rosete was one of several suspects arrested by the Elkhart County Sheriff's Department for charges related to identity fraud for using false documents to get work. The arrests have generated criticism from immigrant advocates. By Tim Vandenack

Candida Rosete was one of several suspects arrested by the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department for charges related to identity fraud for using false documents to get work. The arrests have generated criticism from immigrant advocates. By Tim Vandenack

With a sizable population of Latino newcomers here, many from Mexico, immigration is a big topic in Elkhart County.

There are many advocates for Latinos and, on the flip side, many who clamor for stronger action against undocumented immigrants. Thus, when the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department started cracking down on suspected undocumented immigrants, asking for tips via Facebook, the issue escalated.

We in the newsroom had been noticing a steady stream of arrests of people allegedly using fake and fraudulent identity cards and we jumped on it, tying it to the Facebook posts. Many in the Latino community had also noticed, and I pulled together a story, contrasting criticism of Latino advocates who saw the law enforcement action as overzealous and Sheriff Brad Rogers, who defended the moves as upholding the law and standing up for victims of identity theft:

I got a lead on one of the women arrested, Candida Rosete, and followed that story with a piece on her, offering up her viewpoint of being undocumented. Now, 36, she was brought here when she was 6-years-old, has a 15-year-old U.S.-b0rn son and sees the United States as her home:

Even Univision, the Spanish-language television, jumped on the issue.

I’m now working on a story offering up the perspective of those who have had their identities stolen, the hassles and problems they face.

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Elkhart schools mull overhaul of system, parents propose alternative

Wednesday Sept. 14, 2016

Elkhart Schools Superintendent Robert Haworth, who helped pull together the proposed overhaul of Elkhart Community Schools. By Tim Vandenack

Elkhart Schools Superintendent Robert Haworth, who helped pull together the proposed overhaul of Elkhart Community Schools. By Tim Vandenack

ELKHART — One of the current burning topics of debate, at least among many parents and Elkhart school officials — the proposed overhaul of Elkhart Community Schools.

ECS leadership unveiled a proposal last April to revamp the two high schools in Elkhart, with one, Elkhart Memorial, serving 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders, and Elkhart Central serving ninth-graders. Many view it as high school unification. The plan also outlines changes to the middle schools and one elementary school and many other tweaks in the school system, aiming to better school kids and prevent transfers out of the district, a big problem that results in loss of state funding.

Needless to say, it’s got many wondering what it all means, what would become of the high schools, whether it would really work and keep kids here. But it’s complicated.

I’ve taken on a role trying to grasp and understand the topic, a pretty hefty one, and pulled together a pair of stories that ran as a package on Monday (though one posted online on Sunday). One focused on a counter-proposal put forward by three parents following the process and their calls for more ideas from the public:

The other offered an update on the decision-making process timeline:

I wrote a pair of stories on the topic last month, too, one parsing the the high school unification issue (here), the other offering a more general look at the debate and issues at stake (here).

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Libertarians give Elkhart County voters a third choice, Coleman says Walorski is inaccessible

Saturday Sept. 3, 2016

Libertarian candidates Ethan Legg, left, who's running for the District 21 seat in the Indiana House, and Ron Cenkush, who's running for the 2nd District U.S. House seat. Photos supplied

Libertarian candidates Ethan Legg, left, who’s running for the District 21 seat in the Indiana House, and Ron Cenkush, who’s running for the 2nd District U.S. House seat. Photos supplied

Labor Day will soon be here, which means even more election coverage.

But we’ve already been doing plenty of it at The Elkhart Truth. U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, a Republican, and her Democratic challenger Lynn Coleman are in the midst of debating whether, when and where to debate, which I used as an opportunity to delve into Coleman’s charges that Walorski is inaccessible. Walorski is holding off on committing to a debate, same as she did two years ago, and Coleman maintains that she doesn’t mix sufficiently with constituents:

Same day that appeared in print, Walorski held a gathering — with a group of business leaders in Elkhart County (look here), hearing their lament that there aren’t enough workers. She regularly meets privately with small groups, her Facebook feed shows, but hasn’t had a town hall or public listening tour of late.

Turns out there are a pair of Libertarians on the ballot, one vying for Walorski’s seat, Ron Cenkush, and the other, Ethan Legg, running for an Indiana House seat that serves part of Elkhart County. I wrote about them, noting that voters here will have more than just Democrats and Republicans to choose from:

There will also be three Libertarians further up the ballot, for governor. U.S. Senator and president.

This, I reckon, is only the beginning of our political coverage…

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The Amish, Trump, feral cats and graffiti — my week in a nutshell

Tuesday Aug. 16, 2016

Amish buggies at a hitching post outside a Nappanee grocery store, top, and the graffiti-covered Elkhart Art League building, which Elkhart parks officials want to demolish. By Tim Vandenack

Amish buggies at a hitching post outside a Nappanee grocery store, top, and the graffiti-covered Elkhart Art League building, which Elkhart parks officials want to demolish. By Tim Vandenack

Amish attitudes toward voting and the push to permit feral cats in Elkhart — those were a couple themes I’ve been focusing on the past few days.

We learned of a new group, the Amish PAC, a political action committee trying to promote presidential hopeful Donald Trump among the Amish, and I used that as a springboard to gauge voting attitudes of the sector here in Elkhart County. The Amish have a strong presence in northern Indiana, particularly Elkhart and LaGrange counties. I went to Nappanee to track some Amish down, and it turns out they’re not that interested in voting (they put their faith just in God):

The feral cat issue could be coming up in the Elkhart City Council, and that was the focus of another article. Elkhart City Council President Brian Thomas made a passing reference to the dismantling of a feral cat colony in the city, a turn that upset feline advocates. In talking to him afterward, I learned an ordinance was in the works that would permit such colonies, and working with an intern, Allison Todd, we sought out more:

Finally, controversy sprang over plans to demolish a graffiti-covered building in a city park used by the Elkhart Art League, a non-profit group that promotes the arts. The city maintains it’s in bad shape and wants to tear it down, but Art League reps say leave it alone, despite the colorful exterior (the result of a policy allowing graffiti art). Stay tuned on this one:

  • “Elkhart Art League, parks officials spar over future of graffiti-covered High Dive Park building,” Aug. 12, 2016

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Elkhart man makes Styrofoam cup memorial, annexation, a triple homicide

Monday Aug. 8, 2016

A group of kids from Strong Avenue held a lemonade sale on Aug. 2, 2016, in the wake of a triple homicide on the street. It wasn't a reaction to the incident but underscored that there's more to the neighborhood than violence. By Tim Vandenack

A group of kids from Strong Avenue held a lemonade sale on Aug. 2, 2016, in the wake of a triple homicide on the street. It wasn’t a reaction to the incident but underscored that there’s more to the neighborhood than violence. By Tim Vandenack

With the small staff here, work at The Elkhart Truth lets you dip your toes into many sorts of stories. No doubt about that.

This is perhaps my favorite from the past few weeks, a story about a local man, Damond Smart, who identified, via Styrofoam cups in a chain-link fence, more than 70 area victims of gun violence:

Smart aimed to underscore the violence that occurs on the streets here and send a message to the public, mainly those in south-central Elkhart, an older, lower-income part of town — don’t get mixed up with the wrong crowd and end up with your name on the fence.

Top: "All Lives Matter," one of many messages on chain-link fence turned into a memorial of Elkhart gun violence victims. Bottom, L to R: Vigil to gun violence victims organized by Smart; Angel Wilson, ex-fiance of one of three victims of triple homicide; Larry Sims, who organized a campaign to help Rainelle, W. Va., deal with flooding. All by Tim Vandenack

Top: “All Lives Matter,” one of many messages on chain-link fence turned into a memorial of Elkhart gun violence victims. Bottom, L to R: Vigil to gun violence victims organized by Smart; Angel Wilson, ex-fiance of one of three victims of triple homicide; Larry Sims, who organized a campaign to help Rainelle, W. Va., deal with flooding. All by Tim Vandenack

Other topics of late:

Triple homicide: The reaction from the Strong Avenue neighborhood, rocked by a triple homicide on July 31.

The news initially caused nervousness (“Elkhart shooting deaths leave Strong Avenue residents jittery, shocked,” Aug. 2, 2016). Then a group of Strong Avenue kids put up a lemonade stand, not in response, but it underscored that there’s more to the neighborhood than violence (“Strong Avenue kids join forces to underscore good in the neighborhood,” Aug. 3, 2016).

Annexation: The end, finally, of the last of three bitter lawsuits filed by Elkhart County homeowners fighting annexation into the city.

The city agreed to carve the homeowners out of the area to be absorbed, a bitter issue that led in part to Mayor Dick Neese’s defeat last year at the hands of Tim Neese, who took over the mayor’s job on Jan. 1. I did an analysis, looking into the many issues raised by the controversy, as a seven-item list (“At a glance: Elkhart annexation cost $500,000, but will generate nearly $3.93 million a year,” Aug. 1, 2016). I also took a look at the prospects for more annexations in the wake of the resolution (“Elkhart annexation all but complete, likely not to be repeated anytime soon,” July 27, 2016).

Helping West Virginia: A local man who took matters into his own hands and called area businesses, seeking donations of construction supplies to help victims of flooding in West Virginia rebuild (“Elkhart man works the phones, collects truckload of aid for flood-devastated West Virginia town,” Aug. 7, 2016).

Larry Sims — a former RV-sector worker now seeking disability due to a congenital heart condition — has family in the West Virginia town he wanted to help, Rainelle, and launched his efforts despite never having done anything like it before.

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Elkhart County voters mob the polls, cast ballots in presidential and local races

Sunday May 8, 2016

Which one does not fit? From outside Jimtown HS, Elkhart #truthelex16

A post shared by Tim Vandenack (@timvandenack) on

Elections came to Indiana, generating a huge turnout locally (as primaries go). Now they’re gone, at least until the November general election.

Election Day, last Tuesday, was a wild ride, and Elkhart Truth staffers, myself included, fed a live online blog throughout the day with tweets (50 or so), Instagram pictures and more, giving the public a sense of what was going on here locally during polling, in real time. The presidential contest in Indiana was big news, but my focus was on local races.

I traveled to several polling places, speaking to poll workers, candidates and voters. I also called election officials. Here’s a taste of some of my contributions to the blog:

Here’s a table I pulled together showing the spike in turnout relative to prior Elkhart County primaries (click the table for a link to an interactive version):

Elkhart County voter turnout spiked on Election Day, May 3, 2016, relative to prior primaries. By Tim Vandenack

Elkhart County voter turnout spiked on Election Day, May 3, 2016, relative to prior primaries. By Tim Vandenack

Here are links to two of the election stories I did:

 

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Victim in Goshen double-homicide came from Mexico looking for better life; jitters linger

Thursday March 17, 2016

I was off Monday, but received a Facebook message late in the day inquiring if I’d be interested in meeting with the family of one of the two victims of a double homicide in Goshen the day before.

I had read in The Elkhart Truth about the tragedy — two men shot and killed at a Goshen home for reasons unknown.

I don’t typically write about crime. But it was a big story, I’d be able to use my Spanish since that’s the language spoken by many of the family members and I jumped at the opportunity. The next day, Tuesday, I traveled to the home of one of the victim’s sisters, spoke to several family members about the man, Marco Carmona-Gonzalez. Then I traveled to the home where the killings occurred, still cordoned off by police, and, by chance, encountered a sister of the other victim, Jose Nava-Orozco.

The end result was two stories, one about the type of guy Carmona-Gonzalez was, the other about the anguish and lingering jitters, as conveyed by the Nava-Orozco sister, of the family of the victims. Of course I tweeted and posted to Facebook and Instagram along the way. Here are the two stories I did, pulled together quickly, part of our ongoing coverage:

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