Category Archives: Ind.

Cooper ‘wanted to live the American Dream;’ Gary was fleeing gunfire; Hixson recalled after death

Sunday Dec. 18, 2016

Keith Cooper, pictured in Chicago outside his lawyer's office, seeks exoneration in a violent 1996 Elkhart robbery. By Tim Vandenack

Keith Cooper, pictured in Chicago outside his lawyer’s office, seeks exoneration in a violent 1996 Elkhart robbery. By Tim Vandenack

In recent weeks, I’ve covered the death of a woman killed by a stray bullet shot into her home, an officer-involved shooting and a former Elkhart man’s push for exoneration in a violent robbery. Pretty grim stuff.

I traveled to Chicago last month to meet with Keith Cooper, the former Elkhart man who says he was wrongly convicted in a 1996 robbery, which left another man with a gunshot wound.

I’d written about his case. Though now free, he’s seeking a new trial in Elkhart Circuit Court, hoping for exoneration. He’s also sought a pardon from Gov. Mike Pence, so far unsuccessfully.

But I hadn’t met him, so took the opportunity, when I happened to be going to Chicago anyway, to hear from him directly, about how the case has impacted him and what exoneration would mean. There’s some pretty compelling evidence pointing to his innocence.

“I want the world to know that I’m Keith Cooper. Not Keith Cooper the criminal. I’m not a felon. I’m a decent human being who just wanted to live the American Dream,” Cooper, now living outside Chicago in Country Club Hills, told me at his lawyer’s office. “They ripped it from me.”

Here’s the story and a sidebar citing evidence Cooper uses to make his case:

Program from Norman Gary's Dec. 16, 2016, funeral. By Tim Vandenack

Program from Norman Gary’s Dec. 16, 2016, funeral. By Tim Vandenack

An Elkhart man, Norman Gary, died in an officer-involved shooting on Dec. 4. It remains under investigation by Indiana State Police, and the source of the bullet that killed Gary remains unclear. A shoot-out of some sort was taking place when police happened upon the scene in south Elkhart. Officers fired during the melee as well.

Gary’s legal guardian, Margaret Johnson, who considers the man her son, and Sandy Holt, Johnson’s daughter, say Gary wasn’t threatening anybody when the gunfire took place, that he didn’t have a gun and that he was trying to drive away from the chaotic scene to safety. A very confusing situation. I spoke with Johnson and Holt, who grew up with Gary and considers him her brother, last Friday, after Gary’s funeral:

Teketa Hixson, killed after a teen allegedly fired a gun intoher home, in a photo held by her sister, Latoya White. By Tim Vandenack

Teketa Hixson, in a photo held by her sister, Latoya White. By Tim Vandenack

Teketa Hixson died after a 14-year-old fired a gun into her south-central Elkhart home. It’s not clear why the teen, who faces a charge of felony reckless homicide,  did what he did. He was acquainted with Hixson’s family and had spent time at their home.

Whatever the spur, it’s a sad situation. She leaves behind four kids and a fifth she had been caring for. I spoke to Hixson’s mom and sister to learn more about the woman:

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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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Walorski on Trump, Pence visits Elkhart County (again), will Obama return?

Friday April 8, 2016

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, center, in Middlebury on April 6, 2016, at the ceremonially signing of Kirk's Law, a measure creating a registry of child-abuse perpetrators. It was the latest of a flurry of visits to the Elkhart County area in recent months. By Tim Vandenack

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, center, in Middlebury on April 6, 2016, at the ceremonially signing of Kirk’s Law, a measure creating a registry of child-abuse perpetrators. It was the latest of a flurry of visits to the Elkhart County area in recent months. By Tim Vandenack

Lots of politics this week.

First there was a New York Times report datelined out of Elkhart that said President Obama may make a return visit here. The Times story, focused on the credit Obama does or doesn’t deserve for pulling the nation out of the Great Recession, spurred me to look further into the possibility of a fifth trip here by Obama (still up in the air).

Then U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, the local representative to the U.S. House, visited to meet with The Elkhart Truth editorial board (and me, a non-member) ahead of the May primary. We quizzed her on her thoughts on GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who’s shaken things up in the nation and in the Republican Party (she’s reticent to say much), and that was the focus of another story, though more will be coming from the interview. I also made a video of Walorski’s Trump comments (scroll down).

Finally, on Wednesday, Gov. Mike Pence traveled to Elkhart County, his sixth visit here since last June, to ceremonially sign a pair of bills. Why so many visits here (when he visited only two times between his inauguration in January 2013 and mid-June 2015)? That was the focus of another story.

It’s only going to get busier, I suspect, with the primary coming then the general election in November. Here are links to the stories, followed by the video of Walorski talking about the presidential race:

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Elkhart County politicos weigh in on Trump, Clinton; presidential campaigns here are fledgling

Tuesday Feb. 16, 2016

That's me, second from the right, discussing local elections on Politically Speaking, a current events program on the South Bend PBS affiliate, WNIT. Screen grab from the program.

That’s me, second from the right, discussing local elections on Politically Speaking, a current events program on the South Bend PBS affiliate, WNIT. Screen grab from the program.

It’s not just those in South Carolina and the other early primary states thinking about elections.

Almost everybody is getting a dose, whether they like it or not.

I like it, and pulled together a package of stories looking at the key elections coming up locally in Elkhart County, the status of the presidential campaigns here (pretty sketchy) and calls to move the Indiana primary up so the state has more say in selection of the U.S. presidential nominees:

I also appeared last Sunday (look here) with a slate of others as a talking head (see the screen grab above), discussing elections on Politically Speaking, a current events program on the South Bend PBS affiliate, WNIT.

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Obama should pick Scalia replacement, U.S. Senate should weigh in, says U.S. Sen. Donnelly

Monday Feb. 15, 2016

U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, after meeting with me and The Elkhart Truth editorial board on Feb. 15, 2016. By Tim Vandenack

U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, after meeting with me and The Elkhart Truth editorial board on Feb. 15, 2016. By Tim Vandenack.

U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly had already been slated to meet at The Elkhart Truth with me and the newspaper’s editorial board on Monday.

Turns out it was an opportune time given the flap that erupted over the weekend related to the nomination of a replacement for Antonin Scalia, the U.S. Supreme Court justice who died on Saturday. That was the focus of first question I put to him — what’s his take on the controversy?

Some GOPers say President Obama ought to leave selection of his replacement to the next president who wins in next November’s elections. But not Donnelly.

He said it would be a “dereliction in duty” both for the president not to put forth a nominee and for the Senate not to give any candidate consideration. “I plan to do my job. I’m hopeful we have a chance to vote. I don’t know that we will,” he said.

We met with him at 8 a.m. Monday morning and put the story out soon after our meeting with him ended, updating it later with highlights of his other comments:

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Elkhart County mom, grandma push for child-abuse registry after boy’s death

Sunday Feb. 7, 2016

A pair of Elkhart County women have been pushing for state legislation to create a registry of child-abuse convicts, spurred by the death of their grandson.

I visited Angie and Anissa Garza, grandmother and mother, respectively, of Kirk Coleman last Monday, ahead of a vote on the proposal they’re promoting, Senate Bill 357, or Kirk’s Law. Theirs is a tragic story — Kirk died after allegedly suffering some sort of blow to the head and his babysitter is charged. Turns out the babysitter had been convicted previously in connection with another incident involving a child in 2006.

Now the Garzas seek the public online registry, like a sex-0ffender registry, so people can check into the backgrounds of their children’s caretakers. Kirk was just 19-months-old.

I followed the Indiana Senate hearing on the bill, writing up a quick story on passage of S.B. 357, which now goes to the Indiana House for consideration. I also put together a quick video (see above). Here are the two stories:

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Indiana gun sales are up, up, up, FBI gun check stats show

Thursday Jan. 21, 2016

One of several graphics depicting growing gun sales in Indiana over the years.

One of several graphics I prepared depicting growing gun sales in Indiana over the years.

With recent talk of guns and gun control, we pulled together a package of stories looking at gun sales in Indiana, as gauged by federal gun background checks.

I dug into the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System,or NICS, figures, which required a fair amount of crunching and dissecting. They suggested a steady increase in gun sales in Indiana, higher interest in guns here, on average, than in the United States as a whole and a record-level of interest last December.

It’s timely stuff in light of the San Bernardino, Calif., shootings last month and President Obama’s executive actions on gun sales earlier in January.

Other elements of the package included a look at Indiana as supplier of guns to Chicago criminals and a rundown of the many legislative proposals related to guns in the Indiana General Assembly. It generated tons of comments, not surprisingly, perhaps, and plenty of buzz, judging by Facebook shares.

The print version contained numerous graphics depicting the data I culled and many are included in the main story, as well in an Infogr.am post I created (partially depicted at the top of this post). Here are my contributions:

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In which I discuss LGBT civil rights, policy against Islamic State terrorists

Tuesday Jan. 19, 2016

Me, in the middle, on WNIT's Politicall Speaking with Andrews University Political Science Professor Marcella Myers, left, and Brandon Smith, Indiana bureau chief for Indiana Public Broadcasting. Screen grab from broadcase.

Me, in the middle, on WNIT’s Politically Speaking with Andrews University Political Science Professor Marcella Myers, left, and Brandon Smith, Indiana bureau chief for Indiana Public Broadcasting. Screen grab from broadcast.

I appeared as a talking head last Sunday on the political program Politically Speaking, broadcast by the local PBS affiliate, WNIT out of South Bend.

The topics — President Obama’s State of the Union address and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s State of the State address, both last Tuesday, Jan. 12. I was one of three panelists on hand to discuss everything from the debate in Indiana over protecting the civil rights of the LGBT community to the fight against Islamic State terrorists.

I keep close tabs on state and federal matters, particularly as they relate to Indiana. Still, I paid close attention to both Obama’s and Pence’s speeches, studied them pretty intently afterward, too.

It’s a great exercise in developing new skills, talking on the program, and I appreciate the invite. Glad to be of service to WNIT, and it’s also a way to get The Elkhart Truth name out there.

Here’s a link to the program:

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Elkhart-South Bend area gets $42 mln state matching grant for development

Friday Dec. 18, 2015

Elkhart-S Bend contingent at #RegionalCities meeting awaiting recommendations

A post shared by Tim Vandenack (@timvandenack) on

It’s been a big week for the Elkhart-South Bend area.

The board of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. decided to award a proposal put together by boosters from Elkhart, St. Joseph and Marshall counties $42 million in grant funds. The money, designed to leverage even more from the private and local public sectors, is to be used for infrastructure and development projects, bolstering the quality of life here and encouraging population growth.

The IEDC took its action Tuesday in Indianapolis. I previewed the issue Monday, then did a followup Wednesday, focused on additional funding that’ll have to be appropriated by state officials to make the plan happen. Two other regions in Indiana are also in line to receive $42 million each.

Aside from a story based on the action Tuesday, I live tweeted the IEDC meeting, plus a gathering beforehand of an advisory committee to the IEDC and a press conference afterward led by Gov. Mike Pence. The tweets, by my quick count, numbered around 50. Here are links to the articles:

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