Tag Archives: Indiana

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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Walorski, Coleman battling it out for U.S. House seat

Monday Oct. 31, 2016

Democratic challenger Lynn Coleman, left, seeks to unseat U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, right, the GOPer seeking her third term. By Tim Vandenack

Democratic challenger Lynn Coleman, left, seeks to unseat U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, right, the GOPer seeking her third term. By Tim Vandenack

Locally, one of the big races has been the race for the 2nd District U.S. House seat.

Rep. Jackie Walorski, a GOPer, is going after her third term, challenged by Democrat Lynn Coleman and Libertarian Ron Cenkush. Among the points of contention have been Walorski’s unwillingness to debate, outside a radio debate in a more rural part of the district, and the incumbent’s thoughts on Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

Me, Tim Vandenack, on WNIT's Politically Speaking, discussing the U.S. House race between Rep. Jackie Walorski, Lynn Coleman and Ron Cenkush.

Me, Tim Vandenack, on WNIT’s Politically Speaking, discussing the U.S. House race between Rep. Jackie Walorski, Lynn Coleman and Ron Cenkush.

I helped analyze the race for WNIT, the South Bend-based public television station, in a program aired Oct. 23 that featured the three candidates (look here).

There’s a debate between Coleman and Walorski next Tuesday and more’s bound to occur ahead of Election Day, Nov. 8. But here’s some of what I’ve written of late:

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Elkhart man’s fight to fend off deportation enters new phase

Sunday Oct. 30, 2016

Armando Paez, second from left, continues his fight to remain in the United States. Pictured, from left, with daughter Maria, wife Martha and son Juan. By Tim Vandenack

Armando Paez, second from left, continues his fight to remain in the United States. Pictured, from left, with daughter Maria, wife Martha and son Juan. By Tim Vandenack

Armando Paez has fought for years to stay in the United States.

He’s still here, having successfully fought off deportation. So far. His efforts are entering a new phase, though, after U.S. immigration officials last month rejected his latest request to put off a pending order to return to his native Colombia.

I’ve written extensively about Paez and his family, who came here from Colombia in 1999 with visas, but overstayed them. They filed for political asylum, citing fears they’d be persecuted by leftist guerrillas, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. But that request was denied and they’ve been fighting for a way to stay.

Here’s the latest in the efforts:

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Theft of Elkhart man’s identity by undocumented immigrants leads to headaches, bankruptcy, frustration

Wednesday Oct. 5, 2016

In this archive Elkhart Truth photo, an Elkhart police officer holds false identity cards confiscated by the department.

In this archive Elkhart Truth photo, an Elkhart police officer holds false identity cards confiscated by the department.

Stealing IDs takes a toll.

I wrote late last month (look at this blog entry) about an undocumented immigrant arrested for identity theft, Candida Rosete. She was brought here as a child by her parents, and she defended her place here, saying the United States is her country, even if she doesn’t have papers to be here.

It was in the context of a spate of arrests by the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department of people who used fake IDs to get work and calls for tips about other suspected undocumented immigrants. The sheriff’s department actions generated a lot of criticism from immigrant advocates.

Last week I went for the other side of things and spoke to a man, Joshua Buelna, whose identity had been stolen by an undocumented immigrant. Life has been terrible for him, and he ultimately had to file bankruptcy because of all the debt incurred illegally in his name. Others used his Social Security number to rent homes, get cars, acquire mobile phone contracts and more and he was left to deal with the fallout after they skipped out on the bills.

As with the first story about Candida, the story about Joshua generated a strong response, many sympathetic with his plight:

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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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Ex-President Bush visits Elkhart to tout Young’s Senate bid

Wednesday Sept. 14, 2016

Ex-President George W. Bush waves to the media on leaving a fundraiser for U.S. Senate hopeful Todd Young at The Lerner Theatre, Elkhart. By Tim Vandenack

Ex-President George W. Bush waves to the media on leaving a fundraiser for U.S. Senate hopeful Todd Young at The Lerner Theatre, Elkhart. By Tim Vandenack

Another president, ex-president anyway, came to Elkhart.

Former President George W. Bush traveled here on Sept. 12 for a fundraiser for Todd Young, the Republican U.S. House member now seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate. It wasn’t quite as intense as President Obama’s visit here last June (look here). Not as many people were paying attention.

Still, he’s a former president and it was a rush, trying to catch a glimpse of him, trying to piece together the trip. Media weren’t allowed into the fundraiser and Bush didn’t speak with the press, aside from a few shouted greetings.

The day started with a press conference with Young. Then it was a matter of standing outside The Lerner Theatre and waiting for Bush to arrive. Us press types, three TV crews and I, were directed across the street. I dashed to the office, wrote up a story to post online after Bush arrived and entered, then returned to The Lerner to glimpse Bush leaving.

After that, I called a few Democrats and tracked down participants to get their take on Bush’s presentation. Here’s the final written product:

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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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Elkhart homicides, violence — unfortunate norm, on the rise?

Monday Sept. 12, 2016

Elkhart police stand guard outside the home of a July 31, 2016, triple homicide. By Tim Vandenack

Elkhart police stand guard outside the home of a July 31, 2016, triple homicide. By Tim Vandenack

There have been eight homicides in Elkhart so far this year, including a July 31 triple homicide, the latest. That’s more than any year as a whole (with more time to go in 2016) dating to at least 2012

There have also been 28 armed robberies.

It all begs the question — is violence running amok?

I called some area leaders, pulled together some figures (including gunshot reports) to write a quick analysis of the situation. People are buzzing about crime — it’s come up at two recent town hall-style meetings I’ve attended — but it’s not clear how to get a grip on it. I tied it all in with a young man’s impromptu memorial to gun victims earlier this year, something I also wrote about.

Here’s the latest story, with the homicide victims and robberies in an accompanying sidebar:

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There were Elkhart County angles as well to the GOP and Democratic national conventions

Monday Aug. 1, 2016

Me, Tim Vandenack, on WNIT's Politically Speaking, discussing the GOP and Democratic national conventions. Screen grab from program.

Me, Tim Vandenack, on WNIT’s Politically Speaking, discussing the GOP and Democratic national conventions. Screen grab from program.

The Republican and Democratic national conventions in July provided plenty of fodder for local coverage — reaction from locals taking part as delegates to what went down in Cleveland and Philadelphia.

With a Bernie Sanders delegate and Hillary Clinton super delegate from Elkhart County, covering the Democrats proved to be more interesting. At least there were a few more sparks than at GOP event, which resulted in the formal nomination of Donald Trump. I spoke with the local delegates by phone (didn’t make it outside the confines of Elkhart County), but it still offered a means to connect locals with national events.

I also served as a talking head on Politically Speaking, a political program on the local PBS station, WNIT, discussing the conventions (look here).

Here are links to two of my articles:

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Elkhart County’s Latino population focus of series, “Hispanics at Home?”

Wednesday June 29, 2016

 

HispAtHome

Some of the people I spoke to for The Elkhart Truth series, “Hispanics at Home?” By Tim Vandenack

By now, Hispanics have a well-established presence in Elkhart County.

Aiming to take a closer look at the segment, but wanting to do more than state the obvious — that they’re an increasing share of the population — we took another approach. We’d try to get a sense of how connected the Latino newcomers feel in Elkhart, Goshen and the rest of Elkhart County.

The end result — “Hispanics at Home?”, a three-part series that ran in The Elkhart Truth last month. I helped craft the approach, but it was a team effort, largely involving myself, reporter Sharon Hernandez and Managing Editor Mark Maley. A group of Goshen College journalism students also contributed plenty of material.

A few takeaways:

  • Latinos have their own tight-knit community, their neighborhoods, their stores. Latinos have Spanish-language churches, there’s even a soccer league that caters to a largely-Hispanic population. That tends to create a sense of two parallel worlds.
  • Still, many leaders have emerged and are emerging, trying to raise the voice of Latinos, get them more involved in the broader community.
  • Younger Latinos, comfortable in both the Anglo and Hispanic cultures, bilingual, are increasingly feeling at home here, even if they were born in Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America.

I wrote several stories, shot video and did plenty of social media along the way. I crunched a ton of U.S. Census Bureau figures, which helped document the growth of the segment, where Latinos live and the nature of the population (native or foreign-born, their roots in Latin America). Some of my highlights:

Here’s a promo video I put together to tease the package before its launch:

The immigration issue is big in Elkhart County and the rest of the United States. It’s an issue that draws me, having lived in Latin America, origin of many immigrants here, and I’ve written a lot about it over the years.

 

 

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