Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 18, 2008

Week In Review: 10/19/2008


Judge sends former bus driver to prison

BELLAIRE -- A former Alba school bus driver is off to prison following his conviction on child pornography and criminal sexual conduct charges.

Thirteenth Circuit Judge Thomas G. Power recently sentenced Kenneth Ray Bigger to a maximum of four years in prison on one count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct with a person between 13 and 16, and one count of possession of child sexually abusive materials.

Bigger, 54, pleaded guilty last month. In exchange for the plea, Antrim County Prosecutor Charles Koop dismissed four additional counts of possession of child sexually abusive materials, one count of using a computer to commit a crime and three additional fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct counts.

Bigger, who worked in several positions at Alba Public School for about eight years, resigned shortly after being charged with the criminal sexual conduct counts in May. Those charges stem from multiple incidents with a female student in March.


Police seek info on theft of gas tanks

BEULAH -- Police are investigating the theft of large nitrous oxide tanks from two Benzie County dentists' offices.

Two 100-pound tanks of the gas were stolen from Dr. Gary Jarrold's offices on U.S. 31 just outside Beulah Oct. 1. Another tank was reported missing Tuesday from Dr. Charles Kehr's office in Beulah.

The thief or thieves broke into both businesses through doors and did significant damage to a door at Jarrold's office.

"I think (they) were stolen to be used as a recreational-type inhalant," Benzie Detective Sgt. David Tucker said.

Anyone with any information is asked to contact the Benzie County Sheriff's Department at 882-4484. A reward is offered.


NMC drops annual Epicurean Classic

TRAVERSE CITY -- The Epicurean Classic must find a new home after the Great Lakes Culinary Institute decided to stop hosting the annual event.

The Culinary Institute, part of Northwestern Michigan College, hosted the Epicurean Classic for five years. Mark Dressler, one of the Epicurean Classic's co-founders, said Institute director Fred Laughlin told him recently the school could no longer handle the increasingly popular event.

The mid-September event attracted more than 3,000 people this year and boasts dozens of cooking demonstrations, food and drink tastings and seminars from local and national culinary experts.

It was held each year on the grounds of the college's Great Lakes Campus, which also houses the Culinary Institute.

Laughlin said the three-day Epicurean Classic's early fall timing made it tough on students and staff, especially new students who start school only two weeks before the event.

Suspect arrested in alleged assault

TRAVERSE CITY -- Police arrested a Traverse City man after an alleged assault.

Last Sunday at about 8 p.m., Traverse City police went to the lobby of the Grand Traverse County Jail on a report of an assault victim. They spoke with a woman, 38, who had multiple head and face injuries. She told police she was assaulted at a Cass Street residence the night before.

Police went to the residence, on the 800 block of the street, and arrested a man for aggravated domestic assault. The suspect, 33, had three outstanding warrants for his arrest, police said, and was jailed.

The victim was treated at Munson Medical Center.

A.G. office funds 3 special prosecutors

TRAVERSE CITY -- Special state prosecutors will continue to handle local domestic violence cases for at least another year.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox said his office will help pay for three special assistant attorneys general who handle nearly all domestic violence cases in nine northern Michigan counties.

Erin House handles cases in Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Antrim counties; Kerry Zahnder takes care of those in Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Emmet counties; James Deamud is responsible for Otsego, Roscommon and Ogemaw.

The roughly $260,000 annual cost of salaries and expenses for the three prosecutors was, from 2004 until last month, covered by a now-expired federal grant. Cox's office will now cover half, and the other half will be fronted by the Michigan Domestic Violence Prevention and Treatment Board.

Developer Clous plans housing project

TRAVERSE CITY -- Developer Bill Clous found a cash crop for the once-forested wetlands he bulldozed in East Bay Township.

And it isn't corn.

Clous plans to build hundreds of subsidized senior citizen apartments, as well as a commercial development, on property he cleared and scoured and pledged to farm for a decade.

The project on a 54-acre parcel will include 360 apartments in three, three-story buildings and 120 rooms in an assisted-living facility bordered by about 10 acres of commercial development off Three Mile Road.

In 2004, Clous agreed to a consent judgment with Grand Traverse County and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to settle a lawsuit over allegations he illegally bulldozed wetlands on 360 acres there. Clous said the land was being prepared for farming.

The site remained a contentious issue for more than three years as Clous fought with state and county officials over how and when to implement the consent decree.

Utility unveils plan for power line

Traverse City -- Electric utility officials switched gears and unveiled a plan to run overhead power lines along the bay, at least for now.

Traverse City Light & Power board members hope to run an upgraded transmission line down M-72 and Bay Street parallel to Grandview Parkway, with intentions to eventually bury the line along the waterfront.

They opted to forgo immediate aesthetic benefits in order to delay rate increases.

Light & Power board members and staff initially opposed stringing wires above ground on Bay Street, but on Tuesday said they could live with overhead lines until they can afford to bury all utility cables on that stretch.

Tuesday's board discussion brought some resolution to a nearly year-long process that began when Slabtown residents disputed the public utility trimming trees to install new lines through Hickory Hills and along Wayne Street.

Two face charges in chase, scuffle

TRAVERSE CITY -- Two people are behind bars after they allegedly led police on a car chase through a residential neighborhood and then scuffled with officers.

A woman, 31, and man, 23, were to be arraigned Thursday on charges of fleeing and eluding, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. Police wouldn't release their names Wednesday.

A Traverse City police officer allegedly saw a vehicle traveling recklessly in the 600 block of East Eighth Street shortly before midnight Tuesday, Capt. Steve Morgan said. The vehicle, driven by the woman, allegedly squealed its tires and sped off after pulling out of a driveway. The male suspect was her passenger.

The woman resisted arrest and the man allegedly struck an officer in the face, Morgan said.

County board may backpedal on pay raises

TRAVERSE CITY -- Grand Traverse County commissioners recently voted themselves a pay raise, and now they're paying for it through criticism from election opponents and taxpayers.

But the uproar played no role in board Chairman Addison Wheelock Jr.'s proposal to forego the extra cash, Wheelock said.

Instead, the board and 500 county employees should hold off on significant raises in light of the faltering state and national economy, he said.

The county board paid the Segal Company $190,000 to develop new job classifications for employees and set salary levels based on market conditions.

The cost of raises and benefits for all county employees was expected to reach as much as $650,000 in 2009, a year in which the county expects to use $800,000 from its fund balance.

College considers harbor upgrade

TRAVERSE CITY -- The harbor at Northwestern Michigan College's Great Lakes Campus could get another face-lift.

NMC trustees agreed last month to pay $135,000 toward a feasibility study with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine project design and any economic benefits of the proposed upgrades. Initial plans call for dredging in the college's West Grand Traverse Bay harbor and improvements to the protective eastern seawall, officials said.

Dredging work is revisited there every couple of years, the last time in April with a $55,000 price tag. Taxpayers spent $1.3 million to dredge and re-configure the harbor in 2005, including improvements to walking surfaces.

The eastern seawall was built in 1972 and now is in disrepair, officials said.

Kingsley woman faces drunken driving charge

TRAVERSE CITY -- A Kingsley woman faces a felony drunken driving charge.

Alicia Lee Vanamberg, 33, is charged with third-offense drunken driving and violation of a restricted license. A preliminary examination is scheduled for Oct. 28.

A Grand Traverse sheriff's deputy went to a traffic crash involving a vehicle driven by Vanamberg Oct. 11. Vanamberg allegedly smelled of alcohol, the deputy said, and had slurred speech. She allegedly told the deputy she drank prior to driving, court records show.

Vanamberg was convicted of operating while intoxicated in 2002 and operating while impaired in 1995.

Man allegedly kicks in cop car window

TRAVERSE CITY -- A man faces charges after he allegedly broke a window on a police patrol vehicle.

Thomas Garrison Corso, 48, is charged with malicious destruction of police or fire property and assaulting or resisting a police officer.

A Grand Traverse sheriff's deputy attempted to arrest Corso on an outstanding warrant, court records show. Corso allegedly fought with the deputy and broke a window in the deputy's vehicle by kicking it.


Motorist killed in single-vehicle crash

KALKASKA -- One person is dead after a Kalkaska County traffic crash.

Authorities on Monday hadn't identified the victim of the crash, which happened at about 12:30 a.m. last Sunday on Valley Road in Rapid River Township.

A vehicle traveling north on Valley Road left the road and struck several trees on the west side of the road. The vehicle burst into flames with the driver inside.

The driver was pronounced dead at the scene, and the crash remains under investigation.