Illinois Public Media News
A powerful storm packing what may have been a tornado damaged or destroyed nearly two dozen homes and injured one motorist in central Illinois today, authorities said.
The storm hit an area near Lake Petersburg in Menard County around 12:30 p.m., according to National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Smith.
He said damage was reported to homes around the lake near Petersburg, a community of about 2,200 people which is northwest of Springfield.
Petersburg Mayor John Stiltz told WTAX-AM in Springfield that at least two homes were destroyed and several others were rendered uninhabitable. Officials said shelter would be provided for those individuals left homeless by the storm. The station also reported some damage to boat docks around the lake and a building on a golf course.
One injury was reported when a tree or tree limbs fell on a woman's car, said Menard County Sheriff Chuck Jones. The woman's injuries weren't believed to be life threatening.
"It all happened very, very quickly as these things often do," Jones told The (Springfield) State Journal-Register. "Shortly before the storm, we did have the tornado siren, which was a good thing. A lot of people were alerted."
The National Weather Service issued severe weather warnings and watches -- including some for tornadoes -- for counties throughout central and southern portions of the state and for a large swath of the nation's midsection on Friday.
Some tornado watches, particularly along the state's southeastern border, were to remain in effect through Friday evening. Some of those counties include Alexander, Edwards, Franklin Saline and Union.
Tornadoes spawned by the same storm system killed several people in Arkansas and Missouri on Friday.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has signed legislation affecting the pension system for law enforcement officers and firefighters.
Quinn signed the law Thursday. His office says it will stabilize pension systems and protect retirement benefits for the officers and firefighters. However Chicago Mayor Richard Daley says he's disappointed Quinn signed the law, saying it will burden Chicago taxpayers.
The new law will affect those hired on or after Jan. 1. Quinn's office also says it will help municipalities fund pensions.
Daley's office says the new law will increase the city's annual police and fire pension contribution from an projected $309 million in 2015 to about $856 million. The new law normalizes retirement ages, sets a maximum pension and begins monthly cost-of-living adjustments at age 60 for retirees and survivors.
An Indiana University faculty member says he has learned to accept that earthquakes can take place in unexpected places.
But Geological Sciences Professor Michael Hamburger said there is a little known 10-mile area in Central Indiana called the Sharpsville fault, and believes that is where Thursday morning's magnitude 3.8 quake originated. The tremor located just north of Indianapolis was felt in four other states, including Illinois, but there were no injuries and very little damage was reported. Hamburger said pinpointing a source for the quake will take some time.
"One of the distinct problems is that earthquakes tend to happen fairly deep in the earth's crust, and the fractures that we see at the surface are quite superficial," Hamburger said. "They're mostly in sedimentary layers and we really need to do some imaging of the deeper architecture of the earth's crust in order to figure our what are the structures that are causing these earthquakes."
Hamburger said earthquakes in isolated places are not that unusual, and they are felt over a large area, citing the magnitude 5.2 Wabash Valley quake from April of 2008, when Illinois and at least 16 other states felt the impact. The majority of heavy activity comes from the Wabash Valley and New Madrid Seismic Zones.
Hamburger said he has heard only minor damage reports coming out of Indiana, including some of cracked pavement, but no structural damage. Despite the lack of earthquakes in Indiana, Hamburger said there are quake-resistant design codes for all of the state's public buildings.
Police departments in nine states - Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas and Utah - have adopted an initiative to crack down on drunken driving.
The "No Refusal" program gives law enforcement officials the right to obtain a warrant from a judge to test someone's blood if the driver refuses a breathalyzer test. Macon County has used the program for the last couple of years on nights when there is expected to be an uptick in DUI cases, like on New Year's Eve.
Macon County sheriff's lieutenant Jonathan Butts said he hopes the increased enforcement will convince some people Friday night to think twice before getting behind the wheel.
"You could refuse, but if you're caught and we have reason to believe that you are under the influence and you refuse," Butts explained. "We're going to have a judge give us the paperwork to take your blood from you."
Duane Deters, an assistant state's attorney with the Macon County State's Attorney's office, said agreeing to the test will not prevent someone from being prosecuted, but he said it can help people avoid a steeper punishment.
"It's something that we'd certainly take into consideration in any offer that we would extend to them as far as to try to work the case out short of a trial," Deters said.
Deters said the policy's been in effect since 2009, and he said in that time only one search warrant has been issued for someone who did not agree to a breath test.
Other counties in Illinois using the program include Peoria, Sangamon, and Adams. The Illinois Department of Transportation declined to comment on whether the state should push to make the "No Refusal" program a statewide policy.
There will be other efforts to limit drunken driving in Macon County on New Year's Eve. The Decatur Police Department and the country's Sheriff's Office will beef up traffic enforcement, and AOK Taxi service will provide free rides from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. taking people from local bars to homes and motels. The taxi service can be reached at 217-330-7771 or 217-330-8331 for scheduled pickups.
Mikel Leshoure ran for 184 yards and three touchdowns as Illinois earned its first bowl victory since 1999, beating Baylor 38-14 Wednesday night in the Texas Bowl.
The Illini spoiled the Bears' first bowl appearance in 16 seasons. Both teams finished at 7-6.
Leshoure had a 5-yard TD run in the second quarter, a 13-yard score in the third quarter and another 5-yard touchdown run in the fourth period. The performance gave him the school single-season rushing record with 1,697 yards.
The Illini built a 24-0 lead and Leshoure's last touchdown put the game out of reach.
Baylor's Robert Griffin III threw for 306 yards and a touchdown, but his two fumbles in the first half put the Bears behind.
Leshoure was chosen the most valuable player and wore a cowboy hat as he hoisted the trophy above his head after the game while the small but vocal group of Illinois fans cheered.
The Bears cut the lead to 24-14 when Griffin found a diving Kendall Wright on a 39-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-14 early in the fourth quarter. But Illinois continued its dominance in the rushing game after that and extended its lead to 31-14 on Leshoure's last touchdown.
Illinois finished with 291 yards rushing and 533 yards of total offense to give coach Ron Zook his first bowl win as a head coach in his fourth try.
Freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase got off to a sensational start, completing all of his 13 passes in the first half, and finished 18 of 23 for 242 yards. He scored on a 55-yard touchdown run with 41 seconds to play to make it 38-14.
Illinois opened the second half with an 87-yard drive capped by a 13-yard touchdown run by Leshoure. Leshoure also scored the 2-point conversion to extend the lead to 24-0 and set the Illinois single-season scoring record.
Baylor finally found its offensive touch on its first possession of the second half. Griffin completed five of seven passes on that drive, which ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Jay Finley to get the Bears within 24-7 with about eight minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Illini held Finley in check for most of the night and Baylor's 1,000-yard rusher finished with 12 carries for 63 yards.
Illinois led 9-0 before a 5-yard touchdown run by Leshoure about 10 minutes before halftime stretched the lead to 16-0. That score was set up by a 52-yard reception by Ryan Lankford a play earlier.
Baylor was driving with about 3 1/2 minutes left in the first half when a pass by Griffin was intercepted by Terry Hawthorne. But the Bears got a second chance when Corey Liuget was penalized for roughing the passer, giving Baylor the ball back.
The Bears still came away empty though when Griffin fumbled a few plays later to give Illinois the ball back on its own 32.
Baylor's problems started early with Griffin fumbling on the first possession. Travon Bellamy recovered that fumble and returned it 46 yards. The Illini couldn't get anything going on that drive and settled for a 38-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
Illinois added a second field goal on their next drive to push the lead to 6-0 and a third field goal early in the second quarter made it 9-0.
Champaign's Virginia Theatre re-opens this week after six months of privately funded work to the lobby and concession stand.
The downtown facility has yet to use $500,000 in state grant dollars for plaster work and theater lighting. But Champaign Park District spokeswoman Laura Auteberry said that work is expected to take longer, likely about eight months. With movie showings and concerts now scheduled into May, Auteberry said the park district will likely postpone closing the Virginia again until 2012. The schedule includes Roger Ebert's 13th Annual Film Festival.
Auteberry said lots of changes have already taken place since July, including paint and plaster work, a new concession stand, lighting, and carpeting extending into the upper lobby. The decision to move the state grant-funded work to will officially be made at the next park district board meeting Jan. 12. Auteberry said that is also when the board hopes to approve the design for a new marquee on the theater, after reviewing options from a sign company.
"They're going to be looking at redesigned designs, that Wagner (Electric Sign Company) has prepared, and hopefully deciding on a final design," Auteberry said. "Once we get a final design done, I don't think it will take them long to put it up."
The Virginia has been without a marquee the last several weeks. The park district board voted last summer to replace the sign with one resembling the 1921 original, despite complaints from local preservationists. The old vaudeville house re-opens Friday night for the annual Chorale concert. The park district also hopes to schedule an open house in February to show off recent upgrades.
The city of Champaign's recycling drop off site on Kenyon Road is scheduled to shut down for good on Thursday, Dec. 30, at 2:30 PM. That's bad news for residents from outside the city who have been using the facility for years.
Champaign is closing the recycling drop off site because a new program for apartment buildings means recycling pickup is now available to all residents. Landlord pay a per-unit user fee for the recycling collection program that's been dubbed "Feed the Thing". Another program requiring garbage haulers to include curbside recycling pickup for single-family homes and smaller apartment buildings has been in place in Champaign for years.
Landlords and/or residents pay for recycling pickup in Champaign, but the city's recycling drop off facility has always been offered to the public free of charge. Champaign operations manager Tom Schuh said the site was costing the city $12,500 a month in recent years.
"It's never been free," Schuh said. "Unfortunately, recycling materials, the value of those materials just doesn't cover the cost of operating either a drop-off site or any other recycling program."
Whatever the cost, the city recycling drop off facility was popular with many out-of-town residents. And with its closing, Champaign County Regional Planning Commission recycling coordinator, Susan Monte, said those users will be at a disadvantage.
"It will be a very missed drop-off site," Monte said. "Lots of people that lived in rural areas did use that site, and they are now searching for an alternative."
One alternative could be a new drop-off facility that a Champaign-based startup company hopes to open, not far from the city drop off site. If the city approves a zoning change, CEO Steven Rosenberg of Green Purpose LLC said users would pay a $5 monthly fee to drop off recyclables, and he said the facility would also promote the company's strategy of re-purposing
"You'll be able to drop off things that maybe aren't recyclable at all," Rosenberg said. "Lightly used materials that are able to be reused, and even though specific people don't have a use for them anymore, other people might."
According to Monte, most Champaign County residents have access to recycling services. Curbside pickup is available in Champaign, Urbana, Rantoul, Savoy, Mahomet, St. Joseph and Tolono. In addition, Tolono, Homer, Philo and Ogden will continue to operate their own drop off facilities for their local residents. But Monte said 14 rural communities in Champaign County have no recycling service at all. She said some counties, including Macon County, rely on tipping fees from their landfill to fund county-wide recycling programs. Champaign County no longer has an active landfill.
Within the span of the next couple of weeks, Illinois' 105th House District will have had three lawmakers.
State Rep. Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) will continue serving until Jan. 9 when he resigns to become the state senator of the 53rd district. He is replacing State Treasurer-elect Dan Rutherford. Cultra's permanent replacement in the House is Champaign County GOP Chair Jason Barickman. Barickman will be sworn in on Jan. 10, the day after Cultra gives up the seat.
As a way to show his appreciation to his longtime aide Russell Geisler, Cultra pushed to have Geisler appointed to his House seat for one day before Barickman takes offices.
A group of Republican Party leaders in the district from Champaign, Ford, Livingston, Iroquois, Vermilion, and McLean counties voted unanimously to approve the temporary appointment earlier this month, but not without some hesitation from its members. Gordy Hulten, the outgoing vice-chairman of the Champaign County Republican Party and soon-to-be county clerk, said he is concerned about Geisler's ability to cast votes when the General Assembly's in session.
"They make vote on worker's compensation, or teacher tenure reform, or a $15 billion borrowing plan, and we may have an honorary state representative for a day casting votes or being instructed on how to vote for us, which is even worse," Hulten said. "I live in this district, so I'm not excited about that."
Geisler contended that he has plenty of experience working with Rep. Cultra in Springfield and added that he is well informed about pending legislative measures that may come up for a vote.
"I've been there, down there, and listened to the debates on the floor," Geisler said. "You know, that's why you got the House staff, and if I didn't understand something, I can call them over and say, 'Hey, explain this to me before I do cast a vote.'"
During Geisler's short time in the General Assembly, he will not receive salary or pension benefits, and he has already signed a letter pledging to resign after one day in office.
The Springfield City Council chose Alderman Frank Edwards on Tuesday evening as the city's interim mayor.
Immediately after the vote, Edwards was sworn in by Springfield City Clerk Cecilia Tumulty.
Edwards, who is the city's former fire chief, was chosen on a 6-4 vote to serve until April as a replacement for Mayor Tim Davlin, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound Dec. 14.
Under the law, the council had 60 days to select an interim mayor. The (Springfield) State Journal-Register reports that a number of aldermen said they need someone in place sooner because of the serious budget issues the city is facing.
Edwards, who was running for re-election as alderman, was one of those calling for a quick replacement for Davlin.
"Our budget process ends Feb. 28. We really need to have someone in place (now) so we can start working on the budget and find out exactly where we are. We have people's livelihood in the balance," Edwards said Monday.
Others who had expressed an interest in the interim job or who had been mentioned by City Council members included Alderman Mark Mahoney, Alderman Debbie Cimarossa, and Jim Donelan, who served as Davlin's executive assistant. The council is officially non-partisan.
Last week, Alderman Frank Kunz, the mayor pro tem, withdrew from the running to be interim mayor and endorsed Mahoney, who is not running for re-election as alderman.
Mahoney and Cimarossa voted against naming Edwards, as did Alderman Gail Simpson and Alderman Sam Cahnman.
Sangamon County Coroner Susan Boone said Davlin, a two-term Democrat, died of a close-range gunshot wound to his chest. The 53-year-old mayor was found dead after he failed to show up for a court appearance to address questions about his handling of the estate of one of his cousins, who died in 2003.
Energy company Dynegy will be closing its Vermilion Power facility near Oakwood by the end of March.
Company spokesman David Byford said mothballing the more than 50-year old facility largely comes down to economics.
"We have higher fuel costs at Vermilion because the plant is not located on a rail line," Byford said. "And that would be coupled with market conditions that would include reduced power demand and lower power prices that don't favor continued operations."
During a year-long review, Byford said company heads looked at options for the plant, including alternative fuel supply arrangements. But he said the price of fuel for supplying the plant with its coal also proved to be too much.
"We took a year exploring numerous options for the plant that included looking at alternative fuel supply arrangements," Byford said. "But in the end, we're still faced with poor plant economics."
Byford said the plant is no longer being used all the time, and he said a regional power grid ensures a reliable power supply to the area. The precise closure date for the plant is not known, but it is expected near the end of the first quarter of 2011. The company said the next step is for Dynegy to develop plans for suspending operations in a safe and reliable manner. The plant has about 50 employees, and Byford said it is not yet known whether they will be offered jobs elsewhere in the company.
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