Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 02, 2011

9/11 Survivor Has Mixed Feelings on bin Laden’s Death

Chicago-area residents with ties to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks seem to have mixed feelings about the death of Osama bin Laden.

Jonathan Markowitz of north suburban Evanston said he was on the 85th floor of the World Trade Center's North Tower when the first plane hit just five floors above him. He evacuated the building before it collapsed. Nearly ten years later, Markowitz said he is not celebrating bin Laden's death, though he is reflecting on it.

"One part of me is very happy that the person who has brought war against the United States is no longer able to do that," Markowitz said. "And the other part is sad, thinking that, you know, will one death bring peace? And since it will not, that's a sad thing."

Markowitz said he would be satisfied if bin Laden's death brings closure to some victims' families. But for him, he said it is not a cause for celebration.

"Killing people is not a happy occasion," he said. "I don't think this death will end the war. That's one of the more important things to me."

Lionel Lenz's daughter wasn't so fortunate. Mary Catherine Wieman was 43 and married with three children, when she became one of 175 employees of Chicago-based Aon who died when the South Tower collapsed. Lenz, who lives in Rolling Meadows, said he faults the U.S. for not having killed bin Laden sooner.

"You know, I think of that all the time, too, and I think to myself, 'My daughter would still be here if this guy would've been taken out a few years ahead of time," Lenz said.

Lenz says he's glad bin Laden has been brought to justice, but even that cannot bring closure to his daughter's death.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 02, 2011

Wisconsin Man Charged in Market Place Mall Shooting, Investigation Continues

A Milwaukee man faces a charge of Attempted Murder in connection with the shooting outside Champaign's Marketplace Mall on Sunday.

Champaign police have obtained a warrant for 28-year old Dontrell Thompson, who remains in Carle Hospital as a result of being fired upon by officers yesterday, but bond is fixed at $2.5 million.

The victim is still hospitalized as well. Police spokeswoman Rene Dunn said a motive won't be determined as long as both men remain hospitalized, but it's believed the men know each other. Officers have also secured two vehicles from the mall parking lot that may have been used to transport both men.

Dunn said initial information indicated rounds may have been fired inside the mall as well, but she says no evidence has been found to support that claim.

"This shooting could have very easily affected more people," Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney said in a statement. "Our officers rushed to the shooter after hearing shots fired and stopped the shooter from causing further injury to the victim."

Finney said two off-duty officers who were already at the mall also assisted and prevented further injury.

Champaign Police, the Champaign County Sheriff's Department, and FBI continue their investigation.

Anyone with additional information is asked to call Champaign Police or Crimestoppers at 373-TIPS.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 02, 2011

Army Corps Decides to Blow Up Missouri Levee

At the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh faced a decision that would likely mean devastation on one side of the waters or the other.

The 55-year-old officer, whose nearly two decades of command in the Army Corps of Engineers includes a stint in Iraq and helping oversee the restoration of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, decided Monday that the best course was to blow a massive hole in the Birds Point floodway levee in southeast Missouri.

Doing so was expected to drown 130,000 acres of rich farmland and destroy 100 homes. Opting not to could have meant wiping out the entire town of Cairo, Ill.

"Making this decision is not easy or hard," Walsh told reporters after announcing Monday that the plan would proceed. "It's simply grave - because the decision leads to loss of property and livelihood, either in a floodway or in an area that was not designed to flood."

While waters and emotions have risen, the straight-talking Walsh has maintained a business-like demeanor. He met with people on both sides of the river, some of them angry or upset about the plan, which aims to relieve pressure on the flood wall at Cairo, a long-struggling community of 2,800 residents. In answering people's questions, he's often cited statistics or protocol. And he's shown empathy, if not emotion.

"I recognize all of your lives will be impacted," he told one group of property owners in East Prairie, Mo., last week. "But these levees have never been under this pressure before."

Even those opposed to the Corps' plan appreciate how Walsh - who is responsible for managing the entire length of the Mississippi River valley, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico - has handled the situation.

"The general has a very difficult decision to make relatively quickly," Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, whose administration opposed the plan all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, said before the choice was made. "He understands the magnitude of the decision on his plate."

Nearly everyone is already out of Cairo. Mayor Judson Childs ordered mandatory evacuation after a massive sand boil was discovered, creating fears of an uncontrolled levee break. Barges brought explosive devices to the Missouri site, about 130 miles south of St. Louis. The Corps said an initial series of explosions was expected after 9 p.m. Monday.

Since the floodwaters began to rise to near record levels last week, rhetoric has sometimes been harsh from both sides of the river. Missouri officials not only condemned the idea of blasting the levee but filed suit to stop it. Childs last week implied racism was at play, saying Cairo - a community that is 70 percent black - was on the "verge of being the next 9th Ward of New Orleans," referring to damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.

If Walsh was feeling pressure, he was neither showing it nor talking about it. He declined interview requests for this story.

He said last week, though, that he would rather use the controlled levee break to ease the floodwaters than do nothing and risk seeing a levee burst or be topped elsewhere where more lives and less farmland were at risk, and insisted he's not taking the decision lightly.

Walsh "has lived up to his reputation, Nixon said. "He's very sharp and focused on the job at hand."

The native of Brooklyn, N.Y., assumed his first command in San Francisco in 1994, moved to Sacramento, Calif., and then onto Corps headquarters in Washington, eventually becoming chief of staff. In 2004 he took command of the division in Atlanta, then went to Iraq, where he was commander for the Corps' Gulf Region Division. Walsh took command of the Mississippi Valley division in 2008, a region that includes portions of 12 states and encompasses 370,000 square miles.

Until now, the married father of two has kept a relatively low profile - except for one word he said in June 2009.

During a Senate hearing on the Gulf Coast restoration, Sen. Barbara Boxer took exception to Walsh's reference to her as "ma'am."

"You know, do me a favor," the California Democrat said. "Could you say 'senator' instead of 'ma'am?'"

"Yes, senator," Walsh responded, though military officials quickly pointed out that protocol directs that officers may use "sir" or "ma'am" when addressing those above them in the chain of command.

Amid the flooding, the general faced stakes far greater than hurt feelings.

Robert Jackson, a commissioner in Mississippi County, Mo., who owns 1,500 acres in the floodway, became animated and even mildly cursed during the forum in East Prairie, saying that blasting the levee would not only damage farm land but undo millions of dollars of work the county has done on everything from roads to ditches.

Walsh remained calm, but stood firm that all options were on the table. And Jackson said later that he understood what the general was up against.

"Human lives come first," Jackson said. If people died because a levee broke downriver, "They'd drag him in front of a Senate committee tomorrow to answer for it."

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 01, 2011

Shots Fired at Market Place Mall

Two people are hospitalized after a shooting at Champaign's Market Place Mall.

Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney says police officers were at the mall late Sunday afternoon, responding to a vehicle being recklessly driven around the mall, and a person exiting the vehicle with a gun. At around 4:45, one male fired multiple shots at another male outside the mall near the LensCrafters shop.

"When they got to that particular area, they encountered an armed subject who had shot and was continuing to shoot a subject who was laying on the ground," Finney said.

Several law enforcement agencies responded to the shooting, including officials from the University of Illinois, the Champaign County Sheriff's Department, the Urbana Police Department, and the Illinois State Police. Finney said the shooter was injured after two police officers fired their weapons.

The two injured individuals were taken to Carle Hospital for treatment, but Finney wouldn't release details about their conditions. He said several people were taken into custody as persons of interest, but no charges have been filed.

Theresa Pickett of Hoopeston was in a department store with her family when the shots rang out.

"We were toward the back of the store, and all we could see were people coming back and the employee was like you need to go to the back of the store," Pickett said. "There was a shooting. And so everyone started running and screaming. It was awful."

There are reports that shots were also fired inside the mall, but Finney couldn't confirm that information.

The shooting occurred on the same weekend during which Champaign hosted thousands of visitors attending Roger Ebert's Film Festival, the Illinois Marathon and a statewide school math tournament. Mayor-elect Don Gerard said the shooting was a tragedy that "punctuated what was an extraordinary weekend for Champaign."

In a statement, Gerard said: "My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims' families. I am thankful for the swift response of our first-responders and the units which support their efforts in such unfortunate times of crisis."

Finney said police are still exploring the motivation behind the attack, but he said there is no evidence to suggest that this was a random shooting.

People with information about the shooting should call Crime Stoppers 217-373-TIPS or Champaign Police 217-351-4545.

(Photo courtesy of Mitch Kazel)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 30, 2011

Indiana Governor to Cut Planned Parenthood Funding

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels announced Friday he intends to sign a bill that will cut $3 million in state funding to Planned Parenthood of Indiana, saying both he-and most Hoosiers-oppose abortion.

"I will sign HEA 1210 when it reaches my desk a week or so from now. I supported this bill from the outset, and the recent addition of language guarding against the spending of tax dollars to support abortions creates no reason to alter my position," Daniels said in a written statement. "Any organization affected by this provision can resume receiving taxpayer dollars immediately by ceasing or separating its operations that perform abortions."

Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana, said the lost funds will affect everything from providing healthcare services to just keeping the doors open in some areas of the state, including three offices in Northwest Indiana.

Cockrum says about a $1 million goes directly to provide services to low-income Hoosiers.

"It's pap tests, it's breast exams, birth control. It's STD (sexual transmitted disease) testing and treatment," Cockrum said. "This is just an alarming direction for public health policy in the state of Indiana."

Cockrum said the state could also cut off funding for emergency abortions in cases of rape or incest, as well as when giving birth endangers a mother's life. She noted that if these emergency services funding are cut off, her not-for-profit organization will head to court.

"We will immediately file for judicial review and seek an injunction," Cockrum said. "We do not intend to let our patients down."

In addition to funding cuts, HEA 1210 bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Daniels said non-abortion healthcare needs of women in the state will not be affected.

"I commissioned a careful review of access to services across the state and can confirm that all non-abortion services, whether family planning or basic women's health, will remain readily available in every one of our 92 counties," Daniels stated. "In addition, I have ordered the Family and Social Services Administration to see that Medicaid recipients receive prompt notice of nearby care options. We will take any actions necessary to ensure that vital medical care is, if anything, more widely available than before."

Daniels' decision does come with political overtones. He did not openly campaign for the bill's passage through the Indiana General Assembly, and once called for a "truce" on social issues. At the time, he said lawmakers should concentrate on budget issues.

By signing the bill, he's likely to secure additional support from conservatives who oppose abortion. Daniels is mulling a run for the Republican nomination for president.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 29, 2011

Law Enforcement Urging Residents to Leave the Flood Zone

Sherriff's officials in southeast Missouri are urging residents near the Birds Point Levee to clear out.

Law enforcement was busy Friday afternoon ordering the area's 200 residents to leave the flood plain while the Army Corps of Engineers weighs a decision to intentionally break the Mississippi River levee.

The move is aimed at reducing pressure on the flood wall protecting the upriver town of Cairo, Ill.

The land is sparsely populated, and many residents had already left as the corps began moving equipment into place to break the levee. That break is expected to send water over 130,000 acres of farmland.

The state of Missouri has fought the plan, but the corps says it's monitoring river levels and may not make a final decision on a break until the weekend.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 29, 2011

Judge Gives OK to Break Missouri Levee

A federal judge on Friday gave the Army Corps of Engineers the go-ahead to intentionally break a Mississippi River levee in southeastern Missouri to spare a flood-threatened Illinois town just upriver.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr.'s ruling followed a five-hour Thursday hearing over Missouri's bid to halt the possible intentional levee break.

The corps has proposed using explosives to blow a 2-mile-wide hole through the Birds Point levee in southeast Missouri's Mississippi County, arguably to ease waters rising around the upstream town of Cairo, Ill., near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

The corps halted its preparation for the break Thursday, saying it needed until the weekend to assess whether a sustained crest of the Ohio at Cairo would demand the extraordinary step.

The river's crest at the Cairo flood wall could reach 60.3 feet - nearly a foot above its record high - as early as Sunday, corps spokesman Jim Pogue said. The wall protects the town up to 64 feet, but there's concern the crest could last up to five days, putting extra pressure on it.

Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee all want the corps to move forward with the plan. Missouri had sought a temporary restraining order to block the detonation. It was not immediately clear early Friday whether Missouri planned to appeal Limbaugh's denial of the order.

John McManus, an assistant Missouri attorney general, had argued the break would unleash a torrent of water that would carve a channel through prime farmland, flood about 90 homes and displace 200 people. The rush of water also stood to cause an environmental catastrophe, sweeping away everything from fertilizer to diesel fuel, propane tanks, pesticides and other toxins, McManus and some of the four witnesses who testified for the state suggested Thursday.

Attorneys for the corps and the state of Illinois countered that the farmers already have land that's flooded and have been given ample notice to clear their properties of anything toxic. The state of Illinois and the town of Cairo argue the well-being of Cairo's 2,800 residents outweighs farmland that would be swallowed up by the rush.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 28, 2011

Will He or Won’t He? Mitch Daniels Planned Parenthood Dilemma

Indiana's governor has a tough choice to make soon. And it's not about whether he'll run for president.

This issue is much closer to home.

This week, the Republican-led Indiana House voted to approve a bill that would cut all funding to Planned Parenthood. The Indiana Senate approved the measure earlier this month. In all, the pregnancy planning agency would lose $3 million and could force the closure of several offices statewide.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, a Republican, has said he doesn't want state or federal lawmakers to worry about social issues right now.

He wants them to concentrate on all things dealing with the budget, which he says threatens America's future.

"I haven't gotten involved in those things (social issues). I have said that I think they ought to concentrate on the debt problem," Daniels said. "So, these other things aren't unimportant but I just don't think anything should get in the way of making a very bold move before our whole American dream comes crashing down."

If Daniels signs the bill, state would also lose $4 million in federal family planning grants.

But signing the bill would likely give Daniels more support with conservatives who oppose abortion if he decides to seek GOP nomination for president.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 28, 2011

Il. Supreme Court Considers Allowing Jurors to Question Witnesses

The Illinois Supreme Court is looking at a proposal to give jurors the right to ask witnesses questions during civil trials.

The questions could be modified or excluded after being reviewed by the attorneys and the judge in a case.

"The judge would read or provide a copy of the juror questions to all the lawyers in the case," Supreme Court spokesman Joe Tybor said. "It would give those attorneys an opportunity to object to any question."

Tybor said if a juror's question is presented to a witness, the judge would then allow attorneys to ask follow-up questions.

Supporters of the plan say this measure would provide lawyers with signals of a juror's focus, and encourage jurors to be more observant during a court case.

But some critics say allowing jurors to publicly talk about a case before closing arguments could jeopardize a final verdict.

"It might skew the results of the process that we have refined over the last several hundred years," said Urbana Attorney Tom Bruno, who chairs the Illinois State Bar Association. "Often just by the nature of questions that the questioner is asking, you can see where their mind is going with it or what their thoughts are on it."

Bruno added he is also concerned this proposal could delegitimize the role of prosecutors and defense attorneys.

"Part of this notion that the jury may think up better questions than my opponent could think up assumes the opposing council isn't smart enough or sharp enough or clever enough to think of asking these questions themselves," Bruno said.

The Illinois Supreme Court Rules Committee will hold a public hearing for community input about the proposal on Friday, May 20, 2011 at 10 a.m. at the Michael A. Bilandic Building in Chicago.

The measure would have to be approved by the Rules Committee, and then the full Supreme Court.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 28, 2011

Cherry Orchard Landlords to Appear in Court for Violating Judge’s Ruling

The Champaign County State's Attorney's Office has filed an Indirect Criminal Contempt petition against the landlords of the Cherry Orchard Village apartments.

During a bench trial earlier this month, Bernard and Eduardo Ramos were convicted of violating a local health ordinance by failing to legally connect the property's sewer and septic systems. They must pay more than $54,000 in fines, and are barred from housing tenants until the property is brought up to code.

But Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz said Champaign County Sheriffs Deputies and Public Health District officials have confirmed people are still living there.

"The petition alleges that despite the judge's order Champaign County Sheriffs Deputies and Public Health District officials have confirmed that people are still residing in the complex," Rietz said in a statement.

The Ramoses must appear in court on Thursday, May 5, 2011 at 2:30 to answer the petition.

Cherry Orchard is located right outside of Rantoul, and has traditionally housed migrant workers.


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