Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 17, 2009

Illini Football’s Benn to Enter NFL Draft

Illinois receiver Arrelious Benn will skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft.

The junior said at a news conference Wednesday he thinks he is ready for the National Football League and wants to take care of his family. But he says he won't forget the U of I.

"As I begin this adventure, I will always be proud to represent the University of Illinois", said Benn. "I will be a role model for inner-city kids and anyone who wonders if they really can realize their dreams. And one more thing, I will finish college --- and Ma, that's a promise".

"OK, I'll take you up on that", replied Benn's mother, Denise Benn, who joined him at the news conference.

"Rejus" Benn was a top prospect out of high school in Washington, D.C., and the Big Ten freshman of the year in 2007. The Illini went to the Rose Bowl that season. He struggled with the team the past two seasons. Illinois was 3-9 this season and Benn caught just 38 passes for 490 yards. But despite his disappointing junior season, Benn is considered a potential high-round pick. Draft expert and former NFL general manager Gil Brandt believes Benn will be a second-round pick.

(Additional reporting by Rob McColley for AM 580 News)

Categories: Education, Science

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 16, 2009

Reward Offered for Info on Whooping Crane Shooter in Western Indiana

The death of a bird usually doesn't generate much outrage, but Indiana conservation groups say they want to find whoever shot and killed a whooping crane near Cayuga in Vermillion County, in western Indiana.

Someone noticed the carcass of the white, long-legged migratory bird along a county road two weeks ago.

Phil Seng is a volunteer with Indiana's Turn In a Poacher program, which has chipped in money toward a $7,500 reward to anyone with information on the incident. He says the whooping crane is one of the nation's most endangered animals.

"There's only about 500 of them left in the world", says Seng. "And so, they're trying to reestablish the population. It's a big part of our natural heritage, and we certainly feel that it's important that those birds be around for everyone's enjoyment.

Seng says it's hard to figure out why someone would want to shoot a whooping crane, which is distinctive from any other game bird by its striking white color and long legs. He says hunting long-legged wading birds such as herons and egrets is not permitted in Indiana, so it's unlikely that the whooping crane was mistaken for another legal game bird. "We feel that people who shoot animals like this are not legitimate hunters, they're more poachers and thieves", says Seng.

US Fish and Wildlife Service officials say the crane had an ID band on its leg and had been observed alive by a staff member of the International Crane Foundation just three days before it was found dead.

If you have information on the shooting, you can call the Indiana Department of Natural Resources at 1-800-TIP-IDNR.

Categories: Environment

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 16, 2009

Police Seek Suspect in Monticello Bank Holdup

No one was hurt, but a bank robbery in the heart of Monticello Wednesday caused a stir and led to a soft lockdown for school students.

Administrators decided to keep students inside the buildings for the rest of the school day after a man carrying a semi-automatic pistol held up the First State Bank on the town square. Police Chief John Miller says bank robberies are rare-to-non-existent in his town.

"I talked to a bank employee who's been there for over 44 years, and they don't ever recall the bank being robbed", says Miller. "And someone mentioned that they thought that 65 or so years ago, someone had robbed a bank here in Monticello, but it's been a long time."

Miller describes the suspect as a heavy set white male, about five-feet-nine with olive khaki pants and a large blue hooded sweatshirt, wearing a black covering over his face. No one has been arrested yet. Miller won't say how much money the man got away with when he ran from the bank.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 16, 2009

Vermilion County Health Dep’t Mulls Over a Shaky Funding Future

Vermilion County's Board of Health is considering different scenarios for the future of its health department, ranging from maintaining the status quo to closing its doors.

While state funding remains shaky, Department Administrator Steve Laker says a downsizing remains the most likely scenario. He says the department has received about 200-thousand dollars from the state the last two weeks, providing some relief. But the department is still relying on the county to fund areas like payroll, and can't pay back a loan from the county for 300-thousand.

Laker says the county may have to borrow from a bank to cover a revenue shortfall, but he says one other amusing possibility surfaced recently.

"I got a phone call last week from the state treasurer's office wanting to know if we were interested in special loan funds they had," Laker said. "Are we going to borrow money from the state to counter state funding shortages? It's a possibility. They've got some low-interest loan programs. I referred them to the county board chairman."

The state still owes the department about 600-thousand dollars.

Laker says the health department needs to finalize a presentation for the Vermilion County Board by the end of this week. Its meeting on December 29th will decide the structure of the health department for the immediate future.

All options for downsizing include termination of state grant contracts, and cutting some jobs. Laker says programs that could be on the bubble include maternal and child health programs and nursing home screening for senior citizens.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 15, 2009

FBI Special Agent: Carrington Investigation Could Take Many Weeks

The special agent in charge of the Springfield office of the FBI says its investigation into the October fatal police shooting in Champaign could take several weeks - and then it will take more time for federal officials to deliberate over it.

The FBI is looking into the shooting death of Kiwane Carrington at the request of Champaign police. Supervisory special agent Marshall Stone says the scope of their investigation will be different than the state police-led probe that led to no criminal charges against the officers involved.

"In these types of situations, whether we're talking about police-action shootings or color-of-law cases such as excessive use of force based upon the authority we have as law enforcement officers, those tend to fall under the civil rights statutes," said Stone.

Stone says the final decision on any wrongdoing will be left to the Department of Justice in Washington, which will receive the investigation once the FBI office is finished. He says that investigation may involve their own interviews or it could rely on the state police report.

Carrington was shot while police responded to a reported break-in at a Vine Street house. His family has filed a civil suit against police and officer Daniel Norbits, who fired the fatal shot.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 15, 2009

State Police Investigate Deadly Hostage Standoff at Pinckneyville Prison

Illinois State Police are investigating circumstances involving a southern Illinois prison inmate taking an employee hostage before the prisoner was shot and killed by authorities.

The Illinois Department of Corrections has not yet publicly identified the 37-year-old inmate involved in Monday's nearly seven-hour standoff at the 2,200-inmate Pinckneyville Correctional Center.

The 62-year-old female employee who was taken hostage was rescued and evaluated by medical personnel. Her medical status was not immediately clear.

Messages left Tuesday with a Corrections spokeswoman weren't immediately returned.

Corrections officials say the offender was serving a sentence for aggravated criminal sexual assault and aggravated kidnapping. The crimes took place in Cook County.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 14, 2009

Illinois Distracted Driving Laws Take Effect in January

Two new laws taking effect in January will ban the practice of texting while driving in Illinois. A backer of the measures calls them an important first step, but not enough. Gloria Wilhelm's son Matt died in Urbana in 2006. The bicyclist was struck by a motorist who later admitted to downloading a ring tone while behind the wheel.

And Wilhelm suspects it's the cause of more accidents than is being reported. "There's a lot of fatalities out there that haven't really been attributed to this, but there's some unknown causes," says Wilhelm. "So something is causing people to go into another lane and hit someone head on. I think this is a very good start. I really think it's more dangerous than drunk driving because it's more pervasive. More people are talking and texting than driving drunk." The distracted driving laws will also ban instant messaging, personal digital assistants, and portable computers, as well as all cell phone use while driving through a highway construction zone or school zone.

Wilhelm questions why driving everywhere else is so much safer, but says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood could one day seek legislation that bans cell phone use while driving outright. Wilhelm also notes that more employers are banning cell phone use while driving on business to avoid a possible lawsuit.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 14, 2009

Governor Won’t Say If He Knew of Early Releases

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn would not say if he knew beforehand his administration was releasing inmates after they served just weeks in prison. Quinn suspended the program over the weekend after a report by The Associated Press some inmates served less than three weeks behind bars. Quinn said Monday that Corrections Department Director Michael Randle has broad discretion to run his department. He added if there are questions about how something is being done it's the governor's job to review it. After he learned about everything in the AP report, Quinn said he decided a closer look was needed. The suspended program gave inmates good conduct credit in advance. Corrections officials say the department was saving money in a budget crisis by not transferring the inmates to other prisons for short terms.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 14, 2009

51st District Senate Candidates Unveil Campaigns

The director of the Illinois State Fair wants to take her experience to work in another circus environment - the political circus of the state Senate.

Amy Bliefnick is running in the central Illinois district held for 26 years by Republican Frank Watson, who was senate minority leader until a stroke forced him to resign this year. Democrats see his replacement, Kyle McCarter, as vulnerable - and Bliefnick says she's begun to see herself as an apt candidate as the February primary approaches. "I declined the offer because I never really pictured myself as a politican," says Bliefnick. "But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my background, my experience and leadership, is a perfect fit for state government."

Bliefnick faces competition from Macon County Board member Tim Dudley, who also says he'd bring an outsider's perspective to the Senate, taking a modest swipe at Bliefnick's government role. "I've not been involved in anybody's administration or anything like that," says Dudley. "I think I'm just the right person at the right time - a good new fresh face. And that's what seperates me from anybody else." Both Bliefnick and Dudley are from Decatur, which is now the population center of a thin, oblong 51st district that snakes from Moultrie County southeast to the Metro East area.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 11, 2009

State Expands H1N1 Vaccine Availabilty, Local Clinics Scheduled

Illinois health officials have expanded H1N1 flu shot eligibility to anyone seeking one, starting on Tuesday.

And area health departments have responded by scheduling vaccination clinics in Champaign and Danville next week. Champaign-Urbana's public health district holds four days of free clinics that begin Tuesday. That's when anyone over age 64 can receive the shot. Administrator Julie Pryde says supply has been good enough to offer vaccine for walk-ins during the week, along with helping providers like Carle and Christie Clinic. Meanwhile, Vermilion County's Health Department conducts its own clinics on Wednesday and Thursday. Administrator Steve Laker says it's unlikely his department would conduct any more clinics before Christmas, but that could change with the emergence of additional cases of flu-like illness.

"We would immediately gear up and scale our program back up," says Laker. "And we wouldn't have any trouble going back out to remote sites to do that. We've had excellent cooperation from local schools and other organziations that hosted sites, so we wouldn't have any problem. The only thing that might potentially affect that is what resources we have left after December 29th." The Vermilion County Board has scheduled a special meeting for that date, in which it could decide to downsize or dissolve the county's health department because of slow state payments. It's currently owed about $800,000. Laker says if the board did choose to shut down his department, there's no telling how much advance warning his offices would have or how services like vaccinations would continue.

The clinics in Danville are from 10 to 6 on Wednesday and 7 am to 12 pm on Thursday. Vaccinations at Champaign-Urbana's Public Health District run from 9 to 6 Tuesday thru Thursday, and 9 to 1 next Friday at its offices on West Kenyon Road.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

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