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Johanningsmeier officially identified as deceased pilot in crash, funeral services set for Friday

Lawrence County, Illinois, officials have confirmed that the pilot killed in a plane crash early Saturday morning just north of the Mid American Air Center was, in fact, Knox County Superior Court II Judge Ryan Johanningsmeier.

Lawrence County, Illinois, coroner Shannon Steffey issued a press release Wednesday morning saying positive identification had been made following an autopsy performed Tuesday.

Johanningsmeier, who was elected to office in 2015 and launched the county’s now successful drug court program, will be laid to rest on Friday following a funeral at 11 a.m. at Bethel Church in Edwardsport.

The wheels are in motion, too, to find a replacement for him on the November ballot as he was up for re-election to a second term.

Members of the Knox County Election Board met in special session Wednesday to go through the official process of asking the Indiana Election Division to remove Johanningsmeier from the Nov. 3 ballot.

“We have one very sad item on our agenda today,” said board president Bob Slayton as he held up a single sheet of white paper. “But it’s part of the process we must go through.”

Slayton went on to call Johanningsmeier a “pillar of the legal and justice system” and a “man of tremendous accomplishment.”

He was also, Slayton said, “a good friend.”

Board member and county clerk David Shelton met with members of the Indiana Election Division in Indianapolis on Monday and delivered some necessary paperwork to remove Johanningsmeier’s name from the ballot; those members also suggested that the board meet and adopt a resolution stating as such.

It will now be up to officers with the local Republican Party to decide on a replacement for Johanningsmeier come November.

Interested attorneys need to first file the appropriate paperwork with the state then offer proof of that paperwork — along with a letter of interest — to Republican Party Chairman Linda Painter by 5 p.m. on Friday.

The Republican Party officers then hope to hold interviews and choose a name by Sept. 10, Shelton said.

Meanwhile, Superior Court II is back in session as members of the state Supreme Court issued an emergency order allowing Superior Court I Judge Gara Lee and Circuit Court Judge Sherry Gregg-Gilmore the power to grant a judge pro tempore.

Those judges may now, together, appoint “senior judges or local judges pending further action by the Indiana Supreme Court or Governor of Indiana.”

Currently, Lee and Gregg-Gilmore have called on a variety of people to help fill in, Shelton said.

“I think things are handled just about as well as they can be handled right now,” he said.

Shelton added that local Republicans have already seen good response to their request for someone to fill Johanningsmeier’s spot on the ballot.

They’ve received about six so far, he said, and they expect as many as ten.

Both Republicans or Democrats can apply, but Shelton has said officers will focus their efforts on finding someone committed to carrying on with drug court, specifically in the spirit with which Johanningsmeier governed it for so long.

“We are united in our resolve to appoint somebody who will carry on the tradition of drug court as judge created it,” Shelton said.

Election board members on Wednesday also made special mention of how sorely missed Johanningsmeier will be in the community.

“As an election board, we are deeply grieved by the loss of the judge,” said member and local attorney Dale Webster. “We extend our condolences and sympathy to his family, his staff, his friends in the community.”

Knox County officials announced Saturday morning that Johanningsmeier was presumed dead following a plane crash in rural Lawrence County, Illinois.

In the early morning hours Saturday, the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call about an overdue plane that should have landed at the Mid American Air Center in Lawrenceville, Illinois.

Police say Johanningsmeier stopped in Sullivan County to fuel up before taking off again.

Law enforcement in Sullivan and Lawrence County, Illinois, began a search, and around 7:30 a.m. another pilot reported what they believed was wreckage about two miles north of the Mid American Air Center.

The Federal Aviation Administration continues to investigate the accident, but it’s likely fog may have played a factor in the crash as local officials say the Indiana State Police helicopter was requested as part of the search but, due to weather conditions, couldn’t be used.

Johanningsmeier had been flying for about two years, friends say.


AP
Indiana overhauls county virus ratings for school decisions

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s top health official announced Wednesday an overhaul of a new county-by-county rating system for coronavirus risks just before it was becoming public as a guide for school leaders on whether to keep students in their classrooms.

The coronavirus has contributed to the deaths of 13 more people in Indiana, with many of the state’s deaths continuing among nursing home residents, the state health department said.

COUNTY SCORES

The state health department will now assign scores to all 92 counties based on the number of new cases per 100,000 residents and the percentage of tests confirming COVID-19 infections. Those scores then coordinate with a color-coded rating system for the county’s level of community spread and risk.

It’s a change from the state’s unveiling of the system last week, which additionally calculated the week-by-week change in positivity rate at the county level, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said.

Box said the ratings were changed based on feedback received from school leaders in the past week. The new metrics, she said, will be “less volatile” to rapid COVID-19 changes at the community level and more representative of “true community spread” within a county.

“We want these maps to be useful tools, but do not want them to give people a false sense of security when COVID-19 is still very active in their communities,” Box said. “The goal is to provide an easy to understand system that local and school officials can use to inform their decisions.”

Some local school district leaders have been reluctant to embrace the new system, saying countywide statistics might not indicate the coronavirus risk in their communities.

The county ratings provide only recommendations for schools and does not trigger any mandates from the state, Box said. Even in the poorest scoring counties, Box said that the state still does not recommend closing in-person instruction at elementary schools.

“We are trying to give some direction in the form of a map with a color-coded system that’s more basic so that the average person can really look at that and understand the importance of saying to their kids ‘Put that mask back on or you’re not going to have your friends over,’” Box said.

VIRUS DEATHS

Indiana’s newly recorded deaths raise the state’s pandemic death toll to 3,325, including confirmed and presumed coronavirus cases, since Indiana’s first fatality was reported in mid-March, according to the health department. The new deaths occurred between Friday and Tuesday.

The state’s weekly update on nursing home cases added 29 deaths among those residents. That gives the state 1,849 COVID-19 fatalities linked to long-term care facilities, making up nearly 56% of the state’s death toll. Seventeen of those deaths happened in the past week.


News
RDC hones in on housing development incentive

Members of the city’s Redevelopment Commission are looking to their counterparts in Franklin for guidance on how to encourage the construction of more mid-range homes.

The RDC met in special session Wednesday evening to, in part, consider a kind of scoring card used by the Redevelopment Commission in Franklin to decide how best to support developers looking to build new houses.

The local RDC has, for months, discussed ways to encourage local developers to build mid-range houses — ones anywhere from $140,000 to $200,000 — and they’re ready to finalize their process.

“We know that there are developers out there right now who are ready to put in sub-divisions,” said RDC president Tim Smith, adding that those locations are within the Tax Increment Finance Zone, the vehicle by which the RDC collects property tax revenue to spend on improvements.

“Should we tell them to come make a proposal? Because they want to appear before the RDC sooner rather than later,” he said. “These are the things we need to decide.”

Smith last month announced that he’d begun working on a Request for Proposals with city attorney Dave Roellgen, a document that could be sent out to area developers to garner information on what kinds of housing projects they want to do and how best the RDC could help.

Smith has said he envisions an application process — one designated over a period of weeks or even months — where, at the end, the RDC could consider each one and award funds appropriately.

Developers could be looking to build homes on empty lots throughout town or even renovate old ones in the city’s Historic District.

The process works by incentivizing developers. That could mean giving them one of the 14 empty lots the RDC has collected over the years as the city has looked to reduce blight or funding sanitary sewer connections or even storm water drainage. It could also include street repair or construction.

It’s possible, RDC members decided Wednesday, that they could take this on in phases, with the construction of subdivisions — since there are developers already waiting in the wings to do that — as Phase I.

Phase II could be finding developers to take on the construction of homes on the RDC’s empty lots and the third could be in awarding actual funds or loans to homeowners looking to fix up their older homes.

But to make it fair, they need a score card, one much like Franklin’s.

But there things that local RDC members didn’t like about Franklin’s score card; Marc McNeece, for instance, took issue with a couple of what he called “negative modifiers,” or instances where applicants were docked points based on their plan.

Franklin, for example, takes away points for the construction of duplexes.

“To me, a duplex is not necessarily a negative,” McNeece said. “Especially if they’re going to live in one half, rent the other.

“I’m not sure we want to discourage that kind of living.”

McNeece, too, thought Franklin’s requirement that construction be completed in nine months a bit too tight.

“But I also like that it’s a simple process, one sheet,” he said. “And it would allow builders to understand exactly what we’re looking for when building new homes.”

Franklin’s score sheet, too, takes into account whether or not the homes will be rented or sold, who will manage the property, as well as a developer’s overall experience in building homes, among other criteria.

RDC members decided they would each take time to review that score sheet and send suggested changes to Smith. They will then review their own potential score sheet when they meet again later this month.

Smith, too, said he plans to speak to their financial advisors, Reedy Financial Group in Seymour, on setting aside $500,000 for this first round.

“We can have them put that into our fiscal plan, see how it works out,” Smith said of the RDC’s projected cashflow. “And I feel like if we do those two things, we would really be moving things along.

“I would like to see us approve something at the next meeting, decide when this window is going to be so we know.”

It’s likely, however, that the RDC’s first applicants will be two developers looking to build as many as eight to a dozen homes within the TIF zone, Smith indicated.

But once the RDC hears from them — and perhaps helps them with the cost of infrastructure — there could be more that come forward. Hence, Smith said, the need for a score sheet.

“Because what if contractor A comes in and makes a proposal then contractor B and C come, too?” he asked. “If we don’t have criteria, how are we going to tell them no?”

The RDC is likely, in this first phase, to help these developers with the cost of road construction or even the connection of utilities.

Should they pursue a second phase, it could be construction of new homes on the 14 lots the RDC currently owns.

Mayor Joe Yochum said the incentive there could merely be giving those lots away to people looking to build.

“The infrastructure is already there,” he said. “So the incentive could be just that you get the lot.”

McNeece said he, for one, looked forward to a possible Phase III, one where, perhaps, the RDC could offer reimbursement or even forgivable loans to those who want to take on the renovation of existing homes.

A resident of the city’s Historic District, there is ample stock, he pointed out. And it would preserve the integrity of Indiana’s oldest city.

“I live in an area that is in desperate need of renovation,” he said of old town Vincennes. “and I see that as pretty important, that we’re able to include that in anything we do.

“If we had a construction company that was willing to take on five or six of those at a time, I don’t know why we wouldn’t support that as well.”

The RDC next meets at 9 a.m. Sept. 17 at City Hall, 201 Vigo St.


News
Health officer has eye on improved COVID-19 testing

Work on a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site is progressing, and Knox County health officer Dr. Alan Stewart said it should be open by Sept. 14.

He’s hopeful, too, that by early October, local residents could see quicker test turnaround times.

Describing 48-72 hour wait times for test results as “unacceptable” and similar to what one might experience in a developing nation, Stewart told the Knox County Board of Health during their regular meeting Wednesday night that soon the county will be partnering with the lab at Deaconess Hospital in Evansville to get results more quickly.

“After get a couple of million dollars worth of new equipment, Deaconess has obtained the laboratory equipment we need to be able to run COVID tests,” Stewart said, adding that he’s hopeful this will result in “24 hour or better” return times.

Currently, Knox County’s COVID-19 tests are sent to the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The new local testing facility, set to open in the old surgery center at 300 N. First St., will be equipped to bill private insurance companies, but Stewart explained that what is not covered by insurance will then be billed through available COVID relief funding through the state.

“It’s going to be good. We’ll have free testing on-demand — a clinic available for people who need it,” Stewart said.

The health officer also shared his excitement with board members about promising new testing options.

Several large university labs around the U.S. have devised techniques to utilize saliva testing as opposed to the more uncomfortable nasal probing most individuals experience when being tested for COVID.

He also said these tests provide good “specificity and sensitivity,” meaning the results are incredibly accurate.

Stewart has been most consistently in contact with Yale University about its test, when — once manufactured and distributed on a broader scale — should only cost about $10 per test, as the Ivy League institution says it’s not looking to profit off of its breakthrough.

“This testing aspect could be a big improvement,” Stewart added.

The health department in cooperation with Good Samaritan Hospital and Vincennes University secured a $100,000 state grant, money that will be used to open the drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic.

Good Samaritan’s Board of Governors last week, during their regular monthly meeting, approved purchase of the building — most recently a dialysis center — for $875,000.

“It’s a nice building,” said Stewart of the location. “It’s ideal for this clinic because it has ample parking, a canopy already for the drive-thru, and it’s within walking distance of Vincennes University.”

The state-funded grant for the new testing site will pay for computer and other technology upgrades, the swab tests and cost of couriers to transport them to the nearest lab facility, as well as the necessary personnel to staff the clinic.

As per guidelines associated with the grant, the clinic will need to be open at least five days a week, Stewart has explained, as well as some “non-traditional hours” and on weekends.

And it will be open to anyone.

“Anyone can come and be tested, including those without doctors’ orders,” he said.