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Red Hill's Olivia Ray (13) uses a screen from teammate Tess Heath to get around the press of Lawrenceville's Gracie Stallings (2), while Chaylee Shick, left, also tries to get in on the play at the Salukis' gym on Monday.

Winter storm drops six inches of snow

A quick moving winter weather system moved through much of southern Indiana Monday night, bringing nearly six inches of snow, shuttering schools and causing slide offs.

Firefighters, too, responded to a house fire on North Seventh Street in the early morning hours, a blaze that, so far, has left one child dead and another, an adult, in critical condition.

The winter storm pushed in about 4 p.m. Monday, and within just a couple of hours, Knox County had more than the originally anticipated two inches of accumulation.

Eventually, most parts Vincennes and Knox County ended up with at least six inches of snow; there were higher amounts reported in other, isolated areas.

Crews with the Vincennes Fire Department were dispatched to a house fire shortly before 3 a.m. at 619 N. Seventh St. with people trapped inside.

Firefighters arrived to find smoke coming from the front of the multi-family apartment home. City police were able to rescue one person, and firefighters used a ladder truck to rescue another two occupants who were trapped on the second floor.

Two more victims were later located in a first-floor unit.

Those two were taken to Good Samaritan with life-threatening injuries. One, a 3-year-old girl, succumbed to those injuries; the other remained in critical condition Tuesday evening.

Fire officials say the exact cause of the fire remains under investigation.

County sheriff Doug Vantlin said his deputies, too, were busy overnight aiding motorists who found themselves in peril during the quick-moving winter storm.

Vantlin said between 6 p.m. and the early morning hours Tuesday, deputies responded to 13 accidents; six of those involved some kind of property damage.

Fortunately, no one was injured, he said.

“The state police assisted us and took three of those incidents,” he explained. “But yeah, (that storm) came on strong, and the roads filled up pretty quick, resulting in some accidents.

“We were just fortunate that no one was hurt and only some cars got banged up.”

Area school corporations, too, quickly called for a snow day.

Greg Parsley, superintendent of the Vincennes Community School Corp., said as he attempted to shovel his driveway Monday night, and it quickly became evident that getting youngsters safety to school today just wasn’t an option.

County schools ended up canceling today as well.

That said, Parsley said given the tough year kids have had due to COVID-19, he was glad to see them experience the youthful joy of a snow day.

“Here in our neighborhood, someone was taking the kids around on a sled with his 4-wheeler,” he said. “I don’t think kids get the opportunity much anymore where they truly get a snow day — and with the kind of snow that’s good to go out and play in.

“So I’m OK with this snow,” he said with a chuckle, “but let’s be done from now on.”

Bryce Anderson, superintendent of Vincennes’ Street and Sanitation Department, said his crews got out ahead of the storm and were able to pre-treat the city’s main thoroughfares and snow routes.

When snow started falling, they began plowing, he said, and they have been working around the clock since.

“We started just as soon as it started snowing, about 6 o’clock, but it just never did quit,” Anderson said with a chuckle. “We just kept at it.”

And it paid off as Anderson said by Tuesday afternoon, most of the city’s main roads were clear.

Many side streets and outlying neighborhoods, however, were still snow-covered.

“And some of those are getting slicker as that snow gets more packed down,” he warned.

Aaron Updike, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis, the snow is likely to stick around as temperatures plummet this weekend into the single digits and, overnight, below zero.

Updike said the NWS hasn’t yet issued any cold weather advisories, but they are possible as they determine how any winds will affect bitter cold temperatures.

“As we get closer to the weekend, we’ll have a better idea in terms of exact value and wind chill factors,” he said. “But it will be cold, and that is a concern.”

Snow chances, too, remain in the forecast, both this weekend, Updike said, and the middle of next week.

This weekend, he said, NWS is calling of the possibility of another inch of snow with freezing rain mixed in.

“But I don’t think you’ll see much in the way of accumulation with the freezing rain,” he clarified.

Snow chances come back into the forecast on Tuesday and Wednesday, but Updike said the models aren’t yet in agreement on how much snow — if any — this area could receive.

Council to ponder second contribution to public art project

Organizers of the First City Public Sculpture Exhibition are looking again for financial help in expanding the number of large sculpted works on display around the city.

A year ago, the local art guild, a non-profit organization located at 316 Main St., selected Amy DeLap and Andrew Jendrzejewski — both retired Vincennes University art professors and the owners of Art Space Vincennes LLC — to lead the First City Public Sculpture Exhibition.

The first phase of the sculpture exhibition was completed in November, presenting seven outdoor pieces by artists from across the nation.

Thanks, in part, to both a grant from the Indiana Arts Council and a financial gift from the Vincennes City Council, DeLap and Jendrzejewski were able to put out a national call to artists for large sculpted works to be installed at sites around the city.

Now, Jendrzejewski says, they are ready to move on to the next phase, which he hopes will allow for roughly seven more sculptures to be added in 2021.

But, that will require some additional financial support.

“The number of sculptures will depend on the amount of money we can raise,” he said.

Jendrzejewski on Monday went before city council to request $7,000 to help with the acquisition of new sculptures to add to the existing seven on display.

In 2020 the City of Vincennes contributed the initial $2,000 that helped lift the public art project off the ground.

“I thank you for the initial jumpstart last year about this time. That grant provided us a lot of credibility to be able to reach out to the Indiana Arts Council, which gave us further credibility with local donors,” Jendrzejewski said to the council.

Too, he added, when the city awarded the project the startup money last January, no-one knew that just weeks later life would grind to a halt as a pandemic swept the globe.

“The project then has taken on new functions, becoming a primary source for viewing art because all the galleries are closed,” Jendrzejewski said.

“But more importantly, it’s a distraction during the pandemic — a positive, imaginative distraction for the psyche.”

COVID-19 concerns canceled the First Friday Art Walks for 2020, and will likely lead to cancellations through much of 2021, making the First City Public Sculpture Exhibit a safe and timely substitute for viewing fine art.

Artists across the nation have taken a huge economic and emotional hit during the pandemic, as galleries, concert halls and theaters have remained mostly closed the past eleven months.

“All artists are really hurting. Our own gallery hasn’t made any money since last March, but we’re still paying our rent,” Jendrzejewski added.

Members of council and Mayor Joe Yochum expressed support and gratitude for the project and future expansion of the arts in Vincennes.

“I can assure you that the city engineer’s office will work with you again, and I can say all those sculptures are really nice. It really adds to the community,” said Yochum.

Council president Tim Salters thanked Jendrzejewski and the committee for their vision, adding that he would like to see the council “find a way” to help fund the project — something he sees as an asset to the city.

Each installed sculpture will be on loan from the artist for a three-year period, but with an option for a business or individual to buy the artwork and therefore have it permanently installed in Vincennes.

Currently, sculptures are located at the north entry of the Riverwalk, near First and Hart Streets; Clark’s Crossing, near Sixth and Perry Streets, and one sculpture is located outside of Eyeworks at 233 Main St.

For more information about the First City Public Sculpture Exhibit call Jendrzejewski at 812-887-6145.

Bicknell awards contract for splash pad

BICKNELL — With all of its ducks now in a row, officials here hope to see youngsters splashing about in a new outdoor water feature come summertime.

“The idea is that when school’s out, it’s on,” said mayor Thomas Estabrook of a new splash pad set to be installed at South Side Park.

Members of the city’s Board of Works on Monday officially awarded a contract for construction to Splash Zone LLC in Arizona.

The board opened the two bids last month but were astonished to see a near $50,000 difference between them.

Bicknell received one — the one it expected to get — from DWA Recreation in Harrison, Ohio, for just over $150,000.

The second, unexpected bid from Splash Zone was for a much lesser $103,429.

Vincennes architect Larry Donovan wanted time to look the bids over to make sure they were comparing apples to apples.

“And he told us that there was not nearly enough difference in the two to throw out that low bid,” Estabrook said.

“We just had to be sure we were getting the same thing.”

So with a contract now awarded, Estabrook said they hope to get started as soon as possible.

“Yeah, we’re going to turn concrete tomorrow,” he said, jokingly, given the more than 5-inch snowfall Knox County received Monday night.

But he will, he said, call a meeting of those involved, specifically the parks board and city councilman and contractor Rod Mullins, who offered to tear out the old basketball courts at South Side Park to make way for the new splash pad.

Already, electrical work is being done after the board approved a contract with Wired Up weeks ago for an upgrade at the park, some of which will be used for the new splash pad.

The board, too, gave the go-ahead this week to purchase the necessary materials to put in a sewer line there and connect it to an existing line nearby, work that will be done by city crews.

“Essentially, we want to coordinate our efforts so we can be prepped and ready to go whenever Splash Zone shows up; they can be off to the races,” he said.

Estabrook hopes that’s early this spring. Per the contract, once crews get started, they will have 60 days to complete the work.

“So if we say the end of March, that gets us to Memorial Day weekend,” he said. “That’s what we want.”

City officials last summer announced that they would likely move forward with the splash pad.

The city had taken over the old privately-owned Swimland, which had been closed for a couple of years, and quickly announced that it would likely never reopen. This splash pad, Estabrook has said, offers something of a compromise to local residents who wish the city still had a place to cool off in the hot summer months.

“We’ve had a void of any kind of summer leisure activity for at least two years, probably longer,” the mayor said. “So usually the conversation I have with people starts with, ‘Is there any possibility of the pool reopening?’ And while I do tell them that ’s unlikely, I do then transition to the splash pad, and they usually say, ‘We think that would be really nice.’

“So the feedback I’ve had has been really positive,” he said. “And even our northern Knox County neighbors are excited. The interest is certainly there. I think for that first year, it’s going to be the place to be for young kids and their families. This is exactly what the doctor ordered.”

To pay for it, Estabrook raised some funds locally as well as in-kind donations, but largely he looked to the county’s Redevelopment Commission, whose members eventually voted to pay for the project up to $150,000.

Estabrook is hopeful, even though the contract was awarded under the original estimate, is that the RDC will go ahead and offer the full $150,000 to offset some of the other costs, like the necessary electrical upgrade and sewer infrastructure.

Per the county elected officials’ agreement years ago with Duke Energy, the redevelopment commission collects the additional property tax revenue generated from the increase in the assessed value within the district — or the area around the Edwardsport plant.

The redevelopment commission collects the 45% to pay the debt service to slowly retire the $27 million in bonds sold to help finance the plant.

The other 55% has always been allowed to pass through to the appropriate taxing entities.

For many years, all of the 45% was used to pay Duke’s bonds. There was nothing left over, and in some years, there was even a shortfall.

But the redevelopment commission last year made up that shortfall and will now likely have money annually to spend on improvements within the newly-expanded Economic Development Area, or the area in which they can spend money on improvements.

Mostly, the RDC has awarded money for infrastructure projects in the communities around the plant, but they looked favorably on Bicknell’s splash pad project.

Indiana deaths jumped by 18% during 2020 amid pandemic

INDIANAPOLIS — A larger surge of coronavirus deaths in Indiana during December than was initially reported contributed to an 18% jump in the state’s overall deaths during 2020.

Preliminary totals from the Indiana Department of Health show nearly 77,000 died in the state last year — an increase of almost 11,000 from 2019 — as nationwide deaths also jumped with the global pandemic.

The large increase came as health officials have recorded at least 9,390 COVID-19 deaths during 2020.

State health officials haven’t yet released a break down on how coronavirus-related deaths compared to those from heart disease and cancer, which have been the most common causes of deaths in other recent years.

No factor other than the COVID-19 explains the increase in mortality, said Shandy Dearth, an epidemiologist at Indiana University’s Fairbanks School of Public Health.

“You can almost argue that our deaths should have been lower because think about the time we spent at home, we didn’t have the car accidents, we weren’t having some of the workplace injuries and deaths and things like that as the country shut down,” Dearth said. “But we didn’t have a total decrease in deaths, we definitely saw an increase in deaths. And that’s definitely related to COVID.”

Indiana has recorded almost 12,000 coronavirus-related deaths since the state’s first confirmed fatality last March, with the state health department on Tuesday adding 67 recent deaths to that total.

State officials last week added about 1,500 COVID-19 deaths Indiana’s toll that were found during an audit of death certificates and state health department reports. Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box blamed the undercount of deaths on the speed in which COVID-19 deaths had to be tracked.

Those revised figures boosted the peak of Indiana’s seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 deaths to 102 in mid-December, rather than the previously reported peak average of 86 a day. Indiana had 20 straight days during December when that average topping 90 deaths, with the deadliest one-day total of 119 fatalities on Dec. 29.

The state’s some 1,900 coronavirus deaths in November and almost 3,000 in December were the state’s deadliest, dropping back down to about 1,900 during January. The rolling daily death average has also declined to about 40 per day currently.

Gov. Eric Holcomb cited the increase in total deaths during 2020 in defending the decision to so far limit COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to health care workers and those ages 65 and older, while waiting until dose availability improves before adding teachers or other essential workers.

“Where we’re starting is — how do we save lives and who is most at risk? — and work our way down,” Holcomb said.

Indiana’s deaths from last year totaled about 12,000 more than the state’s average deaths during the previous five years, according to state health department statistics.

Dearth, the Indiana University epidemiologist, said the state’s coronavirus death toll could still be undercounted because of limited testing availability during the early months of the pandemic.

While there has been doubt among some people about the reality of the coronavirus impact, Dearth said she believed the big increases in hospitalizations and deaths during the fall and winter has changed many minds.

“I think people have kind of come around to realize that COVID is a real thing,” Dearth said. “And it really has caused a huge issue here in the country.”