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Local

Starved Rock murderer's parole headlines 2019 stories

The Times looks back at the top local stories of 2019

The Times selected its top stories of 2019 — a year that saw new state lawmakers take office, a municipal election in the spring, and several headlines made in courtrooms.

JANUARY

New state rep in 76th District

State Rep.-elect Lance Yednock was sworn in with the 101st General Assembly, succeeding Jerry Long, R-Streator. Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker took office Jan. 14. Including Yednock's victory, Democrats gained a 74-44 supermajority in the House, along with a 40-19 supermajority in the Senate. 

Former Marseilles police chief gets jail time

Former Marseilles Police Chief Vernon "James" Hovious was able to keep his pension, but he was given jail time for stealing from the city.

Hovious, 55, pleaded guilty Jan. 17 to stealing city building materials between April 1, 2012, and Sept. 30, 2012. The new Marseilles police station was built around that time. Hovious had to serve 30 days in the county jail.

Extreme winter weather

Communities in Starved Rock Country were ghost towns, schools shut down and many functions were canceled Jan. 28 through Jan. 30 as record-breaking low temperatures reached as low as -23 degrees below zero Jan. 30.

FEBRUARY

Adams found guilty of Streator murder

A jury took about four hours Feb. 8 to find Tamil Adams, 17, of Dolton, guilty of murdering Maria De la Torre outside her Streator home in May 2018. Ashanti Roberts, 22, of Chicago, was found guilty of murder May 24. Hashim Waite, 25, of Chicago, also charged in the murder, entered a negotiated plea of guilty for home invasion, in which he will serve a 30-year sentence, which may be reduced to 15 years with good behavior. Adams and Roberts were later sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Victims identified from Aurora shooting include student intern from Sheridan

A Sheridan native and a soon-to-be Northern Illinois University graduate, Trevor Wehner had just begun working in the human resources department at Mueller Water Products when he was included in a meeting Feb. 15 in which an employee was being terminated.

That meeting turned tragic when employee Gary Martin, subject of the termination, opened fire in the room. Trevor was among the five employees killed in the Aurora shooting.

Vactor expansion in Streator adds 90 jobs

Vactor Manufacturing in Streator announced its expansion at a Feb. 20 Streator City Council meeting. The $25 million project brought the promise of 90 new jobs.

Jerry Hicks steps down as La Salle County Board chairman

Jerry Hicks, D-Marseilles, resigned as La Salle County Board chairman at its Feb. 14 meeting, remaining a county board member, while Jim Olson, D-Seneca, was selected to succeed him.

MARCH

Former Ottawa mayor gives final speech

Former Ottawa Mayor Bob Eschbach gives his final State of the City address March 21, as his final term was coming to an end. He focused on the city's economic growth over his 20 years as mayor.

Scot Wrighton steps down as Streator city manager, David Plyman hired

Streator City Manager Scot Wrighton left his position as the city's top administrator March 18 to become Decatur's next city manager. In late April, the Streator City Council reached an agreement with former Rochelle city manager David Plyman to become the city's city manager after City Engineer Jeremy Palm had served as interim city manager.

APRIL

Ottawa elects new mayor, commissioner

After more than 15 years of serving the city of Ottawa, Commissioner Dan Aussem was elected mayor April 2. Aussem ran against former Ottawa Visitors Center Executive Director Julie Johnson. Also, Marla Rodriguez was elected commissioner in Ottawa. Both took office during the May 7 council meeting. In Marseilles, Nathan Schaefer was elected as the lone newcomer to the council, unseating Bob Davis.

Award-winning Ottawa staffer Mike Sutfin resigns

A champion of Ottawa's national flood recognition resigned. Mike Sutfin had worked with the city for more than 12 years and was instrumental in the city being recognized at a FEMA event as a Class Two recognition in the Community Rating System, which is a part of the National Flood Insurance Program. The city had worked for a decade to achieve the recognition and did so through coming up with a flood response plan and strategic buyouts that saved the city $9.5 million in damage. Also, Ottawa's Economic Development Director Reed Wilson was not rehired.

MAY

Ottawa council goes with the flow

Bob Eschbach’s last action as Ottawa's mayor May 7 was helping to check off an item that’s been on his to-do list for his two decades in office: rewater the canal. The Ottawa City Council voted 4 to 1 to award bids for the rewatering project.

Residents rescued from Streator fire

There were no injuries after a May 11 fire rescue in Streator after a mother dropped her child to police officers from a second-story window, then the adults jumped to safety, as officers braved the smoke. In total, five people were evacuated safely from an apartment complex on Richards Street.

Ready ... set ... renovate

Streator High School started work on the $8.6 renovation of its auditorium on or around Wednesday, May 15. The auditorium is scheduled to open in spring 2020 with new lighting, acoustics, seating, etc.

Prostitution sting leads Sandwich mayor to resignation

Nine men, including the mayor of Sandwich, a Putnam County attorney and a Peru hospital executive, were charged in May after an investigation into prostitution in La Salle County. Richard A. Olson, 66, Sandwich, was one of the nine charged with solicitation of a sexual act, a March 14 incident. Olson has since resigned his office.

Wet fields slow planting

Area farmers lag behind the rest of the country in planting due to soggy fields. Illinois farmers had just 24% of their corn crops planted compared to their usual May 19 average of 89%, according to a May 20 report from the USDA.

Waltham students spells both words correctly in national bee

Waltham Elementary's Riker Fesperman was one of 369 students to spell both words correctly on stage at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in the nation's capital. That's out of 565 of the nation's best spellers. Just 50 spellers, however, were selected of that group to compete in the final round, and Fesperman didn't qualify.

JUNE

Marquette makes school history with state baseball title

Marquette won the IHSA Class 1A state baseball championship June 2 in Peoria's Dozer Park. The Crusaders defeated Waterloo Gibault, 14-5, to earn the school's first team title.

Auditor found not guilty in pay case

La Salle County Auditor Jody Wilkinson was found not guilty on 11 counts in a pay case against her. Her former employee Tori Artman would later be found not guilty by a jury, and charges were dismissed for former employee Pamela Wright, in the pay case.

Two dead in Ottawa homicide, suspect found dead in Plano

Christopher B. Stankovich, 48, a suspect in a double homicide June 21 in Ottawa was found dead June 22 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Plano. Police discovered Nicol E. Scolaro, 49, and Paul E. Ladue, 51, dead June 21 as a result of multiple gunshot wounds.

Streator funeral director misappropriated $50k in funds

An Illinois comptroller's order said Elias Funeral Home owner William "B.J." Elias misappropriated nearly $50,000 provided to him from families seeking pre-need funeral contracts, and submitted false annual reports to cover up the theft. Seven victims, at the time, were identified by the comptroller's office after they or family members contacted the agency after it was reported Elias' Funeral Director and Embalmer License was revoked for failing to file a death certificate from 2016. The alleged thefts took place between 2012 and as recently as January of this year.

JULY

Streator 4th of July celebration draws its largest crowd

Streator’s Independence Day celebration drew more than 10,000 people to the four-day festival at Northpoint Plaza — by far its largest gathering ever. The celebration drew national acts, such as Jackyl and Puddle of Mudd.

AUGUST

Judge dismisses case against former state's attorney Brian Towne

A judge ruled Aug. 2 that former State's Attorney Brian Towne's speedy-trial rights were violated and all 17 felony counts of official misconduct and misuse of funds against him have been dismissed.

Del Monte announces closure

Without much warning or prelude, Del Monte in Mendota announced in August it was laying off 500 workers. According to the announcement, the 111 full-time employees and 362 seasonal employees would be laid off in stages.

Court says Mautino campaign violated election code on travel expenses

Two years after an initial elections complaint, an Appellate Court ruled Aug. 19 former state Rep. Frank Mautino's campaign committee further violated election codes. The ruling stated the committee's expenses at a bank and at a Spring Valley gas station for gas and repairs of personal vehicles were violations.

SEPTEMBER

Central Life Building mural offers more than meets the eye

The trompe de l'oeil-style artwork — which translates from French to "deceive the eye" — on the southern face of the Central Life Building, 628 Columbus St., Ottawa, is completed and dedicated Sept. 27. Artist John Pugh worked on the Georgia O'Keefe-inspired mural for five weeks with the help of numerous volunteers. The mural features 1920 flappers moving through revolving doors, painted in a 3-D style.

Appellate Court reverses Ottawa High's firing of Burgess

Nearly five years after the Ottawa High School Board of Education fired teacher Tim Burgess, the Appellate Court in Ottawa said Sept. 30 the decision was "clearly erroneous." The Appellate Court issued an order to reverse the dismissal and send the matter back to the La Salle County circuit court to determine the next steps. The Ottawa High School Board has since appealed the decision.

Autumn flash flood

Heavy rainfall and storms Sept. 27-28 caused damage across La Salle County, especially in Seneca, Sheridan and Serena, as floodwaters filled basements, caused power outages and closed roadways.

NOVEMBER

Newark volleyball wins 2nd state title

The Newark volleyball team won its second consecutive IHSA Class 1A state title with a convincing 25-19, 25-22 victory Nov. 16 over Illini Bluffs at Redbird Arena in Normal.

Starved Rock murderer gets parole

After 59 years in prison, Chester Weger, known as the Starved Rock murderer, was granted parole Nov. 21 following a 9-4 vote by the Illinois Prisoner Review Board. Weger was sentenced to life in prison for the 1960 bludgeoning death of Lillian Oetting in a canyon at Starved Rock State Park. He also confessed to killing Oetting’s two companions.

2 died in Streator fire

Lois J. Green, 67, and Christian Green, 27, were the victims of a Nov. 24 fire in Streator. The Streator Fire Department called the fire at 1013 E. Wilson St. one of its saddest days.

DECEMBER

Jury finds Kenneth Cusick not guilty of murder charge

Kenneth Cusick walked out of a La Salle County courthouse Dec. 13 a free man, following a two-week trial. Cusick was acquitted of the murder of his wife Tracy Cusick. The verdict puts an end to a case begun not when he was charged with first-degree murder in 2017, but when Tracy Cusick died Jan. 17, 2006.

Ottawa residents come together after disappointing Christmas light display

After the public expressed disappointment in the amount of lights used to decorate Washington Square for Christmas time, volunteers came together Dec. 5 to enhance the display.

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