Man facing aggravated DUI in fatal accident

By Colleen Lehmann
A 29-year-old Humboldt man involved in an August 2013 accident that resulted in the death of bicyclist Michael Patridge is now facing a felony DUI charge.

A Class 2 felony count of aggravated driving under the influence was filed against Caleb J. Tomas on Nov. 23, 2013 in Douglas County court, regarding events of August 3, 2013.

Tomas was driving a pickup truck northbound on Route 45, about a half-mile south of the Galton Road, at 10:30 a.m., behind a bicycle operated by 41-year-old Michael Patridge. As Tomas moved to pass Patridge, the truck and bicycle collided; Patridge was pronounced dead at the scene.

Tomas, who was described as hysterical by several emergency response officials at the scene, was transported to Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center to be checked out. He voluntarily gave blood and urine samples for testing. Lab analyses of those samples showed evidence of numerous substances in Tomas’ system. The blood test results indicated evidence of morphine, codeine, alprazolam, and benzoylecgonine (cocaine metabolite). The urine sample analysis detected the presence of THC (marijuana), codeine, morphine, benzoylecgonine, alprazolam, hydroxyalprazolam, lorazepam, and quinine.

Tomas, who is being represented by public defender Jim Lee, entered a not guilty plea, and his case is currently set on the April trial docket. If convicted of the charge, Tomas could face a sentencing range of three to 14 years in prison.

The accident was also the focus of a coroner’s inquest in November, with a verdict of “accidental but avoidable” returned by the jury.

Decision making goes round and round before school bus wheels do

By Colleen Lehmann
When the weather forecast calls for ice and snow, you have concerns of your car or truck getting stuck in a ditch. When Shane and Lindsey Gould hear that same forecast, they worry about 40 school buses sliding off the road.

With thousands of kids on board.

Now there’s something that will make you lose sleep.

Sleep, in fact, has been a precious commodity in the Gould household of late, what with the here-today-gone-tomorrow-back-again winter snowstorms blowing through the area since the New Year arrived. The decision-making process as to whether to hold school mainly comes down to whether students can be safely transported to and from in the signature yellow buses, and before the Goulds weigh in with superintendents in Tuscola, Arcola and Oakland school districts—where they have busing contracts—Shane Gould typically goes out along the routes in his truck to see firsthand what his drivers would be encountering.

“When a weather front is coming through I’m usually out on the roads by 4:30 a.m. to see what it’s like. What streets are like in town and what’s going on with country roads can be very, very different,” said Shane, who runs Gould Transportation Services from its home base in Tuscola.

“We have a very good relationship with our superintendents and with the road commissioners, so on those days we are having multiple conversations back and forth before a cancellation is made. It’s typically a four- or five-hour decision-making process.”

Gould Transportation has a fleet of about 40 buses, and on an average day is transporting 2,000 kids. It’s a responsibility the couple does not take lightly.

“Safety is absolutely, without question, our number-one priority,” says Lindsey Gould, who is the main scheduler of buses and drivers for the various routes and extracurricular activities. “The buses are very well maintained, there is ongoing training for drivers, and we are pretty strict with the kids about what can and cannot go on in the buses. Again, it is for their safety that we do what we do.”

Shane Gould said his greatest concern is kids being stuck out in the cold weather, should a bus become stuck and getting to it proves difficult.

“As far as the buses themselves, they are built to withstand impacts—you are literally 30 times safer being in a school bus than in your personal vehicle if an accident occurs. And while we’ve had diesel buses in Tuscola since about 1985, I can’t remember the last time we’ve had a fuel-related problem. John and Mike (Pangburn of Pangburn Oil) do a great job of keeping fuels blended for us to combat the cold; they are fuel rated (to not gel up) to 10 below zero. The concern would be a bus getting stuck somewhere in the country where the roads are drifted shut and rescue vehicles not being able to get to it very quickly. I don’t want kids and drivers sitting out in that.”
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal Feb. 4, 2014 edition

Kick cancer to celebrate more holidays a worthy fight

N07A1020By Colleen Lehmann
Coming into Tuscola United Methodist Church on Monday night, Feb. 3 you might have wondered what occasion was being celebrated … one table was decorated with a birthday theme, another had a Halloween vibe, there were Easter decorations on one, while others included Christmas and more. Was this the work of some schizophrenic party planner?

Not at all … just the fun behind the Douglas County Relay For Life 2014 kickoff event. In keeping with this year’s theme—Cancer Doesn’t Take A Holiday—local RFL organizers embraced the concept by having a different holiday décor at each table. Attendees were treated to pizza, cookies, soda and water—courtesy of donations from Pizza Hut, Monical’s and Subway—while learning more about the 2014 Relay.

Alicia Pettyjohn, American Cancer Society Relay liaison for Douglas County, welcomed folks to the kickoff event, and helped give away Relay-related merchandise as raffle prizes. Pettyjohn said team registration could take place that evening, and that additional corporate/individual sponsorships would be most welcome in the fight against cancer.

Susan Hall and Carly McCrory are serving as co-chairs of the 2014 Relay, which will take place May 31/June 1 on the grounds of East Prairie Middle School in Tuscola. McCrory noted a significant time change for this year’s event.

“Relay will start at 1 p.m. May 31 and go until 1 a.m. June 1—which is a change from the usual 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. schedule. The time change was in response to numerous comments consistently made when we would hold wrap-up meetings following past Relays. We hope that by making this change for the convenience of participants and organizers, it will result in greater numbers of people joining in the event,” explained McCrory.
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal Feb. 4, 2014 edition

Hatfield arrested, charged with domestic violence

Arthur-Lovington Junior-Senior High School Principal Brian Hatfield has resigned his position, after media reports began surfacing last week that he is being charged in Champaign County court with domestic battery.

Brian Hatfield, age 42, a Tuscola native who lives in St. Joseph, tendered a letter of resignation to the Arthur School Board Jan. 29, 2014, according to an email statement issued by Arthur School District Superintendent Travis Wilson, who wrote, “The district has received a letter of resignation from Arthur-Lovington Jr./Sr. High School Principal Brian Hatfield. The school board will act upon the resignation at our next meeting. Mr. Hatfield is no longer at work as of today [Jan. 29].”

Hatfield was arrested Jan. 18, 2014 around 1 a.m., after witnesses reported observing an altercation between Hatfield and his wife in an Urbana parking lot. They alleged Hatfield hit his wife several times, choked her, then threw her into the back of the vehicle and drove away. Police stopped Hatfield’s vehicle as it was headed east on Interstate 74, toward St. Joseph.

Hatfield has been charged with two misdemeanor counts of domestic battery—one involving physical contact and one involving bodily harm. Bond was set at $5,000 and a no contact order was also put in place, but that order has since been vacated.
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal Feb. 5, 2014 edition

Going out on a limb…Omni Prosthetics opens second location

Travis Deem works on a trans-tibial prosthesis in the lab of Omni Prosthetics and Orthotics in Urbana.

By Colleen Lehmann
The building is rather benign from the outside, considering some of the miracles performed inside. Even if you’re looking for Omni Prosthetics & Orthotics at 502 South Vine Street in Urbana–as I was–you might drive past it before noticing the sign, or the large delivery van.

Walk inside, and you enter a comfortable, tranquil waiting room, complete with soothing water feature. Probably a good idea, considering clients may be experiencing a fair amount of physical or emotional discomfort due to their injuries.

But it’s what is being done beyond the lobby that is the true inspiration. In the back a Santa’s workshop of artificial limbs, devices with state-of-the-art electronics, and all manner of braces and (if you so desire) snazzy decoration allow wounded and/or maimed folks the hope of functioning again, to some degree or another. To that end, in the treatment rooms, those prosthetics and orthotics are being custom fitted to patients, with special attention paid to their pre-injury lifestyle and activity level.

True to the company’s slogan—“Where your quality of life comes first”—owner Bob Devlin of Tuscola and his team embrace positive patient outcome as the driving force behind the custom prosthetics and orthotics they provide. Omni is a family-owned business—among the staff are wife and co-owner Jocelin who works in the business office and Bob’s father, Bill Devlin, does orthotic fittings—and family is a concept applied to the clientele who come through the door.

“I always tell our staff to treat the patients like they were your grandma; that the devices we create are for their own family member. That’s the best way to guarantee you’ll always do your very best—you can’t let Grandma down,” quipped Bob Devlin.

Omni Prosthetics and Orthotics has been a presence in Urbana since 2003, and within the last year a satellite office was opened in Mattoon at 201 Richmond Avenue. Again, that move was made with patient convenience in mind.

“There was a facility in Effingham providing similar services and the owner passed away. Many of those patients were coming to us, and it is quite a distance to travel, so we decided to open the office in Mattoon to help bridge the gap and lessen the burden on them,” said Devlin.

Devlin has a strong, lifelong tie to Effingham. It was there he was born and raised, and that his life’s calling was discovered. While attending St. Anthony High School he took a health occupations class and, as part of the curriculum, job shadowed a number of medical professionals, including Effingham prosthetist David Procter.

“I was really fascinated by what he did—the mechanics of creating devices to help people walk and/or function again. It just clicked with me, and I ended up working there all through high school, while going to college, and for a time after receiving my degrees before deciding to open my own practice,” said Devlin, who attended Lake Land College, then Eastern Illinois University for undergraduate studies before going on to Northwestern University where he enrolled in and completed both the prosthetic and orthotic programs.

Devlin is a certified and licensed prosthetist and orthotist, and associate Jessica Drake a board-certified orthotist and board-eligible prosthetist. Drake has a similar background—having gone through LLC, EIU and Northwestern and trained with Procter at his Effingham clinic. On the orthotics side of the business, they carry a complete line of off-the-shelf orthotics that are customized for patients, able to “brace” patients literally from head to toe.
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal Jan. 29, 2014 edition

One wild winter … arctic conditions wreaking havoc

N0811P35003CwevBy Colleen Lehmann
The deep freeze that has caused no less than six school day cancellations this year is predicted to continue this week as well. Ever wonder, as you listen to the frigid forecasts, what exactly some of the terminology means, and how certain weather determinations are made?

Who better to turn to than state climatologist Jim Angel with the Illinois State Water Survey Prairie Research Institute in Champaign. Angel offered the following insights on Old Man Winter.

•What is the wind chill index?
Anyone who has experienced winter in Illinois knows that your outdoor comfort depends on several factors, only one of them being temperature. Factors such as whether it’s sunny or cloudy, windy or calm, damp or dry, can also play an important role.

•School days (or not!)
The cancellation of school for Monday, Jan. 27 meant six of the seven snow days built into this year’s schedule have been used. After that, says Supt. Michael Smith, the district would apply for “Act of God” days from the state, which do not have to be made up at the end of the year.

“This is absolutely the worst part of the superintendent profession. What I try and remember is student safety is always are most important part of my job. But I, and the school district, also have the responsibility to educate children. This is where it gets tough,” says Smith.

“When making the decision to close school, I take many things into account: Road conditions, temperature, wind chill, morning and evening forecast, etc. I also rely heavily on the advice of Gould’s Bus Service. They have a huge responsibility in the safety of our students, and I always want to make sure they are comfortable out on the roads.

“Because of more accurate forecasts, I think it’s a little easier to cancel school than it was 10 years ago. That being said, the challenge is everyone has so much weather information – everyone now has an opinion. Oftentimes, I will go from one person being upset we had school directly to another who is thanking me for not having school. It’s a no win for me, so I just use my best judgment on behalf of the students and staff. I also know, parents can always make the decision for their children,” Smith said.
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal Jan. 29, 2014 edition

TCHS game at Busch Stadium may be in the ‘cards’

By Colleen Lehmann
There was a bone-chilling wind and the specter of snow outside Monday night but inside the school district boardroom at East Prairie, the talk was, for a brief time, centered on a summer pastime.

TCHS baseball head Coach Duff Hoel had time on the Jan. 27, 2014 agenda to discuss the possibility of the boys’ baseball team playing a baseball game on the “carpet” of Busch Stadium in St. Louis Saturday, May 17, 2014. The opponent would be Class 4A Alton, and later that evening the Cards would be taking on the Braves—with the ticket gaining attendees entrance into both contests.

Not surprisingly, Hoel–whose day job is bank president at First State Bank of Tuscola–had crunched all the numbers for the proposition. For the game to take place this spring, Tuscola is committed to selling 700 tickets.

“We would have to pay $16.40 per ticket, for an initial investment of $11,500, which I will personally be responsible for. They [tickets] have a face value of $33, and we would probably sell them for $25. For us to break even, we would have to sell 460 tickets. If we sell all 700 tickets–which after talking to several coaches who have done this trip I am convinced we will easily be able to do–that would mean a surplus of approximately $6,000 for the baseball program,” said Hoel.

“I’m not asking the school for any financial commitment on this, that will be on my shoulders, all I’m here for is to get your permission to take it on. My goal would be for all 32 kids in the program to step out on the field that day and have an at-bat in a Major League stadium. I think it’s a great opportunity for the boys,” Hoel said.

Financial outlook
Superintendent Michael Smith gave his now customary financial outlook report to board members, the news continuing to show a progressive upward turn in school district finances. One particularly bit of good news … corporate replacement tax payment received by the school district for January 2014 was a healthy $275,623.65. The December 2013 payment was $81,432.72.

Money in the Education Fund as of December 2013 was $2,123,582. That same fund in December 2012 stood at $1,230,378, and in December 2011 was $978,607. The total of the four main funds (Education, O&M, Transportation, Working Cash) in December 2013 was 3,558,591 … and the previous year’s total was $2,745,289.

On another front, Supt. Smith noted, prior to the board adopting the risk management plan for 2014-15, that the plan “goes hand in hand with the levying for the district’s Tort Fund. When we do that levying, we must have a plan in place to show that we have legitimate uses for that money.”
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal Jan. 29, 2014 edition

Council considering projects for next budget year


A view of the City Hall renovations facing east toward the main entrance. Additional office space is being created in the lobby area.

By Craig Hastings
Tuscola City Council members will start studying project proposals for the upcoming 2014-2015 fiscal budget year, as discussed at the Jan. 27, 2014 council meeting. There are approximately 90 days left before a final draft of a budget proposal to be voted on by the council. Implementation of the new budget would begin May 1, 2014.

Committee members have been encouraged to be prepared by early March to meet with Mayor Dan Kleiss, city Administrator Drew Hoel, and city Treasurer Alta Long with new projects and general operating expenditures of each of the departments they represent.

In the meantime, renovations and new construction continue on the interior of City Hall. City administration is acting as the general contractor overseeing the build. Some walls and electrical wiring are in place, with more support wiring for computers, telephones, and other electronic devices yet to be run.

The council voted unanimously Monday night to continue its contract with Carle Foundation Hospital to support an employee assistance program, at an annual cost of $832. The program is designed to assist employees should they have social problems associated with drugs, alcohol, mental health issues, etc.

The council voted unanimously to pay bills in the amount of $118,615.66, and approved a Bucket Drop fundraising event on May 17, to be undertaken by Becky’s Buddies Relay For Life team. The team will be collecting donations at the intersection of Main and Sale streets, Prairie and Northline roads, and the entrance to Tanger Outlet Center.

The council retired into an executive session at 7:45 p.m. to discuss pending litigation, and after reconvening in public session, adjourned without any further action being addressed.

The next council meeting will be held Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. at Tuscola City Hall.

Stille joins LW&H team

14drc_emilystilles003webLarsson, Woodyard, & Henson, LLP (LWH) is pleased to announce the addition of Emily Stille to its team. Emily, a Tuscola native who graduated from Tuscola High School in 2009, began working in the Tuscola office in December 2013.

Stille earned a bachelor of science in accounting from Eastern Illinois University in December 2013, and started working on her master’s degree at EIU in January 2014. She plans to sit for the CPA exam in 2015 after obtaining her master’s degree.

Stille was on the Dean’s List at EIU and earned a “Writes with Distinction” award for having a 4.0 for the EIU Writing Portfolio. She also earned a scholarship from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and was nominated for the Junior Excellence Award and Junior Merit Award while attending EIU.

Larsson, Woodyard, & Henson, LLP, with offices in Paris, Casey, and Tuscola, Ill. as well as Terre Haute, Ind., is a certified public accounting firm serving local, regional, national, and international clients.

Pugh January Rotary SOM

JanuarySOMwebTCHS senior Kyle Pugh, son of Mark and Beth Pugh, has been named Rotary Student of the Month for January. Kyle is ranked fifth in his class of 79 students, and has a GPA of 3.84.

As a freshman Kyle was involved in basketball, baseball, and football. His sophomore year he was in basketball, baseball, and football. As a junior, Kyle continued in basketball and baseball, and ran cross country. He was also inducted into National Honor Society.

This year, Kyle was nominated by both his cross country and basketball coaches to represent Tuscola as a senior athlete in the News-Gazette Pre-Season Editions. He is playing basketball, running cross country, and is a member of National Honor Society. After graduation, Kyle plans to attend college somewhere, and hopes to play basketball.