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'Hurricane Dogs' seek homes

ST. ANNE — Call them “Hurricane Dogs.”

At least that is how Jean Vinke, of Limestone Township, describes the 29 dogs she and her daughter, Sierra Davis, rescued from the devastation left by Hurricane Laura as it passed through Texas and Louisiana more than two weeks ago.

The storm caused massive damages there, but Vinke, a longtime correctional guard at the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee, wanted to do something to help. Already involved in helping dogs — particularly retired police dogs — find loving homes through the “K9 Up Project Free” she and Terry Ryan, of Bourbonnais, started in 2019, Vinke just couldn’t sit back as she learned of the scores of dogs who had lost their homes or were simply abandoned as a result of Hurricane Laura.

So, just this past Saturday, shortly after completing her shift at the detention center, Vinke and Sierra set out for Sabine, La., where they had learned a kill-shelter was seeking help in placing dogs into new homes.

They rented a minivan and after more than a dozen hours of driving, they arrived in Sabine, in southwest Louisiana, where they found more dogs than they could ever load into their van.

“There is a lot of poverty there in addition to the hurricane,” Vinke explained. “There are so many people there displaced. They just keep bringing the dogs in. There were so many puppies there who needed to be placed. We just wanted to help.”

They filled up the van with 29 dogs. Where the dogs would eventually find a home was not exactly clear to Vinke, but she knew that Jordan Chapman, the executive director of the Kankakee County Humane Foundation in St. Anne, was more than willing to help out.

On Monday morning, following a 20-hour return trip to Kankakee County — a trip which included some potty breaks for a van-full of pups — Vinke dropped off 17 dogs at the foundation. Of the 17 dogs, 15 are less than 6 months old. Three of the fury, four-legged pups are under 8 weeks.

Breeds range from terrier mix, to golden retriever to black labs.

Chapman couldn’t resist taking in this pack.

“Before they left for Louisiana, I told her we would take some dogs. Just fill up the van with them.”

Her friend did just that.

“Unfortunately in these type of situations [hurricanes and other natural disasters], people leave their dogs behind,” Chapman said noting the dogs are full of life and seem to be thoroughly enjoying life near the northern region of the country, rather than its southern boundary.

“The dogs haven’t missed a beat,” she said.

Chapman noted the foundation shelter just happened to be somewhat low in terms of dogs as adoptions have been doing well recently, so there was plenty of bed space available.

“We’ve got plenty of dogs available. We’ve got little ones, big ones and they are all over on ages,” she said.

With the Monday delivery, the shelter at 2214 Illinois Route 1, St. Anne, now has 30 dogs in all. She noted dogs can be viewed in person or on the foundation’s Facebook page. Chapman advises potential adoptive families to fill out paperwork prior to arranging a visit.

Getting such a large influx of canines is not unheard of. Chapman noted in December they took in 19 dogs from the Pembroke Township area.

“These new dogs are looking very healthy,” Chapman said. “They look like such sweet dogs. We’re busy, but busy in a good way.”

She believes these dogs will be adopted out in no more than two weeks time.

“It’s going to take us longer to sort through the applications than it will be to find hones. It’s great we were able to help,” Chapman said.

Said Vinke: “The van was cramped, but it was worth it.”

Strong Neighborhoods Home open houses to assess community needs

KANKAKEE — Residents of Kankakee’s 2nd Ward are invited to discuss needs in their community during two open houses this week in the Strong Neighborhoods Home at 591 S. Elm Ave.

Strong Neighborhood Homes are properties converted into something similar to community centers, but they are customized for residents of the neighborhood.

The city of Kankakee acquired the blue two-story house at the northwest corner of South Elm Avenue and East River Street for $90,000 in late May using federal grant funds.

The city as well as Kankakee School District 111 and United Way of Kankakee and Iroquois Counties intend to use this home to offer social services to help those in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The open houses will be from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday. Residents are asked to register online for 20-minute time slots via a link on the United Way’s Facebook page.

Barbi Brewer-Watson, executive director of the Kankakee Economic & Community Development Agency, said students studying social work at Olivet Nazarene University will be assisting in community needs assessment with 2nd Ward residents.

Information gathered will be used to determine what specific programs and services are most needed in the neighborhood.

“They are trying to learn what are their needs, what are their desires, what are the things they would like to have, not only in their neighborhood, but also what assistance they may need in their homes or personal lives to create more opportunities,” Brewer-Watson said.

Kerstin Rust, executive director of United Way of Kankakee and Iroquois Counties, said there isn’t much furniture in the house yet, but chairs will be set up to facilitate conversations with residents in focus groups.

Conversations will be centered on understanding residents’ views of the strengths and challenges in their neighborhood as well as what solutions they would prioritize to make their neighborhood better, Rust said.

“Really the purpose of this is to hear from the residents before we bring in any services so that we know what it is they want their community to look like,” she said.

Currently, the school district has an office set up within the house to offer resources for families in the neighborhood that need support, Rust said.

“That’s where we’re starting, and then with these conversations, we’re hoping to be able to identify our next steps moving forward,” she said.

UPDATED: Inmate attacks correctional officer at Kankakee County jail

KANKAKEE — An inmate at Jerome Combs Detention Center has been charged with attempted murder and aggravated battery of a police officer after an attack on Monday.

Michael L. Christmas, 44, of Kankakee, put a chokehold on the officer at about 5:13 p.m., Kankakee County Sheriff Chief Deputy Ken McCabe said on Tuesday.

Fellow correctional officers were able to subdue Christmas, McCabe said. The officer was taken to a local hospital to be checked out. He was then released.

Christmas is now being held in isolation at the jail.

During Christmas’ bond hearing Tuesday, Kankakee County Assistant State’s Attorney Erika Hamer said the victim was on rounds. Christmas was out of his cell for his mandatory one hour of exercise.

According to a report, Christmas yelled at the officer, who turned to leave the area.

Hamer said Christmas wrestled the officer to the ground. Christmas was choking the officer, who was able to pull Christmas’ arm from around his neck. But Christmas was able to choke the officer again. When other correctional officers arrived, they used tasers to subdue Christmas.

McCabe said the investigation is ongoing and they would be looking if proper procedures were followed at the time of the incident. Judge Kathy Bradshaw-Elliott increased Christmas’ bail to $750,000.

Prior to Monday’s incident, Christmas was being held on $100,000 bond after he was arrested on Aug. 23 by Kankakee Area Metropolitan Enforcement Group officers and charged with two felony counts of delivery of controlled substance (cocaine).

No decision on KRMA audit

KANKAKEE — If there is to be an in-depth audit of the Kankakee Regional Metropolitan Agency books, it won’t happen until October at the earliest.

At Tuesday’s monthly KRMA board meeting, commissioners said they did not know of Bradley Village Board’s resolution from its Monday night village meeting and the group said the matter could be addressed at the next board meeting, Oct. 13.

Bradley and its finance director, Rob Romo, are pushing for what is known as a forensic audit — meaning an in-depth look at certain bills and invoices. The chief target of Bradley’s inquiry are invoices paid to former KRMA executive director Richard Simms.

Romo said the audit could cost about $20,000 and be completed within 30 days.

Near the end of the meeting, Bourbonnais Mayor Paul Schore asked, “Does the Village of Bradley want KRMA to pay for this forensic audit”

“Of course,” Romo replied.

Simms is facing a federal indictment for the alleged defrauding of KRMA and the City of Kankakee’s Environmental Services Utility of about $2 million — $1 million from KRMA and a similar amount from Kankakee’s ESU.

Simms was indicted earlier this year after a lengthy career with both entities. Simms retired from the organization’s on April 30, 2018. He had been involved with the KRMA plant for 31 years.

Romo said if KRMA wants to make sure this type of actions are not repeated, then the board must rely on financial experts to direct them on putting in proper policies and procedures.

But before those steps can be taken, Romo indicated, an in-depth audit must be competed to see where the system lacked controls.

“What happened? How did it slip under our noses?” he asked. “Has anything been implemented since that happened? We have not looked into the payments to Simms. Not looking into this is a huge disservice to the communities and customers” served.

Romo said the agency must identify where there are flaws in KRMA management procedures — particularly those dealing with check-writing.

“How can we prevent it from happening again?” he asked.

The agencies has a day-to-day accounting firm. The books are also audited as is the practice of every other governmental body.

The fate of a third set of eyes, not just looking at the expense and where and when it was paid, but what was the reason for the work and was that service justified, need to be determined.