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$1.7M target for Kankakee riverwalk's 1st phase

KANKAKEE — Like a baby standing, with knees somewhat shaky, the little child lifts one foot and proceeds to take that initial step.

With parents watching in wonder, the first step forward was exciting, somewhat scary, but, for sure, highly anticipated.

Kankakee Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong used that as an example as to how the city administration and the community stakeholders feel as they begin to embark on the first phase of the much-discussed and long-anticipated Kankakee Riverwalk project.

“This will be the long-anticipated first step,” Wells-Armstrong said of the initial 1-acre development at the southeast corner of East River Street and South Schuyler Avenue just outside of downtown Kankakee.

The target area, already under city ownership, is immediately west of the Riverwoods Apartments complex and stretches from East River Street to the banks of the Kankakee River.

“This will be a long-term transformation. It will raise our image, our appeal and raise our quality of life,” she said to a group of about 25 onlookers on a beautiful late-summer evening.

Acknowledging that the nearly 4-mile targeted development is ambitious as it stretches from this East River Street point and continues along the river until it reaches the Riverside Medical Center campus, she said like that baby, it will be one step at a time.

The ultimate design for this first phase is not yet complete and public meetings will still be held to gain more impute, the location is anticipated to be the site for a ramps for canoes and kayaks, a plaza, public restrooms, an area to overlook the river as well as the first phase a walkway near the river’s banks.

The city has already purchased numerous properties in the footprint of the riverwalk plan. Many of the house have already been demolished and removed.

At the East River site, the house immediately west of apartment building is already a possession of the city. A timeline for its demolition has not been set.

The concept of this project is for the region to begin capitalizing on the asset the Kankakee River is in terms of recreational and leisure development. While the river is a valuable tool in terms of residential, commercial and industrial development as a source of water, it has been underused, in the opinions of many, as a recreational and leisure resource.

Through designs being brought forward by Hitchcock Design, under the title The Currents of Kankakee, and with significant inputs from the community, the plan on the first phase could soon be heading into the home stretch.

Richard Hitchcock said some public meetings will be held yet this fall and the hope is to have plans brought forward in early 2021 for the Kankakee City Council to review.

Of the numerous riverwalk-type developments Hitchcock has helped design, he has stated numerous times that Kankakee may have the best asset of any, meaning the Kankakee River.

In a short video explaining the project and what it could mean for the region, leaders say the time is now for Kankakee to act on a project of this magnitude.

Ald. Fred Tetter, D-7, who heads the city council Economic Development Committee, said there will always be skeptics of any project. There will also always be reasons to not take action, but those concerns must be put aside.

“Is this the right time?” he asked. “This is a great time to start in Kankakee.”

The $1.7 million for this phase of development is expected to come through donations and Tax Increment Financing funds, as well as state and federal grants.

Development at this location is not anticipated to begin for at least two years.

The entire 4-mile stretch targeted as part of this development will take years, noted Staci Wilken, chairwoman of the Kankakee Riverfront Society, the fundraising arm of the riverfront project.

But, she said, the project will never move forward without bold people and the backing of the community.

“We have a blank canvas right now. But we will never finish if we don’t started. This project is starting to gain momentum.”

Region 7 on pace to end mitigations this week

Coronavirus infection rates appear to be declining in most parts of Illinois, including two regions that are currently under enhanced mitigation measures such as the closing of bars and restaurants to indoor service.

In Region 7, which includes Kankakee and Will counties, the rolling average test positivity rate fell to 6.4 percent, according to the latest data. That’s a tenth of a point below the 6.5-percent benchmark that would allow for the lifting of those restrictions.

“IDPH will continue to watch that positivity over the next few days, and if that trend holds for three days, we will remove the resurgence mitigations and return the entire region to Phase Four of the Restore Illinois plan,” Pritzker said.

In Region 4, which includes the Metro East area across the river from St. Louis, the rolling average test positivity rate stood at 8.9 percent. That’s still above the 8-percent threshold that triggers the enhanced mitigation efforts, but well below the 9.6-percent rate the area recorded just three days earlier.

Pritzker noted that the positivity rate has held steady or declined in all but two regions of Illinois over the past two weeks. The statewide positivity rate stood at 3.7 percent as of Wednesday, an increase of one-tenth of a percent from the day prior.

On Wednesday, IDPH reported 1,941 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 over the previous 24 hours, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to 266,151. The department also reported an additional 35 virus-related fatalities, bringing the statewide death toll to 8,367.

As of Tuesday night, 1,565 people in Illinois were being hospitalized for COVID-19. That included 345 patients in intensive care units, of whom 143 were on ventilators.

Attorney argues Haynes and his brother bribed witness to recant his testimony in 1999 murder case

KANKAKEE — The attorney representing several people and government agencies being sued by Terrence Haynes argued in a motion Haynes and his brother, Jemiko Bates, bribed a witness in order to get his release from state prison and murder charges dropped from a 1999 case.

Haynes had served 20 years of a 45-year sentence, but the Illinois Appellate Court ruled in May 2018 he should be tried again when it was learned a key witness recanted his testimony and as other facts came to light.

The latest motion in the case was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Urbana by Chicago attorney James Sotos.

Sotos represents the City of Kankakee, Kankakee police officers Kenneth Lowman, Samuel Miller and Susan Wagner, Kankakee County, and former Kankakee County Assistant State’s Attorneys Frank Astrella and Michael Jeneary.

Lowman, Miller and Wagner investigated the case, while Astrella and Jeneary prosecuted it.

In his new filing, Sotos argued that tapes of phone calls Haynes made with family members, including Bates, show he and his brother conspired to pay $1,000 to Marcus Hammond, the state’s key witness at his August 2000 trial.

According to Sotos’ filing, Haynes discussed in early 2015, a $1,000 payment from his brother to Hammond in exchange for his testimony.

“Those calls demonstrate that [Haynes] actively approved of and offered money to fund the bribe,” according to the filing.

“Plaintiff has benefited tremendously from the bribery, including through the dismissal of criminal charges and receipt of a Certificate of Innocence. But Plaintiff’s use of the bribe to manufacture and advance this lawsuit in discovery now places him in the crosshairs of this Court’s broad remedial powers.”

Hammond recanted his earlier testimony that Murrell did not have a gun when Haynes fired two shots, hitting Murrell. Hammond was 10 years old when the shooting occurred on the porch of his brother’s (Gary Hammond) house.

According to court documents, Hammond told investigators Murrell was armed and going for his gun. Hammond said prosecutors told him to say he did not see Murrell with a gun.

Michael Jeneary and Marcus Hammond are cousins. This fact was brought up when Haynes filed a motion in 2008 that his due process rights were violated.

The 43-year-old Haynes is represented by Chicago attorneys Andrew M. Hale and Shawn W. Barnett of the firm Hale & Monico. They filed the lawsuit in October 2019.

Haynes and Bates are currently out on bail after both were arrested in July in Coles County and charged with drug trafficking.

Haynes’ lawsuit seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, costs and for “any additional relief that is just and proper.”

They argue that Haynes’ constitutional rights were violated, including the Fourth Amendment (unreasonable search and seizures) and 14th Amendment (due process).

The other four counts deal with Illinois state law in regard to malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, legal malpractice and compensation.

In June 2019, Haynes had all charges dropped against him from a 1999 arrest for the homicide of May 1999 shooting and killing of Cezaire Murrell.

Murrell and Haynes were involved in a fight prior to the shooting, according to court documents. Haynes was convicted in August 2000 and was sentenced to 45 years by Kankakee County Judge Kathy Bradshaw Elliott.

After the Illinois Appellate Court ruled in May 2018 he should be tried again, Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe dismissed the charges rather than try Haynes for a third time.

Rowe also agreed with a motion filed by Haynes’ attorneys for the court to grant a Certificate of Innocence. The certificate can remove the conviction from a person’s record. If granted, a wrongly convicted person can bring a claim for damages against the state.

According to the motion filed Wednesday by Sotos, the amount paid by the state was $236,095.

At Haynes’ hearing in regards to the Certificate of Innocence, Jeffrey R. Kivetz, an attorney with Sotos’ firm, was escorted from the courtroom after trying to get Judge Michael Sabol to allow him to speak.

Kivetz said he wanted to speak about the certificate. Rowe and Barnett both said Kivetz had no connection with this case.

As Kivetz was being escorted out he said, “I wasn’t trying to be rude. I just was trying to give our opinion.”

Parents share frustrations with virtual learning

BRADLEY — As the pandemic continues to seriously limit how school can operate, some parents are finding themselves struggling to keep children motivated on remote- and hybrid-learning schedules.

A few parents of Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School students shared their frustrations during the school board meeting Monday. Administrators addressed some of their concerns later during the meeting.

Amy Burn said her two children at BBCHS are having very different experiences.

She considers her sophomore lucky to have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) because those students are able to attend in-person school five days per week.

Other in-person learners were divided into A, B and C attendance groups starting this week so that only one-third of students are in the building at a time.

The school temporarily switched to remote-only learning for two weeks until Monday. Before that, in-person learners were divided into two attendance groups.

Burn’s other child at BBCHS is a senior in the “C” attendance group, and he struggles to stay motivated on days when he is not physically in school, she said.

“Every day is a fight,” Burn said. “He literally will sit on his PlayStation with his laptop in front of him.”

Burn said making sure her children are doing their remote classwork is a struggle because she cannot watch them all day. She even installed cameras in her home so she could monitor her children while she is at work.

“I have five kids. Nobody else is going to pay my bills. Nobody else is going to pay my mortgage or let my kids eat,” she said. “I can’t control every single aspect that goes on in my house.”

Burn said she has left work early some days to help her children figure out how to log into class properly so they wouldn’t be marked absent.

“This is a mess,” she said. “They need to be in school, plain and simple.”

Marissa Anderson said her freshman son was thrilled to start school, but the school’s two-week switch to remote-only proved to be difficult.

“When summertime rolled around, at the end, we were getting very excited to come back even though it was the part-time schedule,” Anderson said. “I watched his mental state decline, and I’ve watched it deteriorate even further these last few weeks as I’ve had to go into quarantine again.”

Anderson said she wishes her son could have a high school experience like her other child who has already graduated from BBCHS.

“It’s very heartbreaking to consider that these kids haven’t had the opportunity to be here like we wish they were and to form that bond with the school that my other student had,” she said. “I know that that just hasn’t happened.”

Melissa Fischer said she has two daughters at BBCHS, one junior and one senior, and she is concerned about whether or not they will be prepared academically when it is time for college.

“I’m very concerned about the level of education they’re getting and their ability to successfully apply to colleges and be successful at that level,” she said. “I am worried about their grades slipping and falling behind, their GPA going down the tubes.”

Fischer said she hopes the district can bring back in-person learning full time or incorporate more in-person learning into the hybrid plan.

“There have been many tears. There is a lot of anxiety, stress and a lot of sleepless nights in my house,” Fischer said. “Both of my kids say they feel like they have to teach themselves and the workload is overwhelming.”

Evan Tingley, director of student support, said Monday that staff members visited over 400 homes and made over 1,000 phone calls in the past week and a half to check in with students who were marked “disengaged” or were having technology issues or other problems.

He said the school has been able to reach all but 19 students.

“We delivered hot spots or anything a student needed,” he said. “Nothing was off limits.”

Superintendent Scott Wakeley said that the alternating attendance days are in effect because, unlike some other districts, BBCHS has only one school building and is tasked with social distancing nearly 2,000 students.

“We want our kids back,” he said. “There are some limitations and guidelines that are out of our control, and we can’t just say we’re not going to do what the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education say and hope for the best. It’s not possible for us.”

Wakeley also said he understands parents’ frustration, as the state’s guidelines for schools are continuously changing and updating.

“We certainly don’t want to minimize the fact that this is hard,” he said. “But we also don’t want to lose sight of [the fact that] we’re creating this plane while it’s in the air, so to speak, and every day is a new challenge.”

Wakeley said the school will continue knocking on doors and reaching out to disengaged students.

The school is also offering a space for students to complete virtual learning in the building, though the space is currently limited to 45 spots.

“We’ve talked to some parents [that said], ‘I’m taking my kids’ PlayStation and taking it to work with me,’” Wakeley said. “That’s not an option for everybody. We recognize that. Those are things everyone is dealing with.”

A discussion about plans to lengthen the school day is scheduled for the next school board meeting Oct. 12.