Dowagiac top 10 stories of 2015: City invests in downtown, credit card thieves target area, jailbreak startles county

Published 10:04 am Monday, December 28, 2015

Marked by several major triumphs for the city and school district along with a handful of shocks, setbacks and tragedies, 2015 was yet another monumental year for Dowagiac and its neighboring communities.

Throughout the next several issues of the Dowagiac Daily News, staff will count down the top stories of the year, culminating with the No. 1 story in the New Year’s Eve edition of the paper.

Leader Publications’ editorial staff created the list based on stories that were the most read, most talked about and most impactful in the community. Stories 10 through eight are as follows:

10: City begins efforts to improve downtown

If one looked at the minutes of many of the meetings of Dowagiac City Council the last 12 months, one could easily assume that city hall was entering the real estate business.

Following up on plans for the city’s central business district developed in 2014, city leadership approved the purchase of several pieces of downtown property throughout 2015. These acquisitions are meant to pave the way for future improvements to the district, be it through increasing green space, adding public parking space or refining intersections.

In February, the city purchased the Weaver Insurance building, located across from Beckwith Theatre Company at the corner Commercial and New York streets; council approved the purchase of former Westrate & Thomas law office located next door October. City hall also bought a residence at 307 Commercial St.

While city hall and their partners with Wightman & Associates have yet to formalize plans with how these new pieces of property will be utilized, it’s expected that leaders will move forward with their ambitions in the months to come.

9: State officials discover credit card skimmers at Sister Lakes gas station

While gas prices remained fairly low throughout 2015, people hitting the pumps at the Marathon station in Sister Lakes had something else to be worried about.

In August, officials with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Weights and Measures Division discovered the presence of three credit card “skimmers” installed in several pump-mounted card readers at the gas station on CR 690. These illegal devices, only one of which was found to be operational, were designed to capture and transmit information about cards inserted to the readers.

The skimmers were found during a routine inspection of the station’s pumps, officials said.

This was the first time these sort of machines were found in Michigan.

Since the discovery of the skimmers in August, MDARD officials have found nearly two dozen more in other parts of Michigan.

8: Community shaken up following jailbreak at county jail

The Dowagiac area was placed on high alert for several hours in late September, after an inmate walked away from work detail at the Cass County Jail.

Authorities with the Cass County Sheriff’s Office and other local agencies staged a manhunt that lasted a little more than 24 hours following the escape of 20-year-old Jason Matthew Graham from the county jail complex, located in Cassopolis. His escape prompted the county to contact several residents informing them of them of the escape. The Dowagiac Southwestern Michigan College was even briefly placed under lockdown.

Graham, of Three Rivers, had been serving a 330-day jail sentence when, while ordered to take out garbage to the dumpster outside the complex, decided to flee from the premises on Sept. 26. His flight ended a day later, when police found him in Three Rivers.

Graham was later sentenced for his escape in Cass County Court, where Judge Michael Dodge gave the man a two-year prison term.