The Daily Star continues to review important 2018 stories

Published 10:01 am Thursday, December 27, 2018

As the remaining days of 2018 whittle down to a new year, the Niles Daily Star reflects on the year’s top 10 stories. Each day will feature some of the biggest stories of the year that brought about significant change for the community and this year there were many. From coming together in times of tragedy to seeing new business developments and legislation change the economic landscape, it has been a busy year brimming with accomplishments and events that promise an equally exciting year ahead.

Number 7: Motor vehicle collision seriously injures local teens

NILES — The Niles and Buchanan communities rallied to support two teens who were injured in a car versus motorcycle crash this summer.

The crash occurred at 3:36 p.m. July 9 at the intersection of the U.S. 31 Bypass northbound exit ramp and eastbound U.S. 12.

Police determined that a gray Mercury was driven by 23-year-old Brian Elleott, of South Bend, who failed to yield right of way when entering onto U.S. 12 and pulled into the path of a Harley Davidson motorcycle driven by 18-year-old Dakota Cowan, of Galien, traveling eastbound on U.S. 12, according to the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department.

Four passengers also occupied the Mercury, including 58-year-old Sandra Elleott, 35-year-old Aaron Elleott, 10-year-old Vincent Bowman, and 7-year-old Colin Elleott.

Both the driver of the motorcycle, Cowan, and rear passenger 17-year-old Searra Inman, of Niles, were seriously injured and transported to Saint Joseph Memorial Hospital in Indiana and were listed in critical condition.

The accident left Inman paralyzed from the waist down. She has undergone two surgeries, one for her back and one for her jaw.

When Brandywine soccer coach Katie Kovac heard that Inman, one of her players, was seriously injured, she felt compelled to do something.

“When we heard about [the accident], we were just in shock and we wanted to do something to help,” Kovac said. “Searra is such a great kid and it’s so unfortunate that this happened. We [said], ‘we need to do something.'”

Kovac joined forces with assistant soccer coach Brooke Smith and several others who have ties to the school district, including Diane Smith, Erin Young and Sarah Dye. Together, they collaborated to host a Cookout Benefit for Searra.

In Buchanan, there was a similar response for Cowan.

The Herd — a Buchanan spirit club — raised money for Cowan in downtown Buchanan. Fellow Buchanan graduates and wrestlers who knew Cowan helped to collect money with donation jars. They collected in the downtown, holding donation jars and signs, which encouraged people to donate.

During a homecoming game this fall, Inman rolled out onto the track in her wheelchair. She continues to prove her strength and the support of her community, as wrestling Coach Rex Pomranka helps Searra qualify for wins on the mat.

Number 6: Election ties

ST. JOSEPH — A sequined Uncle Sam hat and the slips of paper it contained helped to determine the fate of the 2nd Ward City Council seat this midterm election.

The drawing followed a deadlocked tie in the city council’s 2nd Ward between candidates Travis Timm and incumbent Bob Durm.

Because of this, they were asked to draw from the hat at the Berrien County Courthouse in St. Joseph Nov. 14.

Timm, 26, drew an “elected” slip from the hat while Durm, 54, subsequently held the “not elected” slip of paper in his hand.

Following the drawing, Durm filed for a recount of 2nd Ward ballots, as is the losing drawer’s right to do. Durm had to pay a $50 fee for the recount.  While many have expressed outrage at the absurdity of the process via social media, it is part of an official process created by Michigan Election Law.

Recount election results showed that there was still a tie; therefore Timm was officially declared winner.

Durm and outgoing city council member Tim Skalla, who was defeated in the election by Jessica Nelson, was recognized for his 23 years of service to the city during an open house reception Nov. 29 at the Chapin Mansion.

Durm and Skalla received certificates of appreciation.

Former Niles mayor Mike McCauslin spoke during the event.

“I want to share with you that these gentlemen have served the city well,” McCauslin said. “They have kept the citizens’ interest at heart in all of their decisions.”

Before the tie between Timm and Durm, the primary election saw a near tie between two candidates vying for a seat as the Republican nominee for the Fifth District Cass County Commissioner. The unofficial results had Robert Benjamin with a one-vote lead over the incumbent candidate, Robert Ziliak: 322 to 321.

The race drew further interest from the community when a missing ballot was uncovered. During the canvassing process, where the election officials verify the votes, the ballot was found stuck in an election machine from Howard Township’s third precinct. The machine had malfunctioned on election night.

The ballot was discovered to be in Benjamin’s favor. Benjamin won the primary election: 327 to 321.