Downriver 2015: September to December

Photo by James Mitchel. A compassionate community surrounded the family of 7-year-old Emma Watson Nowling during a prayer vigil at Taylor Sportsplex Dec. 10. The girl’s grandmother, Pam Watson, held a rose and raised a hand in prayer a during the solemn ceremony held one week after the tragedy.

Photo by James Mitchel. A compassionate community surrounded the family of 7-year-old Emma Watson Nowling during a prayer vigil at Taylor Sportsplex Dec. 10. The girl’s grandmother, Pam Watson, held a rose and raised a hand in prayer a during the solemn ceremony held one week after the tragedy.

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Here’s a look back at the final third of 2015 and the news that shaped Downriver.


The Lincoln Park Sports Hall of Fame welcomed its newest members during a Rotary Club dinner. Former player and coach William Meadows, Class of 1961, and track and field Sherice Duchamp (Kryzwonos), Class of 1972, were honored along with members of the 1962 varsity football team, the undefeated 1963 squad, and swim teams from 1955 to 1957.

Southgate city officials cut the ribbon at Market Center Park, a ceremonial completion to a project first envisioned five years earlier. The $400,000 pavilion and amphitheater project began hosting live entertainments on the site of the former Montgomery Ward, part of a public-private project to revitalize Southgate Shopping Center. Grand opening festivities included giveaways by local retailers, a farmer’s market and live music by Little Davy and the Diplomats. Entertainment to include movie nights and theater productions finished out the year, with plans for a full calendar in 2016.

Lincoln Park Police and Fire officials were humbled by a cash donation to those departments — $10,000 each as a gift from a resident who wished to remain anonymous. Mayor and former Police Chief Thomas Karnes said a young man who’d had some success with a local business simply wanted to give back to the city’s first responders. “It’s a good feeling knowing that people care enough about what they’re doing,” Karnes said.

Taylor firefighters responded to several “nuisance fires” in September – that included the press box at Kennedy High School – and also to a tragic fire that claimed the life of a 28-year-old man. Fire Chief Steve Portis said a house fire in the 6800 block of Marvin – just a few blocks from the central fire station – took the life of Christopher Akers in spite of a two-minute response.

A 27-year-old Taylor woman was charged with the fatal shooting on Sept. 22 of a 28-year-old man who lived with her in the Ponds apartment complex. Police and prosecutors said Gabrielle Yvone Butler – following several arguments during a Sunday afternoon spent drinking and watching football – shot and killed Kendall Dourell Murphy. Butler was charged with open murder and held without bond.

A broken water main valve at the intersection of Oak and Robert in Melvindale on the evening of Sept. 21 left many residents without water for nearly 24 hours. The broken valve was found on an area of pipe that is no longer being serviced by the city, as the business it was furnishing is now getting their water from Allen Park. Rick Browning, supervisor for the city’s water department, said a backflow of water into the unused pipe caused pressure on the pipe which led to a hydraulic effect, and broke the valve. The orange color of the water was due to a buildup of sentiment because of the rust in the broken pipe.


A joint venture between Taylor city and school officials and the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters Local 687 resulted in a new stage and upgraded walls at the theater in Truman High School. Volunteer carpenters spent a day installing the furnishings, a project that had been proposed earlier in the year as a way to merge city and school interests.

Lincoln Park celebrated its 90th year as a city with the showing of two classic 1920s films – “The Gold Rush” and “The Phantom of the Opera” – at Lincoln Park High School. The screening and special “Legends of Lincoln Park” awards during intermission, were attended by invited guests who had been born in the 1920s when the city first incorporated.

Demolition work began at the Taylor site of the former Gibraltar Trade Center, which had the previous year ended its lengthy run as a Eureka Road landmark. The 88-acre site was being prepared for a new Menards outlet along with satellite business and restaurants. City officials said that prospects continued to improve for the Eureka Road corridor with major retailers and chain restaurants expected to invest in the area.

Kevin Bernard Sketoe, 44, of Southgate, who admitted to having multiple contagious diseases, was arraigned Monday for forcibly kissing a 15-year-old Wyandotte girl Sept. 26. Detective Rick Weise said Sketoe was highly intoxicated during booking, and claimed to have Hepatitis C, tuberculosis, and HIV. Weise said Sketoe refused to take a breathalyzer test.

The U.S. Department of Justice determined on Aug. 25 that “no further action is warranted at this time” against the Allen Park Housing Commission, which was accused of discriminatory housing practices in May 2013. It was alleged that the Housing Commission used unfair practices that made it hard for black applicants to obtain low income housing at the Leo Paluch Housing Center for seniors. The complaint that was filed accused the commission of using a highlighter to mark applications from blacks to prevent them from obtaining housing.

Six months after becoming interim assistant city administrator in Allen Park, Mark Kibby was officially declared the new city administrator by the Receivership Transition Advisory Board. He was selected from five applicants to take over for interim City Administrator Bob Cady, who is also the director of finance.

Police raided a vacant Allen Park rental property that was being used for a marijuana grow operation Oct. 13 following a tip from a citizen. Thorburn said it took approximately two weeks from the tip to obtain and execute a search warrant for the house in the 6300 block of Winona. Thorburn followed the tip and went to the house to investigate.

A 38-year-old mother of four was killed in a car crash Oct. 16 in Allen Park, when she turned her vehicle into a produce truck on Pelham Road, near Wick just before 8 a.m. Roseann Sweet, 38, of Taylor was driving south on Pelham near railroad tracks when she suddenly turned left in an attempt to go into the parking lot of J’s Car Wash and Oil Change, 9055 Pelham, which was closed at the time. Fire Chief Douglas Lafond said there had been a problem with a stalled train on the tracks that morning, but traffic had resumed prior to the crash.


Lincoln Park voters again defeated a proposed millage designed to secure long-term retirement obligations. General election balloting resulted in 53 percent of participating voters – just 13 percent of the city’s registered voters participated in the single-issue election – rejected a proposed tax levy for pensions and retirements. A similar proposal had been defeated in May, and Emergency Manager Brad Coulter said it was doubtful that another attempt would be made any time soon.

Voters in Southgate cleared the way for both city street improvements and the financing of a school bond, neither of which resulted in new or additional taxes. General election balloting in the city saw the renewal of a five-year, .2-mill levy for street repairs and improvements along with approval for a 25-year, $20 million bonding proposal for Southgate Community Schools.

Trenton City Clerk Patricia Gearhardt ended more than 20 years of service to the community, and turned over the office to longtime Deputy Clerk Debra Devitt, who ran unopposed for the position during the November general election. Incumbent City Councilmen Bill LeFevre and Robert Howey topped the balloting and were re-elected, while challenger Nelson J. Perugi unseated incumbent councilwoman MaryEllen McLeod. Mayor Kyle Stack, Assessor John Dahlquist and Treasurer Mike McCullogh ran unopposed for their offices.

Allen Park resident Bruce Haberkern, who was a candidate for City Council in the Nov. 3 election, died at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital the morning of Oct. 31, three days before the election. He still was able to draw 784 votes posthumously. Since his passing was so close to the election, his name remained on the ballot. Clerks were not allowed to say anything to anyone about his passing unless they asked directly because it might sway the vote.

Riverview City Council candidate Mark Drysdale died Nov. 10 after falling off a ladder Nov. 2, a day before the general election. Drysdale, 63, died at Beaumont Hospital – Trenton. He earned the fourth highest amount of votes in a bid for one of three city council seats in the Nov. 3 election. Drysdale was offered a fourth vacancy that opened up after Councilman Andrew Swift won the race for mayor. Swift had two years left on his term.

Wayne County officials and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced a $1 million agreement to construct a boat dock and fishing pier at Trenton’s Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge Gateway. The refuge – a decades-long project to restore more than 40 acres of land alongside the Detroit River that once housed a Chrysler plant – was established in 2001. Preservation projects include nearly 6,000 acres of natural habitats, and a visitor’s center near where the dock and pier will be was dedicated in 2013.

A 26-year-old Wyandotte woman was sentenced to by Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Morrow to 9 to 20 years in prison Oct. 26 for killing her newborn son March 31. Kimberly Pappas, accepted a plea deal Oct. 7, and pled guilty to the reduced charge of second degree murder. Pappas was originally charged with felony murder, first degree murder, and first degree child abuse and was facing life in prison without the possibility of parole. Pappas gave birth to a seemingly healthy baby boy March 31 in the bathroom of her place of employment in Redford Township. She then took the baby and placed him in a plastic bag and put him in a tote bag next to her desk.

After waiving his preliminary exam in 24th District Court Nov. 16, a 31-year-old Dearborn man was bound over to Wayne County Circuit Court and later had his bond reduced in connection with a Nov. 6 bank robbery in Allen Park. Christopher Mathew Szuch was charged with bank robbery and armed robbery for allegedly robbing the Zeal Credit Union, 7240 Park Ave. about 10 a.m. Nov. 6. He was arrested five hours later.

A 31-year-old Inkster woman remains jailed on a $1 million bond in connection with the Nov. 7 Allen Park head-on crash on I-94 that killed two motorcyclists. Chana Woods was charged with driving under the influence of drugs causing death. She appeared before 24th District Court Judge Richard Page Nov. 23 and her bond was continued. She was set for a 9:30 a.m. Nov. 30 preliminary examination of the evidence against her, also before Page.

After the back-and-forth of he may be in, maybe he won’t, Riverview resident Bill Towle was sworn in to his seat on the City Council to fill the two years left when Andrew Swift left the council to become mayor. Towle finished fifth in the general election, but was offered the vacancy after fourth place finisher Mark Drysdale died from injuries he suffered in a fall from a ladder. Towle attended nearly every city council meeting as a private citizen and took the council to task over pensions, budgets and transparency.


A community mourned the tragic death of a 7-year-old Belleville girl who was shot and killed in the parking lot of Taylor Sportsplex after soccer practice. Taylor police responded to the arena, where Emma Watson Nowling and her mother, Sharon Watson, had both been shot by 57-year-old Timothy Nelson Obsershaw, a Taylor man who then took his own life. Police Chief Mary Sclabassi said Obsershaw had been a family friend to the girl and her mother, and had dropped them off at the Sportsplex earlier that evening. Obsershaw had been staying with the family in Belleville before recently moving to Taylor, and had suffered mental health issues in the past year.

Public input was welcome as the Taylor Public Schools Board of Education broadened its search for a superintendent to succeed Diane Allen, who earlier in the year announced plans for a June retirement. Board President John Reilly said internal searches hadn’t produced a candidate who met the board’s expectations, and officials enlisted the Michigan Association of School Boards to help launch a wider search. Public forums were held with hopes of developing selection criteria to be used during January interviews.

Trenton officials ended the year with expectations that progress – and not demolition – would soon be seen at the former Riverside Osteopathic Hospital. City Administrator Jim Wagner said city council’s approval of a Planned Urban Development designation for the West Jefferson property was expected in January, clearing the way for property owner Dr. Iqbal Nasir to transform the property and structures into medical offices and a care facility.

Lincoln Park Emergency Manager Brad Coulter officially resigned his post after state treasury officials confirmed that the financial crisis had been sufficiently resolved to begin restoring authority to city officials. Gov. Rick Snyder accepted Coulter’s report and appointed a Regional Transition Authority advisory panel for the next phase of receivership. The city had been placed under state oversight in 2014 after mounting a deficit of nearly $5 million due to declining property values and underfunded pension and retirement plans. State advisors will meet monthly to review financial decisions made by City Manager Matt Coppler and the city council, which will begin regaining authority en route to full autonomy.

Riverview City Council member Bill Towle made his debut meeting memorable, confronting nearly every council member.
An Allen Park icon was removed from Pretty Family park. The wading pool was removed and the hole filled with dirt. Council members and Mayor William Matakas reminisced during a council meeting about what the wading pool meant to them. Matakas said he used to work at the pool and his dad helped build the pool in 1942. “I won’t say they got the concrete legally for it. That was a war item,” he said.

Wyandotte City Council approved the addition of new officers, police cars and promotions for the Police Department. Conditional job offers were presented to police candidates Kyle Runyon of Big Rapids and Nathan Hiske of Trenton, who ranked highest in the pool of applicants in the written and agility examinations, Police Chief Dan Grant said. The Council also approved the purchase of three new police vehicles to replace two patrol cars and one unmarked vehicle. They unanimously approved the purchase of the SUVs.

Melvindale City Council members emerged from closed session Dec. 16, unanimously agreeing to make an offer on the former Palmer Elementary School from the Melvindale-North Allen Park School District. The council wouldn’t elaborate on what the city will do with the property. The school, which stood at 19127 Palmer St., was leveled years ago and is being used as green space. The school is one of the district’s six defunct schools.

(Compiled by James Mitchell and Tereasa Nims.)