There’s good news, and there’s bad news. And in 2017, communities in The Advertiser area endured a little bit of both.
An announcement in June that the state plans to build a new state psychiatric hospital on the site of Caro Center, saving hundreds of jobs and creating dozens more, represented one of the top feel-good moments in our Thumb community.
But there were a lot of negative reports coming from the area in 2017 too, as violent crimes kept residents tuned into the local news.
Here is a look, in no particular order, at The Advertiser’s top 10 news stories of 2017.
What: State says new state hospital will be built on grounds of Caro Center
Where: Indianfields Township
What happened: After months of worry that the outdated Caro Center, a state-run psychiatric hospital, would be shut down, and a new out-of-area hospital constructed, an announcement was made in June that a new state hospital would be constructed in Tuscola County.
Tuscola County leaders said that the project would cost $115 million and add 100 new jobs to the nearly 350-person workforce.
“We’re sky high, we’re just soaring. What a big victory, what a big win,” Tuscola County Administrator Michael Hoagland told The Advertiser in June. Hoagland helped lead the fight to keep the state hospital local.
What: Wind, wind farms and wind issues
Where: Juniata, Almer, Ellington and Fairgrove townships
When: All of 2017
What happened: NextEra Energy Resources, out of Juno Beach, Fla., has constructed three wind farms in the Thumb. But projects four and five have hit some road bumps.
NextEra’s first three projects, Pheasant Run in Huron County, and Tuscola-Bay and Tuscola II in Tuscola County are up and running. Its fourth proposed wind farm, Tuscola III, which calls for the construction of wind turbines in Fairgrove, Almer and Ellington townships, is currently caught up in litigation after NextEra filed separate lawsuits against Almer and Ellington townships after each rejected NextEra’s request for a special land use permit.
NextEra’s fifth Thumb project – Pegasus Wind Energy Center – would place 63 turbines in Fairgrove and Juniata townships. The Fairgrove Township Planning Commission approved NextEra’s SLUP request earlier this month, while the Juniata Township Planning Commission will attempt, for the third time, to vote on NextEra’s permit request at a Jan. 3 special meeting.
Concerned citizens’ groups in Almer, Ellington and Juniata townships have been vocal in opposition against turbine construction regulations, making wind energy one of 2017’s hottest local topics.
What: Three dead following Sanilac County shootout
Where: Sanilac County’s Greenleaf Township
When: Nov. 19
What happened: Early reports of a double homicide shocked Thumb residents a few days before Thanksgiving. When the facts were sorted out, the Sanilac County Sheriff’s Office reported that a theft at a home where medical marijuana was grown went awry, resulting in the shooting death of two suspects.
The shootout also resulted in the homeowner being shot in the leg. The remaining two suspects, 48-year-old Stephen Shimmel and 30-year-old Preston Jack were each charged with 11 crimes. Shimmel, however, hung himself in a Sanilac County Jail cell two days after the incident.
The case against Jack is pending. All four suspects were from Flint.
What: Man accused of hitting wife in head with an ax
Where: Indianfields Township
When: May 26
What happened: Authorities came upon a grim discovery at a home on M-15 in Indianfields Township in May. Upon arrival, they found a woman in bed, bleeding profusely from an ax wound to her head.
After a swift investigation, the woman’s husband, William Williams was arrested and charged with six felonies, including assault with intent to murder, which carries the possibility of life in prison.
The Tuscola County Prosecutor’s Office alleges that Williams bludgeoned his wife with the blade portion of a large “splitting maul” ax, then went to his job with Palace Sports & Entertainment at Meadow Brook Amphitheatre in Rochester Hills. When he returned home about 14 hours later, and his wife still alive, Williams made it look like an intruder had broken into the house and injured his wife, according to police reports.
Williams is slated for a jury trial in April.
What: Local family hits The Big Time
Where: Near Caseville in Huron County
When: January and September
What happened: The Putman family – the children and grandchildren of Caro High School graduates Bill and Barb Putman – were featured in a reality-TV show, titled “Meet the Putmans.” TLC featured a pilot show in January, then ran six more episodes in September and October.
The show revolves around the Putman family, consisting of 10 adults and 17 children who live under one roof in a 6,400-square-foot home near Caseville. The Putmans are currently constructing a new home in Ellington Township, which may be featured in future episodes.
What: Local doctor acquitted of seven crimes faces trial again
When: October and December
What happened: In one of the longest trials in recent Tuscola County history, Dr. Joseph E. Oesterling was found not guilty of seven counts brought against him on Oct. 5. Oesterling faced up to 30 years in prison on the counts, which resulted from allegations that the doctor ran a “pill mill,” and overprescribed drugs, including the painkiller Norco, from his clinic in Caro.
The trial lasted several weeks.
But Oesterling is not out of the woods yet. Earlier this month Oesterling – former chief of urology at the University of Michigan Medical Center – was charged with 25 crimes in Tuscola County, including an allegation he conducted a criminal enterprise and 14 counts of Medicaid fraud.
What: Vassar schools sees bond proposal rejected – twice
Where: Vassar Public Schools district
When: May and August
What happened: In two separate elections, bond proposals which would have benefited Vassar Public Schools were nixed by voters.
The first bond issue ($19.7 million) was rejected by voters in May. The Vassar school board was ready with another bond proposal ($16 million) for the August election, which was also turned down.
Days after the August election, it was announced that the bleachers at the Vassar football field and in the high school gymnasium were not up to code and would no longer be used.
The latest development involving the school district includes the purchase of new bleachers for the gym and consideration of a third, lesser, bond proposal.
What: “Evil personified”: Man sentenced to 52 years behind bars for heinous crimes
When: June 8
What happened: On June 8, 48-year-old David Alex Brigham was sentenced to 52 to 100 years in prison for sexual assaulting an 8-year-old girl.
The crime was perpetrated in July 2016, when Brigham kidnapped the girl from her home in the early morning hours of July 30, and drove her to a secluded location where he repeatedly sexually assaulted and beat the child before returning her to her home, where police were waiting.
Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark Reene said Brigham represented “evil personified” during the sentencing hearing. In April, shortly before his trial was set to begin, Brigham accepted a plea bargain and was convicted on one count of kidnapping and three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
What: First-of-its-kind marijuana business opens
What happened: On Friday, Dec. 22, just in time for Christmas, The Station Provisioning Center opened in Vassar. The business, which provides medical marijuana to cardholders, is thought to be the first of its kind in Michigan.
The store, at 302 E. Huron Ave., operates in accordance with the state’s 2016 Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act, which allows stores to grow and sell much larger quantities of marijuana than individual caregivers, who are limited to provide for just a handful of medical-marijuana cardholders.
What: Alleged mistreatment of horse causes online stir
Where: Millington Township
What happened: On a Sunday morning hike, 16-year-old Saginaw County resident Zack Kolaja came across an unhealthy-looking horse lying on the ground at a Millington Township farm. Kolaja took photos of the animal, posted them on social media, and the pictures went viral, resulting in thousands of shares and comments.
The Advertiser contacted the horse’s owner, Craig Blue of Millington Township, who called Kolaja a cyberbully who trespassed on Blue’s land. Ultimately, the approximately 10-year-old horse was euthanized days after the photos were taken.