Make your home page

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — After a one-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Indiana State Fair is back.

While many things are the same as in fairs before the pandemic hit, there are a few new things, especially in light of the ongoing coronavirus concerns. One of those new things are the hand-sanitizing stations all over and masks for people.

Selena Rouse, who was with her friend Tracey Williams, said, “I’ve been every year since I was 10 years old so I don’t want to miss it this year.”

Rouse didn’t want to miss the fun even though she has medical conditions that prevent her from getting the coronavirus vaccine. “I feel safe. I try to stay not where it’s as crowded.”

But, she and Williams are in the extreme minority. It seemed like 99%, if not more, of people outdoors did not have a mask on Friday afternoon.

“Nobody’s wearing masks pretty much, and I really wish they would,” Rouse said.

Ashley Hubbard and her family also couldn’t stay away from the fair either. “This is an annual tradition for our family. It has been for years.”

She’s vaccinated, but both her and her son are at increased risk for COVID complications as well. “We have been using hand sanitizer at every ride, station everywhere we’ve been,” Hubbard said and then laughed. “I’m glad there’s not a whole lot of other people, that it’s not extremely crowded.”

State fair officials said guest safety is their utmost priority so they’re doing what they can. Along with over 500 sanitizing stations, they’re recommending everyone wear a mask while indoors and that people who are not vaccinated follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Fair officials also tried to make contactless transactions a priority, even making the tractor shuttles around the fair free this year. “We’re a 250-acre campus, a lot of elbow room so we can definitely spread out,” said Sharon Smith, the fair’s communications director.

For Hubbard and other fairgoers who are at extra risk, every bit of safety is appreciated. They don’t want to miss out on the annual custom two years in a row.

“It makes it seem like tradition for sure,” Hubbard said. “Last year was rough.”

While Rouse planned to leave the State Fairgrounds as soon as it got more crowded, she’s also planning to come back with her family again on another day, even if the masks like hers are few and far between.

“It makes me uncomfortable, but all I can do is take care of myself and try to social distance myself,” Rouse said.

The fair is open Wednesday through Sundays through Aug. 22.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — President Joe Biden on Thursday called on states and local governments to offer cash as an incentive for vaccinations: $100 to people who haven’t already gotten the shot.

The idea has had some success in other states and with employers including Kroger.

Biden hopes it will help people overcome their hesitancy if they see green.

Usiel Contreras told News 8 from Monument Circle shortly after Biden’s announcement, “If I was offered 100 bucks, then, yeah, I’d get it,” Contreras said. “If they say, ‘Here’s 100 bucks, go get it,’ I’m just like, yeah, sure.”

Also on Monument Circle, Ivy Harkenrider said she’s not yet been vaccinated, and $100 would not be not enough. “No, but my college is making me.”

Harkenrider said the very idea of a cash incentive makes her more leery of the whole thing. “I think any vaccination other people have taken, they never had to be paid.”

“One-hundred dollars doesn’t make that much of a difference at the end of the day,” Harkenrider said. “It would have to be $1,000 for me to really like step foot forward, ‘Ok, I’ll put this mystery medicine in me.'”

For the 164 million fully vaccinated Americans, including 60% of adults, the idea may sound unfair. Biden addressed that in his remarks. “If incentives help us beat this virus, I believe we should use them. We all benefit if we can get more people vaccinated.”

The idea has already been used in Colorado, New Mexico and Ohio as well as the Kroger supermarket chain.

Back on Monument Circle, Savannah Dean said she’s already fully vaccinated, but added, “If they were to do some type of back pay for the people that were before, then I think that would be a good idea.”

“If that’s what it’s going to take for some people to get it, then I think they should,” Dean said.

Tom Ozuk, who has been fully vaccinated for months, told News 8 he hopes the cash works. “I hope so. The country needs it.”

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office declined to provide a response to Biden’s proposal.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s office said it’s reviewing the new guidance from the White House and will present its plans for the city’s allocation of federal dollars at a City-County Council meeting on Aug. 9. The city’s 2022 budget will be considered at that meeting.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A toddler was recovering Wednesday night at Riley Hospital for Children from severe burns to her hands and feet after playing at a splash pad.

Town officials are not yet sure what may have happened.

Kai’Brea Maurice, a 17-month-old from Muncie, and her mom, Austyn Maurice, went to the new splash pad in Yorktown on Monday afternoon. Austyn said Kai’Brea ran over to the edge of the pad on some manhole covers. Immediately the girl’s feet started to burn and then she put her hands down and those were burned as well.

Austyn believes it is a chemical burn. She said that doctors have told her they are deep second-degree burns but haven’t determined the cause.

Yorktown Town Manager Pete Olson said Wednesday that while the manhole covers are over chlorine and acid tanks, which are required for the disinfecting process of the splash pad, they don’t appear to have any leaks. They are about 6-8 inches below the surface. If there was a leak, it would go deeper underground to a containment well, not to the surface.

Officials went out Tuesday and measured the temperature. Olson said the covers tested at about 140 degrees in the heat of the sun compared to the concrete which tested at 120 degrees.

On Wednesday, town employees painted the manhole covers white to reflect the heat. Olson said that area tested cooler than the surrounding concrete after the paint job.

“We were absolutely saddened. We in no way envisioned this being an area that people get hurt although things happen anytime that you’re out and about,” Olson said. “We have individuals over there and looking those areas twice a day and making sure everything’s great. We’ll continue to do that.”

The splash pad just opened two months ago and is part of a $750,000 renovation downtown next to Town Hall in an area called the Civic Green.

Austyn told News 8 she was exhausted from the last couple days and declined an interview. She said doctors are supposed to tell her Thursday if Kai’Brea needs surgery. She said physicians are hopeful because Kai’Brea cries when her hands and feet are touched, which is a good sign that likely means the nerves are still working.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday came just hours before some students walk into a classroom for the first time, including in Wayne Township.

They were a surprise even to school administrators who are in a tough spot with less than a day to plan. Henri Kowalczyk’s son will be a freshman at Ben Davis.

“It’s tough to think about that somebody might not be vaccinated next to my son for sure,” Kowalczyk said.

Wayne school officials sent out their third set of mask rules in just two weeks Tuesday, a reaction in part to new CDC guidance in which CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, “CDC recommends that everyone in K-12 schools wear a mask indoors, including teachers, staff, students, and visitors, regardless of action, regardless of vaccination status. Children should return to full-time, in-person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategies in place.”

Wayne schools are not going that far. Younger students will be able to take their mask off when they are their classroom pods of five or six, socially distant from other classroom pods.

“Because we know that’s better for learning, better for mental health and their social and emotional wellbeing,” Wayne Superintendent Dr. Jeff Butts said.

Older students will be seated alphabetically.

Masks are recommended for everyone but only required for those not vaccinated. Masks must be worn on buses and when in the hallways and other common areas.

“I’ve had phone calls, an equal number of phone calls on both sides of the issue,” Butt said. “In May, I was hoping we wouldn’t have this discussion in August.”

Unlike some districts, Wayne schools is not requiring people show proof of vaccination before they can remove their mask unless students want to avoid quarantining if they’re determined to be a close contact.

Kowalcyzk wishes that was different, comparing it to other required vaccinations.

“I think it would be a good idea to ask to prove that you had a vaccine,” Kowalcyzk said.

Still, even while his son may be vaccinated, he still worries.

“Oh yeah. All the time. But we’ve done what we can. We just hope others do what they can to help us out,” Kowalcyzk said.

Every school district is doing things just a little bit differently.

WISH-TV reached out to a number of district and ,most said it was a little too early for them to respond.

Lawrence Township released this statement:

“We welcome guidance from the CDC with regard to the safe operation of schools. Lawrence Township has been in lockstep with the local health department since day one of the pandemic back in March of 2020 and we intend to continue down that line. With regard to masks as we prepare to welcome students for the 21-22 school year, they are part of a layered approach to COVID-19 mitigation, including enhanced cleaning protocols, frequent handwashing, and social distancing. Please understand that that district DOES want our students in masks, which is why they have been strongly recommended in all communications. Our position and wording protocols simply mirror that of the local health department.

We recognize that things could change at any time given the unpredictability of the pandemic and we will respond immediately in partnership with area medical experts, as we have all along.

The MSD of Lawrence Township is also in a position to accommodate unique situations through our CONNECT LT program offering hybrid and virtual learning opportunities to students. While we asked families to select their intended instructional delivery method in May, adjustments can still be made in communication with a building administrator.

At the end of the day, we are ready to have our students back in buildings and our teachers are ready to teach.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Dozens of families came out for the second Far Eastside Youth Anti-Gun Violence and Drugs Summit Friday afternoon hosted by the Pathway Resource Center.

One of the biggest draws for the summit was the graduation of 25 teens for the Training Youth for Success program, a monthlong job readiness program that teaches teens the basics they need to set a strong foundation for the future.

It’s a foundation that teens like Jamyah Gillard say will be remembered well past graduation day.

“It was amazing,” Gillard said. “I loved hearing my name get called up a lot.”

Gillard participated in the TYFS program, a monthlong stint teaching her basic skills like how to write a resume, how to interview for a job, how to deposit money — all serving to give her a much bigger vision.

“We can intern at the Statehouse! I didn’t know you could intern,” Gillard said. “I’m definitely doing that.”

There’s a stipend and promise of cash for completing the program as well as numerous awards which serve as powerful motivators.

That outlook is something Gillard said will continue even as the program ends.

“Yes,” she said. “Because we have something to lose. First is our paycheck. For me, college references, job references.”

It may seem basic, but for organizers like Leila Darden, the president of the Far Eastside Community Council, it’s simple.

“We want to make sure we are preparing our youth so that they can have a successful future,” Darden said.

That preparation means giving teens the tools and information they need so they can make better decisions and a vision for the future that can positively influence the split-second decision in the moment.

Darden said just that tool is all it takes for some.

“Sometimes yes. A lot of time, no one knows what it means to be a youth in 2021. I know I sure don’t,” Darden said. “We have to have a message more than ‘just say no’ and ‘don’t choose violence.'”

While the TYFS program is in its 18th year, this is just the second youth summit, featuring various community groups as vendors, food and raffle prizes. There was also a presentation from the city to get kids and teens thinking through real-life situations.

“It shows them an alternative,” said La Keisha Jackson, Indianapolis City-County Councilor (D) who helped organize the summit. “It shows the positive outlets, structure so they don’t have to pick up guns, they don’t ahve to pick up and use drugs.”

Don’t just take her word for it.

“It definitely makes a difference,” Gillard said.

Gillard has a message to organizers like Jackson and Darden: she’s not done taking steps for a better future.

“Definitely remember me and expect me next year,” Gillard said.

Several people and businesses donated money to help create a number of cash prizes for the graduating teens.

Jackson said if you’re tired of crime and tired of youth violence, then it’s time you support programs that support youth, either through volunteering your time or through your financial giving.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A small business owner who is facing a $10,000 bill for a supposed overpayment of pandemic benefits did not hear what she hoped to hear from state officials finally addressing the issues Friday morning that we’ve been bringing up for weeks.

We first talked to Lynn Moreau, the owner of The Eyelash Place, almost two weeks ago. We talked again on Saturday after the much-anticipated press conference from the Department of Workforce Development.

Moreau said she didn’t want to miss it, but takes issue with their words, especially when DWD Commissioner Fred Payne said, “we’re not in the business of being overly burdensome to individuals.”

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments were a lifeline to Moreau because of a business which screeched to a halt during the pandemic.

She’s now fighting the state’s action.

Since we first interviewed her, she now realizes while the state is demanding 23 payments of $449 dollars, a total of $10, 317, her bank statements clearly show her getting a weekly deposit of $386, a total difference of $1,449. She also believes she didn’t receive the first payment in January.

“They’re obviously mistaken or they’re doing something wrong,” Moreau said. “I’m in shock. I can’t believe they can send out $10,000 bills to people who didn’t even get 10,000.”

It’s part of the reason she really wanted to see Friday’s press conference as officials addressed Hoosiers like her.

Payne said, “each one of those cases will be handled on a fact-by-fact basis.”

Moreau agrees.

“Are they? That would be great,” she said. “They should really.”

Instead, Moreau now waits to be informed of her hearing in front of a judge.

When she looked at the four-page form for the overpayment waiver which includes detailed sections on assets as well as expenses, she was not encouraged.

“I feel like I might be applying for a job with the FBI they want to know so much. That should not be,” Moreau said.

She’s now worried that she’s somehow miss the notification for the hearing.

She was most disappointed that Indiana officials haven’t waived nonfraudulent overpayment like other states, something we reported on Tuesday.

Payne said the Department has stopped going after people who have filed a waiver of appealed.

“If there is an individual who received overpayment and they’ve provided us with a waiver or they’ve appealed it, we’ve stopped any type of attempts,” Payne said.

“It shouldn’t be on us,” maintains Moreau. “It should be on them to do the right thing, to make it easy.”

The Department of Workforce Development declined to provide further comment Saturday evening.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — There are thousands of frustrated parents of Purdue freshmen, unsure where their students are going to live and unsure how much it’s going to cost.

Purdue officials said it’s a result of having the largest incoming freshman class in its history.

But it means some will be sleeping in spaces that were common areas or study spots last year.

Parents believe there should have been a lot more communication from the university. Most found out for the first time last week. They have to wait another week to find out where their son or daughter is going to spend their freshman year.

In total, Purdue says roughly 2,300 students are affected.

Based on where they end up, it could almost double their housing bill.

“We’re kind of in a ‘Catch-22,'” said Jamie, a mother of a Purdue freshman who talked with us as long as we didn’t use her last name.

While 2,300 families like Jamie’s met their deadline to sign a contract for housing at Purdue, the university has run out of room.

Last week, officials emailed those students an additional six options to choose from. Three are reconfigured housing options, including converted common areas. The other three are locations of apartment complexes that have master-lease agreements with Purdue.

“Yeah, it’s a concern having that freedom this young,” Jamie said.

“I’m quite sure they knew this was going to be a situation before one to two weeks ago,” said David, father to another Purdue freshman who also didn’t want his last name used.

While the reconfigured options have a discounted rate compared to traditional dorm options, the apartments are off-campus and several thousand dollars more than most typical freshman dorms.

“It’s a big, big difference,” David said. “We’ve been planning and budgeting for one amount and now there’s a very high likelihood that we’re going to have to pay more.”

Jamie is concerned about transportation and meals. She also worries that being placed off-campus will make it harder for her son to succeed academically.

“My biggest concern is safety,” Jamie said.

“They’re better suited and set up for success better when they are on campus,” David agrees.

Purdue University declined to be interviewed for this story and also did not respond to a number of News 8 requests, including how the students were selected for housing, how the latest round of housing will be apportioned and if the university would waive all fees for breaking a housing contract if a student was assigned to an option that was not desired.

It’s that lack of communication that upsets parents the most.

“I feel like first they should have been very transparent with families and the students,” Jamie said.

For students who want to cancel their housing contract now, Purdue has waived the $50 cancellation fee, but Jamie said at this stage in the game, there really aren’t many other housing options out there. There’s also been no indication that Purdue will waive the much larger fee that comes from cancelling a housing contract after the assignment is made.

The 2,300 students should get their assignment on July 23, exactly one month before the first day of classes.

In an email, Purdue officials said there were about 1,000 master-lease apartments available. The university has purchased about 500 beds, desks and chairs and leased other furnishings to make accommodations work.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — There’s a very happy ending for someone who had been one of the “faces on unemployment” on News 8: He’s no longer unemployed.

“I feel blessed that you guys gave me the opportunity with the media,” Giovanni Chavez said Thursday.

Jay Gentry, the operations director for several UPS Store franchises in central Indiana, saw News 8’s report and thought to himself that he needed to give Chavez a job.

“I was watching WISH-TV and it was simple,” Gentry said.

He reached out to News 8, and the rest was history.

Chavez has a master’s degree but told News 8 in late June he just couldn’t find work since he was laid off during the coronavirus pandemic.

Chavez is in the middle of training at his new job as a customer associate at the UPS Store.

“It feels amazing man,” Chavez said. “You reached out to me and let me know, and here I am.”

News 8 first met up with Chavez in June, then several more times as the saga in Indiana continued. That saga includes when a Marion County judge ordered the state to continue paying unemployment benefits and when the state didn’t immediately follow the judge’s ruling.

“We’re just left in the dark. Frustrated, scared,” Chavez said at the time.

But, those days now seem like a distant memory. He now clocks in to a full-time job with benefits. “It was a big relief,” Chavez said. “To go from everything I’ve endured over the last year and a half to now finally be a part of something.”

That something all started when the store’s operations director reached out and asked for Chavez’s contact information because he saw him on News 8 and liked what he saw.

“I saw someone who was looking for a job,” Gentry said. “We’re always looking for great talent, charismatic people.”

Chavez seemed all that and more on Thursday in helping customer after customer with a smile on his face. He’s just an associate for now at the 10th Street and Shadeland Avenue location, but with 12 franchises in central Indiana as well as a large print shop, Chavez has lots of opportunities for growth.

Gentry said that Chavez was “more than qualified.

“We hope to get him on our management track program and work his way up,” Gentry said. “I want to thank WISH-TV for putting this together for us.”

Chavez said, “I feel very grateful. I feel in debt to him. I have a lot of prove.”

But so far, things are going smooth and, most importantly for Chavez, a paycheck is coming very soon, something he hasn’t seen in about 15 months.

“That first paycheck is going to bills I’m sure,” Chavez said and then laughed. “But, it’s going to be great just to know that I can count on this coming every other week from here on out.”

He said he’s happy to leave the “face of unemployment” label behind, hopefully for good. “I’m happy to shake that,” Chavez said. “I just hope that for everyone else who is dealing with this, I just hope they continue to get their benefits and hopefully they can get an opportunity as well, be as lucky as I was.”

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Victims advocates agree a crisis of domestic violence is brewing, highlighted by a murder-suicide on the east side Tuesday morning.

Police believe Dorrell Paterson shot Davidtra Henderson before turning the gun on himself.

Advocates who work to prevent domestic violence say there are a lot of new stress points families are dealing with. Crystal Jenkins lives across the street and was good friends with both Paterson and Henderson.

“I’m really sad because they loved each other,” Jenkins said. “They’d been together for a really long time.”

Jenkins is a survivor of domestic violence herself. She hopes this story brings awareness to others.

“It doesn’t have to end like this. There’s outlets for stuff like this,” she said.

Danyette Smith was a friend and is the founder of Silent No More, a nonprofit aimed at helping victims of domestic violence.

“Emotional, this is heartbreaking,” Smith said. “This is a crisis that’s taking place here in Indiana.”

Smith says she can only imagine what Henderson was going through before this happened.

“Right now, there’s no words that can be explained for this. We just hope that those who are facing domestic violence try to reach out, see what resources are available,” she said.

One such resource is the Julian Center, where Jami Schnurpel is the director of programs and survivor services. Schnurpel says calls from victims went up about 25% when the pandemic began and have been holding steady. Stressors like losing a job and kids being home from school resulted in violence from abusers.

While there are new stressors looming from things like the eviction moratorium ending soon, things opening back up have allowed the space for more people to reach out.

“We don’t anticipate that going down,” Schnurpel said. “It’s a little bit of a recipe for disaster. When you’re adding in the ingredients, adding in all the stressors, it is very fertile ground for violent behavior.”

The good news is there is help, including the Julian Center’s 24-hour crisis hotline number, which is 317-920-9320. They also monitor their Facebook page and social media round-the-clock to help victims in need.

“Reach out for help. We’re here,” Schnurpel promised.

Advocates say this is not just an Indianapolis problem, but something that is happening around the country.

BEECH GROVE, Ind. (WISH) — Beech Grove is examining a proposal that would give the Indianapolis Fire Department responsibility for protection inside the Marion County enclave’s city limits.

Beech Grove Mayor Dennis Buckley said Friday the agreement will give the city better service while also saving hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. It’s money he says could be used for major pay increases for the police department.

Buckley said the Beech Grove Fire Department firefighters favor the proposal. By a vote of 30-1, they gave their blessing several months ago. All firefighters will become members of the Indianapolis department.

But, some worry the gains wouldn’t offset the loss to the city.

Already, emergencies in Beech Grove often bring an Indianapolis Fire Department engine to the scene. Sometimes, it also means a BGFD engine going to an Indy address.

“If my house is on fire, I want the fire department to show up here,” Buckley said. “I don’t care if it says IFD or Beech Grove. I want a red firetruck sitting in front of my house.”

Buckley would know.

He was fire chief for a decade before retiring and running for public office.

A proposed interlocal agreement would give the responsibility for fire protection inside Beech Grove city limits to Indianapolis for the next 20 years.

“If we are one unit, we can become more effective,” Buckley said. “We can save money and the people of Beech Grove will receive better service.”

The proposed cost in Year 1 would be $3.25 million, with an annual 3% increase.

This year’s Beech Grove Fire Department budget is $3.7 million, with a 4% annual increase historically.

If passed, Buckley said, the change frees up almost $500,000 immediately, money that can be used to invest in the ambulance division, which stays under Beech Grove’s control, as well as provide salary increases to the police department. Buckley would like to see anywhere from $10,000-15,000 pay increases.

Still, the initial council vote was divided 4-3.

“Some people think we’re losing our city with this,” Buckley said. “No Beech Grove is always going to be here. The service is just going to get better.”

The current Beech Grove department will get better pay and pension benefits by becoming IFD employees. Most will stay on at BGFD Station 57. The rest will move to other Indianapolis stations.

The ambulance division of the Beech Grove department will operate from BGFD Station 56.

Buckley believes everyone wins, especially people looking to move to Beech Grove.

“Know that now we have a Class 1 fire department protection in the city of Beech Grove even compounds that, so I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

There are a few more steps before this becomes official, beginning with the Beech Grove City Council’s Public Safety Committee vote in early August. Any agreement would also need approval from the Indianapolis City-County Council.