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BRAZIL, Ind. (WISH) — Indiana Sheriff’s Youth Ranch in December will host a new “Breakfast With Santa” event for students in kindergarten through Grade 6.

The nonprofit training retreat will provide clothing, toiletries and food for youths. Selfies with Santa will be encouraged, the ranch said in a news release. The free event will include a meal of pancakes, cereal, turkey sausage links, juices and milk.

The event will be from 9 a.m.-noon Dec. 11 at the 62-acre ranch about 2 miles south of Brazil at 5325 N. State Road 59.

No reservations are needed, but guests are asked to “respect one another’s pandemic precautions,” the release said. Face masks and social distancing are encouraged when possible.

For more information or to donate to the ISYR Chaplain’s Fund, call 317-460-4242, go online to Indiana Sheriffs’ Youth Ranch GoFundMe page or write to the ISYR Chaplain’s Fund, 5325 N. State Road 59, Brazil, IN 47834.

Organizers of the event include Clay County Sheriff Paul Harden, Greene County Sheriff Michael Hasler, former Marion County Sheriff John Layton, Owen County Sheriff Sam Hobbs, Parke County Sheriff Justin Cole, Putnam County Sheriff Scott Stockton, Sullivan County Sheriff Clark Cottom, Vermillion County Sheriff Mike Phelps, and Vigo County Sheriff John Plasse.

ROCKVILLE, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Nearly four dozen women who are incarcerated at the Rockville Correctional Facility in Parke County are now working in a call center to help inmates in other prisons and jails to communicate with their family members.

The women were hired by Arizona-based technology company Televerde to staff the phone lines in a contact center which is operated at the prison.

A third party, Securus Technologies, has contracted with Televerde to staff and manage inbound customer service calls. Securus is a subsidiary of Texas-based Aventiv Technologies, a diversified technology company specializing in communications services for the corrections and government services sectors.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Aventiv Technologies President and Chief Executive Officer Dave Abel said his company is committed to helping people who are currently imprisoned.

“What this really, really boils down to is that as a nation, we need to reduce the recidivism rate, the rate with which people return to facilities,” said Abel.

Securus provides phone service, email and video chat capabilities for inmates and their families. He said as the pandemic swept the nation, correctional facilities stopped in-person visits.

”It is the only method of communication, outside of visitation which has been necessarily restricted by facilities during COVID,” said Abel. “It is a lifeline of connectivity between them and their loved one.”

The Rockville inmates answer calls from people who are both inside and outside institutions and may be struggling with the Securus technology. It could be family members struggling with something as simple as adding money to a telephone account or having problems accessing the website. Or it could be an inmate whose tablet is malfunctioning.

“We’re more empathetic to their needs. Because we understand them especially from both standpoints,” said ShaShanna Brent, a two-year Televerde veteran and an inmate at Rockville. “Some of the prisons have shut down and they won’t let you have face to face visits. And so, all you have is maybe emails, phone calls, and things like that.”

Brent has been incarcerated since 2017. Brent joined the program after she noticed a change in other inmates who were part of the Televerde staff.

“They’re recognized for how they carry themselves and their mindset. They think differently. They act differently. And I was like, ‘I want to be part of that,’” said Brent.

She says the need for the technology has been heightened because of COVID-related restrictions.

“As far as the inmates go, they may have their tablets or their media. And if they have problems with that, then they’re probably going to get depressed because this is all they have to keep their mind focused,” explained Brent. “And so, I’m wanting to make sure that I help them out with their issues.”

Securus says the workers hired by Televerde are paid the federal minimum wage, undergo job training, learn professional skills and are on track to be offered a job with the company after they are released.

“What studies have shown is that there are two significant contributing elements to reducing recidivism. One is the degree to which an individual is connected with friends and family and a support network. The more communication an individual has, the more likely that person is not to return to a facility,” said Abel. “The second element that reduces recidivism is the ability for an individual to have job skills upon release.”

Abel says his company has been accused of abusing the system by using incarcerated workers. He says since January Aventiv has transformed its business model to make it more accountable and affordable.

By partnering with Televerde, Abel says it shows the company’s commitment to invest in re-entry services.

“A full wage, job skill training, post-incarceration opportunities, and measurable results that demonstrate a decrease in recidivism,” said Abel.

Brent says the Televerde job has put her on the right track for success both inside and outside of prison.

“I know how to gauge situations before going into them. And I stay surrounded with positive, influential people,” said Brent, who says she may pursue a business degree once she is released.

Abel says the national three-year average recidivism rate is 68%, but he says the return rate for Televerde-trained women is about 5%. Brent is committed to not repeat the mistakes that got her to Rockville.

“I’m more confident that I will be successful in my endeavors. Because they helped me here, but I know that they’re still going to be there for me, upon my release, because they help with mentorship,” said Brent.

Televerde also opened a call center at the Madison Correctional Facility in December 2019.

Aventiv Technologies CEO Davd Abel explained how its business model is helping inmates from returning to prison.

ROCKVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — The 2020 Parke County Covered Bridge Festival is canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.

The county commissioners decided Monday evening to cancel the festival set to start Oct. 9.

In a Facebook post, the county said, “We know many look forward to our 10 day fall festival, but we still encourage you to come enjoy Parke County’s beautiful fall foliage and covered bridges. Take a slow paced day or two to enjoy our state parks, unique restaurants, and visit our year-round small businesses for shopping, antiques and more.”

The event is billed as Indiana’s largest fall festival. The event includes food, craft and other vendors on the lawn of the courthouse, plus similar events — including the hog roast in Montezuma and the buried beef delicacy at Tangier — at or near some of the counties’ 31 covered bridges.

ROCKVILLE, Ind. (AP and WISH) — A west central Indiana man has been sentenced to 90 years in prison after being convicted of setting fires that destroyed one covered bridge and damaged another.

Jesse Payne of Rockville was sentenced Monday, a month after a Parke County jury found him guilty but mentally ill on three counts of arson. He also was found guilty of being a habitual offender.

Authorities say the 48-year-old set fires that burned down the Jeffries Ford Bridge in 2002 and damaged the Bridgeton Covered Bridge in 2005. He also tried to set fire to the Mansfield Covered Bridge in 2005.

 Payne was found incompetent to stand trial after he was arrested following the Bridgeton Covered Bridge fire.

He was found competent to stand trial last year after receiving several years of treatment at the Logansport State Hospital.

ROCKVILLE, Ind. (WISH) – A 42-year-old Hillsdale man was put on probation after pleading guilty to charges stemming from an off-road vehicle crash that killed a woman.

Andrew N. Crouch was arrested about a week after the early morning July 9 crash on Marshall Road, Indiana conservation officers said.

Tammie Russell was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash. An autopsy determined she died of blunt force trauma to the chest, conservation officers said. They did not provide Russell’s age or other details about the crash.

Crouch was transported to a hospital and treated for his injuries.

Crouch pleaded guilty to a charge of drunken driving and driving while suspended. Parke Circuit Court sentenced Crouch to a year in jail, with credit for 60 days serving the county jail and 245 days suspended. The balance of the sentence, 60 days, was to be spent on probation, according to online court records.

CROZET, Vir. (WISH) — An Indiana lawmaker is being hailed a hero after a train carrying members of Congress and their families crashed into a garbage truck.

The crash happened late Wednesday morning about 15 miles outside of Charlottesville, Virginia in Crozet. The train was carrying dozens of Republican members of Congress, including several from Indiana, to their legislative retreat in West Virginia. The driver of the truck was killed. Six patients were transported to UVA Medical Center, with one in critical condition. All members of Congress on the train and their families were said to be OK, with the exception of a few minor injuries.

Indiana representatives Susan Brooks and Jim Banks, as well as Senator Todd Young were on board the train.

Congressman Larry Bucshon is a heart surgeon. He was also on board with his wife who is an anesthesiologist. Both stepped up with several others to help after the crash.

“We again came to a very distressing scene with obviously very severely injured people and the atmosphere was as professional as that setting could allow and I do think it made a difference, I think what the people on this stage did hopefully has saved a life,” Rep. Larry Bucshon said.

Rep Bucshon also offered prayers to the those involved in the crash and said he hopes it will refocus lawmakers in Washington.

“This does bring back thoughts of family and friends in a partisan Washington D.C. climate. Sometimes, I think some of us start to lose what really is important in life and this incident today really brings that back in focus for everyone,” Rep. Bucshon said.

As for the retreat, GOP lawmakers say it is going on as planned. It’s happening in West Virginia through Friday. President Trump is scheduled to speak to the group Thursday.

MONTEZUMA, Ind. (WTWO) — Illness continues to impact students at Riverton-Parke Jr./Sr High School in Parke County.

This week the school reported a flu outbreak to the health department and Indiana Department of Education because 20 percent of their students were missing from class.

Out of 440 students, grades 7 through 12, 88 of them were missing from class due to an illness. While that seems like a significant number, it doesn’t mean school is shutting down just yet, or that the community should be on high alarm.

The flu outbreak around the state this season has been pretty significant. Riverton-Parke, however, is the first school to report to the state health department this year, compared to six schools that reported an outbreak last flu season.

“Obviously schools are very prominent in the community, we bring a lot of the students in, we send those students back to their homes. So, is what we’re seeing in the building representative of what’s going on in the community at large?” Superintendent of Southwest Parke Schools, Phil Harrison said.

Harrison says the school is required to inform the Indiana Department of Education if the number of absentees exceeds 20 percent of school population. The school then coordinates with the county health department on what’s next.

“They did not feel like we had a significant clinical issue at that time and told us we could continue to operate as normal,” Harrison said.

Of course, that’s with extra hands on board to disinfect areas of the school like doorknobs, desks, computers and any other at-risk surface.

Even so, once the flu starts to spread, it’s hard to stop.

And something as nasty as the flu plays by no rules.

“Influenza season can last anywhere from October to May,” Shawn Richards with the state health department said.

Richards says while Riverton-Parke is the first school to report an outbreak, so far this season looks pretty good.

“It really has not seen as many as we could have, considering how high and widespread the flu activity is,” Richards said.

Harrison says that he’s been in contact with other local superintendents who have reported to him that their flu absentees are well below 20 percent. The school sent out a message to parents saying if students are running a fever to stay at home and reminding folks to wash their hands frequently this season.

There is no specific number of students who need to be absent before the school shuts down. That’s on a case by case basis according to the state health department. It would be up to the county health department and the number of teachers available to resume classes as normal.

ROCKVILLE, Ind. (AP) – A judge has entered a not guilty plea for a man facing drunken driving charges for a crash that killed a former Indiana county sheriff and his wife.

Bryan Robertson, 41, of Rockville told a Parke County judge on Wednesday he would hire his own attorney. He faces driving while intoxicated causing death charges for the Dec. 21 crash that killed 74-year-old Michael Eslinger and 73-year-old Darla Eslinger.

Mike Eslinger served four terms as Parke County sheriff and was a past executive director of the Indiana Sheriffs Association. Darla Eslinger had retired as the county’s emergency management director.

Police say Robertson’s blood-alcohol content was 0.117 percent. Indiana’s legal limit to drive is 0.08 percent. Robertson was moved Saturday from a hospital to the Parke County Jail.

PARKE COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO) — The second Friday of October is fast approaching, which means the Covered Bridge Festival will soon begin.

The tents and booths are already set up as vendors have started moving in for the 10-day event. 24-Hour News 8’s sister station, WTWO, talked to one woman Wednesday who is coming back for her 18th year, all the way from Texas.

Vendors will offer a variety of products ranging from crafts to clothing and household gadgets and much more. And while the vendors have their same products to sell, the actual setup can change from year to year.

“This is just the beginning. The ground is uneven. I know that because I’ve been coming for so long, but it makes it a challenge every time because you have to move things around and depending on how the fire department sets up the tent,” says vendor Catalina Lacen.

And it’s not just festival officials or vendors getting set, but all of Parke County.

The county expects nearly two million people to visit for the ten day event. It’s the biggest festival in Indiana, and one of the top ten festivals in the country.

While “Covered Bridge” is sure to cause some headaches and long days for the people of Parke County, the community as a whole says it is well worth it.

“It’s basically the Christmas season. You know the 10 days is the push for Christmas and we’ve got some new businesses that have opened in town so you know Rockville is growing,” says G & M Owner, Gary Nicola.

While the community is excited, they know the next few weeks will be quite busy.

“We don’t get any days off. All the guys will work some extra. We have some reserves that help us out and part-time officers that help us out,” said Rockville Police Chief Randel Kneeland.

Businesses on the Rockville square will be doing the same, opening early, and not closing until the last shopper is out.

And with the massive influx of people, delays are expected.

“Traffic, people just have to be patient. There’s no room to move them so we have a few minor fender benders and some angry people, but most generally everybody that comes to the festival knows what they’re expecting and it’s long lines, traffic and hard to find parking spot,” said Chief Kneeland.

During recent festivals, the county hasn’t had too many problems with accidents or pedestrian injuries and Chief Kneeland would like to see that continue.

“Just be careful, and drivers should be slowing down, paying attention to their surroundings.” Chief Kneeland added. “Try not to watch the side of the road as much as they are watching the road. Don’t try to window shop driving down the road.”

While there may be some headaches involved, shop owners in the area say it’s vital to their business, not only growing the festival’s future, but also building clientele all year long.

ROCKVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — A 41-year-old man was arrested on charges stemming from an off-road vehicle crash that killed a woman earlier this month.

Indiana Conservation Officers arrested Andrew Crouch of Rockville without incident Tuesday. Authorities said the crash occurred early in the morning of July 9 on Marshall Road.

Tammie Russell was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash. An autopsy determined she died of blunt force trauma to the chest. Crouch was transported to the hospital and treated for his injuries.

Crouch faces a felony charge of Causing Death when Operating a Vehicle while intoxicated as well as a misdemeanor charge of Driving while Suspended with Prior Convictions.

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