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RUSH COUNTY, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — A solar project east of Indianapolis is underway. London-based Lightsource bp says it has secured funding for and begun construction on the Bellflower Solar farm in Henry and Rush counties.

The company first announced plans for then 173-megawatt solar farm in January. When operational, the solar farm will be able to generate enough clean energy to power the equivalent of nearly 27,000 homes annually.

Lightsource says it secured a $367 million portfolio financing package, which will not only fund the Bellflower Solar project, but multiple other solar projects.

“This project financing transaction is a demonstration of the continued confidence that top-tier investors and power offtakers have in Lightsource bp, and the quality of our solar assets,” Kevin Smith, chief executive officer of the Americas for Lightsource, said in a news release. “Our commitment to responsible solar development, such as the research we’re doing at Bellflower on co-locating pollinator habitat with solar, further multiplies solar’s contribution to preserving our planet for future generations.”

Lightsource says the solar farm is expected to begin commercial operation by late 2022. The project is expected to create about 200 construction jobs with the majority of workers being hired locally.

The company says the project will generate an estimated $30 million in property tax revenue for Rush and Henry counties over its lifetime.

Lightsource has already reached a power purchase agreement with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) to acquire the power generated from the solar farm.

RUSHVILLE, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — A Missouri-based pet food manufacturer is planning to expand operations to central Indiana. Diamond Pet Foods says it will invest more than $200 million to construct a 700,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution facility in Rushville and create more than 170 jobs by 2023. The Rush County Economic Development Corp. says the project is one of the largest private investments in the city’s history.

Diamond Pet Foods manufactures a variety of proprietary and private label pet food products.

The EDC says Rushville was chosen after a competitive site selection process. The company cited the city’s business climate and availability of site-ready development land as reasons for its decision.

“With its proximity to suppliers and customers and access to a high-quality workforce, this facility will allow us to continue offering quality pet foods at competitive prices,” Mark Schell, executive vice president at Diamond Pet Foods, said in a news release. “Diamond is family owned and we look forward to adding to our family in a state that’s considered to be ‘the crossroads of America.’”

Schell says the facility will be Diamond Pet Foods’ sixth manufacturing plant in the U.S. The other facilities are located in Missouri, California, South Carolina and Arkansas.

The major investment includes new machinery and equipment. The EDC says the project remains contingent upon approval of state and local incentives.

RUSHVILLE, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Florida-based Cormo USA says it has secured a 108,000-square-foot facility in Rushville that will serve as its first U.S. production site. The company says it has begun initial site improvements and hiring, which will continue through the early summer.

The company is leasing the facility, which will be used to convert corn stover, a crop residue, into value-added products including a sustainable peat moss substitute and a foam-like construction material.

Cormo says the continued improvements to the facility and additional local hires will ensure the plant is ready for equipment installation before the 2020 corn harvest.

“This facility is strategically located in one of the most innovative agricultural areas in the U.S. and Indiana is a major hub for transportation and business, setting Cormo USA up with all the tools it needs to thrive in the long-run,” said Stefan Muehlbauer, chief executive officer of Cormo parent Sustainable Projects Group. “We’re extremely grateful to the City of Rushville and all those involved who helped make this a realization, and we look forward to launching production this fall.”

Cormo says the facility will serve as an interim location for its Rushville operations. The company is continuing plans to build its own plant in the Rushville Commerce Park, with groundbreaking expecting to take place in the spring of 2021.

When plans for the facility were first announced in May 2019, Cormo said it was investing $30 million in the project, which would create up to 250 jobs by the end of 2023.

RUSH COUNTY, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Officials in Rush County have unveiled a plan to become completely digitally inclusive by 2025. The Rush County Connect Broadband Task Force says the plan aims to help bridge the digital divide in the county by “integrating technology into the fabric of the whole community.” The plan includes four main goals to not only provide all residents and businesses with internet access, but also chart a course to leverage the technology to boost economic development.

Roberto Gallardo, who has led the volunteer task force since its inception last year, tells Inside INdiana Business the plan aims to not only improve quality of life but also show the county is ready for more economic development.

“One of the key things about this down the road is to increase awareness; community leaders and communities do not know what they do not know and they may not be aware that being digital exclusive is a threat to community economic development,” said Gallardo. “So through this plan and through the shining example of Rush County, I’m hoping that this increases the level of awareness around this issue, first and foremost.”

The goals of the plan include:

Rush County, which has a total population of fewer than 17,000, has already received the Broadband Ready certification from the Indiana Economic Development Corp. Gallardo, who is also the assistant director of the Purdue University Center for Regional Development, says the plan can largely benefit existing businesses in the county.

“It does look inward more so than outward. I don’t think the intention is that with this plan you’re going to land the next Amazon. However, we are hopeful that through this plan, we kind of strengthen what the community already has and makes it more competitive in the digital age.”

Mark McCorkle, co-chair of the Rush County Connect Broadband Task Force, says a lot of the information that led to the creation of the plan came from a survey of county residents who gave feedback of the kind of access they have, as well as the challenges faced by service providers.

“It became clear that it was bigger than an infrastructure plan that was needed,” said McCorkle.

McCorkle says Rush County and the city of Rushville have passed resolutions supporting the plan, in part, to figure out what kind of funding needs to be done to accomplish the plan’s goals. He says the task force is working to identify the areas to tackle first in order to enhance the broadband infrastructure, though specific details have not yet been worked out.

McCorkle says, at the end of the five years, he wants to see everyone in the county have the access that they need and can afford, so they can participate in the digital economy.

Gallardo adds Rush County’s plan, he believes, is the first of its kind in the state and possibly the Midwest. 

“The state of North Carolina just announced that they hope to get every single (one) of their counties to have a digital inclusion plan by 2022. And of course, Rush County is ahead of the curve at that point. That tells you that Rush County is a visionary in that sense; they understand that the landscape is changing.”

You can view the full plan by clicking here.

CENTRAL INDIANA, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) – The American Red Cross has named Britt Sutton the new executive director for its Central Indiana Chapter. Sutton previously served as the director of policy for the Indiana Bureau of Developmental Disabilities Services, specializing in administrative law and policy composition for the Indiana Medicaid Home and Community Based Services Waiver programs.

Sutton has worked as an Applied Behavioral Analysis therapist for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and focused in healthcare and non-profit law and advocacy while pursuing her juris doctorate.

Since March of 2018, she has served as the associate director of the Hall Center for Law and Health at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

“I’m elated to have Britt join our Red Cross team as our Central Indiana executive director,” said Chad Priest, regional chief executive officer of the American Red Cross, Indiana Region. “She brings a wealth of experience in public policy, healthcare law, nonprofit law and advocacy, and will be a strong asset to our mission as we continue building resilient communities.”

The American Red Cross Central Indiana Chapter serves Tippecanoe, Clinton, Howard, Tipton, Madison, Hamilton, Boone, Montgomery, Putnam, Hendricks, Henry, Hancock, Rush, Shelby, Johnson and Morgan Counties. 

Sutton will step in to her new role November 18.

Pastor acquitted in molestation case

RUSHVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — A former pastor was found not guilty in a molestation case that made national headlines.

Jurors acquitted Garry Evans, 74, on all 14 counts of child molestation, sexual battery and child solicitation after hearing two weeks of testimony.

The jury deliberated Friday for less than an hour before returning their “not guilty” verdict in Rush County Circuit Court.

Evans had refused to accept a plea deal and insisted on taking the case to trial, he and his defense attorneys said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with News 8.

“I’ve been trapped for two years, not able to get out of my house,” Evans said, describing the turmoil that followed his October 2017 arrest. “I was gone at prison for seven months… innocent, knowing that I did not do it. It hurt real bad and it’s still hurting.”

Jud McMillin, the lead defense attorney, said he was “petrified” of taking the case to trial despite “full confidence” in his client’s innocence.

“We can preach all day about the presumption of innocence [but] we’re starting a 100-yard race 50 yards behind when the jurors are brought in and they’re told these types of allegations,” he told News 8. “So it was the scariest trial I’ve ever done.”

Authorities began investigating Evans in 2017 after police claimed a 3-year-old girl told her mother she was sexually assaulted by the pastor.

Four additional girls — two pairs of sisters — accused Evans of inappropriate contact after authorities urged church parents to speak with their children about “good touch [versus] bad touch,” according to the defense.

A final girl came forward in November 2017 with claims similar to the initial accuser. 

The six alleged victims were all between 3 and 7 years old. 

The case against Evans was built on misinterpreted hearsay and “confirmation bias,” according to McMillin.

The first girl described a different perpetrator; made the initial outcry when her mother was in the shower and couldn’t clearly hear her; and failed to accurately describe Evans during a police interview, the defense claimed.

In recorded interviews obtained by News 8, a woman questioning the 3-year-old can be heard asking, “Do you know what color his hair is?”

“Brown,” she replies; the pastor has gray and white hair.

Video footage of the same interview shows the child looking through a photo line-up and repeatedly failing to identify Evans.

“Despite putting the pastor as [suspect] number five right in front of her, she never picks him out,” McMillin said. “They ask her 19 direct times.”

Defense attorneys questioned the credibility of the next four accusers. The sisters in each pair of siblings told “almost identical stories,” as if they had been coached, McMillin said.

Details in the final accuser’s story did not appear to fit the prosecution’s narrative, he said, and did not initially involve spending time in Evans’ office at Rushville Baptist Temple, where the alleged molestation occurred.

“What we were really able to show the jury is that before the investigating officer really knew what was going on, [authorities] made conclusions about what they thought was going on,” McMillin told News 8. “They had this narrative of ‘boogeyman in the closet’ that just wasn’t true.”

Rather than seeking the truth, investigators interpreted new evidence as confirmation of their belief that Evans was guilty, the defense alleged.

“I’ve been found not guilty but it still hurts,” the former pastor said. “I [feel] like at any moment somebody’s going to come and get me.”

The acquittal did not restore his reputation or help him get his job back, he added.

Evans described his incarceration as “painful.” He and his wife, Gay, were separated for the first time in their 53-year marriage during his prison stint. He received so many letters from his family — including his 14 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren — fellow inmates nicknamed him “The Mailbox.”

Evans and McMillin said Tuesday they had not ruled out the possibility of civil action but had not yet taken formal steps toward filing suit.

“I know a lot of folks who’d sit back and say, ‘Well, I would certainly sue!’ But a lot of people just want it over,” McMillin said. “They don’t want to continue to stir the pot.”

Lead investigators and prosecutors did not immediately respond to requests for comment from News 8.

RUSHVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — Police are investigating a shooting at the Country Mark gas station in Rushville.

A man was shot in the stomach and flown to St. Vincent Hospital. 

Investigators say the man went into the store Saturday night and became verbally aggressive toward store workers and another shopper. 

Witnesses told police the fight escalated and became physical.

Witnesses say the other shopper took out a gun and shot the man once.

On Sunday, Rushville police said they were interviewing witnesses, and they believe alcohol was a factor. 

The Rush County Prosecutor’s Office will make a final charging decision in this case. 

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The latest Indiana city to equip their police with body cameras: Rushville.

Officers started wearing the cameras a week ago. Chief Craig Tucker said the first person arrested with a Rushville body cam rolling accused the officer of stealing from him.

“We were able to go back and look at the video and immediately see that that was not the case,” Tucker said. “That was just a tactic to try to defer their conviction.”

The new tools cost $100,000, which includes software. Tucker said the city will be paying for half the bill and the rest will come from grants and donations.

The chief said Rushville’s 12 officers wear cameras during their shifts and each police car is equipped with an additional three cameras.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Poilce Department ran a body cam pilot in 2015 but the department has not returned to the cameras. Department leaders said they continue to research body cameras.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett — who grew up in Rushville — has expressed both support and apprehension.

“Body cams, dash cams, all of that would be great, but at what cost?” Hogsett said at a news conference in the summer. “It’s difficult to provide everyone with body cameras.”

Tucker said the Rushville cameras are waterproof, high-definition and durable.

He said officers are required to turn the cameras on when responding to a call or conducting traffic stops and other “self-initiated activity.”

Rushville is about 30 miles southeast of Indianapolis.

RUSH COUNTY, Ind. (WISH) — An active firefighter with the Indianapolis Fire Department is currently behind bars on charges stemming from domestic violence.

Private Landon Colip, 36, was arrested and taken into custody on charges of strangulation, domestic battery and intimidation in Rush County.

Documents state that Colip’s wife counted four separate times that Colip assaulted her at the couple’s home. She stated that the first incident happened in November when Colip “smacked her head” when he became upset with her while building a fence. The smack caused bruising under her right eye after her head struck a wooden post.

Colip’s wife cited another incident where Landon was upset with her for not picking up his prescription medicine and began choking her in the kitchen of their home.

She would later provide audio and photos of the incidents for officials and stated that she is in fear of her life.

Colip has served with the department for 13 years.

IFD later suspended Colip for 30 days without pay in which he will be placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of his investigation. Colip will not be allowed at any IFD fire stations nor assisting or responding to runs in the community.

Colip has been mandated to the Employee Assistance Program.

RUSHVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — A 72-year-old pastor already facing several counts of child molestation is in trouble with the law again.

Rushville Police Chief Craig Tucker said tensions are rising after a string of angry, sometimes threatening phone calls left by family members of this pastor.

Garry Evans and his wife, Gay, were arrested for trespassing on his son’s property.

The police chief said it’s fortunate no one got hurt, but those threatening voicemails left for Evans’ son by members of his own family are causes for concern.

The family is split by the accusations against Garry Evans.

“It continues to be strange and a bit out of the usual from what we’re used to dealing with here,” Tucker said.

Garry Evans is accused of several counts of child molestation from his time as pastor at Rushville Baptist Temple, where his name is now gone.

Evans went to the home of one of his sons, whose girlfriend told the pair to leave.

When they didn’t, police said the girlfriend brought out her gun.

“Mrs. Evans reached in, according to the complainant, to take the firearm from her,” Tucker said.

Police said this woman had to take a bat to get Evans and his wife off the property. It was enough for Rushville police to arrest Evans and his wife for trespassing.

“Anytime there’s a firearm at play it’s quite serious. There could have been great potential for any one of these participants to be harmed as a result of the firearm being in play,” the police chief said.

Gay Evans bonded out of jail, but Garry Evans remained in jail Thursday due to his other charges.

This week’s arrest did not sit well with some of Garry Evans family.

Relatives left several voicemails for the son, who shunned his parents entering his home. They were posted on Facebook. Some were angry while others more alarming.

It’s a case that has scarred the town, one that brings out emotions. Chief Tucker said safety is priority one.

“Just stay calm and let the courts do what they need to do put this through its paces,” he said.

Evans next court appearance is scheduled for March on his child molestation charges.

Tucker said more molestation charges are possible with more girls coming forward recently.