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BLUFFTON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Officials in Wells County say they have awarded an $8 million contract to Massachusetts-based Ameresco Inc. (NYSE: AMRC) to renovate and modernize the county jail. The project includes a facility addition a new sally port and enlarging the intake area.

The project also includes replacing the existing HVAC system, as well as updating lighting and water conservation equipment.

“The jail is now 35 years old and some of the original HVAC equipment is in need of replacement. In addition, the jail operations needs have changed as we now house Level 6 inmates who may require mental health and substance abuse counseling as well as other educational programs,” said Wells County Sheriff Scott Holliday. “We need to adapt to these requirements, make changes to address the Covid-19 pandemic concerns and create a safe working environment for our corrections staff.”

The sheriff says the improvements will enhance occupant and correctional staff safety while also saving the facility $560,000 annually. The county says the renovations will also allow the facility to double its intake area to effectively contain inmates who may have infectious diseases or mental health issues.

The company won the project following a competitive bidding process. Project construction will begin in October 2021 and is expected to reach completion by October of 2022.

BLUFFTON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — An Ohio-based plastics manufacturer is planning to once again expand its operations in northeast Indiana. 20/20 Custom Molded Plastics LLC says it will invest nearly $13 million to renovate and equip a 325,000-square-foot facility in Bluffton and create up to 125 jobs by the end of 2022. The company, which structural foam products such as pallets, floating dock systems and in-ground enclosures, says the expansion will accommodate increased demand.

20/20 says the expansion will include the installation of three 1,500-ton structure foam presses and seven 375-ton and 500-ton high-pressure presses. The company did not provide a time frame for the project’s completion.

“These changes will undoubtedly bring new opportunities for our customers in terms of their own needs, product development and manufacturing flexibility,” 20/20 Executive Vice President Chad Adams said in a news release. “We highly anticipate watching our teams at both locations grow. Our employees are a huge part of 20/20’s success, and we are forever in debt to them.”

The company has already hired six new employees toward its goal. The company employs more than 440 workers, including more than 200 in Indiana, and is currently hiring in Bluffton for positions including press operators, supervisors and assistant supervisors.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. has offered 20/20 up to $825,000 in conditional tax credits, which the company will not be able to claim until Hoosier workers are hired for the new jobs. The city of Bluffton also plans to consider additional incentives.

The expansion announcement comes four years after 20/20 detailed plans to invest $26 million into its Bluffton operations. The company acquired the Bluffton facility in 2017.

BLUFFTON, Ind. (WISH) — A Hoosier restaurant that was shut down over the state’s mask mandate is suing Gov. Eric Holcomb, the state government and the Wells County Health Department.

It’s believed to be the first lawsuit filed over the governor’s executive orders during the coronavirus pandemic.

Matt Yergler, the owner of Yergy’s State Road BBQ, has a position that’s pretty clear. He does not believe the science behind wearing a mask and does not believe the governor has the authority to mandate wearing one without the state legislature’s backing.

The lawsuit challenges the executive order requiring masks to be worn in Yergy’s and other restaurants. In addition to a storefront in Bluffton, a town in Wells County about 40 minutes south of Fort Wayne, Yergler also owns a food truck in Bluffton.

After several warnings from Wells County Health Department, it shut down Yergy’s on Aug. 28.

“We complied to every executive order, every standard that the health department put on us all the way to the mask mandate,” Yergler said.

Yergler said that’s where he draws the line.

“If you wanted a mask, you could wear it,” he said. “If you don’t want to wear a mask, you don’t have to wear a mask. That’s the position we took.”

He said compared to other health department regulations — such as handwashing and proper temperature control for chicken, which he agrees with — he doesn’t believe the science accepted by state and federal officials is clear.

He also said it’s a matter of religious conviction. He doesn’t believe masks help stop the spread of the virus and he doesn’t want to bear false witness to his customers.

His lawsuit also states it’s irrational and arbitrary for his employees to be required to wear a mask when his customers are not required to wear one at all times.

“This is about tyranny. This is about government overreach infringing upon the liberty of all Hoosiers,” Yergler said.

The lawsuit also challenges the governor’s orders on constitutional grounds. Yergler believes, without backing from the legislature, the executive orders have lasted too long for a pandemic that began almost a year ago.

If the legislature enacted a mandate, he’d put on a mask.

“If it became law, then we are obligated to follow the law of the land,” Yergler said.

The Republican governor issued a simple reply to Yergler’s assertion: “We do our homework before we create executive orders. I’m confident in my authority to set in place requirements that save Hoosier lives.”

Yergler is confident, too. “We believe what the governor has done is unconstitutional and we want to get it before a judge.”

The Wells County Health Department and the Indiana Restaurant & Lodging Association declined to comment about the lawsuit. It was filed this week and, so far, no hearing has been set.

Once the case is resolved or the mandate is lifted, Yergler said he hopes to reopen. Until then, he’s working a seasonal job to help make ends meet.

If you want to aid in his legal fight, he said you can send checks or money orders to his restaurant at 1415 S. Main St., Bluffton, IN 46714.

Indiana State Department of Health on Thursday reported 79 more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 6,860. The department also said 6,458 more Hoosiers tested positive for the virus. A total of 447,190 Hoosiers have tested positive for COVID-19.

BLUFFTON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Bluffton-based Pretzels Inc. is making its first foray outside of Indiana. The snack manufacturer, which also has a large presence in Plymouth, is planning to build a 150,000-square-foot production facility in Lawrence, Kansas and create a “significant number” of jobs.

The company says the new facility will increase its capacity across a range of products and formats and also better serve markets to the west and south.

“We are very excited to expand our production footprint and to continue serving our customers with superior capabilities and geographic reach,” Greg Pearson, chief executive officer of Pretzels Inc., said in a news release “This new facility exemplifies Pretzels’ commitment to support the growth of our diverse and expanding customer base with industry-leading quality and efficiency across a variety of traditional and innovative products.”

The new facility is expected to be operational in late 2021.

The announcement comes nearly two years after Pretzels Inc. detailed a 120,000-square-foot expansion to its Plymouth facility. The company says that expansion was completed earlier this year.

BLUFFTON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — The vice president of global operations for Michigan-based Inteva Products says the decision to locate its newest facility in northeast Indiana was the result of an exhaustive 10-month process. The company announced plans Wednesday morning to invest more than $42 million to establish manufacturing operations in Bluffton and create up to 419 jobs by the end of 2023. Steve Galle says the new location will have the ability to accommodate future growth and expansion.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Galle said there were three main factors that led to the selection of the Wells County site.

“The reason for the area in question is proximity to key customers for the product that we are considering; we’re going to be making interior products so it’s important that we are close in proximity to our key customers,” said Galle. “We had a very successful project planning activity with regional and local resources from entities like the economic development groups, city councils, (and) county commissioners. And last is the point of having immediate access to open floor space of the size and shape and capacity (facilitating) what we needed for our project.”

Inteva Products plans to use the 260,000-square-foot facility for the manufacture and assembly of interior systems products for the automotive industry. The company expects to begin hiring for a variety of positions this summer, with the plant becoming fully operational in the summer of 2021.

Galle says, despite Indiana’s unemployment rate hitting a 20-year low in January, the company will be able to fulfill its workforce needs for the facility.

“Low unemployment rates are not unfamiliar territory for where we have established our manufacturing footprint. It’s a challenge almost in every startup that we do and ongoing operations that we have so we’re not unfamiliar with it but it’s not a scary thing for us. We feel confident in our abilities to attract and develop key talent; that has not been a problem for us. At the same time, (we’re) keeping good stewardship with partners in the region where we operate.”

The Bluffton facility, Galle adds, will have the flexibility to add more production capacity as demand for the company’s products grows. He says Inteva is always looking at the possibility for additional facilities as well.

“As an ongoing strategy and tactical planning inside of our company, we are always looking at floor space needs that we have both within (Indiana, Michigan and Ohio) as well as beyond that. We are a global company and it’s an active process.”

(WANE) – Nearly 20 people were arrested early Wednesday in a drug sweep in Wells and Adams counties.

According to police, joint taskforce of Drug and Narcotic’s Investigators from Adams and Wells County Sheriff’s Offices, Berne, Bluffton, and Decatur Police Departments led to the arrests of 18 people on various drug charges. The arrests were made early Wednesday morning with the help of the Allen County Police Department, Jay County Sheriff’s Department, Geneva Police Department, and the Indiana State Police.

PHOTOS; Mugshots of those arrested

Arrested were:

WELLS COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) – A Bluffton man found guilty of sex crimes against children was sentenced to 79 years in jail, the Wells County Prosecutor’s Office said Friday.

Johnny Langston, 56, of Bluffton was found guilty on four counts of child molestation and four counts of sexual misconduct with a minor following a three-day trial in Feb.

An investigation found that Langston sexually abused two children, one during the period of 2004 to 2009 and another in late 2015 to early 2016, the prosecutor said.

In Feb. 2016, one of the victims disclosed the abuse and another victim came forward upon hearing the initial disclosure.

The judge imposed the sentence having found that Langston abused his position of trust with the victims. Langston’s lengthy criminal history and the victim’s suffering caused by the crimes also played a role in the judge’s decision.

The prosecutor indicated that Langston told the judge he would appeal his conviction and sentence, which is to be served at the Wells County Jail.

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UNIONDALE, Ind. (WANE) A Bluffton man critically injured Sunday morning in an ATV crash in Uniondale passed away Monday.

Police and medics were called around 4:30 a.m. Sunday to a field near County Roads 600 North and 100 West, on the town’s north side, on a report of an off-road vehicle personal injury crash.

Indiana Conservation officials said Monday that 24-year-old Christopher M. Penrod of Bluffton was operating an all-terrain vehicle in the when he struck a large metal post and was ejected from the vehicle.

Penrod was taken to a hospital in Fort Wayne in critical condition.

According to the Allen County Coroner, Penrod died at 6 p.m. on Monday.

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 WELLS COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) – When Matt Christman and his daughter Kassi took off for a plane ride, there was no way they could predict what would happen next.

“I knew that it was inevitable for us to go down and I was just praying God, you know, please save us,” he said.

They were leaving Miller Field for their second flight of the day.

But shortly after takeoff, Christman said the plane dipped to the left side and then locked up.

He said he couldn’t correct and it kept going down.

“My daughter and I both looked at each other, you know, and we knew we were in trouble,” Christman said.

He said Kassi eventually passed out.

He then started praying, saw the top of corn stalks and the rest is a blur.

“I kept thinking it was a nightmare and trying to figure out what to do, you know. It just seemed so surreal and it didn’t seem like anything was real and I kept wanting to wake up,” Christman said.

They then hit the ground. Christman said his phone was on his lap.

He got Kassi out and called 911. Not long after, emergency crews were on scene.

Kassi was air lifted to the hospital and he was taken in an ambulance.

“I can’t thank the firemen enough. I mean I’m on a volunteer fire department myself and I’ve never been in the reverse situation,” he said.

Today, they’re battling injuries but are in recovery, and in shock, thankful to be alive.

“God was with us. I mean you don’t normally get a second chance after this. So I’m just really thankful,” he said.

 WELLS COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) – A father and daughter were hospitalized after a small plane they were in crashed in a cornfield three miles southwest of Bluffton late Tuesday.

The crash was reported around 9 p.m. Tuesday.

According to a Wells County Sheriff’s Department crash report, Matthew Christman of Markle called 911 and said he’d crashed his plane in a cornfield just before the runway at Miller Airport, and his passenger – his daughter, Kassie – was hurt. Police and medics responded to the cornfield at a property in the 1700 block of West 200 South in Bluffton.

There, crews found a downed red-and-white single engine plane. Kassie was found beneath the right side wing, the report said.

The girl was airlifted from the scene to Lutheran Hospital with injuries to her neck and back. Christman was taken to Lutheran Hospital by ambulance.

Christman told investigators he was trying to land at Miller Airport when the aircraft’s engine failed and the plane fell from the sky, the report said. He said his daughter was ejected as the plane skidded through the cornfield.

The plane came to a rest just shy of the airport. Miller Airport is a private facility with two runways. According to online navigation information, the two runways are turf and measure 2,600 feet by 100 feet.

Aerial images of the airport show several hangers and online records indicate at least nine airplanes are housed at the airport.

The closest weather observation – at Fort Wayne International Airport – listed a visibility of ten miles with a few clouds and calm winds during the reported time of the crash.

The plane, an amateur-built, propeller-powered Avid Flyer, was registered to Thomas Zuber of Phenix City, Alabama, according to Federal Aviation Administration records. It sustained major damage to its front, cabin area, propeller, fuselage, tail and landing gear in the crash, the report said.

FAA investigators were expected to arrive at the scene early Wednesday to take over the investigation.