A review of some of the top news stories in 2023


TRI-CITY AREA — As 2023 draws to a close, we wanted to take a look back at what made headlines in the Tri-City Times this past year.

Like many years, there was good and bad news, tragic and happy. While space constraints prevent us from doing more, the Top 10 news stories have been selected for the year.

Certainly, there were many more articles that were contenders, but here is the list, in no particular order.

CAPAC — Residents of the Village of Capac were shocked as news slowly circulated about an alleged incident that took place within the village limits in the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 6.

According to the St. Clair County Sheriff Department, a 44-year- old Mussey Township woman was behind bars and faced Open Murder charges as a result of the incident. Deputies were dispatched to a location on South Main Street in Capac and spoke with a 44-year-old male who lived at the location and was the one who reported the scuffle.

Investigators say the man reported an assault had taken place earlier in the evening and that one of the subjects involved was not waking up.

Deputies discovered a 44-year-old Almont woman who was unconscious but still breathing. Upon further searching of the home, a second 44-year-old woman was found and taken into custody.

According to authorities, the two women had allegedly been disputing, on and off, for several days, over a shared relationship with the male subject within the home.

Deputies said the Almont woman and the Mussey Township woman had apparently gotten in to a fight. and the Almont woman ended up passing away a few days after the incident. The Mussey Township woman is currently serving her sentence of 10 to 15 years in jail.

IMLAY CITY — After a very successful beginning in Memphis, owners of Sage Creek Winery decided to expand their business plan. Company owners met with the Imlay City Commission in early May to begin nailing down details for the business to locate in Imlay City.

The proposed location is the city’s old fire hall and eventually, it is hoped to purchase two other buildings located in close proximity of the old fire hall.

Sage Creek anticipates producing more than 45,000 gallons of wine. The Memphis location, which opened for business in 2017, is housed in a building that is over 100 years old. Owners say the board and audience feel the old Imlay City fire hall fits their footprint of restoring older buildings and keeping the structure’s history.

The potential owners were quoted as saying, “the new Imlay City location would be Memphis on Steroids.” The owners anticipate making an investment of around $750,000 just for the first, primary building and will have around 7,200 square feet to work with.

Excitement of the new business coming to Imlay City has since been tempered recently as State officials are dragging their feet in finalizing environmental testing of the proposed site.

There are concerns of contaminated ground and city officials continue to work with EGLE to try and resolve the issue. The business plan calls for wine tasting rooms as well as an outdoor seating venue, should the business proposal proceed in a positive direction.

ALMONT — Voters in the Almont school district will be going to the polls in February of 2024, to determine the fate of a bond issue that carries a price tag of just under $60 million. What to include and how big should it be were two questions members of the Almont school board grappled with as they put the finishing touches on the issue.

A bond issue, for various school improvements district wide, has been considered for many months and most board members support moving forward and giving the public a chance to have a say on what to do and how big to make improvements.

Board members pointed out that a bond issue was being worked on late last year with former Supt. Bill Kalmar, that some say totaled nearly $70 million.

Board members have pointed out the district will be saving more than $12 million dollars from the original bond issue that was being worked on late in 2022.

The current board paused the bond talks and reworked the finances after doing a re-assessment of the bond.

A decades-long wait for a loved one’s remains to be returned ended at the Imlay cemetery with a burial of the soldier.

Final State approval has been given for the vote. Along with additional classroom space, new furniture, technology and HVAC upgrades, the bond issue also includes an 80,000 sq. ft. Activities Center.

If the bond passes, the building could be used for a variety of events, both in the athletics and music departments.

IMLAY CITY — Talks continued between officials from Imlay City and Imlay Township on a proposal that, if approved, would transfer property from the township to the city. The transaction is known as a Conditional 425 Property Transfer Agreement.

In all, around 250 acres of land would be involved in the proposed transaction, including one parcel that is over 122 acres and another that is nearly 60 acres in size. In all, 11 parcels of land are included on the proposal.

The city is interested in expanding their industrial park, if the agreement is approved by both sides. The property is located on both sides of Blacks Corners Road, south of Newark Road. The majority of the acreage (200 acres) is on the west side of the road.

A small section of the proposed land (50 acres) is on the east side, adjacent to heavily-used soccer fields.

The property does not include the athletic fields that are just north of the I-69 expressway. Under Article 111 of the agreement, Sharing of Taxes and Other Revenues, the city proposes paying the township three mills on taxable value of the transferred property during a period of 25 years.

The township has countered with a request of 50 years and four mills. The city has agreed to install public services and other utilities in an infrastructure project that is estimated to cost four million dollars, if an agreement is reached.

IMLAY CITY — The 2023 Eastern Michigan State Fair will go down as one to remember. Mostly for weather related issues. For the first time in 25 years, Fair Manager Ian Kempf said the fairgrounds was evacuated due to severe storms in the area.

A strong line of severe weather was rumbling towards the fairgrounds, capping what proved to be a volatile week of wet weather. Heavy storms, with damaging winds, hail, and possible funnel clouds stormed their way from the Saginaw area southeast through Frankenmuth and continued on it’s path into Lapeer County.

The National Weather Service in Detroit/Pontiac issued a “Severe Thunderstorm Warning for… Lapeer County in southeastern Michigan until 9:45 p.m.” A weather alert from the National Weather Service said, “At 8:44 PM EDT, severe thunderstorms were located along a line extending from near North Branch to Otter Lake to near Otisville, moving southeast at 35 mph. HAZARD…60 mph wind gusts and quarter size hail.” The alert concluded by saying, “People attending Eastern Michigan State Fair should seek safe shelter immediately.”

Fair officials met with fire department members and a decision was made to evacuate the fairgrounds due to safety concerns. With the storm baring down on the fairgrounds, officials said the evacuation went pretty well with the midway being shut down as people scurried to their vehicles to exit the grounds.

Fair officials estimated it took just under an hour to evacuate around 9,000 people.

IMLAY CITY — After more than four decades of service to the community in which he lived, Imlay City Fire Chief Rick Horton traded his fire gear for retirement at the end of September.

Horton walked away, having served 43 years on three different departments.

He has been a member of Elba Township, Attica Township and Imlay City fire departments. Like so many other longtime firefighters, Horton followed in the steps of family members when he first got in to the fire business.

Along with being a volunteer firefighter, Horton gave 32 years of his life to Ford Motor Company, working at the plant in Romeo.

He said he even left work, if the call was serious enough, like a fatal fire in Imlay City a few years ago.

Looking back over the years, Horton recalls several incidents with ones involving children the most difficult to deal with.

Horton, who said he is retiring in part after becoming “tired of the politics” of running a department, intends to enjoy more free time and work around his home on a lengthy list of “to do” projects.

He has served Imlay City as Chief for the past eight years and had another 13 years as Assistant Chief under former Chief Kip Reaves. He has been a member of the Imlay City department for a total of 27 years.

ATTICA TWP — A large group of concerned citizens piled in to the Attica Township Planning Commission meeting in October to voice their continued concerns of a potential new gas station being constructed in the area of Newark and Lake Pleasant Rd.

The meeting was mainly a public hearing in which the township’s planning commission considered a Special Land Use request along with a site plan review for a gasoline filling station and drive through restaurant.

Bazco Oil Holdings had presented plans to the planning commission and the regular township board earlier in the year, in hopes of developing more than 13 acres of property on the western side of the township for the new business.

The original plans had called for a shower facility for truck drivers, along with a convenience store and space for a drive-through business, although fast food businesses had not yet inquired about the potential availability.

At a subsequent meeting, company officials and an engineer told the planning commission board they had scaled back their original request for the business and truck filling pumps by 56%.

Plans presented also showed parking and charging spots for 15 electric automobiles along with 60 regular parking spots for cars, vans and pickup trucks. The board discussed the issue before voting 5-1 to recommend turning down the new, revised plans by Bazco Oil Holdings.

The township board took similar action, rejecting the plan at their October meeting. The board may take up the issue once again, if an alternative proposal is made.

IMLAY CITY — After 73 years of few answers, family members of Lewis W. Hill can rest easy. Remains of their loved one were identified by the military.

In a press release, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced U.S. Army Cpl. Lewis W, Hill, 18, of Detroit, Michigan, killed during the Korean War, was accounted for May 22, 2023.

In July 1950, Hill was a member of L Company, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. He went missing in action after his unit was forced to retreat from the vicinity of Taejon, South Korea, on July 20. Due to the fighting, his body could not be recovered at that time, and there was never any evidence that he was a prisoner of war.

The U.S. Army issued a presumptive finding of death on Dec. 31, 1953. Eventually, the remains were later sent to Hawaii where they were buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.

In July 2018, the DPAA proposed a plan to disinter 652 Korean War Unknowns from the Punchbowl. On July 15, 2019, DPAA disinterred Unknown X-29 as part of Phase Two of the Korean War Disinterment Project and sent the remains to the DPAA laboratory, for analysis.

To identify Hill’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis, as well as chest radiograph comparison and circumstantial evidence. Hill’s name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with the others who are still missing from the Korean War.

In a very moving tribute to the soldier this past fall, Hill was buried in Imlay City, next to his parents.

ROSCOMMON CO. — An Almont man sustained serious injuries in a fall while in a remote hunting blind in Mid-Michigan on Opening Day of the Michigan firearm season for deer.

Authorities with the Michigan State Police told various news agencies the rescue eventually required the services of the U.S. Coast Guard. 61-year-old Max Wiggins of Almont ended up being airlifted in a basket by the Coast Guard following the incident.

Wiggins was identified through numerous Facebook posts, not by police. Wiggins had climbed up to his tree-mounted deer blind early Wednesday morning, around 6 a.m., according to his wife Lisa.

Michigan State Police say the 61-year-old hunter from Almont fell about 25 feet from the tree stand Wednesday in a swampy area of Roscommon County.

ALMONT TWP. — Turmoil in one township led to a much needed commodity in another township. Leaders of any fire department will tell you finding qualified and certified firefighters is a never-ending battle.

According to unofficial minutes of their most recent meeting, the Almont Twp. Board hired former Dryden Fire Chief Mark Hagemeister. He was approved as a member of the township fire department and will help fill a thin roster covering the day shift.

He will also face the same six-month probationary period as any other new hire, according to the department’s policy and procedures. Hagemeister joined the Dryden Township Fire Dept. in 1984 and was named assistant chief in 1990.

He was named fire chief in March 2014, following in the footsteps of Chief Ray Evans who had announced his retirement. In the fall of ‘23, following an on-going dispute with some members of the Dryden Fire Department and township officials, Hagemeister, who served with Dryden Township for 39 years, resigned as the department’s chief.

Perceived poor communication and other management style issues were factors in Hagemeister’s decision to step down from the Dryden department. Former assistant chief Keith Klobucar had resigned earlier this year and has since been hired by Imlay City to be their fire chief.

Klobucar has over 30 years experience in firefighting and stepped away from the Dryden department in March of 2023 when issues arose within the department.

Klobucar took over the department in Imlay City for retired chief Rick Horton.