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1HomePageMap small mw 0816Local news stories affecting the auto body industry in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin

The City of Ste. Genevieve Board of Aldermen meeting took an unexpected turn March 13, 2014, when George Wehner, whose special-use permit application for an auto body and repair shop and auto sales business at was up for consideration, issued what could be taken as a threat to city officials.

“You guys need to remember what [Charles Lee] ‘Cookie’ Thornton [did] to Kirkwood City Hall,” Wehner said. In 2008, Thornton gunned down several city officials at Kirkwood City Hall before being shot and killed.

After the meeting, police chief Eric Bennett said Wehner’s comment was noted. He said the department has been on alert since the 2008 Kirkwood shooting for any situations that have the potential to escalate and veer into dangerous territory.

In a telephone message left March 15, 2014, on a voice recorder at the Ste. Genevieve Herald office, Wehner apologized for the Thornton comment. “I was under a lot of stress at the time, and in no way did I mean it as a threat,” Wehner said.

City officials said that Wehner had not (yet) issued an apology to the city at press time.

The Kosciusko County Coroner’s Office has confirmed the identity of the second person who died in a fatal fire at Medina’s Body Repair in Milford, IN, on February 13, 2014.

Investigators say the fire was accidental, and traced the source of the fire to faulty wiring for a ceiling light.

Analu Nunez died from smoke inhalation, according to Kosciusko County coroner Michael Wilson.

Nunez’s fiancé and shop owner Jose Medina has been confirmed as being the other person who died in the fire. Medical examiners determined that he died from smoke inhalation.

The call originally came in around 7:22 a.m. when someone leaving work down the street saw smoke and flames and called 911. When crews arrived at the scene, they saw heavy smoke coming from the front of the body shop. After surveying the scene, crews saw the roof was sagging and the front wall was pushing out, so they fought the fire from the outside.

A large part of a Madisonville, KY, body shop business went up in flames late the night of March 25, 2014. Madisonville fire crews responded just before 10:00 p.m. to reports of a large fire at Hawkins Auto Body Shop at 77 Bassett Avenue, which was showing flames from outside the structure. According to the fire department's report, a 360 survey was performed by an officer who determined that the heaviest fire was located within the structure near the entry door and was moving into the attic area. A fire crew was directed to force entry through the door. Another crew entered the structure and found fire in the restroom area located just inside the entry door. As fire extended into the attic and vented the roof, all interior crews were evacuated. Fire crews were able to re-enter the structure with hand lines to extinguish hot spots located in the attic area. An extensive overhaul of the fire area was performed to prevent a rekindle. Fire units determined that the origin of the fire was in the restroom area. Property owner, Dale Hawkins, reported that a trash can was located in the area were Madisonville Fire Department determined the fire had possibly started. The fire remains under investigation.

Jerry Schoenecker and his wife Mary started Jerry’s Auto Body in Oak Park Heights, MN, in April 1974. The calendar from the first month of business still hangs on the wall. Although Jerry Sr. passed away, the shop has remained family-owned, and brothers Jerry, Joe, and John still work there, as well as Jerry Jr.’s stepson Mike DeCorse. The shop has about 10 full-time employees, and Jerry Jr. says half have been with the shop 30 years or more. “We’re fixing people’s grandkids’ cars now,” Jerry Jr. said. Jerry said the shop keeps customers because staff focuses on service. “We always try to do a little extra,” he said. “Service, service, service is our deal.”

A federal grand jury has indicted four Indianapolis, IN, men for allegedly operating a heroin distribution ring out of an inner-city auto body shop, prosecutors said April 10, 2014.

The indictment contained charges of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance against Francisco Javier Perez-Garcia, 36; Mario Vasquez, 26; Agustin Martinez-Acosta, 46; and Jeronimo Lagunes, 27. Perez-Garcia and Vasquez also were charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, prosecutors said.

The ring sold heroin from Perez-Garcia’s body shop in the Brightwood neighborhood on the near northeast side of Indianapolis, prosecutors said. Customers would phone the body shop to order heroin and Perez-Garcia, Vasquez, and Martinez-Acosta would sell it to them, they said. Prosecutors said they believe the heroin originated in Mexico, California, and Houston, TX.

During a traffic stop of Lagunes’ car March 23, 2014, on Interstate 70 west of Indianapolis, Brownsburg police found more than a kilogram of heroin in a Gucci purse in the rear of the vehicle, prosecutors said. The heroin with a street value of about $100,000 had been destined for the ring to distribute on the east side of Indianapolis.

“Heroin has become the scourge of our community in the past several years,” U.S. attorney Joe Hogsett said. “Few substances are more lethal right now. Heroin has no socio-economic or racial boundary and impacts every corner of our state.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration increased heroin seizures more than threefold between 2008 and 2013, said Dennis Wichern, assistant special agent in charge for Indiana.

The defendants face mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years to life if convicted, prosecutors said. All four men are in federal custody.

A message seeking comment was left for an attorney for Lagunes. Court records did not list attorneys for the other three men.

Large hailstones were reported in many locales on the eastern side of the metro area of Blue Springs, Harrisonville, and Raytown, MO. One weigh station operator said there were so many hailstones on Interstate 49, it looked as if Harrisonville was covered in snow. Home and auto body repair specialists were busy during the afternoon and evening hours assessing damage left by this storm, which packed hailstones as big as golf balls.

Raytown homeowner Sarah Boyd was caught in the storm, while hailstorms 1.5 inches in diameter fell on her cars and home. “It sounded pretty horrifying,” Boyd said. “It was hitting the glass while we were driving. It felt like it could break in at any time.”

“There’s kids getting off the bus and they were all running around,” Boyd said. Boyd said she was struck by one of the hailstones, and it left her with a big bruise on her ribs. One auto body repairman in Raytown said he was working late night after getting a half-dozen damaged cars into his garage, and dozens of calls from people needing help.

Garrell D. Johnson, 54, of Decatur, IL, passed away March 20, 2014, in Decatur Memorial Hospital. Garrell was born December 9, 1959, in Decatur, the son of D.E. “Ace” Johnson and Susanne Lane. He was employed in auto body repair and loved to work on show cars. He enjoyed music and going to concerts. Garrell was known for his sense of humor and loved to make people laugh. He leaves behind his son Shane Johnson, brother Darrell Johnson, and step-brother Jerry Baker. He was preceded in death by his parents and son Shannon Johnson. Memorial services to celebrate Garrell’s life were on Saturday, March 29, 2014, at Oak Grove Church of the Nazarene in Decatur. Memorial contributions may be made to the wishes of the family in c/o Shane Johnson. The family of Garrell D. Johnson was served by the Graceland/Fairlawn Funeral Home in Decatur, IL.

View the online obituary, send condolences, and share memories. Obituary written by family members.

Since discovering she had breast cancer just a few months ago, a Forreston, IL, woman who works in a body shop has had to go through a lot, but on April 10, 2014, she and her family got a big surprise—a newly renovated home! Kelli and Jeremy Kappes and their three daughters were pleasantly shocked when walking into their newly-renovated home after returning from an “all expenses paid” vacation. Kelli was diagnosed with cancer in February 2014, and has since had surgery to remove a tumor. Her employer, Gates Auto Body in Freeport, IL, and Jeremy’s employer, Fairway Ford Lincoln in Freeport, worked together to send the family to the Wisconsin Dells and help pay for the materials for the makeover. The family also held a benefit April 26, 2014, at Christy’s Bar in Freeport. All of the proceeds will go towards the family’s unexpected medical expenses.

Tammy Grigsby of Covington, KY, is ecstatic to be receiving free auto repair from skilled technicians. “This place is like angels in heaven to me,” she says.

After losing her job as a pastry chef in 2011, losing everything she owned in an apartment fire in 2012, and losing her unemployment benefits in 2014, Tammy no longer takes things like windshield wiper blades or air filters for granted.

“You buy a quart of oil or something for dinner—that’s where I am right now,” she says.

A few yards away from her, in the garage of Walther Autobody in Covington, a team of men in coveralls or flannel shirts and blue jeans is making sure Tammy’s money goes toward dinner.

They’re part of the Samaritan Car Care Clinic, a ministry of the Madison Avenue Christian Church in Covington that four times a year provides free, basic car maintenance for people in need. As they check the radiator fluid, replenish windshield wiper fluid, change the oil, and add air to the tires of Tammy’s 2004 Ford Taurus—which she bought six days before the restaurant where she worked closed and just paid off—the men know they’re doing more than helping Tammy hold onto money for a meal. They’re helping her hold onto hope for a job.

“So many of the cars we see are on their last leg, but this is all they have to drive—it’s not like if something’s wrong, they just hop into their other car,” says Tom Seeger, a retired Cincinnati Bell technician. “When the car’s down, they don’t go to work.”

And at the entry-level jobs most hold, if they don’t show up for work, they soon don’t have a job.

The car care program started nearly seven years ago after church members noticed that many of the people—especially women—showing up for free weekly dinners had serious problems with their cars. “From the work we do, we have a good feel for the needs of the poor, and the biggest challenge for the working poor is transportation,” the reverend Chinnamuthu Simon says.

Simon turned to church member Bruce Kintner, a PNC Bank vice president with car maintenance skills, who came up with the idea of the clinic and recruited other volunteers, among them an accountant, graphic designer, nursing home orderly, and claims agent.

After they advertised the service through Head Start programs and the Women’s Crisis Center, six women showed up for the first clinic in 2007.

Ever since, as soon as the clinics are announced, all 16 half-hour appointment slots are filled immediately. Walther Autobody donates use of its garage. Ashland Inc. donates Valvoline oil. The Women’s Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation does an annual fundraiser. And in December 2013, Enquirer readers donated funds to pay for a year of the clinics.

About 90 percent of those who bring their cars in are women. Several have been living in their vehicles.

Some, like Grigsby, who says she knows nothing about cars and has no one who can help her, brings her car in every session. “I go on the Internet if I hear something wrong with my car and I start freaking out. To get a job, I have to keep my car safe,” she says. “I have no knowledge of cars, but I’ve been coming here for three years, and they’ve been teaching me. They just showed me how to put in transmission fluid and to check it.”

A basic understanding of their cars can be more than money-saving for the clients. It could be life-saving. Many of the cars have been so poorly maintained that they present a road hazard, Kintner says. He remembers a Pontiac Bonneville brought in that held 4.5 quarts of oil, but was down to a quart.

“It’s amazing that the engine didn’t seize up,” he says. “But it was going to.”

The tires on another woman’s car required 35 pounds of air pressure, but were running on only 15. “Even air takes money at filling stations, and she told us, ‘I don’t have the dollar,’ ” Kintner recalls.

While the volunteers don’t do major repairs like engine overhauls or brake jobs, they know that they are doing at the ground level what politicians and policymakers talk about all the time: helping people retain jobs.

“I get the feeling that 15 years ago, people wrote a check. Now people want to use their skills to help someone else,” says Greg Patterson, a Procter & Gamble employee and first-time volunteer.

He says the four hours of volunteering have left him with a better understanding of other people’s needs and a stronger sense of gratitude.

“There are times when I feel my finances are tight,” he says. “Not even close.”

Joseph Bakle, the first collision repair instructor at the Branch Area Careers Center (BACC) from 1973–1990, left a generous gift after his passing in 2013 to the Branch County Community Foundation in the amount of $156,299.77.

Because of that gift, scholarships will be available to students pursuing careers in auto collision.

The BACC Scholarships fund housed at the community foundation began in 2001 with a goal to “raise enough money to give a student from each BACC program a scholarship every year.”

Bakle graduated from Mark Township High School in Mark Center, OH, in 1946 and was hired on an annual authorization requiring him to earn his teaching degree.

Bakle first attended Ferris State University, where he took the National Occupational Competency test in auto body and scored in the upper 25 percent nationally. He then completed his bachelor’s degree in 1983 in secondary education with an auto body endorsement from Ferris State University.

Bakle taught at the BACC for 17 years until he retired in 1990—when he began his nine-year substitute-teaching career at the BACC.

Throughout that time, he also volunteered many hours to train and prepare students for the collision repair SkillsUSA competitions and numerous demonstrations for collision repair students.

In 2012, Bakle contributed to the BACC Scholarship Endowment Fund, allowing the BACC to provide a $500 scholarship to one outstanding senior from each of the 14 programs at the center.

That same year, he was inducted into the National Technical Honorary Society. Additionally, Bakle received several awards of recognition for his years of teaching and was involved in various educational clubs.

He served on the Coldwater Zoning Board from 1990–1996, volunteered his time at the Community Health Center of Branch County and in Iron Mountain Habitat for Humanity, Dickinson Memorial Hospital, substance abuse programs, and the Breen and Crystal Lake Senior Centers.