Midwestern News

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

Winter car crashes were up an average 61 percent in Northwest Ottawa County, MI, compared to last season, according to data analysis by the Grand Haven Tribune.

It was one of the best winters ever at Fritz Auto Body in Grand Haven, MI, with a 30 percent increase in business, co-owner Dave Fritz said.

But it wasn’t just the snow that led to dents and dings—the cold left many car owners cracking up.

“What we encountered this year, with the temperature being so much colder and the new cars having urethane bumpers, people would hit the snow banks and the bumpers would crack,” Fritz said. “We definitely saw an increase in the amount of claims on bumpers because of the cold.”

While new bumpers are designed to flex, bitter cold temperatures make them brittle and prone to cracks.

Fritz praised local road crews for keeping the streets in good condition despite the barrage of blizzards, but he noted the high snow banks led to many crashes due to poor visibility when people were pulling out of parking lots or driveways.

“We had a lot of human error because the conditions we had were exceedingly more difficult than they have been in the past,” he said. “It wasn’t just the inexperienced drivers. A lot of experienced drivers got into accidents too.”

Deeper snow also caused more damage when people went off the road, according to Fritz. Damages varied from $300 to $10,000.

Fritz noticed pricier damages occurred when people probably shouldn’t have been on the roads.

“The whiteout days, those are the days that create the high-ticket accidents,” Fritz said. “When there’s a warning to get off the road, there’s a reason for that. Most of the cars that were out in a blizzard have substantially higher damage numbers.”

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.