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No prison time for courthouse guard caught with child porn

La PORTE — A La Porte County courthouse security guard charged with possession of child pornography last year will not serve any prison time.

Joseph J. Lopez, a civilian employee of the La Porte County Sheriff’s Department for 18 years, was sentenced on Jan. 17 to four years in the Indiana Department of Correction.

The first two years of the sentence are to be executed in the La Porte County Community Correction program. If Lopez completes his first six months of work release successfully, he may serve the remainder of those two years on electronic monitoring.

The final two years of Lopez’s sentence are to be served on probation.

Lopez pleaded guilty in November to the Level 5 felony count of possession of child pornography he faced, and a presentence investigation and psychosexual evaluation were ordered.

In exchange for his plea, his Level 6 felony count of possession of child pornography was dismissed.

Lopez, who worked security at the courthouses in Michigan City and La Porte, was arrested last winter for allegedly having downloaded thousands of images and videos of child pornography to several laptop computers and thumb drives.

Sheriff John Boyd confirmed that the devices were personal property that did not belong to the county.

Michigan City Police were alerted to Lopez’s activity in December 2018 in a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which reported that a pornographic image of a girl around 8 or 9 years old had been uploaded to the Microsoft search engine Bing on Nov. 21, 2018.

The IP address for the user who uploaded the photo belonged to Lopez, who was arrested while working security at the courthouse in La Porte on March 6, 2019.

According to the police report in the case, Lopez admitted to having collected child porn for about three years, getting his material from various websites, and by doing reverse image searches on Bing.

“Lopez said this is a pastime and that he was being bad,” Detective Sgt. Matt Barr wrote in his report. “He said he is 50 and on his own, and that is what he does.”

Lopez also reportedly told police that he had never made child pornography nor had he sought out children for sexual gratification.

According to the terms of his plea agreement, Lopez will be required to register as a sex offender; may not own a computer unless it is equipped with “Covenant Eyes” and is monitored by probation; and must participate in therapy for child pornography offenders.

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Knapp Elementary families take part in 'mind and body' learning

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Reins of Life plans annual fundraiser after a 'huge' 2019

MICHIGAN CITY — As Reins of Life prepares for its largest fundraising event of the year – which pays tribute to a very special young lady – the non-profit’s executive director looked back on a great year.

“2019 was a huge year for Reins of Life,” executive director Dorota Janik said.

“The Capital Project Campaign was completed and will be bringing big changes to our South Bend facility in Spring 2020. New programs were added, including a carriage driving program for clients that have a contraindication to riding or exceed our weight limit for the therapeutic riding program.”

She also cited the Veterans Team Program, which provides a “safe and open environment for our veterans to talk and interact with horses at their own pace,” and said in the program, “Heroes are helping horses, and horses are helping our heroes.”

A new educational partnership was also instituted, Janik said.

“We partnered with Learning KEY, an organization which helps educators, businesses, and families build flexible learning and teaching within their everyday environments – referred to as UDL: Universal Design for Learning.”

Janik is hoping for a another great year in 2020, and it starts with the 22nd annual Kelsey Marie Meekhof Memorial Dinner & Auction on Saturday, Feb. 8.

The event, held in memory of rider Kelsey Marie Meekhof, hosts more than 250 guests annually.

The event is hosted by Dr. Mark and Carla Meekhoff.

“Carla and I have a very special place in our hearts for Reins of Life. We were fortunate enough to be introduced to the program 16 years ago and quickly involved our daughter, Kelsey,” the doctor said in a statement on the Reins website.

“Kelsey had cerebral palsy and was wheelchair bound. It is hard to express the sense of accomplishment and joy that Reins of Life provided Kelsey until her untimely passing 5 years ago.

“The staff was warm and welcoming from the very beginning and the special bond she had with her horses and volunteers was just incredible.

“Now, since Kelsey has left us, we keep Kelsey’s memory alive by continuing to raise funds for the program and telling everyone we know how special a place Reins of Life is. It is an organization that is more than worthy of your support either by volunteering, donating or fundraising. Help us keep this wonderful program vibrant and growing in the Michiana community.”

The event will be held at The Armory in South Bend.

“This year’s secret theme will transport you to a magical and whimsical world filled with castles, princes and princesses, a caricature artist and photo booth, and live music performances,” Janik said.

The evening includes silent and live auctions with Las Vegas, Chicago, Daytona Beach and New York City getaways and more.

The event “enables Reins of Life to introduce the joys and benefits of therapeutic horseback riding and equine-assisted activities as a therapy enhancer and bring in new members to the ROL family,” Janik said.

“Fundraising events continue to bring public awareness to the organization and mission of providing services to people with special needs.”

For more information and to purchase tickets visit reinsoflife.org and click on the big pink button, or call 574-232-0853

Reins of Life is a 41-year-old non-profit that “helps improve the lives of children and adults with disabilities through equine-assisted activities and therapies,” according to volunteer coordinator Beth Cortelyou.

The organization has facilities in Michigan City and South Bend, and served more than 500 riders with 3,000 hours of riding lessons in 2019.

“Volunteers are an invaluable part of the operation,” Cortelyou said.

And everyone can help, whether they are experienced with horses of not.

Reins “has a multitude of volunteer opportunities,” Cortelyou said. “The most common volunteer positions are side walking and leading horses during riding lessons. Each rider requires the assistance of one to three volunteers.

“Volunteers also have the opportunity to help train the horses. Not only does this improve a volunteer’s horse skills, it helps the horses stay in shape and ready for duty. If you’re more of an introvert, you might enjoy feeding horses – they are greatly appreciative and always hungry,” she said.

And some of the Reins’ programs take additional training, Cortelyou said.

“Interactive Vaulting classes require energetic volunteers who have a strong sense of play and who are willing to be silly. This class takes up to five volunteers, and watching someone learn to drive a horse drawn carriage (or sleigh) is a unique experience.”

Volunteers are also needed to work with the Veterans Team and Equine Encounters class, she said.

“These individualized classes can focus on building trust, self-confidence, and relationships with others. Retirees often volunteer for the School Program, which operates during the school day and involves more than 20 local special education classes. The students are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.”

Volunteer can work as little as two hours per week, or as often they like and “can make an incredible difference to a person, the community, and yourself,” Cortelyou said.

Volunteers must be at least 13 years old and no previous horse experience is required. For information, contact Cortelyou at 219-276-7849 or Beth.Cortelyou@reinsof life.org; or visit reinsoflife.org.

State grant aims to 'spur' investment at Kingsbury Industrial Park

KINGSBURY — La Porte County and Indiana officials have announced a $1 million state grant to permit connection of a county rail spur at Kingsbury Industrial Park with the CSX mainline.

County officials said Thursday they have reached agreement with the state on a $1 million Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) performance-based grant to support the connection of La Porte County’s $6 million rail spur at Kingsbury Industrial Park with the CSX mainline adjacent to the park’s southern border.

The agreement to connect the KIP rail spur with the CSX mainline was approved at Wednesday’s La Porte County Redevelopment Commission meeting.

“With this increased connectivity, KIP, which was previously designated by CSX as a ‘Select Site’ for prospective developers, will be one of the few industrial parks in the nation that can be served by two Class I rail carriers,” said RDC president Randy Novak.

“This connection is expected to increase opportunities for economic investment and job creation in La Porte County and the surrounding region.”

Novak said getting this connection to CSX in place was a “key to opening up KIP to the entire CSX logistics chain.

“By now having the north/south rail spur at KIP connected on the south edge of the park to CSX, we’re also working hard at getting the north end of the spur connected directly with the CN Railroad that runs along the north side of the park.”

Dr. Vidya Kora, La Porte County Commissioner and Redevelopment Commission member, hailed the public/private partnership necessary to secure the grant.

He recognized “the support we’ve received from our local legislators, including Rep. Jim Pressel and Sen. Mike Bohacek, who have worked tirelessly to make KIP as attractive as possible for job creation.

“We’ve also had to secure significant private sector commitments by JBC Rail, NIPSCO and others for rail-served investment in the park and had to commit to certain deliverables in order for the state to provide the grant.”

Jim Staton, senior vice president and chief business development officer to the IEDC, agreed.

“We talk frequently about economic development being a team sport, and it’s encouraging to see the collaborative efforts put forth by all involved in this project,” Staton said.

“Increasing connectivity in this region of the state is going to go a long way in impacting future job creation efforts, and we look forward to seeing the number of Hoosiers impacted for generations to come.”

The IEDC offered La Porte County up to $1 million from the Industrial Development Grant Fund, which provides assistance to communities making infrastructure investments in support of economic development opportunities.

The incentives are performance-based, meaning the county must meet certain milestones and deliverables to collect and maintain funds.