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La Porte County public safety officers get new wireless service

La PORTE — The occasional service interruptions and disruptions that cell phone users have come to know – and hate – will soon be a thing of the past for La Porte County’s first responders.

On Wednesday, the La Porte County Board of Commissioners approved a service agreement with Indiana FirstNet, a cellular service specifically for public safety personnel use. Members of the county sheriff’s department, emergency medical services and emergency management plan to switch to FirstNet, which should offer more reliable service than public wireless networks, said Emergency Management Director Larry Butcher.

Currently, sheriff’s deputies, paramedics and other emergency personnel use the same Verizon wireless service as other La Porte County officials on their government-issued phones and smart devices. While the telecom gives the county data preferential treatment over that of the general public, first responders still suffer from the same service issues as civilians during network outages or periods of heavy wireless traffic, such as during festivals or large-scale disasters, Butcher said.

“If you’ve been out to the fair, you know how hard it is to get a phone call out there,” said Information Technology Director Darlene Hale.

The use of FirstNet, conversely, is limited solely to public safety officers.

Born from a 2012 partnership between the federal government and AT&T, the FirstNet program is the first high-speed wireless broadband network dedicated to emergency personnel. Indiana has offered the service since 2017 to local governments that choose to op into the system.

FirstNet will also allow county officials to connect to 800-megahertz radio frequency through their devices, Hale said.

Butcher and Hale did not find any issues while testing cell phones and mobile hot spot devices that use FirstNet, she said.

EMS also conducted a thorough network test of one of the wireless modems, where officials found that FirstNet provided better overall coverage throughout the county, said Assistant Administrator Eric Fenstermaker.

Switching to the new wireless service will be tremendous for the ambulance service, Fenstermaker said.

Each vehicle currently uses a Verizon modem to access the internet, which crews use to transmit reports, patient readings and other crucial data to hospitals while en route. Several weeks ago, a major Verizon outage threw this system into turmoil, Fenstermaker said.

“If we’re trying to transmit a STEMI EKG to the hospital, time is of the essence,” Fenstermaker said. “If you can’t do that, it really hurts the patient’s outcome.”

Hale said the monthly service costs of using FirstNet are comparable to the current rates Verizon is charging the county. In addition, the service should work with most first responders’ equipment, with AT&T offering to exchange devices that don’t work with the system for minimal cost, she said.

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New Prairie student honored as Indiana volunteer of the year

ROLLING PRAIRIE — A La Porte County teen who has dedicated much of her young life to making service members and veterans smile has been honored for her volunteerism.

Emily Graves, 17, a senior at New Prairie High School, was named one of Indiana’s top two youth volunteers of 2020 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism.

As state honorees, Graves and 13-year-old Margaret Dimmett of Zionsville will each receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion, and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where they will join honorees from every states for four days of recognition events.

During the trip, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, in its 25th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

As an elementary student, Graves founded Cookies for Soldiers, a nonprofit that has delivered more than 35,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to active and former military personnel at home and abroad over the past decade.

When Emily was 6, her mother, Rhonda Graves, challenged her to think about how she could use the Girl Scout cookies she was selling to help others.

Meeting that challenge, Emily bought several boxes with her own money, solicited donations to buy 600 more boxes, and contacted veterans’ organizations to help her ship them to service members.

“Active military members are separated from their homes and families,” she said. “I wanted to give them a piece of home, something comforting in the midst of uncertainty.”

Now, every year during Girl Scout cookie season, she writes letters to companies and organizations to solicit donations, and contacts local Girl Scout troops to enlist their assistance.

With help from more than 150 volunteers, she purchases more than 5,000 boxes of cookies a year and packs them up at an annual packing event.

She then ships cookies to active soldiers and veterans, and personally hands them out at veterans hospitals, Honor Flights, and other military and veterans events.

In addition to making service members feel appreciated, Emily said Cookies for Soldiers’ goal is “teaching younger students about the heroism and sacrifice” of those who serve their country.

“Military members and veterans who receive a box or shipment are told that there are people who care for them, see them and appreciate them,” she said.

In her latest letter seeking donations, Emily wrote: “When I was 6 years old I started purchasing Girl Scout cookies to share with troops serving in harm’s way. ... In addition to sending cookies overseas, we have had the honor of welcoming home over 30 Honor Flights with cookies and a hug.

“We have also attended many other events recognizing veterans who have served in time periods ranging from WW II to the present.”

She was nominated for the award by her school.

Margaret, nominated by Zionsville Middle School, established a charity with her sister that has raised more than $13,000 over the past three years to buy instruments, sheet music and other music equipment for schools and music programs across Indiana, and to promote the importance of music education.

She and her sister, Kate, both began playing the violin at age 3, and music has played a big role in their lives. When their parents began shopping for a new violin for Kate, the girls realized how expensive instruments are, and how many young people would not be able to afford to play music.

“There are so many benefits to learning music at a young age,” Meg said. “We wanted to provide as many students as possible with the chance to be exposed to music in their schools or through other programs.”

Meg and her sister asked local businesses for support and for opportunities to perform for donations. The organization has made grants of $300 to $1,000 to eight schools and music/arts organizations, and provided scholarships for students to play in youth orchestras.

“In our 25th year of honoring young volunteers, we are as inspired as ever by the work students are doing to address the needs of a changing world,” said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial.

“We hope that their resolve, their initiative and their perspectives on society’s challenges move others to consider how they can make a difference, too.”

“Middle level and high school students are doing remarkable things to shape the future of their communities through volunteer service. They inspire all students and schools to drive learning with real-world challenges,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP.

All public and private middle level and high schools in the country, as well as Girl Scout councils, 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and Points of Light Global Network members, are eligible to select a student or member for a local award.

Honorees were reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected state honorees and finalists based on personal initiative, effort, impact and personal growth.

While in Washington, state honorees will tour capital landmarks, meet youth volunteers from around the world, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian, and visit their congressional representatives.

For more information on Cookies for Soldiers, email cookiesforsoldiers@ comcast.net or visit the Cookies for Soldiers Facebook page.

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Woman charged with trafficking meth at Indiana State Prison

MICHIGAN CITY — An Elkhart County woman was arrested at the Indiana State Prison on Sunday, charged with attempting to smuggle narcotics to an inmate.

An investigation by ISP resulted in Sunday’s arrest of Crystal Marie Miller, 25, of Bristol, according to Warden Ron Neal.

Tobacco, lighters and a clear crystal-like substance, which later field tested positive for methamphetamine, were found in a package allegedly intended to be delivered to an offender during visitation, Neal said in a statement from ISP.

Miller was arrested by Correctional Police officers and transported and booked into La Porte County Jail, where she is being held on a $15,000 cash-only bond, according to the La Porte County Sheriff’s Office.

She is charged with trafficking with an inmate, a Level 5 felony; and possession of methamphetamine, a Level 6 felony, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Miller was scheduled to appear in La Porte County Superior Court 2 on Monday.

Trafficking with an inmate is punishable by up to eight years in prison and a $10,000 fine, according to ISP.

“I am thankful that staff were diligent in their duties and were paying attention to this person,” Neal said.

“We have a zero tolerance policy on trafficking. This is a very serious offense that causes a multitude of problems inside of a Correctional Facility.”

He said such cases will be prosecuted to “the fullest extent of the law. We will arrest and seek prosecution against any person who attempts to traffic illegal substances into any of our facilities.”