State Roundup


Spartan Motors buys fire truck firm Classic Fire

CHARLOTTE, Mich. (AP) -- Spartan Motors Inc., which makes chassis for fire trucks, RVs and other vehicles, said Monday it has acquired fire truck maker Classic Fire.

Terms of the deal, expected to close April 1, were not disclosed.

Ocala, Fla.-based Classic Fire makes mini-pumper trucks, tankers, and brush fire trucks, as well as light rescue vehicles. It generated $10 million in revenue last year.

Spartan Motors, based in Charlotte, Mich., said the acquisition gives it coverage in more market segments and at different prices, allowing Spartan "to better meet the price points required of an industry challenged by weaknesses in municipal funding."

It also brings the company pump technology and fire truck expertise, Spartan said.

Raisinville Twp.

Monroe County police bust up dog fighting ring

RAISINVILLE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) -- Authorities in Monroe County say they busted up a dog fighting ring being held in a garage.

Police call it a high-dollar and bloody operation that attracted participants from various states.

Around two-dozen people were arrested and two of the five dogs seized Saturday night were severely injured and might have to be put down.

Sheriff's Detective Sgt. Heath Velliquette tells The Monroe Evening News "it was brutal" and "there was blood everywhere."

Members of the county's Special Response Team raided the garage about 10 p.m. just after a fight between two dogs had ended.

The operation was held in a two-car garage in Raisinville Township. A full-sized dog fighting ring was constructed inside.

Sheriff's deputies and the SRT acted on a tip from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

East Lansing

5-year, $8M

project looks at air pollution

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- A five-year, $8-million research project at Michigan State University is looking at the health effects of air pollution.

Lead investigator Jack Harkema is a professor at the university's College of Veterinary Medicine. He tells the Detroit Free Press that he likens the health connection to the effects of smoking, and says air pollution could lead to similar health problems as bad diet.

Questions such as whether the air people breathe can trigger chronic conditions like diabetes or contribute to obesity are expected to be considered.

Grand Rapids

10-day festival of laughter set for Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) -- Thousands of people are expected to turn out for a 10-day festival of laughter in western Michigan featuring performances by comedians Bill Cosby, Betty White and Margaret Cho.

"Gilda's LaughFest" opens Thursday in Grand Rapids. Other headliners at the event created by Gilda's Club Grand Rapids in celebration of its 10th anniversary include Mike Birbiglia, Kathleen Madigan and Gabriel Iglesias.

The event has been in the planning stages for nearly two years. Gilda's Club Grand Rapids is a cancer and grief support group affiliated with Gilda's Club Worldwide. It's named after Gilda Radner, the "Saturday Night Live" fixture and Detroit native who died of ovarian cancer in 1989.

"My sister, Gilda, loved to laugh, and after she was diagnosed with cancer, she found out that finding the funny, even in a cancer journey, was so important," Gilda Radner's brother, Michael Radner, said in a statement. "I applaud all ... who are helping to celebrate laughter for the health of it."

As of earlier this month, nearly 27,000 tickets had been sold to see more than 60 headliners. Visitors are expected from as far away as New York, New Jersey and California. There are also 110 free events being held throughout the city. About 50 venues are hosting performances.

Organizers also are offering a simulcast of White's performance on March 15. Individual tickets, which go on sale Monday, cost $12.50.

LaughFest's official kickoff is at downtown's Rosa Parks Circle on Thursday night, when organizers want to break a Guinness World Record for the number of participants who toss rubber chickens at one time.

A free LaughFest dance party and concert is March 19 at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. And on March 20, organizers are planning an event at Calder Plaza where people will hold up placards to form a huge smile that will be documented in an aerial photograph.

"Since Gilda's gift to those on a cancer journey was permission to laugh, we wanted to pass that permission along to people in our community and beyond," said Leann Arkema, president and CEO of Gilda's Club Grand Rapids. "Our goal is to show how laughing together can lift the human spirit in life, work and play. "


Westboro case could play role in Michigan lawsuit

HARRISON, Mich. (AP) -- A lawyer says his lawsuit challenging Michigan's funeral-protest law likely will get a boost from a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court ruled last week the First Amendment protects certain speech outside funerals. In Michigan, Lewis and Jean Lowden were arrested in Clare County in 2007 after being invited to a funeral for a soldier who was a family friend.

The Lowdens weren't protesting in Harrison, but a sheriff's deputy noticed signs in their van windows criticizing President George W. Bush.

The Lowdens have a lawsuit pending in federal court against Clare County. Their attorney Dan Korobkin says laws to stifle "unpopular speech end up backfiring." County attorney Jason Kolkema declines to comment on the impact of the Supreme Court decision.


Cops who yanked woman from car are cleared

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) -- Two Kalamazoo County sheriff's deputies who yanked a woman from her car by her hair have been cleared of using excessive force in a case of mistaken identity.

Sheriff Rick Fuller says the deputies believed Michelle Selbee was an armed suspect who had been shooting at officers. When they realized they had the wrong person, they fled the scene last October.

Fuller said Friday that an investigation by authorities from outside Kalamazoo County cleared the deputies, Larry Czarnowski and Nick Mihalek.

Fuller says the officers believed they were in danger. Selbee is surprised to hear the deputies have been cleared, telling the Kalamazoo Gazette, "I don't see how that can even be possible."

The Scotts woman has a civil lawsuit pending against the department. The next court hearing is May 5.


Job training offices could close under House plan

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- The millions of people who show up at their local Michigan Works! office to look for jobs online or get help with their resumes or job training could find the offices shuttered unless a compromise is worked out by Congress on federal workforce funds.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. House passed a bill cutting more than $3.6 billion from the Workforce Investment Act, which accounts for nearly $5.5 million in funding for the Michigan agency. The U.S. Senate hasn't approved the cut, but state officials say they're not in the clear yet.

"What they've done is effectively eliminated the national workforce system," Michigan Works Association CEO Luann Dunsford said Friday of the House cut.

If the Senate goes along, "it would effectively unravel our system. Centers would be closed," she said.

About 700 to 800 state residents who have been laid off are getting two years of college or trade-school training through Michigan Works. About two-thirds of the organization's budget pays for those classes, Livingston County Michigan Works Director Bill Sleight told the Livingston Daily Press & Argus.

Dunsford said workforce agencies across the country are trying to get the House to reconsider.

"We are really trying to raise our voice so that not only can House members come back to a more reasonable place, but also so the Senate can hold the hard line and say, 'This is not the time, in the midst of trying to recover from an economic disaster such as we're in, to eliminate the system that's a lifeline for so many people trying to reinvent their careers,'" she said.

About 1,000 people a day use the Lansing Michigan Works center and about 3.5 million people turn to the centers statewide over the course of a year, Dunsford said. Concern over the centers' potential closing reaches from southern Michigan to the northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula, where jobless rates are even higher.

Dunsford hopes the Senate will stick with President Barack Obama's proposed funding plan, which makes only minor cuts in federal funding for workforce development.

At the moment, funding is "very, very uncertain," she said. With Michigan's unemployment rate still hovering above 11 percent, "this is not the time to eliminate the national workforce system," Dunsford said. "Where would the people go?""

Published: Tue, Mar 8, 2011