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Michigan City man pleads guilty to wrong-way OWI crash that left La Porte man dead in 2021

La PORTE — A Michigan City man charged with being intoxicated when he caused a La Porte man’s death while driving in the wrong lane on U.S. 35 last year has agreed to plead guilty.

Eric A. Adair, 25, entered a plea agreement under which he would plead guilty to operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death, a level 4 felony, court records show. If it’s accepted, he could face up to 10 years in prison.

The March 12, 2021 wrong-way crash on U.S. 35 near Michigan City led to the death a day later of 32-year-old Nathan Blount, whose estate later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Adair and others, according to court records.

According to the La Porte County Sheriff’s Office, the crash happened about 3:25 p.m. and led to the complete closure of U.S. 35 between CR-525W and CR-450N.

The initial investigation determined a 2003 Honda Accord, driven by Adair, was traveling in a northbound lane on U.S. 35 approaching Nicomas Path, according to police.

“For an unknown reason, the Honda drove left of center and began traveling in the southbound lane,” Capt. Derek Allen said in a statement at the time.

A 2007 Toyota Camry, driven by Blount, was traveling south on U.S. 35 when it collided head-on with the Honda in the southbound lane, Allen said.

“Following the crash, the Honda traveled back across both lanes and came to rest on its driver’s side along the northbound shoulder,” he said. “The Toyota spun, traveled off the west side of the roadway into a ditch, and struck a tree before coming to rest.”

Blount was trapped inside his vehicle and required extrication to be freed, Allen said. He suffered a lower body injury and was airlifted to a hospital for treatment.

Adair was also pinned inside his vehicle and required extrication before being airlifted to a hospital for treatment of upper body injuries.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys will argue sentencing – 2 to 10 years – at a hearing July 27 in La Porte Circuit Court. Two other charges, a felony count of reckless homicide and a misdemeanor count of driving without ever having received a license, would be dismissed.

Adair admits in the agreement that he drank alcoholic beverages at two restaurants before the crash, and both were originally defendants in the lawsuit, filed in July 2021.

The suit was filed on behalf of the estate of Blount, who left four children, and accuses Eric Adair, Christopher Adair, Wings, Etc., and El Cantarito with causing conscious pain and suffering. It was amended in August 2021 to include wrongful death.

According to the suit, drunken driver Eric Adair caused serious bodily injury to Blount in the crash. It claims Christopher Adair gave permission to Eric Adair to operate the Honda, owned by Christopher Adair, though he “knew Eric Adair had consumed alcoholic beverages to the point that he was legally drunk.”

The suit also alleged that Wings, Etc. on East Lincoln Way in La Porte, and El Cantarito on Pine Lake Avenue in La Porte, knew Eric Adair “was either an habitual drunkard or was visibly intoxicated while at their establishments” and still provided him alcoholic beverages.

It claims all the defendants “recklessly disregarded the rights of other drivers and knew their conduct caused a substantial risk of danger to other drivers”; and also recklessly disregarded the consequences to Blount by “Adair‘s operation of a motor vehicle while drunk.”

The suit claims their actions caused pain and suffering by Blount from the time of the accident until his death a day later.

It was later amended a second time to add a complaint of violation of ABC laws by the restaurants, leading to wrongful death, for allowing Adair to drink and drive after drinking, not providing alternate transportation, and failing to notify law enforcement that he was driving while “inebriated and impaired.”

El Cantario was later dismissed by the court as a defendant in the suit. The next hearing in that case is scheduled for Aug. 8 before Judge Richard Stalbrink, who was appointed special judge.


Drag queen Jada Pill interacts with the crowd during the Michigan City Pride festival Saturday in Washington Park. Welcome to the Other Side presented the show, which capped a full day of events. More photos on page A9.


Local
Michigan City teachers invited to apply for project grants through Unity Foundation

MICHIGAN CITY — The Unity Foundation of La Porte County is inviting Michigan City area educators to apply for grants to make learning and teaching more fun and impactful.

Unity manages three grant programs established by caring donors who believed in teachers as the critical factor for learning, the organization said in a statement. Together these programs have invested in more than 1,000 educators at public and private schools in the city for projects of their own design since the mid-1990s.

The grants of $400 to $500 aim to support teachers as they find innovative ways to make learning possible for students, Unity said. Teachers are invited to complete a brief application at uflc.net/grants/teacher-grants for projects to be implemented during the 2022-23 academic year. The application deadline is Sept. 2.

The Michigan City Education Foundation (MCEF) makes grants of up to $500 for teachers at public and parochial K-8 schools in Michigan City. Teachers may use their grants for hands-on or virtual activities in any academic area or life skills. According to Unity, the Michigan City Chamber of Commerce, Mary Lou Linnen and Bud and June Ruby founded MCEF to empower educators in 1994.

The Barbara A. Carmen Memorial Endowment Fund is dedicated to the memory of Carmen, a former Michigan City kindergarten and first-grade teacher in both the public and parochial schools. The fund provides grants of up to $400 for items that will enrich curriculum or enhance a teacher’s ability to meet student needs, Unity said.

Both MCEF and the Carmen Fund accept proposals from the following schools: Barker Middle School, Coolspring Elementary, Edgewood Elementary, Joy Elementary, Knapp Elementary, Krueger Middle School, Lake Hills STEM Magnet Elementary, Marsh Elementary, Notre Dame Catholic School, Pine Fine Arts Magnet Elementary, Queen of All Saints Catholic School, Springfield Elementary, St. Paul Lutheran School and St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic School.

The Teacher Innovation Fund is a small grant program for Michigan City High School and La Porte County Career and Technical Education/A.K. Smith Career Center teachers and professionals. According to Unity, it is designed to support educational professionals as they strive to reach their students. Barbara Eason-Watkins, MCAS superintendent; and former Michigan City Mayor Chuck Oberlie provided the idea and the seed money from their own personal funds.

Grants can be used to purchase equipment, supplies, tools for special programs or for ideas to enrich curriculum and enhance each professional’s ability to meet his/her students’ needs. Each grant applicant may request up to $400.

“This grant brings extra money directly into the classroom to support new ideas. I am grateful for the poetry materials I was able to obtain for my classroom and for the opportunities this grant provided students,” said Katie Haughtington, Marsh Elementary teacher and 2021-22 grant recipient.

All La Porte County educators are eligible to apply for Unity’s Community “Power for Good” Grants. Applications for this program are available through July 22.

For more information on Unity’s teacher grant programs or to help teacher support funds, visit uflc.net or contact Lauren Varga at 219-879-0327 or lvarga@uflc.net.


Food trucks, art galleries, health care providers and other vendors, decked out in bright colors, were part of the MC Pride event, which also offered music throughout the day.


Parents and children danced to the music at the event, which featured both live bands and DJs.


Brad Ferrell went 5-1 with a 1.63 earned run average this season, striking out 81 in 38 2 / 3 innings.


News
New seats for La Porte Civic are bigger, more comfortable, and allow wider aisles and railings

La PORTE — New seating is being considered for the La Porte Civic Auditorium.

“We feel like it’s an important process,” La Porte Parks Supt. Mark Schreiber said. “We’re very fortunate to have the administration’s backing on making sure the Civic Auditorium stays viable for the next 90 years, and means everything to the community that it has meant for the first 90 years.”

The La Porte Park Board approved the style choice for seats for the Civic at its June 15 meeting. The La Porte City Council is expected to vote on appropriating funding for the project in July.

The proposed seats would have a vinyl cover for easy cleaning and the color will be slate, which is a very dark brown.

“It will emulate kind of the look of the current seats at the Civic. It’s the closest we can get color-wise. Most importantly, I think we get a dramatic upgrade in something that makes the Civic viable for future generations,” Schreiber said.

The La Porte Board of Public Works and Safety approved a quote for seating at its June 7 meeting.

“With the current state of equipment and materials and everything, we’re given the opportunity essentially to lock in our price and start the ordering process,” City Engineer Nick Minich told the BOW.

He indicated the seating installation, if approved by the City Council, would coincide with the Civic’s HVAC upgrades, which would be next summer.

“The goal is to reduce the amount of revenue lost by the Civic,” Minich said.

American Rescue Plan funds will be used to replace the seating. Schreiber said the cost of the seats, delivered and installed, will be about $400,000. The price though, does not include demolition of the old seats.

The addition of new seats will also allow for widening of aisles, installation of railings and making the area ADA accessible.

“The most important thing, besides the increased comfort and raising the standard, I think, for our community and the people that attend the events is the ability to add some ADA and safety with lit aisles,” Civic Auditorium & Events Director Brett Binversie told the BOW.

The seats will also include a modern amenity – drink holders.

“We had a lot of discussions about seats. The cup holder is a big deal. People want to have a beverage and you don’t want it tipping. It’s a modern convenience that I think everyone’s grown accustomed to having at a top-notch venue,” Schreiber said.

Some seating will be lost due to the new seats being larger and the need to widen aisles.

Binversie said the Civic’s 17-inch seats are no longer made, and the new seats will be 20 inches. The venue currently has 1,382 seats in the balcony, and for the renovation, they will be ordering about 1,160 new seats.

“I’m guessing we’d be somewhere between 1,100 and 1,150,” he said.

The Civic, at 1001 Ridge St., was built in 1929 by Larson Danielson and donated to the city by the Fox family in 1930.

It has hosted boxing, MMA, Kenny Rogers, Stevie Ray Vaughn, USO events, the La Porte County Symphony Orchestra and high school proms. In the last year it has promoted its own event series and been host to the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference tournament.

Revenue generated from the building has been used for upgrades, concentrating on sound and lighting, to make it more attractive to outside promoters. Current projects in the pipeline include roof and HVAC upgrades.

“It’s not just about the concerts, proms, things like that. When we went through COVID, that’s where COVID testing was. Right at this time, with this heat, it becomes a cooling center. If there is an emergency, it would turn into an emergency center,” Schreiber said.

He added that not very many cities La Porte’s size have such a facility.

“This is a project that we understand the historic sentiment toward the old wooden seats, but they simply can’t be viable in 2022 or ’23,” he said.

The old seats, which are all connected by row, would be sold.

“There may be an option where there’s a small theater somewhere that would like to buy them. We’ve heard from a plethora of La Porteans that would like a smaller section from the corner,” Schreiber said.

And some of the old seats will be kept in the Civic for nostalgia.

“The way that we’re going to do that is we’re going to try to intermingle some of the seating in the hallways, like where we have the two benches in the main lobby,” Binversie said.


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