Metro East Coverage | St. Louis Public Radio

Metro East Coverage

East St. Louis Asked For $2.5 Million To Fix Flood Damages. It May Get Far Less.

Sep 27, 2019
The Illinois River as it crested in the flooded town of Grafton, just north of the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers in June 2019..
Derik Holtmann | Belleville News-Democrat

East St. Louis has asked the federal government for $2.5 million to repair damage from this spring’s floods, but could wind up getting only a fraction of what it wants.

The city is among two dozen local governments that have applied for $33 million in assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Five months after this spring’s historic flooding, they’re beginning to get an idea of how much they will receive as FEMA teams investigate their requests.

Land of Lincoln Legal Aid Staff Attorney Nicole Massey (right) assists a volunteer at an Expungement Day event in Champaign County in 2018. Land of Lincoln will run a similar even in Woodriver on Sept. 27.
Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation

WOOD RIVER — More than 7 million people in Illinois have a criminal record, according to the 2016 Survey of State Criminal History Information Systems. And 100 of them in Madison County will take the first step to sealing or expunging their criminal histories on Friday. 

It’s part of the Ready to Work: Madison County Expungement Day event hosted by Land of Lincoln Legal Aid Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation that provides free civil legal services to seniors and low-income residents in central and southern Illinois.

Owners Of Revoked Illinois FOID Cards Must Give Up Their Guns. Fewer Than Half Do.

Sep 21, 2019
When a prospective gun buyer comes to Ron and Jo's Firearms and Sporting Supplies in O'Fallon, he or she has to show a FOID card to handle the weapon.
Joseph Bustos | Belleville News-Democrat

BELLEVILLE — In Illinois, when people have their firearms owners identification (FOID) cards revoked, they’re supposed to turn them in to law enforcement and surrender their guns. But that only happened less than half of the time in the Metro East and statewide during the last four years.

In St. Clair County, FOID cards were returned just under 36% of the time after they were revoked from 2015-18, according to Illinois State Police data obtained by the Belleville News-Democrat.

Illinois REAL IDs have a gold star in the top right corner.
Illinois Secretary of State Office

Like the rest of the country, Illinois residents will need to get Real IDs if they want to continue to use their licenses or other state identification cards to board domestic flights and enter federal buildings starting late next year.

In March, the state started issuing Real IDs in compliance with the security standards set by the 2005 Real ID act. Compliant licenses are marked by a gold star in the top right corner of the card. 

Edwardsville High School students observe labor apprentices pour concrete on Sept. 10. The high schoolers are part of a two year program where they learn aspects of the construction trade.
Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio

EDWARDSVILLE — A new program that gives high school students hands-on experience with the construction trades kicked off this year. 

Over two years, juniors and seniors from local high schools will learn to pour concrete, install pipes, construct scaffolding and other aspects of the trades from certified labor instructors through the Illinois Laborers' and Contractors Joint Apprenticeship and Training Program.

Tanker In Dupo Train Derailment Fire Apparently Was Carrying A Solvent, Railroad Says

Sep 10, 2019
Onlookers stop in a parking lot across the from the fire in the Dupo train yard. Sept. 10, 2019
Derik Holtzmann | Belleville News-Democrat

Fire erupted in a train derailment Tuesday afternoon in Dupo, where schools and some residents were evacuated but no injuries were reported.

Initial information indicates that a tank car containing a flammable liquid called “methyl isobutyl ketone” was involved in the fire, according to Union Pacific spokeswoman Kristen South.

“It is typically used as a solvent,” South said in an email.

Cambridge House of Swansea on Sept. 4. This is one of three Metro East facilites to receive 50 new apartments for dementia patients.
Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Metro East residents will have more options for affordable dementia care. The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services announced it is expanding the number of its dementia care sites across the state. 

The department said it will add 1,600 apartments for dementia patients at 40 care sites over the next three years. Three of those sites are in the Metro East. The Cambridge House communities in Swansea, O’Fallon and Maryville will each get 50 new apartments. 

Assistant Secretary for the Army Civil Works Rickey Dale James (left) and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue (center) tour the top of the Melvin Price Locks and Dam facility on Aug 28.
USDA / Flickr

EAST ALTON — Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue visited the Melvin Price Locks and Dam facility while in Illinois on Tuesday.

He toured the newer facility and promoted infrastructure investment in the Mississippi River system. 

Hunter Richardson, right, explains a tire nut to (from left to right) Juan Peal, Javahn Watkins, Nichelle Davis and Charles Singleton at World Wide Technology Raceway on Aug 22.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

MADISON — A program that pairs science and technology education with car racing hit the track at World Wide Technology Raceway on Thursday.

For the first time, the track invited youth teams from school districts and after-school programs throughout the St. Louis region to build and race their own go-karts ahead of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 IndyCar race on Saturday.

Solar panels are one upgrade business can make with PACE financing. The Fairview Heights City Council will consider tonight whether to allow the financing program in its city.
File photo| Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 10:20 p.m. Aug. 20 to include the City Council's decision to delay its vote

Businesses in Fairview Heights may soon find private investors to help them make their buildings more energy efficient.

The Fairview Heights City Council is considering a proposal to establish a Property Assessed Clean Energy financing program in the city. The council had scheduled a vote for Tuesday, but delayed it until its Sept. 3 meeting to give the public an opportunity to see recent changes state legislators made to the law.

The PACE program gives commercial property owners access to long-term loans for efficiency upgrades. It would help new and existing businesses invest in their properties, said Paul Ellis, the city’s director of economic development.

Horses cross the finish line at Fairmount Park Racetrack on July 23. The number of live races at the track will likely increase to 100 because of the gambling expansion bill passed earlier this year.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

Fairmount Park Racetrack is filled with spectators on most Tuesdays and Saturdays, eager to watch horses fly down the dirt track.

But with just 41 live racing days this year, the stands at the Collinsville track remain empty far more days than they’re filled.

A recent gambling-expansion law in Illinois could change the track’s fortunes. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill in June, which was long-sought by the horse racing industry. Racetracks can now apply for licenses to host table games like blackjack and roulette, slots, video gaming and sports betting. 

A worker at Kruta's Bakery selects a bear claw for a customer's order on Aug. 13. The bakery celebrates a century of serving the Metro East and St. Louis region.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

Jennifer Hammond knows exactly what to do when there’s a birthday at her office. She immediately picks up a cake from Kruta’s Bakery in Collinsville.

For the last century, the family-owned business has lured customers with kolaches, danishes and a wide variety of other baked goods.

“They’re just so tasty — the doughnuts, the cakes, the cupcakes, everything. It’s really good,” said Hammond, who lives near the bakery. 

On Sunday, Kruta’s Bakery will celebrate its 100th year as a family-owned business.

After a hearing at the Southern District of Illinois' U.S. District Court, a judge will determine whether the state of Illinois must begin changing its procedures for medically treating transgender prisoners. July 31, 2019.
Nick Telep | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 6:30 p.m., Aug. 1 with testimony from Illinois Department of Corrections officials — The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois wants a federal judge to order the state of Illinois to change its practices for providing medical treatment to transgender prisoners. 

Current policies fail to provide adequate health care to prisoners diagnosed with gender dysphoria, according to opening arguments made Wednesday by the ACLU in a federal court in East St. Louis. Illinois Department of Correction practices deny and delay medically necessary treatment for years, leading to “profound suffering” and increasing the risks of self-harm and suicide for transgender prisoners, the ACLU’s motion argues. 

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker addresses the crowd at Fairmount Park on July 30. He signed into law a gaming expansion that helps increase the tracks racing days to 100.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a massive gambling expansion into law in June. On Tuesday he stopped by Fairmount Park Racetrack in Collinsville to talk about the impact.

The legislation offers six new casinos, a harness racetrack and casino licenses for the three existing racetracks in Illinois. Pritzker said adding other types of gaming will reverse the current decline at the horse racing track.

Visitors look over produce at one stand at the Old Town Farmers Market on July 20. The Belleville market started accepting SNAP benefits this year.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

The Old Town Farmers Market draws people seeking fresh, local produce to Belleville’s downtown every Saturday morning. 

Food stands line a block of South Charles Street offering fresh meats, eggs, vegetables and fruits, and a steady stream of patrons checks out the options six months of the year.

Now the popular farmers market hopes to attract a new set of customers: SNAP users. 

Mural locations (clockwise from top left) include Complete Supplements, Grimm and Gorly, Turned Treasure Galleries and 128 East Main. The Belleville City Council approved these locations by a vote of 12-1 on July 15.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

Murals will transform five downtown Belleville buildings as part of an effort to showcase art in the Metro East community.

The Belleville City Council approved the Community Mural Project’s locations last week.  

Trees killed by sudden oak death on a hillside in Big Sur, California, in 2006. The pathogen that causes sudden oak death was found on some ornamental plants in Illinois.
Wikimedia Commons

Updated at 12:45 p.m. Friday to add that the pathogen has been found in Missouri, as well.

A pathogen that’s deadly to some native trees has been found in 10 Illinois counties, including St. Clair and Monroe.

Agricultural officials found Phytophthora ramorum, which causes sudden oak death, on some ornamental plants from big-box garden centers around the state. The pathogen causes dark brown spots on the leaves and branch tips of rhododendron, azalia and lilac, but it is deadly for oaks and certain other tree species. 

Eastbound Poplar Street Bridge Lane To Be Closed Later This Month For Roadwork

Jul 8, 2019
Work on the eastbound lanes of the Poplar Street Bridge between July 15-29 will cause traffic backups. July 8, 2019
Derik Holtmann | Belleville News-Democrat

Drivers who use the Poplar Street Bridge to go from St. Louis to East St. Louis may want to find another way beginning next week as two eastbound lanes will be closed for two weeks in July for roadwork.

The Illinois Department of Transportation announced Monday that the eastbound exit ramp from Interstate 55/64 to southbound Illinois 3 will be closed as workers repair the surface of the ramp. The work begins early morning on July 15 and will last until July 29. A marked detour utilizing Barack Obama Avenue will be in place during the closure period.

Road crews work to clear the remaining sediment and rocks deposited from flood waters on July 2, 2019. Businesses in the area have reopened since the water receded.
Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio

The Fourth of July will be even more of a celebration in Alton and Grafton this year, as the riverfront communities mark the reopening of businesses following major flooding last month.

Eric Schmid is St. Louis Public Radio's Metro East reporter.
St. Louis Public Radio

Eric Schmid joined St. Louis Public Radio’s newsroom a few weeks ago as its Metro East reporter – a new role made possible through the Report for America initiative, which aims to fill important gaps in local journalism.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Schmid discussed what this means for the station’s news coverage and how he hopes to help boost people’s understanding and knowledge of communities just across the river from St. Louis.

He talked with STLPR editor Maria Altman, who was guest hosting. St. Louis Public Radio executive editor Shula Neuman also joined the conversation.

Andrew Mueth tends to a head of lettuce in VAST Produce's greenhouse in Waterloo on June 26. VAST won the 2018 Metro East Start-Up Challenge.
Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville's Small Business Development Center wants to grow Metro East startups focused on information technology, health care, manufacturing or sustainable food. Part of their plan includes the Metro East Start-Up Challenge, which is entering its sixth year and now accepting applications.

The major flooding from spring may leave behind pools of water with ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes.
Flickr | wild_turkey5300

The major flooding this spring may bring more mosquitoes in the summer months.

Swollen rivers will leave behind small ponds or pools as they recede back to normal levels. Those bodies of standing water offer ideal breeding grounds for Culex mosquitoes, the ones that predominantly carry the West Nile virus.

The Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City is 10 minutes from downtown St. Louis and is one of the abortion clinics in Illinois that could see more patients if Missouri's last abortion clinic closes. June 3, 2019
Beth Hundsdorfer | St. Louis Public Radio

On the same day last week a Missouri judge issued an order keeping open the state’s only abortion clinic, the Illinois Senate passed the Reproductive Health Act, guaranteeing women have the right to reproductive health, including abortion.

Tuesday, a St. Louis Circuit Court judge will hear arguments about whether the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services may continue to deny a renewed license to Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region.

Sister Julia Huiskamp started an afterschool program called the Griffin Center said the availability of guns is a failing of the government.
Derik Holtmann | BND

Editor’s note: There were 341 unsolved murders in East St. Louis between 2000 and 2018. In many of these cases, police had evidence and suspects, but no charges were filed. Here is one of those cases. This article originally appeared in the Belleville News-Democrat.

The darkened streets near St. Clair Avenue in East St. Louis were good places to hunt for women.

Alexis Winston was found shot to death in her apartment in the John Robinson Homes in East St. Louis.
Florince Harlan

Editor’s note: There were 341 unsolved murders in East St. Louis between 2000 and 2018. In many of these cases, police had evidence and suspects, but no charges were filed. Here is one of those cases. This article originally appeared in the Belleville News-Democrat.

An early morning phone call with a frantic woman’s voice is countered by the dispatcher’s measured, calm tone.

“He’s breaking in my house now. Please hurry! Please hurry! Hello?” the woman cries.

17 Years After He Was Attacked Outside A Nightclub, His Family Still Waits For Justice

Apr 26, 2019
John Hill was shot to death on Dec. 9, 2001 in the rear of the Club Casinos in the 6800 block of State Street in East St. Louis
Derik Holtmann | BND

Editor’s note: There were 341 unsolved murders in East St. Louis between 2000 and 2018. In many of these cases, police had evidence and suspects, but no charges were filed. Here is one of those cases. This article originally appeared in the Belleville News-Democrat.

A shotgun blast sent 24-year-old John Hill to a St. Louis hospital, where he died several days later. The cousin of an Illinois police officer was soon arrested.

East St. Louis Public Housing Residents Are Terrified They’ll Be Murder Victims Next

Apr 25, 2019
A body is removed from the John DeShields Housing Project after a murder there.
Derik Holtmann | BND

This article originally appeared in the Belleville News-Democrat.

The courtyard at the Roosevelt Homes public housing complex on North 44th Street is filled with the sounds of children playing, the thump of a basketball on the court, neighbors laughing and talking.

Sometimes those everyday sounds are overtaken by the sounds that come at night: a pounding at the door. Gunshots. Screams. A child’s whispered prayer asking for it all to stop.

“I would ask for God to stop the shooting,” one little girl wrote in a children’s newsletter for an after-school program in the city.

This is part of living in the most dangerous areas of East St. Louis, which statistically has the highest murder rate in the country.

A child attends a rally in East St. Louis, a city that averages 24 murders a year, nearly five times the national average.
Zia Nizami | BND

This article originally appeared in the Belleville News-Democrat.

The boy was inches from his mother when she took her final breaths.

The man who shot her ran away, leaving the 3-year-old strapped in a car seat, a vulnerable witness to a horror that still haunts him.

Three years later, the boy’s father was shot to death during a neighborhood barbecue. The boy heard gunshots and saw his dying father lying in the grass, unable to move.

This child was barely old enough to attend school when he saw his father killed.

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