2016 leaves WB community with change

By: Sherri Kolade | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published January 4, 2017

The new year is here, but before you begin your resolutions, take a glance at several of the notable events that happened in the West Bloomfield area in 2016. 


Voters make waves from West Bloomfield to the White House
There was more on the Nov. 8 ballot than just a contentious presidential battle. Voters in the Beacon’s coverage area took to the polls and decided who would lead their local government and schools.

West Bloomfield Township Supervisor-elect Steven Kaplan, Clerk-elect Debbie Binder and incumbent Treasurer Teri Weingarden all kept the seats they were elected to during the Aug. 2 primary election.

Joining them to lead West Bloomfield are incumbent Trustees Howard Rosenberg and Diane Rosenfeld Swimmer, along with newcomers Jim Manna and Jonathan Warshay on the township’s Board of Trustees. Democrat Manna took 16.8 percent of the vote, followed by Democrat Rosenberg in second place with 16.1 percent, then Democrat Swimmer with 15.8 percent and Warshay at 14.3 percent.

Voters in West Bloomfield selected Hillary Clinton as their preferred presidential pick with 57.5 percent of the vote. Donald Trump took 38.5 percent in the township.

In Orchard Lake Village, unopposed candidates Jerry Kosmensky and Bruce H. McIntyre will be seated on City Council for three-year terms, and in Keego Harbor, John Fletcher earned a three-year term on City Council with no opposition.

In Sylvan Lake, five candidates were on the ballot. Stepping up to the City Council table is newcomer Jim Endres, alongside incumbents Aron Lorenz, Russell Meskin and Bob Dzenko.

As the top vote-getter, Endres took 23.2 percent of the vote and will receive one of the two four-year terms available, followed by Lorenz with 20.9 percent, who will also take a four-year term. In third place was Meskin, who earned a two-year term with 20.1 percent of the vote, and in fourth was Dzenko with 18.8 percent, earning the last two-year term.

Randi Berman Sakwa and Kenneth Ferguson took the two seats available on the West Bloomfield School District Board of Education. Incumbent Sakwa led the race with 35.6 percent of the vote, followed by newcomer Ferguson with 27.5 percent. Four candidates were seeking the two positions.

Christopher Titus, Nancy van Leuwen and Denise Dunn took three spots open on the Walled Lake Consolidated School District Board of Education. Incumbent Titus came out on top with 19.9 percent, followed by newcomer Dunn with 17.9 percent and incumbent van Leuwen with 17.2 percent. Six candidates ran for the three seats.


Suspects arrested for West Bloomfield woman’s death
Two suspects, a 19-year-old West Bloomfield man and an 18-year-old Detroit man, were arrested recently in connection with the murder of West Bloomfield resident Diana Pesserl, 31, of West Bloomfield, who was found around 1:30 a.m. Dec. 9 in a burning car at the back of the former Pine Lake Elementary School.

The first suspect in the case, Desean Maurice Smith, 18, was arrested Dec. 12 in relation to the death of Pesserl. He was charged with open murder, arson and felony firearm. He pleaded not guilty.

Jaylen Steven Stringer, 19, was arraigned Dec. 16 at 48th District Court in Bloomfield Hills in connection with the murder. He was charged with tampering with evidence in a criminal case and being an accessory to murder. The first charge is a 10-year felony, and the second charge is a five-year felony; he pleaded not guilty.

West Bloomfield Police Chief Michael Patton said Pesserl was reportedly sitting in her car listening to music when the incident happened.

Stringer and Smith will go before 48th District Court Judge Diane D’Agostini for a preliminary examination at 8:45 a.m. Jan. 27.


Traffic cones abound
Tunnel project poses problems
The Middlebelt sewer tunnel project, which affected traffic in the area, raised questions in 2016. With complaints from 80 residents, major setbacks and water quality problems for some in Farmington Hills, officials in charge of the Middlebelt transport were kept busy.

The purpose of the tunnel is to reduce the risk of sanitary sewer overflows, which may occur when the Farmington Interceptor overloads during heavy rainstorms. When that happens, sewage can flow out of manhole covers or back up into residents’ basements.

The tunnel will create flood relief by providing an additional 2.8 million gallons of sewage capacity to the existing sanitary sewer —  that’s down from the originally planned 3.6 million additional gallons of storage.

The original plans would have extended the tunnel 7,566 feet under Middlebelt Road, between 13 Mile Road and Interstate 696, ending at the northwest corner of Middlebelt Road and 13 Mile Road. The plan now will have the tunnel extend 5,930 feet, ending at Middlebelt Road, just south of Chenwood Court.

The sewer tunnel construction project, which began in February 2015 and was to last through that fall, was extended to January 2017 — and a new completion date is slated for May 2017.

In 2014, the estimated project cost was $36.9 million for four communities — Farmington Hills, Keego Harbor, Orchard Lake and West Bloomfield — that are tributaries to the tunnel. The cost to date is now $49 million for the project.

Orchard Lake City Director Gerry McCallum said the issues that the Farmington Hills residents experienced did not extend to Orchard Lake. Altering the construction plan did not affect Orchard Lake’s cost of the project, McCallum said.

Keego Harbor City Manager Linda Voll said they were pleased to learn that their cost was staying the same.


Bridges closed for repairs
The Road Commission for Oakland County tackled the Putnam bridge — which was closed Jan. 22 due to deterioration.

The Putnam bridge sits north of Walnut Lake Road and west of Inkster Road. Road Commission engineers reported Jan. 20 that the support beams were rusted, and one was detached from the structure. Holes were found in the deck.

Originally, the Road Commission had estimated that repairs would cost $1 million. Work on the bridge, which is owned by Oakland County, was scheduled to be completed in November.

A pedestrian bridge located near Willow Beach Street and Park Circle in Keego Harbor was shut down Dec. 29, 2015, due to the structure failing, and the Keego Harbor City Council unanimously voted March 17 to have the bridge repaired.

The bridge, which sits adjacent to Keego Harbor Park and connects the north and south portions of Willow Beach Street, is commonly used by bicyclists and students walking to and from Abbott Middle School and Roosevelt Elementary School. The construction was slated to be completed around March 23.

According to the analysis given to the city, a railing on the northeast quadrant of the bridge did not comply with pedestrian bridge safety guidelines. The cost to repair the bridge was estimated around $6,800; however, Keego Harbor residents John and Christine Fletcher — John Fletcher is the president of Milford-based National Restoration Inc., which was the company hired to perform the work — agreed to donate $6,000 toward the project, so the city was only responsible for the remaining cost.

The work included installing stainless steel rods into the areas that needed repairing, removing the existing decking boards and installing new 2-by-10-inch pressure-treated deck boards.


Maple Road gets a facelift
The Road Commission for Oakland County is rehabilitating 1.8 miles of Maple Road in two phases.

The first phase, which began in July and was completed in November, involved work on Maple Road between Farmington and Drake roads. This phase included work on the Farmington and Maple roads roundabout. The road reopened in both directions, but lane closures will continue based on work on the Maple/Farmington roundabout, according to www.rcocweb.org.

Phase two — reconstruction of Maple Road between Farmington and Orchard Lake roads — is planned to start in spring 2017. The road, again, will only be accessible to westbound traffic.

The entire project is expected to cost about $6 million, which is being paid for with a combination of federal and local dollars shared by the Road Commission, West Bloomfield Township and Oakland County.


Human trafficking, child pornography scandals erupt
Credit card fraud leads to human trafficking arrest
What began as an investigation of an identity theft in West Bloomfield resulted in the indictment of Ryon Travis, 32, of Detroit, accused of child pornography acts and trafficking adult women.  

Travis has been charged with the production, transportation and possession of child pornography, and with sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion. He remains in federal custody. As of press time, charges had not been filed for the fraud investigation, according to West Bloomfield Police Chief Mike Patton.

The investigation started when a West Bloomfield resident reported that someone had made fraudulent charges totaling over $50,000 on their business credit card. The investigation led police to three locations in Detroit, Patton said. On March 2, police executed a search warrant at a house in the 16000 block of Tuller Street, and Travis and three women, whom he identified as his wives, were present, according to the complaint filed with the U.S. District Court March 18. 

Police questioned Travis about the fraudulent charges, and Patton said that a cellphone was seized. West Bloomfield police performed a forensic exam of the phone, and during the examination they found photos of a young child involved in sexual acts with an adult man. Patton said West Bloomfield police contacted the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force  — a task force designed to help federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in cases related to the sexual exploitation of children over the internet. Based on the evidence found, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security began an investigation. 

Judge Magistrate Mona Majzoub denied bond and told Travis that he was a danger to women and children. Travis pleaded not guilty at his arraignment April 4. A plea hearing is set for 11 a.m. Feb. 28 before Judge Bernard Friedman, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

A jury trial is set before Friedman at 9 a.m. March 14.


Camp counselor caught
The former Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit day camp counselor accused of photographing children undressing at the JCC pleaded guilty in August.

Matthew Kuppe, of West Bloomfield, pleaded guilty Aug. 4 to distributing child pornography. The plea came just shy of one year after he was arrested and charged with the distribution, production, possession and receipt of child pornography. 

On Aug. 5, 2015, court records state, Kuppe posted nine pictures of a young boy in the JCC locker room on a Russian photo-sharing website. The boy reportedly was nude in the photographs. On Aug. 6, 2015, Kuppe posted six pictures of a second victim who was changing out of his clothes and two pictures of a third victim, according to court records. 

The pictures also were sent via email to other internet users, court records state. He was charged in federal court Aug. 13.  

The maximum penalty for distribution of child pornography is no less than five years and up to 20 years in prison; however, Kuppe and the U.S. attorneys have requested a sentence of 10 years, according to the plea agreement. The final decision on Kuppe’s sentencing will be determined by the judge, and as of press time, a decision had not been made. 


Police deal with threatening situations
A 30-year-old Kentucky man was in custody after making multiple threats against police agencies, including the West Bloomfield Police Department.

Raynel White was arraigned in Kentucky on July 13. He faces a third-degree misdemeanor charge of making terrorist threats and two misdemeanor charges of engaging in harassing communication.

At around 5:25 p.m. July 8, West Bloomfield police dispatchers received a call from a man who identified himself as “Mr. Anti-White,” according to West Bloomfield Deputy Police Chief Curt Lawson. 

“He said, ‘You honky crackers are going to get what’s comin’ to ya,’” Lawson said.

The man allegedly talked for about five minutes about a massacre coming to the police, and he said more police needed to be killed — referring to officers who were fatally shot in Dallas, Texas. 

“And then we received an additional 17 calls that night from him. He continued to talk about the ‘honky, cracker police.’ Through an investigation, we were able to determine the phone call came from Lexington, Kentucky,” Lawson said. 

West Bloomfield police contacted the Lexington Police Department and were told that Lexington officers knew of the suspect, who allegedly had made bomb threats and threats to “shoot up” a grocery store earlier in the year. In addition to West Bloomfield, he allegedly called and made similar threats to the Houston and San Antonio police departments, Lawson said.

On July 11, West Bloomfield police dispatchers received another four calls from “Mr. Anti-White,” and he again allegedly ranted about police officers “getting theirs,” and he made racial slurs.

White was arrested in Lexington, Kentucky, and all charges are being handled in that jurisdiction, Lawson said. 

The threat did not appear to be credible.

“Mr. Anti-White” is the only person who has allegedly made threats to the West Bloomfield Police Department since as far back as the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9, 2014; however, the department is aware of individuals who have threatened other departments in the state, and those threats are being vetted, Lawson said. The Detroit and Southeast Michigan Information and Intelligence Center updates West Bloomfield police about threats in metro Detroit. 

In the wake of a tension that could be felt nationally, protesters gathered across the country — and as near as Southfield — to speak out against recent killings by police. The protest followed several incidents of police using fatal force against black men — shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Falcon Heights, Minnesota — as well as a protest that turned violent in Dallas, where a lone gunman killed five police officers. The protest occurred before the fatal shootings of three police officers in Baton Rouge July 17. Protests had been forming throughout the nation in association with the Black Lives Matter movement to denounce police brutality and racism.

Staff Writers Tiffany Esshaki and Kayla Dimick contributed to this report.