July 28, 2014

Iowan helps organize benefit concert for tornado-ravaged Pilger, Nebraska

Several musicians with ties to Pilger, Nebraska have organized a benefit concert for the tiny town that was struck by two EF4 tornadoes last month. Clint Meyer, an associate professor of biology at Simpson College in Indianola, grew up in Pilger.

He saw the pictures and videos of the damage done on June 16 and went back to his hometown a couple days later to volunteer with cleanup efforts. “To be there and notice the scale and the depth of it all, it wasn’t just the row of houses you see in the picture – but the row behind it and the row behind that, several blocks completely destroyed” Meyer said. “There was no way to get a sense of that with just the pictures, so it was a pretty shocking experience to see it.”

Two people, including a five-year-old girl, were killed, and 16 more were critically injured. Over half of the buildings and homes in Pilger were destroyed or severely damaged. “It will never be the same as it was, of course, but the hope is that there will still be a town there that can start finding whatever that new normal is,” Meyer said. “I think the hope is to try and raise awareness that even though the volunteers are gone, there is still a need there.”

Meyer plays guitar and sings in the central Iowa based band Monday Mourners. He wrote a song about Pilger, titled “(The Town) Too Tough To Die,” which he plans to premiere at the benefit concert.

Audio: 30-second clip from demo recording of “Too Tough To Die”

Monday Mourners and three bands from Omaha will play the benefit show for the town of Pilger this Wednesday, July 30 at The Waiting Room in Omaha. The show will start at 8 p.m. and there’s a cover charge of $8.

Aerial video footage of Pilger, NE tornado damage:


Mother of slain Evansdale girl sentenced to prison

Misty Cook-Morrissey

Misty Cook-Morrissey

The mother of one of two girls who were kidnapped in Evansdale in 2012 and later found dead is going to prison on drug charges. Misty Cook-Morrissey pled guilty this week to two counts of delivery of methamphetamine in Fayette County District Court. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Fayette County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Morrissey in November for selling drugs out of her West Union home. Morrissey is the mother of Lyric Cook, who disappeared with her cousin, Elizabeth Collins, in July 2012. Their bodies were found five months later in a rural area of Bremer County.

No arrests have been made in their deaths. Lyric Cook’s father, Daniel Morrissey, was sentenced in September to up to 90 years in prison on drug charges.


U.S. Ag Secretary calls for expanding low-income food program

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is calling for expansion of a program that helps feed low income children when school is out for summer. “We set a goal and the goal is to increase overall the number of meals we serve nationally by 10 million,” Vilsack says. “Last year we served around 166 million meals. We had increased last year by seven million meals over the preceding year.”

The former Iowa governor says the Summer Food Service program is critically important to make sure children are getting nutritious meals when school’s not in session.

“Seventeen million youngsters in this country today live in food insecure homes. Through no fault of theirs and through no fault of mom and dad, they live in a home where at the end of the month there just may not be enough to adequately feed the family,” Vilsack said.

He made his comments during a visit to an elementary and middle school in Baltimore, Maryland.


Sioux City cyclist dies on RAGBRAI

A man who served as president of the Siouxland Cyclists organization has died on this year’s RAGBRAI ride. Seventy-four-year-old Frank Brinkerhoff was found dead in his tent early this morning at RAGBRAI’s overnight stop in Mason City.

Dick Billings, vice-president of Siouxland Cyclists, says Brinkerhoff loved cycling and enjoyed sharing the sport with others — especially children. “He was very passionate about biking. He made and fixed up bikes and gave them away,” Billings said. “In fact, just this last Sunday, he gave a bike to a kid who had lost his bike in flooding.”

The cause of death wasn’t immediately known, but officials do not suspect foul play. Billings said friends of Brinkerhoff are taking solace in the fact that he died doing what he loved. “RAGBRAI was something he’d done for many years…he was just having fun and it was just his time,” Billings said. Brinkerhoff was married and had a stepdaughter. He was retired after working many years at Riekes Equipment in Sioux City.

His legal first name was George, but most everyone called Brinkerhoff by his middle name of Frank, according to Billings. Brinkerhoff is the second participant to die on this year’s RAGBRAI route. Sixty-two-year-old Tom Teesdale of West Branch died of a heart attack while riding near Graettinger on Monday.

Federal disaster declaration approved for 26 counties

More than two dozen Iowa counties are covered under a presidential disaster declaration. Governor Branstad’s office has received word that President Obama approved a request for the declaration for 26 counties impacted by strong winds, tornadoes, heavy rain, hail, and flooding between June 14-23.

Included in the declaration are: Allamakee, Buchanan, Buena Vista, Butler, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Clay, Dickinson, Emmet, Fayette, Franklin, Hancock, Humboldt, Ida, Kossuth, Lyon, Osceola, Palo Alto, Plymouth, Pocahontas, Sac, Sioux, Winnebago, Winneshiek, Woodbury, and Wright Counties.

The declaration clears the way for federal funding for various repairs to public property and debris removal. This is Iowa’s second presidential disaster declaration in 2014. A declaration issued on July 14 covered nine counties impacted by severe storms on June 3-4.

Iowa has now received 20 presidential disaster declarations since March 2007.


Former North Central Iowa landfill director accused of misusing equipment

The former co-director of a Fort Dodge based landfill is facing a felony theft charge. Agents with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation arrested Michael Dean Grell on Tuesday. He’s the former co-director of the North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Agency.

Grell is accused of using landfill equipment, personnel, and other resources to remove topsoil from his private property in 2012. He’s charged with 1st degree theft, which is punishable by up to 10 years on prison and a fine of up to $10,000.


Rare fish discovered near Muscatine

Longear sunfish.

Longear sunfish.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources biologists, who were collecting fish for a clinic earlier this month, made an unusual discovery. DNR spokesperson Kevin Baskins says they collected what’s believed to be a longear sunfish.

“That’s a fish we’ve not documented in Iowa for close to 80 years,” Baskins said. “It was back in the early 1930s that we last had a documented longear sunfish in Iowa.”

The small fish was collected by biologists who were surveying a pond near Muscatine that had been inundated earlier this summer by the Mississippi River. A clip of the fish’s fin has been sent to a lab in Missouri for DNA analysis. “First of all, to determine whether it’s purebred or if it’s some kind of hybrid of a longear sunfish. If it is a longear sunfish, there are some subcategories and we’re trying to determine what subcategory it might belong to,” Baskins said.

The fish is alive and being kept in an aquarium in a DNR fisheries facility. It’s unclear at this time what the DNR will do with the fish. “We’ll see what the (DNA) results are and then maybe determine whether it’s something we want to display,” Baskins said. The longear sunfish was once listed as common in bayous around Muscatine, but disappeared in the early 1930s, likely due to a loss of habitat.

Flooding this summer may be responsible for bringing the one fish back into the region. “We have locks and dams on our rivers that can prevent a lot of fish from moving up the river. When we get flooding situations, that allows some certain fish to move around those barriers that they would normally encounter. We think that might be one of the reasons why we’re seeing it pop into our state now,” Baskins said.

Photo courtesy of the DNR.