March 31, 2015

Iowa Civil War buffs prepare for 150th anniversary

Iowa's Civil War Monument.

Iowa’s Civil War Monument.

Next month will mark the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and an expert on the subject says Iowans played a crucial role in the four-year-long conflict that ultimately abolished slavery. John Liepa taught U.S. History at Des Moines Area Community College for 38 years. He says roughly 78,000 Iowans fought in Civil War and 13,000 died.

“Most of those Iowans took part in some of the key battles and some of these were absolutely pivotal during the war,” Liepa said. “If you look at battles like Shiloh, in 1862, Iowa and Illinois farm kids played a tremendous role in the Union victory there.”

One Iowan, Corporal Voltaire Twombly, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Fort Donelson. Liepa also cites the Battle of Fort Henry as a conflict in which Iowans played a critical role.

“And then Vicksburg was a critical battle because it was basically a battle over the control of the Mississippi River and that was an important part of Abraham Lincoln’s overall strategy for Union victory. Iowans played a major role in that victory,” Liepa said.

A group of Civil War history buffs in Iowa, including Liepa, will be gathering this Saturday (April 4) to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. The event will be held at the State Historical Building in Des Moines. The scheduled keynote speaker is Michael Kauffman, who has spent decades studying the life of John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.



New team created to inspect buildings after natural disasters

BsafeA team of volunteers has been assembled across the state to provide building inspections and ensure the structures are safe following disasters such as tornadoes or floods.

Brian Bishop, with the State Fire Marshal’s office, helped form the so-called “B-SAFE Team.” B-SAFE stands for Building Safety Assessment and Failure Evaluation.

“We’re able to tap into private sector engineers and architects to utilize…their knowledge and abilities to help us with inspections,” Bishop says. The team of volunteer engineers and architects will work with state employees in the Iowa Department of Public Safety and the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. The initiative has been in the works for a few years.

Bishop says such a team would’ve been helpful in 2008 when a tornado nearly wiped out the town of Parkersburg and floodwaters inundated Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. “For those large scale events, we’ll be able to utilize this team to have a set of volunteers, not only to provide extra labor, but also more expertise to the team,” Bishop says. Communities will be able to utilize the team as a state resource in times of disaster by contacting their county emergency manager.

State officials chose this week, which is Severe Weather Awareness Week, to publicize the new B-SAFE Team.



Council Bluffs woman serving life in prison for abusing stepson dies

Corrections Department office in Des Moines.

Corrections Department office in Des Moines.

A western Iowa woman who was convicted last year in a disturbing kidnapping and torture case has died in prison. Rebecca Beyer of Council Bluffs was sentenced to life in prison last July after being convicted of abusing her developmentally impaired stepson.

The 47-year-old Beyer died on Monday of natural causes from a form of skin cancer, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections. Beyer was arrested in 2013 after the 20-year-old victim told police he’d be kept locked inside a garage, attached to a wall with a dog leash and burned with forks, spoons and an iron that had been heated on a stove.

The victim’s father and stepbrother, James Beyer and Ryan Smith, were also arrested in the case. Smith accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to two years probation. The Pottawattamie County Attorney’s office reports the case against James Beyer is still pending.


Deported Iowa City pastor makes statement on Univision


Max Villatoro talks about his deportation from Iowa City on Univision.

The Iowa City pastor who was deported by immigration officials last week spoke to the media after arriving in his native Honduras. Max Villatoro’ story was featured on the Spanish-language network Univision.

The case has drawn national attention as U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement arrested Villatoro on March 3 because of 1999 convictions for drunk driving and tampering with records.

Since 1999, Villatoro married his wife, Gloria, fathered four children, and became pastor of a Spanish-speaking Mennonite church in Iowa City. The 41-year-old Villatoro told Univision he doesn’t believe he should be treated like a criminal.

Villatoro said he’s hoping President Obama might help him return to Iowa and be reunited with his family.


Video of fatal shooting involving Burlington Police officer released

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation has released 12 seconds of video taken from the body camera of a Burlington Police officer who was involved in a deadly shooting on January 6. Officer Jesse Hill was called to break up a fight and fired his weapon when he was attacked by a dog.

Hill shot twice at the dog, but at least one of the shots hit and killed 34-year-old Autumn Steele. A county attorney decided last month not to file charges against Officer Hill.

The prosecutor ruled Hill was justified in trying to shoot the German Shepherd, which bit Hill as he responded to a domestic assault involving Steele and her husband. Investigators found Hill did not intend to shoot Steele.




Haweye wrestlers arrested


Ross Lembeck, Logan Ryan, Seth Gross. (L- R)

Burglary charges are pending against three University of Iowa wrestlers who were arrested last week. The Hawkeye wrestlers have been suspended from the team indefinitely as they were arrested last week on alcohol-related charges.

Marion Police say the three young men will also like face burglary charges. At the time of their arrest, around 1 a.m. on March 18, they were in possession of several items believed to be taken from burglaries in the Marion area.

The suspects are identified as Ross Lembeck of Lisbon, Logan Ryan of Bettendorf and Seth Gross of Apple Valley, Minnesota. All three are 19-years-old and freshmen at the University of Iowa. They were all red-shirt competitors on the Hawkeye wrestling team this season.


One dead, two injured in Ames fire

Fire-truckOne person was killed and two others were injured in a house fire late Sunday night in Ames. Susan Gwiasda is a spokesperson for the city of Ames.

“Two residents were able to escape the fire by jumping from second story windows,” Gwiasda says. “Later on, as firefighters were able to go through the home, unfortunately they located a resident who did not make it out.”

The name of the man who died in the fire has not been released. The men who were injured and treated at an Ames hospital are identified as 27-year-old Carl Boese and 26-year-old Lin Yang. It’s unclear what may’ve sparked the fire. “At this point, the State Fire Marshal, along with the Ames Fire investigation team, continues to do research at the scene. We don’t have a cause at this point,” Gwiasda says.

Firefighters reported the house was “full involved” when they arrived on the scene of the fire just after 11 p.m. The fire was too intense for crews to enter the home, located at 1322 Illinois Avenue, and it took several hours to extinguish. There’s no word yet if the home had working smoke alarms.

“We don’t know what the situation was with smoke detectors. That’s part of the investigation,” Gwiasda says.