February 14, 2016

Police, hospitals report rise in heroin use in eastern Iowa

Photo credit: Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9

Photo credit: Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9

A police officer is reporting the heroin epidemic in eastern Iowa is worse than originally thought. In 2015, Cedar Rapids police responded to 61 heroin-related overdoses. But, Officer Al Fear checked with hospitals in the city and found the real number may be closer to 300.

Fear told KCRG-TV that a lot of people go directly to the hospital and don’t get included in police reports. “It’s a much bigger problem than we once thought,” Fear said. He’s leading a new program called the Eastern Iowa Heroin Initiative.

Dale Woolery, the associate director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, says heroin use is growing around Iowa, but especially over the eastern third of the state. “That’s where we see the largest increase in heroin use. A lot of it is coming from Illinois,” Woolery told KCRG. Law enforcement and prosecutors joined forces for a town hall meeting about heroin this week at the Cedar Rapids Public Library.

Officer Fear said 85 percent of people currently using heroin start by abusing prescription pain killers. “Their prescription runs out and next thing you know they need the high, they need their body to still have that substance. So, then they turn to heroin because it’s cheaper on the street and it’s easy to get,” Fear said.

Janet Andrews knows all about the dangers. She spoke at the town hall about how she lost her husband. “My late husband was addicted to pain pills, after an injury, and then it just kind of – over the years – it took a toll and kind of spiraled out of control,” Andrews said. She said her husband eventually took his own life about a year ago.

Iowa Supreme Court rules in Wellmark property tax case

Iowa Supreme Court building.

Iowa Supreme Court building.

The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled a Des Moines-based insurance company will have to pay more in property taxes for it headquarters in downtown Des Moines.

Wellmark completed its nearly 600,000 square foot headquarters in March of 2010 at a cost of around $150 million.

The outside of the building is finished with limestone, sandblasted precast concrete, and glass, with a large U-shaped, recessed, curved glass wall on the southern exposure. It features among its amenities, a convenience store, an art gallery, a full-service restaurant, and a conference center, as well as office space.

The Polk County Assessor valued the building at $99 million for property tax purposes. Wellmark appealed that valuation, arguing the sales data in Des Moines showed the building would not likely be resold to another company as a corporate headquarters. It said it is more likely part of the building would be a headquarters and the rest would be rented out as office space.

The district court and Iowa Court of Appeals agreed with Wellmark, and set the valuation for property taxes at 78 million dollars. The Iowa Supreme Court overturned the lower courts, saying there may be a lack of sales of corporate office buildings in Des Moines, the court does not believe that there is no market for the building, just no active market.

“It is true, of course, that the market for the Wellmark property for use as a single-tenant office building may be limited. But we think the fact that the property is currently being successfully used as a single-tenant corporate headquarters cannot go unnoticed. Current use is an indicator that there is demand for such a structure,” according to the ruling.

The ruling also says it is ironic that a taxpayer would build a 150 million dollar building and then say it is worth less than half that amount for tax purposes. “We further note that under the approach advocated by Wellmark, very expensive and costly properties such as large manufacturing concerns could escape fair taxation on the ground of lack of a local market for a specific use.”

The High Court says “a substantial discount in market value because of the lack of an active market strikes us as unjustified by the current record.” The Supreme Court says the $99 million evaluation for property taxes should stand.

The full ruling: Wellmark ruling PDF


More details released in death of man who killed two in Union County

Corrections-logoThe deputy warden at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center in Coralville is providing some details about the apparent suicide of an inmate who was sent to prison just a few weeks ago.

Greg Ort says 37-year-old Jerry Dillinger was in a single cell, meaning he did not have a cellmate. Dillinger was found unresponsive in that cell last night.

“At approximately 11:30 p.m., during a routine unit check – and our officers check cells about every 30 minutes in this particular unit – Dillinger was discovered unresponsive and hanging from a bed sheet that was tied to a pole on his bed,” Ort said.

Dillinger was pronounced dead at University of Iowa Hospitals less than an hour later. Dillinger was arrested in mid-December for the shooting deaths of his ex-sister-in-law and her boyfriend in southwest Iowa.

Loretta Dillinger’s body was found in a pond near Lorimor, while Michael Robinson’s body was discovered buried in Thayer. At his first court appearance in January, Jerry Dillinger unexpectedly pleaded guilty to both murders and was sentenced to life in prison. Ort says Dillinger did not demonstrate any early warning signs of suicide.

“We have a protocol in place if anyone demonstrates a suicidal intent…if they talk about it or even if they have a history of it when they first come in, there’s a protocol for that,” Ort said. “Mr. Dillinger did not demonstrate any of those indications at all.”

(Reporting by Jordan Armstrong, KSIB, Creston)


Man who admitted to Union County murders takes own life

Corrections-logoA man, just recently sent to prison for killing two people in southwest Iowa, has died from an apparent suicide.

Thirty-seven-year-old Jerry Dillinger was arrested in mid-December for the shooting deaths of his ex-sister-in-law, Loretta Dillinger, and her boyfriend, Michael Robinson.

Loretta Dillinger’s body was found in a pond near Lorimor, while Robinson’s body was buried in Thayer. At his first court appearance in January, Jerry Dillinger unexpectedly pleaded guilty to both murders and was sentenced to life in prison.

Iowa Department of Corrections officials say Dillinger was found hanging from a bed sheet in his cell last night and he was pronounced dead a short time later at University Hospitals in Iowa City.


Lawyer: teen’s immigration status doesn’t matter in vehicular homicide case

Eswin Mejia

Eswin Mejia

Questions are being raised about the immigration status of a teenager who was at the wheel of a car that was involved in a crash in Omaha last month that killed an Iowa woman.

Prosecutors say 19-year-old Eswin Mejia was drunk and street racing on January 31st when he rear-ended an SUV, killing the driver, 21-year-old Sarah Root of Council Bluffs.

Mejia’s lawyer Tom Niklitchek says whether his client is in the country legally isn’t important. “I have not gotten into the details of any immigration status,” Niklitchek says. “Technically, as far as the case is concerned, it’s irrelevant and a jury would never even hear that asked.” He says this is a criminal case and Mejia’s legal status isn’t going to be a factor as he’s charged with motor vehicle homicide.

Niklitchek isn’t sure if Mejia can speak English. “I speak to him in Spanish, largely, I’m fluent in Spanish,” Niklitchek says. “Honestly, I haven’t spoken to him in English. I provide service to my clients in Spanish. It just makes communication a whole lot easier.”

Douglas County prosecutors say Mejia’s blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit and he was driving on a suspended license when he hit Root’s vehicle. Mejia also had several warrants issued for his arrest for previous traffic violations and failure to appear in court.

“The bigger issue here, if the evidence is such, is alcohol,” Niklitchek says. “I think sometimes we get caught up on issues that perhaps we shouldn’t. In my legal opinion and as a member of the community, the larger issue here is alcohol. Whether he’s legal or not, alcohol doesn’t care.”

Mejia posted 10% of the $50,000 bond and he was released from jail. His next court date is later this month. If convicted, Mejia faces up to 20 years in prison. The victim’s family has expressed concern he will flee the state, if not the country, before going to trial.


Third trial of Tama man leads to guilty verdict in death of his wife

gavel-thumbnailA Newton jury has convicted a Tama man of helping his mother stab his wife to death in 2013. The verdict against 40-year-old Dustin Jefferson was returned yesterday afternoon. Jefferson was found guilty of aiding and abetting first-degree murder.

His mother, Ginger Jefferson, was previously sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder. In September 2013, she attacked her son’s wife, 32-year-old Kerry O’Clair Jefferson. The trial in Newton was the state’s third attempt to convict Dustin Jefferson.

His first two trials were both in Tama County. The first ended during jury selection, while jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict in his second trial. A judge granted a change of venue, to Newton, due to the media coverage of the first two trials.

(Reporting by Randy Van, KCOB, Newton)


Des Moines man dies in fire police believe he started

Crime-sceneA man died in a house fire early this morning, moments after threatening Des Moines police. Officers were first called to the home on the city’s northwest side around midnight on the report of a disturbance.

They found nothing and left, but were soon called to the area again. According to Des Moines police, a man inside the home refused to come to the door, was “behaving erratically,” threatened officers and said he was armed with a firearm.

A fire erupted inside the home around 1 a.m. as officers tired to talk to the man. Officers forced their way in, but could not rescue the man as he resisted. Due to the fire and smoke, officers were forced to leave the home and the man died in the fire. His name has not been released.

Investigators believe the house was intentionally set on fire. A news conference about the incident is scheduled for this afternoon.