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Fishing Expedition for Special Populations
Marion team shares passion for fishing with classmates at Fishing Expedition for Special Populations

CARBONDALE — For Landon Owens and Michael Bleyer, of the Marion High School Bass Fishing Team, any day spent fishing is better than a day at school.

On Wednesday, Owens and Bleyer, along with other members of the bass fishing team, spent the day at Bleyer Lake fishing with students from the school’s Strive program at the annual Fishing Expedition for Special Populations.

“We’re just helping out," Bleyer said, "putting worms on hooks and things like that."

Michael Bleyer is the grandson of Jim Bleyer, who is the brother of the event's sponsor, Frank Bleyer.

“This is my fourth year, and everyone’s had a blast,” Owens said.

“It’s fun for everyone. I enjoy helping others fish,” Bleyer added.

Teacher Tiffany Beard, of Marion High School Strive, said the school brought 21 students along with 23 members of the bass fishing team. She said it is her students’ favorite day of the year.

“We’re lucky to have the whole bass fishing team, so they have one-on-one help,” Beard said.

She added that one of the benefits of including the fishing team in the event is the social interaction between students. They become friends and say hello when they see each other in the hallways at school.

“They take good care of the [Strive] students and treat them like kings and queens,” Beard said.

“We are the only school fishing team who comes out to help with fishing,” Bleyer said.

“Being on the fishing team, we love to fish. Getting to share a sport we love with them is great,” Owens said.

This is the 33rd year for the fishing expedition. The event began in the mid-1980s when a few friends suggested that Frank Bleyer allow people with mental and physical challenges to fish at his lake. Bleyer, a former coach and teacher, liked the idea.

During the first few years, the event only included a couple classes from local schools.

Elizabeth Berumen, marketing director for The Bank of Carbondale, said 42 agencies and schools checked in at the event, with more than 700 participants and 300 staff members. About 200 volunteers, plus additional volunteers for parking, the fishing equipment area and kitchen, brought the number of people at this year’s fishing expedition to between 1,200 and 1,250.

“In spite of a couple raindrops, it has been pretty nice today,” Berumen said. “I am seeing a lot of fish getting pulled out of the lake. After all, fishermen say a cloudy day is the best day to fish.”

In addition to fishing, which includes provided equipment, participants and volunteers receive a free lunch with ice cream for dessert and can take a tram ride around the lake.

The Fishing Expedition for Special Populations is sponsored by Frank Bleyer, The Bank of Carbondale, Mountain Valley Properties and Mountain Valley Water of Carbondale.

For more information or to get on the list to fish or volunteer, contact Berumen at The Bank of Carbondale at Elizabeth Berumen at The Bank of Carbondale at

SIU Carbondale
SIUC welcomes student teachers into the workforce with pinning ceremony

CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s College of Education and Human Services welcomed 63 graduating students into the teaching profession on Wednesday in a pinning ceremony held inside Guyon Auditorium.

The ceremony was intended to mark an important milestone for the candidates: the moment they transitioned from students to professional educators.

Clinical supervisors read special comments for each of the spring 2018 graduates, highlighting the candidates’ strengths and detailing the particular ways every student teacher had matured as an educator during his or her time working out in the field.

The students received their SIU pins from their cooperating teachers, who had mentored and supported them throughout their student teaching experiences at various local schools.

“There’s no student here at SIU who didn’t have a teacher, and we really are celebrating the fact that our graduates will shape the future, and there’s no more important task,” said Nancy Mundschenk, director of the Office of Teacher Education.

SIUC Chancellor Carlo Montemagno spoke of his respect for the profession and encouraged the educators to remain positive.

“It is an incredible, powerful profession, and what you’re entering into is among the most honorable and impactful professions that we have in our country,” Montemagno said.

Matthew Keefer, dean of the College of Education and Human Services, said it is a challenging time for the teaching profession. Keefer, who is chair of the Illinois Association of Deans of Public Colleges of Education, said the organization is working to address some of the challenges for teachers within Illinois, including the statewide teacher shortage.

“I just want you to know that we are waking up to how we need to help this profession and help foster and shepherd students through the experience of becoming teachers, and then supporting the profession after that in terms of professional development,” Keefer said, adding that he believes the profession will see a renaissance.

Cheryl Graff, regional superintendent of schools with the Regional Office of Education #30, gave the group of soon-to-be graduates a series of practical pointers on teaching.

“Reflect every day. There were days when I had planned a lesson, even when I had taught 28 years, and that lesson bombed. … But you reflect on that, and that’s how you improve and get better and think, ‘What do I need to do differently? What do I know about my students? Why did this lesson bomb?’” Graff said.

After all the candidates had received pins, the group read the Educator’s Oath together, affirming their dedication to the profession.

Speaking to the newspaper after the ceremony, Mundschenk said candidates traditionally serve as student teachers for an academic semester, but SIUC’s program tries to place candidates in a classroom for a full year.

“As important and as much a milestone as graduation is, students hear their name and they’re in their cap and gown and it’s celebratory, but we want to take the opportunity to say something individually about these teachers. The level of commitment that they’ve made, and that they’re making in the future in their profession, is so noble, and so singular, that we want to take time to pause, to put the spotlight on them,” Mundschenk said.

top story
Illinois Comptroller wants more burial-funding notice after AP report

SPRINGFIELD — An Illinois county coroner's practice of holding remains and death certificates of the indigent until their families can pay for burial is "disgusting behavior," state Comptroller Susana Mendoza said Tuesday.

The Democratic comptroller reacted to an Associated Press report about Adams County Coroner James Keller's practice and called for a ramped-up campaign to alert local officials that state-funded burial is again available. The AP report found Keller demanded $1,000 from family members of the indigent before he would release the remains and deaths certificates.

Illinois coroner to poor: Pay $1,000 or county keeps remains

A coroner in western Illinois is facing sharp criticism for how he handles poor people who can't afford to bury their loved ones: He has them sign over their rights to the deceased, leaving them without the death certificate, then cremates the body and keeps the ashes until the family pays $1,000.

Mendoza wants Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration to "do more" to publicize the $1,655 available for the funeral, cremation and burial of those who die poor.

"Holding the remains of people's loved ones for ransom is unthinkable," Mendoza said in a statement. "Everyone deserves a respectful burial. Being poor is not a crime."

State money to bury the indigent was completely shut off in 2016 because of a two-year budget stalemate, but even with funding restored in late 2016, claims for the program fell dramatically. Several officials and funeral directors told the AP they were unaware funding had been restored.

Mendoza called for publicity "so the costs aren't pushed onto local taxpayers and businesses, and families aren't faced with added stress in a time of mourning."

Even before the budget crisis, Illinois was months behind on paying bills and funding had dried up in 2010, as well.

Keller, a Republican, told the AP he was doing his best to safeguard taxpayers while trying to be "supportive of families with the hand that we're dealt with by the state."

The Department of Human Services, which processes the claims, posted a letter online in September 2017 to notify funeral homes that funding was available and extended the deadline for filing. Spokeswoman Meghan Powers said Tuesday that another letter was sent to funeral homes in January to update them that the state is covering indigent burial costs.

DHS noted that in the 2015 fiscal year, the agency processed 5,652 burial claims. After money was restored in 2017, there were only 1,649 claims, and in the current budget year that ends June 30, there have been 1,084 — although Powers said last week the agency was still assessing 1,072 for approval or denial.

Of the $9.3 million for funerals and burials in the current budget, Mendoza said only $1.5 million has been spent.

Mendoza is responsible for paying overdue state bills totaling $6.9 billion, a pile that predates the budget crisis but was exacerbated by it. She said her office is prioritizing burial-claim payments. They're typically paid within days of receipt from DHS. She nudged DHS to process outstanding applications quickly to "allow us to bring relief to the funeral homes that have been shouldering the cost of the state's financial dysfunction."

Marilyn Halstead / The Southern File Photo  

Little man, big voice

Golconda's Mason Ramsey to return to SI Opry stage. SCENE618, Page B1

Brian Pheasant MURDER CASE
Defense claims Beth Pheasant murder a suicide attempt gone wrong, twice

BENTON — In the first day of testimony, jurors got to hear Brian Pheasant’s side of the story when it comes to the 2016 shooting death of his wife, Beth Pheasant.

The Christopher man did yet not take the stand, but his attorney, Paula Newcomb, said in her opening statements that Beth’s death was the result of a botched suicide attempt. Evidence presented Wednesday showed Beth had two bullet wounds, one in the shoulder and one in the head.

Brian Pheasant is charged with two counts of first degree murder for the death of his wife.

Newcomb said the two had been experiencing marital difficulties and were on their way to a divorce, and because of this, Brian planned to commit suicide. This would have been his third divorce and his second suicide attempt because of a breakup, Newcomb said Wednesday morning. He had attempted to hang himself after his second marriage ended.

This narrative played out as State’s Attorney Evan Owens began presenting his case-in-chief.

During his questioning of witness Jason Colp, a trooper with the Illinois State Police, Owens played an interview Colp had conducted with Pheasant just hours after his arrest at the Christopher Police Station.

Through sniffles and possibly tears, Brian said, “She’s dead and I’m not” when answering Colp’s question of what was going on that night. He said he wanted to kill himself because this divorce was the third “for the same reason.”

In the interview, Pheasant explained that the week before the Oct. 31, 2016 killing, he had caught his wive cheating on him with their son’s martial arts instructor, and that the two were working their way through a fast divorce — he said he wanted to get the equity from their house so that he could leave it for his children after he killed himself.

He said he had recently purchased a gun so that, when he thought it was the right time, he could kill himself in front of Beth — he even said he had letters in his truck, though these have not yet been presented as evidence.

“I wanted her to see it,” he said in the recorded interview.

Talking with Colp, Brian Pheasant said he didn’t mean to attempt suicide that night, but when he came home and started arguing with his wife, the desire overtook him. When the two were in their garage, Pheasant said he pulled out the gun he had purchased that day at a local gun dealer and put the barrel to his head and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened. Pheasant explained that he had never shot a gun in his life and had not primed the chamber with a round. When he tried to rack the slide of the pistol is when things went wrong, he said.

“I was messing with it and it went off,” he told the investigator. “I just heard her say, ‘Shelby, he shot me.’” Shelby Eickelman was Beth’s daughter, and was there that night with her brother, Riley.

As she retreated from the garage to their kitchen, Pheasant said he followed, still trying to get the gun ready to shoot himself — he said he had seen a round jammed half in and half out of the chamber. He said as he went down the hall, rounds were hitting the floor and he was picking them back up and trying to put them back in the factory-fresh .9mm Springfield Armory pistol.

Then it happened again. He said when they got to the kitchen the gun again accidentally went off and he saw his wife drop to the floor.

“(It was) the most horrific thing I ever seen,” he said of the blood covering the kitchen floor.

Still talking with Colp, Pheasant said he then went to the bathroom and got the gun fixed and ready to fire. He went back out to see Beth and to kill himself, and found himself unable to go through with it.

That’s when police found him.

Beth’s death as an accident is not what Owens laid out to the jury during opening statements, though. He played to the fact that the gun was purchased the same day as the killing — Pheasant had put half down on Oct 27, 2016 and waited for his background check to clear before picking up the weapon.

Owens spent the majority of the morning establishing the case from the moment 9-1-1 was called. A frantic Shelby Eickelman was heard in a dispatch recording explaining that she was in the backyard after her stepfather had shot her mom.

Owens also interviewed Roni Fasig, another dispatcher, who took another call about the incident from a family friend of Beth and Brian’s.

That caller was present when the shooting took place — he had dropped Brian at the house and was told to “stay in the car,” as Brian went inside. After the gunshots, the caller went in to scoop up Riley and took him across the street to safety to wait for authorities.

Fasig was in a unique spot — she was the Pheasants’ neighbor. She offered her house as a safe place for any of the Pheasant kids who needed it. Her husband even brought some clothes to Riley across the street as he had left the house in nothing but his undergarments in the commotion.

Owens also questioned several officers who arrived at the scene and presented bodycam footage from one who was in the party that arrested Pheasant, who presented no resistance from police.

Owens will continue presenting his case Thursday beginning at 9 a.m.

Beth Pheasant

Provided by Franklin County Sheriff's Office 

Brian Pheasant

Police: Juvenile woman escapes attempted abduction in Carbondale

CARBONDALE — A juvenile woman was able to escape an attempted abduction Wednesday morning, according to the Carbondale Police Department.

Police say at about 8 a.m., officers responded to The Fields Apartments, 700 S. Lewis Lane, to meet with a woman in her early teens and her mother about an attempted abduction in the 1000 block of East College Street.

The juvenile reported that a male near the apartment complex on the south side of the street called out to her — which was ignored. But, then the man ran across the street and grabbed the juvenile around the waist.

The juvenile was able to get away from his grasp, and the suspect crossed College Street, disappearing behind a build on the west side of apartment complex.

This is when the juvenile returned home and called the police. The suspect is described as a white male, possibly in his mid-40s, with blond hair and green eyes. Police say he had a “scruffy” blond beard and spoke with a southern accent. It was reported he was last seen wearing a long-sleeved black shirt, blue jeans and Timberland boots. The suspect was also reported carrying a wallet with a chain attached.

Anybody with information about this incident is asked to call the police at 618-457-3200 or the Carbondale/SIU Crime Stoppers anonymous tip line at 618-549-2677.