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Centralia Council backs 'Ten Shared Principles' resolution

CENTRALIA — The Centralia City Council met Monday night and approved a resolution to adopt the “Ten Shared Principles” designed to bridge the gap of mistrust between law enforcement and communities of color.

Centralia Police Chief Christopher Locke and Francine Nicholson, the president of the O’Fallon Metro East Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Illinois State Conference second vice president for the NAACP, presented the Ten Shared Principles to the council and explained that they were a result of a collaborative effort between the NAACP and the Illinois Chiefs of Police Association.

Locke said the principles were finalized in 2018 and that Centralia would be the second city he has implemented them in, as he had adopted them when he worked for the Fairview Heights department.

“(The principles) provide a true blueprint, in our opinion, for us to improve police and community relations,” Locke said.

Locke and Nicholson read the principles for the council, which included that every person’s life has value and that life is to be of the highest value. They also included the rejection of discrimination, supporting diversity, endorsing the values inherent in community policing and building and rebuilding trust.

Nicholson said that, to continue the message of the principles, community members could begin an open dialogue with Locke and officers to build on the relationships between law enforcement and the community.

“We’re signing this, but it doesn’t stop here,” Nicholson said.

Later, the council approved a resolution of intent to proceed with a lead service line inventory program. City Manager Kory Smith said the program would be compliant with new Illinois Environmental Protection Agency requirements.

“This is a necessary obligation that the city needs to look at,” Smith said.

The program would consist of two phases over two years, each costing no more than $15,000, and would check the service lines between meters and residences. The identification would be done to potentially facilitate future grants for replacement lines, if needed. The work to identify the lines would be done by 120 Water in partnership with EJ Water, with whom the city has an existing relationship.

Also approved was a resolution for Re:Purpose Development, LLC to be considered for a tax increment redevelopment project and declaring the intent to reimburse certain redevelopment project costs. Any future negotiations and approvals made for the group would still need to be approved by the council, Smith said. Shannon Cooney, of Re:Purpose Development, said the projects would be for the already existing Crooked Creek Downtown Winery building.

In other business, the council approved:

  • A resolution authorizing the use of Raccoon Lake for the boat races hosted by the National Boat Racing Association on Aug. 12-13.
  • An ordinance declaring six ESDA and code enforcement vehicles which are no longer used by the departments as surplus and to be sold, with a minimum bid of $500 on each.
  • A resolution approving the transfer of a license agreement between the city and the new owner of 119 E. Broadway to have an already existing geothermal air unit and wells to be placed in the alley.

The council also approved the purchase of a police truck from Morrow Brothers Ford, Inc. in the amount of $40,945, which will be paid with through the impound fund, according to Smith. The vehicle will move one of the frontline vehicles to be used as a second K9 unit.

Centralia Fire Chief Jeff Day also presented the 2022 fire report. Day said that a total of $2.4 million in property was saved, out of $3.3 million at risk during the year, and that the department is currently at an Insurance Services Office rating of 3. Mayor Bryan Kuder asked Day if the construction of a new water plant would help lower the department’s rating, and Day said that may be possible, given that almost 50% of the department’s score is based on water supply.

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Human bone found in rural Marion County

KELL — Authorities are investigating the discovery of a human bone in rural Marion County.

Marion County Sheriff Kevin Cripps, in a statement issued on Monday afternoon, said sheriff’s office personnel responded to a rural Kell residence after receiving a report of a possible human bone being found.

Marion County Coroner Troy Cannon reported that his office was contacted about the discovery on Sunday evening by the sheriff’s office. Cannon said the discovered bone was transported Monday morning to the Champaign County Coroner’s Office, where the University of Illinois Forensic Anthropology Department examined the bone and confirmed that it was human.

The Illinois State Police Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) unit, Marion County Coroner’s Office and SAR K-9 CO-OP were contacted to assist the sheriff’s office in the investigation.

Cannon reported that the CSI unit processed the area in search of other remains or evidence, but the search yielded negative results.

“The area was also searched by cadaver dogs of the Southern Illinois Search and Rescue agency, also with negative results,” he noted.

Cripps said the incident is being actively investigated, and no further details are being released at this time.

Authorities encouraged those with information about the investigation to contact Marion County Sheriff’s Office investigations at 618-548-2141.

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Trial date vacated in Clinton County murder case

CARLYLE — Trial dates were vacated and rescheduled on Monday in the case of a 28-year-old Breese man facing charges connected to the alleged murder of Marcos Chavez Xiloj.

According to court documents, Valentin Nau Navarro-Lopez appeared with Public Defender Stewart Freeman and a translator, and motioned for the vacation of his trial date. After the motion was granted, a new trial date was set for March 20, with a pre-trial appearance set for March 10.

During a preliminary hearing in November, Navarro-Lopez waived his formal arraignment and pleaded not guilty to four counts of murder, a Class M felony. Two other counts against Navarro-Lopez — including kidnapping, a Class 2 felony, and unlawful restraint, a Class 4 felony — were both dismissed by motion of the state.

During the hearing, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office detectives Tyler Whitney and Eric McClaren testified that deputies responded to a possible kidnapping and unlawful restraint call regarding Chavez Xiloj. According to Whitney, detectives were told that Melissa Chavez received a text from Navarro-Lopez, the last person with whom Chavez Xiloj was reportedly seen, saying that Chavez Xiloj was allegedly tied up in a bathroom near Carlyle Lake. Chavez was reportedly able to describe Navarro-Lopez and the vehicle he drove, which matched another description given by another subject who was also interviewed regarding Chavez Xiloj’s disappearance.

After investigating bathrooms around the lake, deputies had not found Chavez Xiloj, according to Whitney. He said that the next step deputies took was finding Navarro-Lopez via GPS by cell phone “pinging.” Through that process, deputies were able to find Navarro-Lopez in Georgia, where they interviewed him and extradited him back to Clinton County on kidnapping and unlawful restraint charges.

McClaren said that Navarro-Lopez was shown Google Maps images during a taped interview and, after looking at the images, he allegedly pointed out where Chavez Xiloj’s body was located. Navarro-Lopez described to detectives that a fight with Chavez Xiloj had occurred near the lake.

“A fight ensued and went down toward the water. … He (Navarro-Lopez) said that Marcos bent down to pick up a rock,” McClaren testified.

McClaren continued to say that Navarro-Lopez told the detectives that Chavez Xiloj missed when he allegedly threw a rock at him. After falling, Navarro-Lopez saw that Chavez Xiloj was “profusely bleeding,” so he dragged him to the water to “clean” him.

Both Whitney and McClaren described finding Chavez Xiloj’s body face-down near the lake, with his pants and shoes off. Blood and hair was found at the scene, along with a football-sized rock which was reportedly covered in blood on one side.

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Gruenke to run for circuit judge post

CLINTON COUNTY — Associate Judge Douglas Gruenke has announced that he will run for the office of circuit judge of the Illinois Fourth Judicial Circuit.

A statement from Gruenke, released on Sunday, said the at-large circuit judge vacancy was created by the election of Judge Michael McHaney to the Fifth District Appellate Court. Gruenke will run in the Republican primary in 2024.

Gruenke was appointed as an associate judge in the Fourth Judicial Circuit in 2021, after having been previously elected Clinton County state’s attorney. Prior to being elected state’s attorney, he was in private practice for over 18 years, representing and advising municipalities, small businesses and private citizens.

Since being appointed associate judge, Gruenke has presided over court proceedings in all nine counties in the Fourth Judicial Circuit, handling both criminal and civil cases.

“Having the opportunity to conduct court in all nine counties in our circuit has allowed me to meet many wonderful and hardworking people from every corner of the circuit. It would be a privilege to receive their support for circuit judge,” he said.

Gruenke is a graduate of Wesclin High School, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and the Southern Illinois University Carbondale School of Law. He and his wife live in New Baden, where they raised their four children. His desire to serve has led him to coach the Wesclin boys’ and girls’ high school soccer teams, the Wesclin High School Robotics Team and club soccer.

He also serves as a board member and former chairman for Clinton County Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities(CEO). He has been a Sunday school teacher for over 20 years, and previously served as a board member for LifeSavers Training Corporation, a peer-to-peer youth suicide prevention organization, and as a member of the St. Joseph’s Breese Hospital Foundation Leadership Council.

The Fourth Judicial Circuit is comprised of Christian, Clinton, Effingham, Fayette, Jasper, Marion, Montgomery and Shelby counties.