2016: A busy year for law enforcement

Major court cases in Delta, Schoolcraft and Menominee counties during 2016 included the deaths of a Bark River man killed in a vehicle accident, three people murdered in Manistique, and the homicide of a Carney woman.

In Delta County, 19-year-old Dalton Duane Carll of Wetmore was sentenced in May to a minimum of four years to up to 15 years in prison for reckless driving causing the death of 29-year-old John Miron of Bark River in 2015.

Carll was also sentenced to a minimum of 23 months to up to five years in prison for each of three counts of reckless driving causing serious injuries to three passengers — teenagers Kadin Mustafa, Brad Hemes and Gage Caswell — involved in the two-vehicle accident in Schaffer on June 17, 2015.

Mustafa, Miron’s nephew who was a passenger in his car, suffered a collapsed lung and an injured spleen. The two were on their way to bring returnables to Walmart when the accident occurred shortly after 7 p.m.

Hemes and Gage were among six passengers in Carll’s pickup truck. They were injured when they were thrown from the box of the pickup when Carll failed to stop at a stop sign on Felch Grade Road and crashed into the driver’s side door of Miron’s car traveling south on E.5 Road.

Following a three-day trial in April, the jury deliberated less than two hours before reaching guilty verdicts on all four felonies.

In Schoolcraft County, two Manistique men were sentenced to prison in connection with the deaths of three people whose bodies were found in a burnt vehicle in Doyle Township in April 2015.

Garry JC Cordell, 47, was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of sisters Heather Aldrich, 25, and Carrie Nelson, 31, both of the Newberry area, and Jody Hutchinson, 42, of Gould City. Cordell admitted to strangling them and suffocating them with tape, plastic bags, and his bare hands after Aldrich and Nelson, searching for drugs, broke into a home Cordell was house-sitting at the time.

The homeowner, co-defendant Kenneth Daniel Brunke, 46, arrived home later and assisted in transporting the three bodies. He was sentenced to 40 to 60 months in prison for obstructing justice and 32 to 48 months in prison for lying to a peace officer investigating a violent crime.

Following his sentencing, Brunke was charged with two counts of controlled substance delivery/manufacture of cocaine less than 50 grams and one count of conspiracy to commit controlled substance delivery/manufacture of cocaine 50 to 449 grams, all 20-year felonies. These charges are pending in court.

In Menominee County, Gregory S. Ihander, 49, of Menominee Township, is charged with open murder, a life felony, for allegedly killing his former girlfriend, 43-year-old Jolene Eichhorn, in the fall of 2015.

After being reported as missing, Eichhorn’s body was located in the trunk of her car found abandoned in the Cedar River Marina parking lot on Sept. 9, 2015. According to her autopsy, she died from massive blood loss caused by a laceration to her neck resulting from a homicide.

While police were investigating Eichhorn’s death on Sept. 10, 2015, coordinates on her cell phone led detectives to Ihander’s residence where a large garbage bag of bloody rags was found in his bath tub.

Ihander remains lodged in jail in lieu of a $1 million bond. He is scheduled for a two-week trial in Menominee County Circuit Court on Feb. 13-24.

In July, a 20-year-old Escanaba man was sentenced to a minimum of four years and nine months to up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder.

On April 16, Timothy Lee Heitz attacked a 31-year-old Wisconsin man with the blunt end of a hatchet on a street in Escanaba. The victim was air-lifted to U.P. Health System in Marquette where he was treated for multiple head injuries.

In addition to the assault charge, Heitz also pleaded guilty to one count of carrying a concealed weapon and was sentenced to a minimum of one year and 11 months to up to five years in prison to be served concurrently with the above sentence.

Three armed robberies occurred in Escanaba in Delta County during 2016 including a recent incident at a downtown restaurant two weeks ago.

Alejandro Castillo, 21, was arrested by Escanaba Public Safety when he fled from the El Patron Mexican Restaurant, 1636 Ludington St., after allegedly attempting to rob the cash register while the business was open at 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 19.

Castillo — a fugitive wanted in New Mexico for armed robbery — remains lodged in the county jail on one count of assault with intent to commit an armed robbery, a life felony. He has also been charged on the warrant out of New Mexico.

Castillo is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in Delta County District Court on Jan. 5. His bond was set a $500,000.

Four suspects, all from Escanaba, were arrested this summer in connection with an armed robbery at the Quality Inn and Suites located at 2603 N. Lincoln Road, Escanaba.

According to Escanaba Public Safety, two masked males stole an undetermined amount of cash from the hotel on Aug. 15. The suspects demanded money from the desk clerk and implied they had a weapon, though no weapon was seen by the employee.

One arrestee, Devin Joseph Wallendal, 21, recently pleaded guilty as charged to one count of being an accessory to a felony after the fact, a five-year felony. He has been released from jail after posting bond and is scheduled to be sentenced in circuit court on Feb. 10.

The other three defendants — Tristen Lee Snow, 18, Jacob Allen Christopher Jones, 18, and Jordan Randall Steinhausen, 22 — remain lodged in Marquette County Jail on armed robbery charges relating to two incidents in Marquette County on Aug. 16.

Their cases are pending in Delta County as they go through the court process in Marquette County where they are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and four counts of armed robbery, all life felonies.

In Delta County, Snow and Steinhausen are each charged with one count of armed robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Jones is charged with one count of aiding and abetting an armed robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery. These charges carry maximum life sentencings.

Bonds set for Snow, Steinhausen and Jones are $1 million in Marquette County and $750,000 in Delta County.

The third armed robbery in 2016 — which also occurred in Escanaba — resulted in the convictions of Haleigh Erin Smith, 22, and Robert Lee Casteel Jr., 23, both of Manistique.

The two were arrested for armed robbery after the victim reported to police they robbed him of cash and marijuana while threatening him about a knife and a gun inside a pickup truck parked in an alley in December 2015.

Smith pleaded guilty to one count of larceny from a person and was sentenced in April to two years to up to 10 years in prison. Casteel was sentenced to nine months in jail on one count of felonious assault to which he pleaded guilty.

Other major cases in 2016 in Delta County included prison sentencings for several convictions related to drugs including meth, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana.

During 2016, defendants were also sent to prison for convictions on sexual assault, attempted assault by strangulation, domestic violence, break-ins, operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, embezzlement, and uttering and publishing.

Five court cases regarding misuse of Social Security funds are pending in Delta County Circuit Court.

Sharon Frances Philemon, 59, is awaiting sentencing on a four-year felony for welfare fraud regarding nearly $10,000 in Social Security benefits and more than $3,000 in tribal benefits belonging to her son, a resident at a local nursing home.

Douglas Harrison Buskirk, 38, and Cynthia Marie Ogren, 56, both of Escanaba, Nicole Marie Gillis, 38, of Norway, and former Wilson resident, Michael Paul Rhines, 36, of downstate Williamston, are each charged with one count of false pretenses $1,000-$20,000, a five-year felony.

The above five cases represent more than $190,000 in fraud losses or misuse of benefits from the Social Security Administration Disability Insurance Program and the Supplemental Security Income program, according to Escanaba Public Safety, the arresting agency.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net