Police: Dubuque man who led officers on chase later found hiding under porch

Police said a Dubuque driver led police on a chase Friday afternoon that ended when he abandoned his vehicle, fled on foot and attempted to hide out under a porch.

Matthew D. Birch, 39, of 2552 Washington St., was arrested Friday afternoon at 801 Lincoln Avenue on a charge of eluding. He also faces more than 20 traffic citations for infractions like speeding and reckless driving.

Police said an officer attempted to pull over Birch’s vehicle at 4:45 p.m. Friday in the 1500 block of Washington Street. Birch did not stop and continued driving.

Birch eventually pulled over in the 2100 block of Jackson Street, according to court documents. However, he refused an officer’s order to keep his hands out of the vehicle and again attempted to flee.

The chase continued, with Birch at times traveling more than 25 mph over the speed limit, police said. He eventually stopped his vehicle near the intersection of High Bluff and Stafford streets and fled on foot.

Police said they found Birch hiding under a porch at 801 Lincoln Ave.

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Woman killed in 2-vehicle wreck just outside Manchester

MANCHESTER, Iowa — A woman was killed in a two-vehicle wreck Friday night just outside of Manchester.

Sara Kremer, 42, of Lamont, was killed, according to the Iowa State Patrol.

The crash occurred at about 7:05 p.m. Friday at the intersection of Iowa 13 and Burrington Road just south of the city limits. A crash report states that Kremer was traveling west on Burrington Road when she pulled in front of a semi-tractor trailer traveling south on Iowa 13. The vehicles collided, and Kremer’s vehicle and the semi, operated by Dale Conroy, 59, of Marion, went into a ditch.

The report does not list any injuries for Conroy.

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‘A pivotal point:’ Longtime operators of Derby Grange purchase land, to invest in business

The longtime owners of Derby Grange Golf recently purchased the large swath of land housing everything from the business’s baseball diamonds to its miniature golf course.

Ron and Mary Breitbach purchased the 29-acre plot earlier this month. The land previously was owned by Ron’s uncle and aunt, Bill and Jeannie Breitbach.

“This is a pivotal point in our lives and a monumental point in the history of Derby Grange,” Ron said. “Now we can stick more money into the business and make it better for our customers.”

Ron said the owners plan to invest $50,000 in facility improvements this year alone.

A new parking lot, upgraded batting cage amenities and improvements to the baseball diamonds are among the immediate changes slated for Derby Grange.

Ron Breitbach has an extensive history with the recently purchased land.

His grandparents bought the property in 1955 and his parents later lived there. He still has fond memories of helping his family members farm the land as a child.

In the spring of 1994, construction began on what ultimately would be known as Derby Grange Golf. Ron recalls building features like the miniature golf course “with his own hands.”

Today, the expansive property includes baseball diamonds, miniature golf, batting cages and a driving range.

Prior to this year, Ron and Mary owned the 13 acres on which the golf course is located. However, they had leased more than two-thirds of the land.

Ron said buying the land ensures his family will continue operating the business for the long haul.

“Not too many people can say they get to do what they love for the rest of their life,” he said.

Dubuque resident Dick Core is among the longtime customers at Derby Grange.

Core, a former teacher at Hempstead High School, met Breitbach when Breitbach was a student. He also coached Breitbach when he played on the school’s football, basketball and baseball teams.

Core remains close with the Breitbach family and has marveled at the success of Derby Grange.

“I think it is a real asset to Dubuque,” he said. “There are just so many things that a family can do together there.”

To Ron Breitbach, family has always been at the core of what Derby Grange is all about.

He remembers his mother and father making essential contributions to the business. Today, Ron and Mary’s three children all help out in various capacities.

Ron said the business will continue to be affordable and family-focused. He believes this simple, straightforward approach is necessary.

“These days, it seems everyone is bombarded with technology and constantly connected to their smartphones,” Ron said. “It is pretty awesome to have a place where people can just come out, spend time with their families and enjoy the outdoors.”

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Dubuque family of 5 moves from tiny apartment to new Habitat for Humanity home

For months now, Tricia Miller has been volunteering her time after work to help build and renovate homes in Dubuque.

She and eldest son Tristan have been doing whatever they can to assist others. Even though they had their own major house project coming up, they still were willing to put in the work.

They said they wanted to give back to others and assist those who had been there for them.

Habitat for Humanity Dubuque and Jackson Counties hosted a dedication Friday for Miller and her four children: Tristan, 18, Hunter, 16, Gaige, 13, and Grace, 13, to celebrate the completion of their new home at 1100 Roosevelt St.

For the past seven months, Miller, 45, and her children have been volunteering their time to renovate not only their new home, but other Habitat homes, said Rachel Dilling, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity Dubuque and Jackson Counties.

All Habitat for Humanity applicants must complete 200 to 300 hours of “sweat equity hours,” or volunteer work that can either be completed by assisting with their own projects or by attending classes on subjects like financial literacy, Dilling said.

“Tricia had all of her hours done before we even started renovating her home,” she said.

To qualify for a home from Habitat for Humanity Dubuque and Jackson Counties, applicants must earn 80% or less of the area’s median income.

Dilling said Miller and her four children have been living in a 500-square-foot apartment for about 10 years. They have encountered many obstacles, especially when it comes to personal space.

“They are currently living in a two-bedroom apartment, which comes with a few challenges for a family that size,” Dilling said. “They really needed a bigger home just (for the) teenagers.”

Those challenges have directly affected Tristan, a college student studying chemistry.

“All noise, you can’t get away from it,” he said. “Your best bet is to just go into the bathroom.”

The Millers’ new five-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath house doesn’t seem real, he said. It’s hard to believe that it is really their own.

“It’s amazing to see all of the people that set aside their own time to go and help other people,” Tristan said. “It’s amazing to see the amount of hard work people have put into making this a reality for us. It has been amazing.”

Tricia Miller said she doesn’t think any of it will feel real until she and her children get their beds into the house and start making it their own.

“It will be nice to see (the kids) grow and see what they can do with their space,” she said. “And now I can actually bring them together now that they’re not constantly up in someone’s business or getting on each others’ nerves.”

Habitat for Humanity Dubuque and Jackson Counties currently finishes one home per year. Dilling said that agency leaders want to begin building at least two homes per year soon.

“We hope by doing what we’re doing we are able to help families get into more-affordable living situations,” she said.

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Finkenauer, state, local officials visit mobile home park residents in Dubuque, promise action

Grievances from residents of Table Mound Mobile Home Parks in Dubuque drew U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, and other area elected officials to a living room in one of the residents’ homes Friday night.

Frank and Karla Shepherd invited officials, media and fellow members of the Dubuque Mobile Home Owners Association for a roundtable discussion about recent lot rent and fee hikes.

Iowa Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque, Dubuque County Supervisor Dave Baker and Dubuque City Council Member Brett Shaw joined in the discussion, as they have been working with residents for months.

Table Mound Mobile Home Parks are located on opposite sides of U.S. 61/151 near Maquoketa Drive.

Both parks were purchased in 2017 by a company then known as RV Horizons Inc. That name later was changed to Impact MHC Management LLC, also known as Impact Communities.

Since then, residents have seen rate and fee increases every few months.

“Before Impact took over, I was paying $270 with utilities,” said Frank Shepherd, a retired resident of Table Mound for 10 years. “Now I’m paying more than $370 per month plus utilities.”

Carrie Presley, president of the association, said the lease with Impact comes with other fees as well. When she — having lived at Table Mound for years — upgraded to another home within the park, she landed a “new resident” rate and fee structure. Presley said she now pays $462 per month.

Residents received a letter in the same envelope as their monthly bill this month from Impact Communities district manager Mike Willis. It claims “the media and some local self-serving politicians have spread inaccurate information,” but admits to increasing rates by $138.55 in two years and six months.

Residents, though, said they want the affordable life they moved to the park for in the first place. Association Vice President Debi Hakanson said at least 25 people have turned over the keys to homes they own because they cannot afford to pay the rates or to move their homes.

“That’s why this is so predatory,” Finkenauer told the group. “They know you don’t want to leave. They know most of you cannot afford to. There have been no safeguards involved. That’s why it is a federal issue.”

Finkenauer has called for an investigation into the issue by the Federal Trade Commission and backs legislation that would create federal grants to help local groups buy parks before out-of-state companies can come in.

Finkenauer told reporters Friday that she was confident that the investigation would take place. She said she has discussed the issue with U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, both Iowa Republicans, as well.

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Police: Dubuque stabber tried to convince victim to recant

A man convicted of stabbing a Dubuque teen last year now faces a witness tampering charge after he allegedly passed notes to his victim — also jailed due to an unrelated probation violation — asking him to recant.

Brett A. Gilden, 39, an inmate at the Dubuque County Jail, on Friday was charged with witness tampering. Online court records don’t yet list details of the charge or upcoming court dates.

Gilden on Monday will be sentenced for convictions on charges of willful injury causing bodily injury, going armed with intent and assault while displaying a dangerous weapon.

Jurors in November determined Gilden stabbed Dustin R. McGonigle, 19, during a fight that occurred when Gilden attempted to confront the father of one of McGonigle’s friends. Prosecutors said McGonigle was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Police Lt. Joe Messerich said McGonigle, who was arrested in December for a probation violation, received multiple notes on the jail floor offering him money to recant. Police determined the notes came from Gilden, who was in jail at the same time.

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Shooter, victim will talk restorative justice at UW-P conference

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — A man who served time in prison and the woman he was convicted of attempting to kill will be the featured speakers at a Restorative Justice Conference at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in March.

Keith Blackburn and Misty Wallace will be the keynote speakers at the event, which will be held from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. March 2 in the school’s Velzy Commons. They will share a story of survival and forgiveness.

In 1992, Blackburn shot Wallace in the neck during an attempted car-jacking. She survived and Blackburn was sentenced to 20 years in prison for attempted murder.

The two reconnected via Facebook in 2010, when Wallace reached out to Blackburn to forgive him. Now Wallace and Blackburn, who became a chaplain, give presentations about the power of restorative justice.

Other events include expert panel discussions and presentations. Registration is $75 for community members and $20 for students who do not attend UW-P. Students, faculty and staff of UW-P can attend for free.

To register, email Amy Lancaster at lancasteram@uwplatt.edu .

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Older demographic to fill workforce void in Dubuque area?

When employers analyze the local labor market, the aging demographics of the workforce stand out as a looming problem.

Some experts think this same group of seasoned professionals could offer a solution.

Data from the analytics firm EMSI show that there are more than 16,000 workers who are at least 55 years old in Dubuque County, about 5% more than the national average for similarly sized metro areas. According to EMSI, this makes the county more susceptible to adverse economic impacts influenced by retirement.

A wave of baby boomer retirements could exacerbate existing workforce issues in Dubuque County, where the unemployment rate sits at just 2.2% and many companies are struggling to find qualified workers.

Kristin Dietzel, vice president of workforce solutions for Greater Dubuque Development Corp., believes this phenomenon has captured the attention of local employers.

In recent studies conducted by GDDC, 45% of companies shared concerns about the impact of retirements in the next 12 months, and 30% identified succession planning as a top priority.

“Succession planning is more broad than just thinking about the company ownership or leadership,” Dietzel said. “It can affect any level of the organization. And it is important for a company to be ready for those retirements.”

In an interesting twist, however, the older demographic also could fill the workforce void.

A recent analysis of the Dubuque laborshed — which examines all areas from which people come to work in Dubuque — found that 23% of surveyed retirees were likely to accept employment if the right offer came along.

Dietzel said this percentage is higher than usual for a metro area.

“When a quarter of our retirees are actually looking for employment on some level, I think it presents a unique opportunity for employers,” she said. “It is important for them to have a strategy in place and think about what they can do to attract retirees.”

EMBRACING FLEXIBILITY

Dennis Kramer, owner of Heritage Wood Products in Worthington, Iowa, is already seizing on the opportunity.

The business employs eight workers, three of whom are retirees logging part-time hours. For Kramer, luring retirees back into the job market has proven to be a reliable way to meet demand and fulfill orders.

“They come in willing to work and ready to do their job,” he said. “None of them are working because they need the money. They are doing it to keep their minds active and to keep from getting old.”

Flexibility has been the key to attracting these older works, Kramer said.

“I work around their schedules,” he said. “When they want time off, I don’t question it.”

Employers in southwest Wisconsin also have turned toward older workers, according to Grant County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Ron Brisbois.

He noted that the theme of flexibility extends beyond the hours.

“More employers are giving (older workers) flexibility in terms of what they choose to do,” Brisbois said. “Depending on their abilities, (the employers) can adjust the workload or the type of duties.”

SENSE OF CONNECTION

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported there were 9.7 million Americans 65 and older in the workforce in 2018, the latest year for which statistics are available. That number has grown by 46% since 2011.

Susan Weinstock, a vice president of American Association of Retired Persons, said there are multiple factors compelling older residents to remain in — or return to — the workforce.

Weinstock noted that the majority of employed senior citizens remain in the workforce out of necessity. A recent study by Insured Retirement Institute found that 45% of baby boomers have no retirement savings; more than half of those who have set aside money have saved $250,000 or less.

In addition to the financial impact, landing a job gives seniors a sense of connection and purpose.

“Having a job provides a sense of fulfillment, it adds to your social life, and it keeps you from isolation,” Weinstock said.

It is a phenomenon that could pay off for workers of all ages. Weinstock said companies would be wise to foster a connection among the various generations now making up the workforce.

“I think there is an opportunity for cross-mentorship,” she said. “Older workers with institutional knowledge can share that with younger workers, and the younger ones can share the latest in technology with the older workers.”

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Cassville car ferry secures $40,000 loan from village after historically rough season

CASSVILLE, Wis. — Following a challenging 2019 season, the Pride of Cassville Car Ferry will receive a leg up from the local village until fair weather can reel in much-needed revenue.

For the first time in at least six years, the Cassville Harbor Commission, an independent entity that oversees the ferry, lacked sufficient funds to begin service in May.

“The funds that the (commission) had were fairly low, so they needed a little bit of help with startup costs for this season,” said Cassville Village President Keevin Williams.

To assist the commission, the Cassville Village Board recently allocated up to $40,000, which will finance insurance, fuel, service and inspection fees. The commission intends to repay the loan by July.

“If they can run even half of a normal season, they would probably recoup enough to pay back what the village has offered to them,” Williams said.

The ferry traverses the Mississippi River on a 0.75-mile route that extends from Guttenberg, Iowa, to Cassville. Normally, it operates for a 120-day season from May through October, but due to repeated flooding in 2019, the ferry ran for just 46 days, Williams said.

Captain Kim Kottke, who piloted the boat from August through October, recalled lost days due to high water, which often submerges a portion of the landing on the Iowa side of the river.

“And then when the days you do run with the water, you deal with more trees and debris that are floating,” he said.

Commission members are hopeful for a brighter season.

“We’re looking forward to a year without flooding,” said Chairman Ron White.

Lending financial assistance to the commission is a rare occurrence, Williams said, but if circumstances necessitated it, the village would revisit the issue in future years.

The commission also will benefit from an up to $100,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration that will finance the installation of an electronic navigation system and exterior lights on the ferry boat, which was christened in 2011.

The Pride of Cassville Car Ferry is the oldest ferry service in Wisconsin, dating to 1833.

It transports pedestrians, bikers, vehicles and even farm combines, offering an alternative river crossing for those who wish to avoid traveling north or south to pass over the Mississippi River via U.S. 18 in Prairie du Chien or U.S. 61 in Dubuque.

Climate scientists predict the Midwest will continue to see an increase in severe rain events and flooding as temperatures climb. Williams is resigned to the whims of the Mississippi River.

“It is what it is, considering the weather,” he said. “None of us have a crystal ball.”

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Construction obstruction: Dubuque businesses cry foul as city projects lead to major disruptions

The owner of a Greek restaurant in Dubuque blames extensive construction work by the city for the downfall of his business.

Yanni Karavergos, the owner of The Corner Grill, recently announced that he has put his building at 1689 Elm St. on the market. The eventual sale of the property could force him to move his restaurant or shutter the restaurant altogether.

Karavergos said the eatery’s precarious circumstances date back to the summer of 2017, when the City of Dubuque launched a series of construction projects that disrupted restaurant operations for months to come.

“I was told the construction would affect one street and take six months,” Karavergos said. “It affected all four sides of the building, and it took three times as long. No business can survive that.”

Interruptions to Corner Grill were tied to a sizable, multi-phase storm sewer improvement project. City spokesman Randy Gehl said the initiative is a component of the broader Bee Branch Watershed flood-mitigation project.

The first phase ran from August to December 2017. During this time, portions of Elm and East 17th streets were closed.

A second phase of storm sewer improvements began the following summer. It also involved total street and sidewalk reconstruction.

Gehl explained that the second phase was separated into three segments and all work was finished by late December 2018.

LENDING ASSISTANCE

Whenever Dubuque businesses are impacted by construction projects, they are issued a “Road Construction Tool Kit” booklet, a nine-page document that includes information about parking options and key city contacts.

Additional steps were taken to assist The Corner Grill, according to Gehl. This included creating and installing business-specific signs directing patrons to the restaurant. Gehl also noted that the city’s construction contractor was required to provide access to it at all times during construction.

Karavergos, however, said the impacts of the construction were still profound.

He described having an “8-foot hole” in front of his business and said the roadwork surrounding his restaurant compelled customers to go elsewhere.

“Whenever your customers start seeing construction and flashing lights, especially your older clientele, they stay away,” he said.

With his business continuing to struggle, Karavergos wishes the city would have done more to help him through the difficult times. Among his suggestions is a zero-interest loan program that would help businesses stay afloat when construction hampers their cash flow.

Corner Grill still is offering lunch and dinner five days per week, and Karavergos aims to continue his catering business for the foreseeable future. However, the eventual sale of the building likely means moving the restaurant or closing it altogether.

It’s a tough blow for an entrepreneur with deep emotional ties to the neighborhood in which the business resides.

“I came down to this area because I am an immigrant,” he said. “I believe in the small neighborhood and trying to revive things.”

Karavergos and his brother Alex previously ran Athenian Grill before a dispute with their landlord prompted the end of its run on University Avenue.

OTHERS FACE STRUGGLES

Karavergos isn’t the only local entrepreneur frustrated by city construction projects.

Kristina Beytien co-owns Upcycle Dubuque, which opened at 1838 Central Ave. in late 2018.

In many respects, she said, the City of Dubuque has helped many small businesses rehab buildings and get their operations up and running.

“The city has been a champion (of small business) in many ways,” she said. “When it comes to construction projects and communication, they have tragically failed.”

Beytien said two separate projects — one addressing water infrastructure and another involving streetscaping — have interrupted traffic flow since her business opened. She said Upcycle Dubuque received little or no warning prior to both projects.

She said the lack of warning hampered the owners’ ability to make sound financial decisions. For instance, Upcycle Dubuque invested heavily in advertising for the first quarter of 2019, only to learn later that traffic on Central Avenue would be disrupted due to construction during that timeframe.

Beytien applauds the city’s broader efforts to invest in the rebirth of Central Avenue. However, she believes a lack of communication might be hampering those very efforts.

“It’s almost like the city is working against itself,” Beytien said. “They are putting their own investment in jeopardy.”

At-large City Council Member David Resnick said he visited Karavergos multiple times over the course of construction, often stopping there to order food. He acknowledged that it was “very hard” to find his way into the building during construction.

“These projects are great for the community, but for him individually, it was a pain,” Resnick said. “He just got swallowed up by the situation.”

Brad Cavanagh now holds the council’s Ward 4 seat, having been sworn in earlier this month. The ward is home to Corner Grill and Upcycle Dubuque.

Cavanagh noted that the ward has considerable infrastructure needs and emphasized that such improvements could provide a “huge benefit” in the area. However, he said limiting disruption to businesses during this process is critical.

He said he has spoken with Beytien and Karavergos about their concerns. Cavanagh believes opening up lines of communication is critical.

“The two words that come to mind are ‘early’ and ‘frequent,’” Cavanagh said. “We want to give people as much advance warning as we can, and we want to update them on the process as it continues.”

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