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Trial begins for Ryan Philipps, charged with attempted murder
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EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—To give Ryan Joseph Philipps of Menominee Township a fair trial in an attempted murder case, the Michigan court system appointed 47th Circuit Court Judge John Economopoulos of Escanaba to hear the case, which started Tuesday at the Menominee County Courthouse with preliminary jury selection.

Menominee County prosecuting attorney Jeffrey Rogg said he recused himself from the case, as did the two judges who typically hear circuit court cases in Menominee. “I disqualified myself. The two judges here in our circuit disqualified themselves because they employ Menominee attorney Randall Philipps as part of the public defenders contract,” Rogg said Wednesday. “I disqualified myself because I work with Mr. Philipps literally every day of the week. It wouldn’t pass the smell test.”

Assistant State Attorney Robert Hayes is the prosecuting attorney, and attorney Trenton Stupak is defending Ryan Philipps, the son of Randall Philipps.

According to a court document provided by Rogg, Philipps is charged with four felony counts, including assault with intent to murder, punishable with a maximum life sentence, assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder or by strangulation, punishable with a maximum of 10 years in prison or $5,000, assault with a dangerous weapon, punishable with a maximum sentence of four years in prison and a fine of $2,000, and reckless driving causing serious impairment of a body function, punishable with a maximum sentence of four years and $2,000.

A story posted online Sept. 1 referenced accusations based on opening statements in the case and earlier news reports.

In opening statements, jurors were told they’ll be deciding whether Philipps actually intended to kill his long-time friend. They also heard from the first two witnesses, including Barley and an accident reconstruction witness, Stupak said. Several more witnesses were expected to testify Thursday as the case continues. Philipps is expected to testify, along with Alexandra King, his girlfriend at the time, who was riding in the vehicle and witnessed the incident, Stupak said.

Hayes told the jury Sept. 1 they would be presented with evidence explaining how the incident occurred, including text messages between the two young men, law enforcement body cameras, and testimony from Barley himself on his injuries “and all the things he had to go through,” to recover.

A car can be a dangerous weapon, Hayes said. Philipps drove the vehicle, described in the accident report as a red Honda Pilot SUV, “in a willful manner,” he said. “There can be no question that running over a person is a willful and wanton act of disregard for a person,” he said.

“Ryan was there….He committed a battery. He ran him over with a vehicle and intended to do so,” Hayes said. However, Philipps has not been charged with a count of battery.

Stupak will encourage jurors to “find the truth” and, after hearing both sides, to consider that “an action in the heat of the moment, even when there are serious injuries, is not a crime.”

Jury selection began Aug. 31 at the Menominee County Courthouse in the case, which is expected to stretch over several days. A jury of eight men and six women were seated Wednesday morning.

According to media reports from the August 2019 incident, witnesses at the time told Menominee County sheriff’s deputies Philipps drove onto the front lawn at the County Road 577 home where Barley resided about 4:15 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. The sports-utility vehicle Philipps was driving appeared to intentionally strike and run over Barley after the two had argued over $140, according to the 2019 media reports. Both men were age 23 at the time.

But Stupak said the early accounts don’t consider the events leading up to the incident. The two men intended to go into business together growing marijuana, Stupak said. “Ryan was going to grow marijuana plants and Devon Barley was going to put money toward the operation, and they were going to make money together,” he told jurors.

“Ryan Philipps wasn’t a very good grower of marijuana,” Stupak said, and Barley felt slighted because he didn’t see a return on the money he gave Philipps.

Contrary to the assumption Philipps acted in anger, Stupak painted a portrait for the jury of an angry Barley who wanted his money back. He suggested Philipps acted out of panic, while Barley’s “frustration, upset, anger reached a boiling point” on Aug. 2, 2019. That afternoon, Barley had been drinking alcohol with friends for several hours, Stupak said. “Devon Barley’s going to tell you he had beer in his car,” Stupak said, when he started texting and calling Philipps, demanding repayment. He sent a total of 10 text messages and four telephone calls, Stupak said.

Philipps didn’t respond to the angry texts for a period of time, but he agreed to bring the money to Barley at Barley’s house at 4 p.m. that day. He and his girlfriend arrived about 3:50 p.m. but Barley wasn’t there yet, Stupak said.

“If someone is going to injure, kill him, why would you go to his house where there could be family members and surveillance?” Stupak asked the jurors to consider. “It doesn’t make any sense that they would go there if they intended to kill.”

When Barley arrived, “he got out of his car, not Ryan Philipps,” Stupak said. “Witnesses will testify Barley appeared angry, maniacal. He banged his chest like Tarzan,” he said. “He puts his hands on Ryan Philipps’ neck,” then snatched the cash out of Philipps’ hands. Seeing Philipps’ girlfriend seated next to him, Stupak said Barley said to Philipps, “‘Oh, you brought your girlfriend, too. Now she’s going to get it.’”

That’s when Philipps made a split-second decision to get out of there, Stupak said. He drove to the left, but Barley was at the front of the car, he said. “He slams his body onto the hood of the car. Now he’s on the hood of the car.”

As Philipps’ drove away from the scene, Devon Barley “fell off of the hood and was run over by the car. It was a terrible ending to a confrontation started by Ryan Barley.”

According to 2019 media reports, after the vehicle struck Barley, Philipps fled the scene on foot and was hiding for two days. Immediately after the incident, Barley was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Green Bay and admitted to intensive care. His injuries included a broken femur, bruised lung, broken ribs, ankle and shoulder injuries, and multiple traumatic wounds. He required several surgeries.

Deputies searched for Philipps and the SUV using a drone. Philipps surrendered at 6:52 p.m. Aug. 4, 2019 and was arrested and charged with assault with intent to murder and attempted murder, according to media reports.

Stupak told jurors they would be presented with accident reconstructions and after-the-fact testimony from people who didn’t witness the incident and weren’t aware of the facts leading up to it. “What they did not see is just as important as what they did see,” he said. “But when you don’t know how it started, you can’t know what caused it.”

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Man sent to prison for fatal overdose
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MARINETTE—An Oconto man will serve time in prison for two drug deliveries, including one that caused a fatal overdose.

Brian Blasing, 31, was sentenced Monday in Marinette County Circuit Court Branch 2 to 19 years in prison, followed by 12 years extended supervision. He received 17 years, followed by 10 years extended supervision for first degree reckless homicide—deliver drugs. He also received two years in prison followed by two years extended supervision for manufacture/deliver cocaine.

A jury convicted Blasing for delivering fentanyl, which caused the death of Terry Westphal in February 2019 in the Town of Pound, according to a press release from Marinette County District Attorney DeShea Morrow. The cocaine delivery crime took place in January 2019 in the Town of Peshtigo.

At sentencing, Morrow stated that Blasing had reckless disregard for life because he continued to deliver drugs even though he knew that the drugs could be potent enough to kill. Blasing continued to reach out to the source of the drugs that killed Westphal even after Blasing knew of Westphal’s death, Morrow told the court.

Circuit Judge James Morrison said he wanted to send a message that there will be a significant penalty for someone who delivers drugs that cause another person’s death.

Blasing’s co-defendant, Chasity Denny, 31, Taycheedah Correctional Institution, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, entered pleas to delivery of schedule II narcotics and delivery of cocaine, both as a party to a crime, in these cases. She was sentenced by Morrison to a total of six years in prison, followed by 10 years extended supervision.

Morrow and Assistant Attorney General Peter Hahn handled the prosecution of these cases.

Morrow and her office thanked the Wisconsin Department of Justice Criminal Litigation Unit and the Division of Criminal Investigation for their assistance with these cases, along with the Marinette County Sheriff’s Office, the Marinette Police Department, the Oconto County Sheriff’s Office and the Green Bay Police Department.

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Menominee County budget slated to rise 2.9%
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EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—The Menominee County finance committee examined the county’s proposed $8.86 million 2021-22 budget Wednesday and discussed ways to trim costs or generate new revenue.

The proposed budget represents an increase of about 2.9% or $253,698 from the current 2020-21 budget, according to documents County Administrator Jason Carviou provided to the EagleHerald Thursday.

Committee members said imposing a $5 use fee in county parks could generate new revenue. If county commissioners decide to approve a park use-fee, the county likely would discontinue gate fees and boat landing fees at Shakey Lakes Park and boat landing fees at Stoney Point and Mason parks, Carviou said.

The county commissioners are scheduled to vote on the 2021-22 budget at the end of September. A public hearing on the budget is slated for Sept. 14. That meeting will likely start at 4:45 p.m. to accommodate public comments.

While COVID-19 took a toll on some area businesses, the county’s budget wasn’t unduly affected, Carviou said.

Aside from an estimated $12,000 decline in convention and tourism tax revenues, he said, “Otherwise no, overall COVID didn’t really affect our budgeting forecast this year.”

The county received some federal dollars from the CARES Act, which offset a loss in shared state revenue, Carviou said. “The state of Michigan did not pay us the last (shared revenue) payment for last year,” he said, but he expects the shared state revenue to be fully reinstated in the new budget year.

Among the increased costs the county faces are retirement payments through the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (MERS) of Michigan. The county expects to pay $1.02 million for MERS defined benefit pensions in the new budget year, an increase of $198,781 from the current budget year. It expects to contribute $144,590 to MERS defined contribution retirement savings plans, an increase of $30,416 from a year ago. It also expects to make an additional MERS payment of $68,184.

While property values have increased in much of Menominee County, the county’s revenue from property taxes is constrained by the Headlee Amendment, which requires rollbacks in the millage rate when annual property growth exceeds the inflation rate, according to the Michigan Municipal League. As a result, the county’s annual increase in property tax revenue is limited to the rate of inflation.

The current millage rollback rate is 7.0097, Carviou said. It represents a rollback of 0.4903 mils from the 7.5 millage rate that’s been in effect since 1980, according to previous committee minutes. Without the rollbacks, the county could have collected about $412,000 more in annual revenue, Carviou said.

“Compounding over the years, that’s the total effect of the Headlee Amendment, from the time we passed our original millage,” he said.

“Our millage rate is set and we have to work our budget based on how much money we’re collecting,” Carviou said.

Carviou outlined ways the county is holding the line on costs. It recently hired a custodian at 29 hours per week to save money on benefits. “We do that all the time,” he said, because benefits are expensive.

“If we made it a full-time position, we’d have to provide benefits,” he said, estimating savings of $30,000 to $40,000 annually. The benefits can be as much or more as wages for certain positions. “A family plan for insurance is roughly $27,000 a year, and wages were $29,000,” he said.

The county also will save about $22,000 to $25,000 by eliminating a part-time position in the treasurer’s office.

It’s proposing to cut child care expenditures by at least $130,459 compared with the current budget, according to the spreadsheet Carviou provided.

The county has a new $100,000 capital outlay building fund for 2021-22.

This year the county transferred about $56,707 from the general fund to balance the budget due to capital expenditures that “go above and beyond the amount of revenue on a yearly basis,” Carviou said.

The county needed funds to replace the air conditioning and filtration center at the courthouse and to repair its roof. It also purchased a trailer for heavy equipment, which will be shared by buildings and grounds, parks and the airport.

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MJB Signs completes utility box project
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EagleHerald Staff Writer

MARINETTE—Katie Kostelecky strode into the break room at Michael J. Biehl Signs and put a model on the table. It was a three-dimensional rectangle made from folded paper and printed with the image of a red-eyed tree frog.

“This little guy’s my favorite,” Kostelecky said, “You can see we had to arrange the image so that it looks good on the box.”

The model is a miniature representing one of five utility boxes in the City of Marinette that Michael J. Biehl (MJB) Signs, a sign and banner service, covered with images from local photographers. Kostelecky and Lisa Perket, who both work in graphic art design, sales and installs at MJB Signs, finished installing the wraps Wednesday.

Former Marketing and Tourism Director Melissa Ebsch conceived of the utility box project and organized a Facebook competition to collect images from local photographers. Mayor Steve Genisot, Mayor’s Assistant and Community Development Specialist Jan Kust, Council President and Alderperson At-Large Dorothy Kowalski and Ebsch made up the jury that selected the photographs for the project.

The boxes are located at the intersections of U.S. 41 and Main Street, Hattie Court and Riverside Avenue, Main Street and Wells Street, U.S. 41 and State Street and Stephenson Street and Hall Avenue. They are now covered in a variety of images—a lighthouse and ship by former EagleHerald photographer Rick Gebhard, a monarch butterfly by Anne Bartles, wildflowers by Susan Williams and purple and yellow flowers by Mary Hayes. The tree frog was the only image not by a local photographer. It is a recomposition that combines a photograph with an original graphic background that Kostelecky designed.

Kostelecky said the electrical boxes are like an art installation and “very different” from projects she has worked on previously.

“There was a huge learning curve, we had to do a ton of design planning,” she said. “We had to take a lot of measurements to figure out how we were going to cover grates and handles and make the wraps a smooth, continuous image.”

To the left down the hall from the MJB break room, past an MJB poster covered with scribbled sharpie text, around the corner and out the door into a warehouse filled with construction equipment and up a flight of steel stairs is the studio where Kostelecky and Perket have been working on the project. To the right of the entrance are some desks with split-screened monitors. In the center of the room and in the back right corner are a couple of large, white work tables covered in rolls of material and latex gloves and translucent cutting mats. Two enormous printers are pushed up against the walls.

Kostelecky and Perket used one of these enormous printers to print pieces of the photographs with latex ink on large sheets of vinyl adhesive wrap. They covered the images with high-performance cast, or flexible, laminate to protect them from weather and ultraviolet light, then used X-Acto knives to cut away excess material.

There was an accumulation of curled scraps and mishaps collected like a pile of wood shavings in the back of the room. Kostelecky kneeled down and took up a piece of Williams’ photograph.

“The material stretches and shrinks to accommodate changes in weather, which is obviously important here,” she said, pulling the piece so that it thinned like taffy. “We wouldn’t want to install this and then have the image get ruined once it starts to get cold.”

The Department of Public Works pre-prepped the boxes by sanding down cracked paint and making their surfaces smooth. Kostelecky and Perket spent another 30 minutes to an hour cleaning each of the boxes further, first with Windex then with isopropyl alcohol, to remove dust and other matter that could prevent proper adhesion of the images.

During installation, they first taped the photograph segments onto each face of the box to ensure that they aligned with each other to create a continuous image. Then they peeled off the backing to expose the adhesive material and smoothed the images onto the box’s surface. Perket said that they normally use a heat gun to make the vinyl more pliable, but the summer heat was sufficient to melt the material to the surface of the boxes.

Kostelecky and Perket drove their van out to the red-eyed tree frog utility box on Main Street and Wells Street Wednesday morning to finish applying vinyl to the box’s handle. It was the last detail to finish before the utility box project was complete. They rolled out scraps of bright green vinyl, took pieces and held them against the box to see if the colors and the stripes aligned.

“This one was I would say the most difficult because we had to line up all of the striping,” Perket said. She was on her knees in front of the box, making incisions in a piece of vinyl with an X-Acto blade and pressing it around the handle.

Kostelecky said it was challenging to figure out how the images would be arranged on the boxes. “The pictures didn’t really fit the dimensions of the boxes. It was hard to figure out how the flat computer image was going to scale and how it was going to wrap around the entire box.”

“The proofing of the artwork was a long part of getting this project done,” Perket added.

“A little fun fact not related to anything we’re talking about right now,” Kostelecky said. “We were over by the Walgreens box, we didn’t have the top piece completely on, we just started putting it on—”

Perket lit up—“Oh yeah, I could see there was a little bump under the vinyl and I’m like, ‘what is that?’”

Kostelecky picked up an X-Acto blade. “This was wrapped underneath, and you could see it! So we had to take the whole piece off.”

“We’re constantly going through blades,” Perket said.

“Can you think of anything else weird that happened?” Kostelecky asked Perket.

Perket said there were ants on the monarch butterfly box on Stephenson Street and Hall Avenue.

“It was like battling ants,” she said. “We just kind of creep along one inch at a time as we’re putting the vinyl down while the ants are working their way back up the box. So it’s like, ‘okay, clear the bugs and keep going.’”

Kostelecky said that MJB Signs has gotten other inquiries from businesses and individuals interested in the wraps.

“I hope we can have more projects like this in the future,” Kostelecky said. “It’s good to spread the love.”