Piatt County’s first murder trial in more than a decade ended with a conviction and 55-year prison sentence for Gregory Houser, 57, of Mansfield. He was convicted in July of murdering his wife 27 years earlier in their rural Mansfield home.
The year also saw tragedy in the area in the form of fatal accidents, including the death of two youth bicyclists and a Monticello High School senior.
In Cisco, 20-year fire chief Ron Weishaar retired from that position but will still serve as a volunteer firefighter and member of the fire department’s board of trustees.
Jan. 18 – Icy roads contributed to an accident that seriously injured Jill Lansford of Bement on Jan. 11. The Ford Ranger she was driving left the road near Bement and rolled several times into a field.
Feb. 1 – State and Piatt County Sheriff’s police arrested six people after three traffic stops in January that resulted in more than 60 pounds of cannabis being confiscated. All six were from out of state.
March 1 – The murder trial of Gregory Houser was moved from April 3 to Piatt County’s July jury trial session.
One student received minor injuries when a Ford pickup rear-ended a school bus in the 1700 block of North Market Street on the north side of Monticello. The 17-year-old driver of the truck was issued a ticket for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident.
March 8 – Police were investigating a dispute at the Foster Inn in Monticello that led to a stabbing. Witnesses said David R. Gogitidze, 21, of Fishers, Indiana stabbed Jonibek Tulaganov, 24, of Indianapolis, Indiana three times. He recovered and Gogitidze was arrested.
May 10 – Jeremy Garrett, 36, of Bement was sentenced to nine years in prison after being convicted of bilking an Urbana woman out of $1,340 as part of a home repair scam.
June 7 – A judge denied a prosecution request for a special trial setting in September, which means the murder trial of Gregory Houser took place in July.
June 21 – Fourteen-year-old Logan McKibben of Bement died after the bicycle he was riding was hit by a train in Bement.
July 5 – Jury selection for the murder trial of Gregory Houser of Mansfield began on July 3.
July 12 – A Hammond man summoned as a possible juror in the murder trial spent a night in jail after failing to show up for jury duty. Judge Karle Koritz admonished the potential juror – one of about 80 called for possible jury duty – for failing to return to the courthouse after a lunch break, and also felt the man attempted to get himself disqualified through his answers when questioned for jury duty.
July 19 – Jurors deliberated about three hours before finding Gregory Houser, 57, guilty of first-degree murder against then-wife Sheryl Houser in their rural Mansfield home 27 years earlier. He was convicted of both first-degree murder and of committing a sexual assault in the commission of a murder, making him eligible for life in prison.
Aug. 2 — Piatt County prosecutors credit victim advocate Kelle Sebens with a key role in a murder case, which resulted in the conviction of Gregory Houser in July.
Fire destroyed a vacant home in the 4500 block of State Highway 48 in Weldon on July 28. Firefighters from Weldon, Cisco, DeLand, Farmer City and Maroa responded to the blaze. There were no injuries.
Aug. 9 — Fourteen-year-old Ashton Brandenburg was pronounced dead at the scene of a bicycle-car accident on Piatt County Road 500 North just south of Cerro Gordo. A car driven south by a 20-year-old woman struck the bicycle being ridden by Brandenburg at about 9 p.m. on Aug. 1.
Aug. 16 — One vehicle was stolen in Monticello and other car left in its place. The vehicle stolen from Monticello was found the next day in Indiana after being hit by a freight train. The suspect was not at the scene and was not found.
A caller ID spoofing scam saw residents receiving calls from the Kirby Medical Center number, even though the calls were not made from the Monticello hospital.
Authorities were investigating a pair of criminal acts that occurred during the summer at Bement schools. About $4,000 damage was caused by vandals who broke a window to gain entry and stole a refrigerator and microwave and emptied a fire extinguisher in a classroom. Police were also investigating the theft of a projector out of a classroom, with Superintendent Sheila Greenwood saying security cameras caught a contractor taking the piece of equipment from the school. It was later returned.
Sept. 6 — Whitney Summerlott, 24, of Decatur died after a two-vehicle crash near Atwood on Sept. 1.
Sept. 13 — Gregory Houser, 57, of Mansfield, was given a 55-year prison sentence for the murder of then-wife Sheryl Houser in October of 1990. He will required to serve at least 26 years of the sentence. At his sentencing hearing, ex-girlfriends of Houser testified to his controlling nature in their relationships. The sentence was later upheld on appeal/
Oct. 11 — The body of a Mansfield man reported missing by his family was found on land east of Country Road 2 north of Mansfield. Jeff Morfey, 55, had apparently died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to Piatt County police.
Nov. 22 — Kenton Gingerich, 23, of Tuscola, was arrested on suspicion of stealing a car in Atwood, an act that prompted a 30-minute soft lockdown at Atwood Grade School while police searched for him.
Nov. 29 — Chace Hammond, 19, of Champaign, pled guilty to ripping off a couple in a drug deal and having stolen guns in Mansfield. He was sentenced to four years in prison.
Dec. 6 — Monticello High School student Tori Lanter, 17, died in a one-car accident on Interstate 72 near Rising Road in Champaign.
Dec. 13 — A Bement mom who reported her daughter missing was arrested herself after police say she had contact with that same daughter three days into a 15-day search for the supposedly missing child. Amanda Huddleston Hall was charged with obstruction of justice and endangering the life/health of a child. Her daughter was found safe in Champaign.
Ron Weishaar was honored as the 20-year Cisco fire chief. He stepped down from that position at the end of the year, but will continue to serve on the department and on its board of trustees. Matt Wilhelm took over as chief on Jan. 1.