Tragic deaths mark 2017 in the Kalamazoo area: from 5 teens to a Portage teacher

by CHRISTINE VANTIMMEREN | NEWSCHANNEL 3

As 2017 comes to a close, we look back at the stories that made headlines. Newschannel 3 covered everything from a dirty doctor, to the murder of a Portage teacher, to the tragic death of five Kalamazoo teens.

We begin in April, when physician Bradley Bastow was cited by the health department for performing liposuction out of a pole barn, and not properly disposing of hazardous materials, including human fat. Former intern Cherokee Mathis said, “One day the dog actually walked in there when somebody was getting lipo and she asked, ‘Is this dog supposed to be in here?’ That can cause major infection.”

Bastow was never formally charged but his medical license was revoked and the pole barn operations were shut down.

In May, 18-year-old Alyssa Elsman, from Portage, was killed when police said a drug-crazed Richard Rojas plowed through New York City’s Times Square. Newschannel 3’s Andy Dominianni reported live from New York City at the scene of the crash. Alyssa’s 13-year-old sister Ava was among 23 others who were injured. Rojas pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder. He is scheduled to go to trial in 2018.

Then in June, tragedy struck the heart of West Michigan. Comstock Fire Chief Ed Switalski was hit and killed while responding to a crash on I-94. Thousands came to pay their respects at Wings Event Center on June 21. The man responsible for his death, Brandon Clevenger, pleaded guilty to reckless driving in December.

Switalski’s daughter Emily Switalski spoke at the service. “I’m honored to say my dad is Ed Switalski,” she said. “I love you Dad, and please watch over us and keep us safe.”

In September, five Kalamazoo teens were killed in a fiery crash on East Main Street in Kalamazoo Township: 17-year-old Deztanee Cobb, 16-year-olds Elexus Hillsman and Cortavian Murphy, and 15-year-olds Jaquarius Hegler and Marshawn Williams died instantly. The community came together to remember the teens and grieve. Elexus’ mother Patrice said, “I’m sad. I’m hurt. My soul hurts. But at the end of the day the Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want.”

October saw the end of the months-long search for Portage teacher Theresa Lockhart. Her husband, Christopher Lockhart, committed suicide in their home and left Portage Police a map to Theresa’s body in rural Allegan County. Christopher Lockhart had been a person of interest in the case since his wife’s disappearance in May.

We spoke to Theresa’s friend Michelle Addington who said, “It was exactly what I was concerned about happening. It was my darkest and deepest fear that I kind of shoved in that corner and said worst-case scenario.”

Autopsy reports revealed Theresa was strangled. Months later, Christopher Lockhart hung himself in the couple’s basement.

Finally, Western Michigan University football fans had a little lighthearted fun playing in the water during Kalamazoo’s historic flooding. More than a million gallons of water had to be pumped from Western’s Waldo Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 14, postponing the game for a day.

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