LaPORTE CITY — A search for an autistic teen who disappeared in LaPorte City continued Sunday through driving snowfall.
Barring any overnight developments, the search for 16-year-old Jake Wilson was slated to resume at 8 a.m. today. Those wishing to volunteer can report to the city’s fire department at that time, said Police Chief Chris Brecher.
Wilson was last seen around 8:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday when he left his home to go to Wolf Creek, about two blocks away. When he didn’t return, family members searched and called authorities who scoured the creek banks and surrounding area to no avail.
“It’s like he just vanished,” said his mother, Megan Neiswonger. “We searched everywhere.”
Authorities are asking farmers within a five mile radius of town to check their outbuildings and vehicles, any place that a someone could hide.
“He is young, and kids can really curl up and get really small,” said Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson.
Jake is about 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs about 135 pounds with hazel eyes and dirty blonde hair, his mother said. He was wearing a dark brown zip-up jacket, dark sweatpants and cowboy boots.
He has autism with a mild intellectual disorder, Neiswonger said. He thinks like a 9-year-old and will go up to anybody and go with anybody, she said.
Jake apparently left without his glasses, which his mother found at the home overnight. She said he is able to get around without his glasses, but worried about his ability to navigate in the dark without them.
She said he went to Tootsie’s, the town ice cream shop, Saturday evening, and when he returned, he asked if he could go to the creek — about two blocks away — saying he would come right back.
“He just asked if he could go down to the creek, and my husband told him the directions. It’s a pretty straight shot, he’s taken it before, just never alone and hasn’t been there since summer time,” Neiswonger said. She said she was asleep at the time.
When he didn’t return about half an hour later, family members began looking for him, she said.
She said her husband took a kayak out on the creek in the dark but was unable to locate him.
LaPorte City police officers and firefighters walked the creek on both sides in both directions as temperatures dipped around 20 degrees, and officers from neighboring communities assisted. Waterloo police brought a K-9 and handler to help.
At 9 a.m. Sunday, more than 200 volunteers from neighboring communities filled the fire station and formed groups of 15 to check fields and neighborhoods surrounding the creek. By 10 a.m. emergency officials signaled they had more than enough volunteers.
“The help we are getting from the community, the outpouring, is very humbling, and it makes me proud of the town,” Brecher said.
The search included firefighters, officers and deputies from numerous departments. Crews with Task Force 1, a Cedar Rapids search-and-rescue outfit, helped coordinate. The Iowa State Patrol had an airplane using infrared, and two drones also were involved. Searchers on kayaks were on the creek.
Weather was a major factor in Sunday’s search.
“Any time we start contemplating weather and environmental conditions, those come into play and it makes us nervous because he’s autistic, he doesn’t process information the same way that you or I would, and so the concern enhances considerably because it’s cold, it’ windy,” Thompson said.
The snow began to fall shortly before 1 p.m., adding a sense of urgency while blanketing the terrain, slashing visibility and grounding aircraft and drones.
Brecher said trained searchers were planning to operate through the night.
Neiswonger said Jake usually went to a small dam, which is at the end of Bishop Avenue. One bank abuts residential backyards; the other bank is up against a farm field.
Neighbor Tim Flodeen has lived next to creek for going on three decades. He said during warm months the steam is a draw for children, especially the dam and a rope swing on the far side just downstream.
He said he didn’t hear anything overnight Saturday and checked his shed in the morning after hearing of the disappearance. The padlock was still secure, he said. He also checked his security home’s camera and found nothing more than footage of police bring a tracking dog across his lawn.
“I hope they find the boy,” Flodeen said.
The neighborhood side banks are mowed. There are a few tangles of branches and tree trunks in the channel, and officials said the stream is fairly shallow. Downstream near the Main Street bride, the banks get overgrown. On the other side of Highway 218, the terrain gets thicker.
Anyone with information on Jake Wilson’s whereabouts is asked to call Black Hawk County Dispatch at (319) 291-2515 or local authorities.
WATERLOO — Developer Brent Dahlstrom is doubling down in downtown Waterloo, and he thinks he has a sure thing because of everything going on around him.
Dahlstrom is near completion of his second building in Grand Crossing, a residential-commercial complex being built on the former Grand Hotel site just north of U.S. Highway 218 and east of the Cedar Valley TechWorks. Longtime residents will recall the site as the location of Clayton House hotel, later known as the Twin Torch Inn.
The first building is fully occupied, and Dahlstrom anticipates the second will be finished this spring. It will have upper-level apartments, ground-floor commercial space and drive-under parking. The first commercial tenant in the new building, a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, will be open in a few weeks. He’s also anticipating a Sidecar Coffee outlet locating there.
All, told, it’s about a $20 million project. Dahlstrom’s confidence in the project’s success is buoyed by all the development he’s seen around it since it started several years ago, including the growth of Cedar Valley TechWorks and the addition of a Courtyard by Marriott hotel on that campus; Hawkeye Community College’s new urban campus building going up across West Mullan; the earlier investment in the Cedar Valley SportsPlex, still less than 10 years old; and the reconstruction of U.S. Highway 63.
“This one will be opening in April ...” Dahlstrom said of the second building as construction workers labored on the Jimmy John’s space around him. The second building has apartments of about 900 square feet. In the first building, units range from 800 to 1,300 square feet. “We have over 100 units from 800 to 1,300 square.”
Thirty-six residential units are in the new building. He has a waiting list.
“We’ll be full in this building by June,” Dahlstrom said, with current and prospective tenants including “teachers, nurses, a lot of people who work at Allen (Hospital) and Deere,” Dahlstrom said. “We even get UNI students because of a lack of options in Cedar Falls for new (housing).”
“The other (building) has a lot of common area spaces, so we have shared uses between the two buildings,” including a gym and area for receptions and special events. “We still have about 4,000 square feet (of commercial space) to lease out,” he said. “We’re talking to people,” but no additional commitments have been signed yet.
The other activity in the area has been great for the project, Dahlstrom said. “When we started, TechWorks (Courtyard) was an idea; they hadn’t even started. Hawkeye wasn’t even known at the time. SportsPlex had started ramping up. I think when you total it all together there’s been over $100 million of investment in three years. That’s substantial in one block.” And that does not include the reconstruction of U.S. Highway 63 underway.
“We have a couple more projects coming and it’s been great to work with a city that’s so supportive of growth,” Dahlstrom said.
DES MOINES — Iowans who work closest to those with mental health care needs are singing the praises of newly signed legislation that significantly overhauls the state’s mental health care delivery system.
The package of programs recently received unanimous approval from state lawmakers and was signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds.
The sweeping legislation makes myriad additions and changes to the state’s mental health care delivery system, and mental health experts and officials are pleased with the contents.
“This is a real accomplishment for the state of Iowa,” said Peggy Huppert, executive director of the Iowa chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI.
One of the most significant elements of the legislation, officials said, is the requirement for the addition of critical access centers, which will provide a place for individuals experiencing an immediate mental health crisis.
Those centers will provide assessments and assistance for these individuals rather than them winding up in the emergency room or jail.
“We know we need to be able to have a place where we can streamline the introduction of those folks into the mental health delivery system,” said Tony Thompson, the sheriff of Black Hawk County and a member of the state task force that researched the subject and made recommendations to lawmakers.
Thompson said the critical access centers will provide great relief to law enforcement, which often is a first responder in mental health care crises. The centers will provide a better option for those who need treatment immediately when a psychiatric bed is not available.
“In the absence of a robust delivery system, the de facto or default system that will support, or is mandated to support is the criminal justice system,” Thompson said. “I’m the largest mental health provider in Black Hawk County with a 270-bed jail, and that is wrong, morally, ethically and otherwise. It is just wrong.”
Huppert said the centers also will help alleviate a perceived shortage of psychiatric beds across the state. She said the goal is to have six critical access centers so one is within 90 miles of every Iowa resident.
“There’s this idea that the solution is always a bed. ‘We need beds.’ Well, it isn’t always a solution,” Huppert said. “There’s all this emphasis on beds, not enough beds. I’m not sure that we don’t have enough beds. I am sure that we don’t have enough of the right kinds of beds.”
However, the legislation does also remove a 75-bed cap on health care facilities that treat individuals with needs higher than, for example, a nursing home would house.
The legislation also requires a statewide crisis hotline — currently each of the state’s 14 mental health care regions has its own hotline — and other crisis-level services in reach region.
Another provision expands the use of assertive community treatment teams, which are groups of professionals that provide comprehensive and local treatment to individuals with serious and persistent mental illness.
The practice is evidence-based, officials said, and allows people with serious mental illness to remain in their communities while continuing to receive care.
“That’s been lacking in Iowa for so long. We’ve been so dependent on facilities and places, and not focusing on resources, people being able to be at home, get back to work and be productive,” said Bob Lincoln, CEO of a 22-county mental health care delivery region in eastern and northern Iowa.
Lincoln said assertive community treatment teams have been described as hospitals without walls.
“That’s pretty cool. When people need assistance, they’re not put in a car and taken across the state,” he said. “Hopefully that will reduce the demand on psych beds.”
Huppert said the treatment teams also will help make sure individuals with mental illness are meeting their most basic needs.
“It’s making sure all the needs of the person are being met so they can successfully stay in the community,” Huppert said.
Another requirement establishes intensive residential services for people with severe and persistent mental illness, and makes those services available 24 hours a day.
Huppert said these services will help individuals who do not need to be hospitalized but do require ongoing care. She said such options really don’t exist now in Iowa. She said some such people wind up in nursing home or rehabilitation facilities, but that those places are not good fits for those people and sometimes are not equipped to meet those individuals’ needs.
“A higher level of care needs to be in place for that to work,” Huppert said.
One key issue that remains unresolved is the issue of financing. No new state funding was dedicated to mental health care services in the legislation. The 14 delivery regions are expected to pick up the tab.
That should be fine for now, officials said, but in a few years those regions may start running short on cash as these new services are implemented.
The legislation did establish a task force to research possible ways to establish long-term funding streams for the regions. Currently, most mental health care services are funded through local property taxes.
“The biggest part with all these services is they have to be sustainable. They have to be reimbursed at a level that allows fidelity and quality, and incentivizes providers to do it,” Lincoln said. “So if you have good services but you don’t pay for them, they’ll soon go away.”
Mental health care officials said they are pleased the legislation approaches the state’s delivery system from beginning to end, rather than focusing on specific needs. The legislation includes provisions that address individuals in immediate crisis as well as those with long-term needs; it addresses issues facing individuals, mental health care providers, law enforcement, and the courts.
“This is a complete reformation of the mental health system,” Thompson said. “We’re talking about an entire continuum of care that, I don’t want to say it doesn’t exist, it does exist, but not to the robust nature of what this actually asks for. ...
“We are knowingly and purposefully addressing holes in the system, holes in the delivery. That makes our system much more robust, much more responsive and much more capable than we currently are.”
Huppert said that may be in part a result of the task force that worked to make the recommendations. The group included mental health care professionals and providers, law enforcement officials, and state corrections officials.
“We had 22 people from across the state, all of whom had kind of different connections to the mental health system and different ideas of what was important and what was missing. And we had some pretty heated, passionate discussions,” Huppert said.
Huppert said the task force debated whether to narrow its recommendations in order to present something that would have better odds of gaining approval by lawmakers in the Iowa Legislature. Ultimately, the group decided the expansive, holistic approach was best.
The proposal passed the Iowa Senate, 49-0, and the Iowa House, 98-0. With dozens gathered in the Iowa Capitol Rotunda to watch, it was signed into law by Reynolds on March 29.
Huppert credited the task force’s work and a societal shift in attitudes toward mental illness. She said more people are willing to talk openly about mental health issues, and the stigma associated with them is dissipating.
“It’s really quite extraordinary,” she said. “I’ve been around the statehouse a long time, and you just don’t see this.”