Tom Kacich is a columnist and the author of Tom's Mailbag at The News-Gazette. His column appears Sundays. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@tkacich).

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Not a single Donald Trump question in this week's Mailbag.

But plenty on water quality, a tragic fatal accident, Rodney Davis' town hall and the history of the Custard Cup building. And, of course, Golden Corral.

bag Dog drink boneyard

Boneyard water

“I like to walk my dog in Urbana to the Boneyard Creek detention area. In the hot weather she’s taken to getting in the shallow area (by the Silvercreek patio) and will lay and lap water and sniff around. I figured that Boneyard water can’t be worse than what she finds to eat in the yard.

“After hearing horror stories in the national news about blue-green algae bacteria killing dogs, I got concerned. How safe is the Boneyard for a dog? I’ve seen a father (patron of Silvercreek) letting his young kids wade in the Boneyard.”

There aren’t any recent data on the water quality of the Boneyard but it’s a good idea to keep your dog from lapping up Boneyard water.

Rick Manner, executive director of the Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District, offered this advice.

“I can confirm that like all natural streams there are detectable amounts of coliform bacteria in the Boneyard,” he said. “I expect the levels are worse during and after storms where the stream is more murky and turbid. So personally, I would try to prevent my dog from partaking of the creek at those times. But I am also not a veterinarian, so I cannot declare if the levels that have been seen at other times are safe or not.”

So I asked my favorite veterinarian-turned-university president for his advice.

“No, it isn’t a good idea,” said Joe DiPietro, who before he was president of the University of Tennessee (2011-2018) was a professor of veterinary clinical medicine and veterinary pathobiology at the University of Illinois and a member of our old YMCA Indian Guides tribe.

“Blue-green algae generally grow in lakes, ponds and slow-moving streams when the water is warm and enriched with nutrients like phosphorus or nitrogen. Although dogs often drink from lakes and streams, as well as the Boneyard, with no ill effect, microscopic organisms in the water can make a dog quite sick. The majority of these organisms cause gastrointestinal disease or other issues, and normally are not life-threatening.

“Nevertheless, it is not a good idea for your dog to drink from the Boneyard. Additionally, they may be exposed to chemicals in the water that are not good for them either. A safer and healthier alternative it to purchase a portable waterer, there are many lightweight varieties available to take along with you on your walks filled with tap water. Lastly, if your dog isn’t acting normally after drinking from a non-potable water source, be sure to contact your veterinarian.”

Davis fact check1

Rodney Davis' speaks during his Open Government Night event in August 2019 at Parkland College's Harold and Jean Miner Theatre.

Rodney Davis town hall

“In the lobby of the (Parkland College) theater everyone was asked for a photo ID and a name was logged. We were then asked how we heard about the event (held Monday night by Congressman Rodney Davis and state Rep. Brad Halbrook). Who was asking and why did they need that information?”

Ashley Phelps, a spokeswoman for Rep. Davis, said that the open government night is organized for constituents in the 13th Congressional District.

“Our staff checked IDs to ensure we were prioritizing constituents. We advertise these events using local radio, social media, and email,” she said. “The question was to determine which method was most effective in spreading the word to constituents about the event.”

Phelps said she didn’t believe that anyone was prevented from attending.

“If they were from our shared areas, we took them at their word and let them in,” she said.


This frame grab from video by WEEK/WHOI shows emergency personnel entering the back of a school bus that collided with a semitrailer that was headed the wrong way on an interstate late Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2017, near Downs, Ill. The driver of the truck and an adult on the bus were killed authorities said Thursday. The bus was carrying members of an Illinois high school girls' basketball team. Several of the girls were injured in the head-on crash.

Fatal bus accident

“I was reminded by recent headlines of the tragic accident last winter that left a Normal basketball team volunteer dead when the bus was struck by a semi driving the wrong way. So sad. Were the State Police ever able to determine why the semi driver, who was also killed, was driving the wrong way? I haven’t been able to find that anywhere online.”

We filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Illinois State Police and received a four-page crash report and a 132-page traffic crash reconstruction report about the Dec. 5, 2018, accident on Interstate 74 in McLean County.

The crash involved a Kenworth semitrailer truck and a Normal Community West High School bus returning from Champaign. The driver of the truck, Ryan E. Hute, 34, of Delmar, Iowa, was killed as well as a passenger in the school bus, Charles Crabtree, 72, of Normal.

Exactly why Mr. Hute was driving the wrong way for the last 11 seconds of his life remains unexplained.

Under “Conclusions” the Illinois State Police reported the following:

— “The Kenworth was originally traveling east on Interstate 74 in the proper (eastbound) lanes. At or near milepost 137, the Kenworth veered out of the left lane and entered the grass median. The Kenworth continued traveling through the median and emerged onto the westbound lanes of traffic. The Kenworth continued driving east in the westbound lanes of traffic until it struck the front of the International School Bus.”

— “The driver of the school bus, Mr. Mark A. Kuhn, was wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. No other occupants of the school bus were secured with a seat belt. Mr. Kuhn sustained injuries resulting from the crash.”

— “Mr. Charles Crabtree was a passenger in the school bus. He was positioned on the left side of the school bus behind the driver. Mr. Crabtree sustained fatal injuries due to the crash and was pronounced deceased on scene.”

— The remaining nine passengers of the school bus (one adult, eight juveniles) had varying degrees of injuries.”

— “The school bus was equipped with four separate cameras which recorded the crash as well as events leading to the crash. The cameras were capable of audio recordings to accompany the respective camera location. Video recordings from the school bus indicate the school bus was in the right lane of traffic prior to impact as well as impact. The video indicated the school bus driver began to employ emergency braking and steering immediately before impact. The impact occurred while the school bus was in the right lane of traffic. Video from the school bus also showed the approaching Kenworth for approximately seven seconds prior to impact.”

— “The Kenworth was equipped with a Garmin GPS device. Multiple videos were downloaded from the damage device for analysis. The last file on the device was approximately 60 seconds in length. The particular video segment traveling east on Interstate 74 and the driver appeared to be awake, alert and in control of the vehicle. The video showed the driver make a lane change and use the appropriate turn signal to make the lane change. The driver could also be heard in the background singing along with the radio. As the Kenworth passed another vehicle on Interstate 74, the Kenworth veered into the grass median and began to ascend to the other side of the median. The video stopped recording at this moment. No other video from the Kenworth existed between the time it entered the median and struck the school bus.”

— “Based on GPS locations from the Garmin, the crash location, and an assumed constant speed of 70 miles an hour, the Kenworth traveled for approximately 11.35 seconds in the wrong lanes of Interstate 74 before impacting the school bus.”— “Toxicology reports for Mr. Hute were positive for caffeine. No other substances were detected in his biological samples.”

— “The primary cause of this crash was Driving the Wrong Way on the interstate by Mr. Ryan Hute. Mr. Hute was unable to maintain the Kenworth in the proper lane of traffic. The Kenworth departed the eastbound lanes of traffic and continued east in the westbound lanes of traffic ultimately impacting the school bus.”

Sangamon River concerns (continued)

Last week a Mailbag reader expressed environmental concerns about a property south of Mahomet and along the Sangamon River that is owned and operated by Miller Enterprises, a site work contractor.

We filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the state EPA and learned that a citizen had filed a compliant against Miller Enterprises about the site in October 2017.

It alleged that the company was releasing drilling fluid into the river. But an EPA staff member checked out the property and reported, “I did not see any discharge pipes in the north bank of the Sangamon River but there was a surface discharging private sewage treatment system in the south bank.”

That property is not owned by Miller Enterprises.

VeoRide scooters

JA UI VeoRide scooters

Ben Thomas, the local manager of VeoRide's fleet of dockless vehicles, poses for a photo with one of the company's electric scooters outside the News-Gazette Media offices in downtown Champaign.

“I was on the (University of Illinois) Quad just west of Foellinger shortly after 8 a.m. (this week) and saw a young man riding a VeoRide electric motorized scooter on the sidewalk. I can see how that would be an efficient way to get around on move-in day with all of the car congestion, but didn’t think these were allowed or even available yet. Can you clear this up? I know my eyes didn’t deceive me.”

In a response to a similar question last month, Bruce Knight — Champaign’s director of planning and development — said that VeoRide is allowing staff members to use the company-owned scooters in Champaign-Urbana. But VeoRide scooters are not available to the public.

The company does operate a dockless bike program in town.


“With DPI (Discovery Partners Institute), there was a NCSA/Siebel (National Center for Supercomputing Applications/Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science) expansion. What will this all include? When will it happen?”

I think your question means that with the proposed Discovery Partners Institute (led by the University of Illinois but including other universities in the state plus industry and government to help jumpstart technological development in the state) will there be on-campus growth also at the supercomputing center and the Siebel Center.

Well, UI-Urbana campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said it is “still very early in the process — too early to say exactly where and when, but the plan is to help support DPI by expanding the NCSA building to support both the NCSA and the Department of Computer Science.”

Parkway mowing

“What are the rules or requirements for city mowing? My yard backs up to Windsor (Road) and I have always been told it is my responsibility to mow to the road. I always thought I should mow to the sidewalk and the city should mow from the sidewalk to the street. I do it so I don’t get a fine, as do my neighbors. Yet the subdivision further down has an association, it seems where someone comes and mows the ‘common areas’ including this area for them. Any guidelines that you are aware of?”

Champaign’s municipal code, says acting code compliance manager Tim Spear, has a section that states that the vegetation on the parkway (the area between the sidewalk and the street) is required to be maintained by the adjacent property owner.

It’s in Sec. 35-18 under “Responsibility for maintenance of trees, shrubs, alternative vegetation and vegetation—Parkway.”

“Some subdivisions have homeowner’s associations that contract with a lawn care business to maintain the common areas,” Spear said. “Many times there is a common area that is adjacent to the major streets in the subdivision. In those cases, the homeowner’s association is responsible for maintaining the parkways. This may be what your reader has noticed in neighboring subdivisions.”

2017 sweetcorn1.jpg

The Urbana Sweetcorn Festival 

Illinois corn

“Why is Illinois corn only used for animal, not human food?”

Illinois corn is used for human food. You’ve heard of sweet corn, right?

Illinois farmers harvest sweet corn although, notes Jessy Yancey, the editor of Illinois Farm Bureau Partners magazine, it’s “just a fraction of the corn produced.”

According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, farmers harvested about 14,000 acres of sweet corn in 2018, compared to about 11 million acres of field corn.

Here’s a link to that data ...’s a link to a Partners story about the difference between sweet corn and field corn ...

The reason field corn is more popular? There’s a greater demand because it has so many uses, including ethanol.

Cowboy Monkey

“We have been waiting all summer for the re-opening of Cowboy Monkey! I think there was something in The News-Gazette several months ago stating that the bar was closed for remodeling but would reopen. We have been downtown every Friday Night Live and have checked out the place and it looks like nothing has been done.”

The downtown Champaign restaurant/bar is still in the midst of a remodel although it appears to be close to reopening. The papered-over windows are gone and a recent photo posted on Facebook revealed a much different interior without the old stage and a bare walls look that resembles the nearby Esquire Lounge. A manager wrote only that more information would be released soon.


“In last week’s Mailbag, there were references to a ‘DMV.’ Why does everyone use that term? Is everyone from another state? To my knowledge, Illinois has never had any such agency, all vehicle activity is handled by the ‘Secretary of State Drivers License Facility’ or ‘SOSDLF.’ Rolls right off the tongue.”

You make an interesting point that driver’s license stations and facilities often are not called DMVs.

Not in Illinois or in Missouri (where they are called offices and are operated by the Department of Revenue) or in Indiana (where they are called Bureau of Motor Vehicle branch locations operated by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles) or in Iowa (driver’s license stations operated by the Iowa Department of Transportation) or Kentucky (driver license issuance locations operated by the Kentucky Division of Driver Licensing within the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet).

Right there is a good reason for the shorthand of DMV.

Only Wisconsin among states contiguous to Illinois has actual DMVs. They are called DMV customer service centers operated by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Here’s my theory: Both California and New York have DMVs and that’s where late-night comedy shows originate where hosts and stand-up comics often use driver’s license stations as jokes and punch lines.

Manhole lids

“Why are manholes (with their iron tops) placed in the path of car wheels on surface streets? They could just as easily be placed a few inches over so that your tires do not run over them. For example, if you are traveling north on Mattis Avenue from Kirby, there are at least six manhole covers (before you get to John Street) that not only jolt the driver, cause damage to your tires and suspension, but is irritating as hell! If there is a logical reason for this irritation I would like to know it, otherwise, I would appreciate the engineers who design roadways to consider this in their future designs.”

“We certainly understand the reader’s irritation,” said Kris Koester, spokesman for the Champaign public works department. “Manhole/manhole lid locations are considered in the design of streets to avoid wheel path locations; however, there are instances where it is unavoidable. There are utility separation requirements that dictate how close sewers can be to other utilities such as water mains. Unfortunately, due to the variety of these circumstances, sometimes the wheel path is the only location available for the sewer.

“It could also be due to the intersection of several sewer lines coming together at a common point which may occur in a wheel path. Another instance may be due to changing the number of traffic lanes on a street, for example changing from four lanes to three lanes with bike lanes, or even four lanes to five lanes, with a center left-turn like was done on Mattis between John and Kirby years ago.

“Shifting the traffic lanes may result in existing manholes, previously located outside the wheel paths, being located within the wheel path of the new shifted lane. Public Works will review the six manhole covers on Mattis Avenue mentioned by the reader and determine if better fitting lids can be installed.”

Champaign's Custard Cup: The final scoop


Marty K’s

“What is the history and past use of the building that now houses the Custard Cup?”

The building at 311 W. Kirby Ave. was built and opened in 1965 as a Marty K Drive-in restaurant, operated by Martin Kamerer. He also operated a Marty K’s at Wright Street and University Avenue in Champaign. That first Marty K’s operated from 1947 to 1967.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: When the Kirby Avenue Marty K’s opened 55 years ago it wasn’t in Champaign. It was annexed into the city a year later.

The building on Kirby Avenue has been Custard Cup since 1983. Before that it was Old World Bakery.

Equipment storage

“There are a lot of what appear to be construction vehicles and equipment adjacent to the First Church of the Nazarene as viewed from Kirby Avenue just east of Scottsdale Avenue in Champaign. However, there does not appear to be any construction in progress at that location as the equipment has been there for quite some time. Isn’t that a residential area and not commercially zoned? If so, how is it that the premises can be used for storage of those vehicles and equipment?”

That’s a temporary storage area for equipment and materials for the contractors working to upgrade natural gas lines in south Champaign. That was the topic of a Mailbag question two weeks ago.

Another Urbana

There’s at least one other Urbana, in addition to those cited in last week’s Mailbag.

A reader notes the tiny one in Indiana: “More or less between the two real Urbanas,” he wrote.

Urbana, Ind., is an unincorporated community in Wabash County in north central Indiana, about 40 miles southwest of Fort Wayne.

Golden Corral

“Did Golden Corral change their mind about opening in Champaign?”

They’re not talking. But Golden Corral did ask the city of Champaign for an extension for the building permit it had for 1202 W. Anthony Drive, C. It had expired in July. The building permit is now good until Oct. 23.