A year in review: The top Terre Haute crime stories of 2016

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TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) – From tragic homicide investigations, unsolved arsons and a local school corporation under fire; all were among the city of Terre Haute’s major crime stories in 2016.

News 10 is taking a look back at what headlines had you at home talking.


You might remember the first homicide of 2016. In June, police searched for the killer of Thomas Fuller III. He was murdered inside his apartment on 23rd Street in Terre Haute.

The Terre Haute Police Department’s Special Response Team was called to a house near the intersection of 15th Street and Barbour Avenue on a Saturday afternoon. After several hours, Buddy Ellinger, Jr. was taken into custody.

Ellinger, Jr. is facing charges including murder, aggravated battery, unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon and habitual offender. He is currently awaiting trial in the case.

In August, Fuller’s mother – Penny Burris – read a letter Fuller’s daughter wrote to him. “He will never see me walk down the aisle or see his grand-kids, or won’t see me graduate,” Benny read. “I want Buddy to go to prison and never get out. So no little girl doesn’t have to wake up without her dad. It hurts not to have my dad there, to watch me grow up or my little brother,” she said.

In October, the murder of well-known radio personality Matt Luecking shook the airwaves. He was known as a champion of many Wabash Valley causes. Police found Luecking dead, as a result of multiple blunt force trauma to the head, inside his Village Quarter Apartment.

Detectives believe Luecking was targeted. Don Featherstone was arrested for the murder and the case continues to play out in court. “It was just absolute gut-wrenching. Your heart hit the floor,” said Eric Michaels, Program Director at B92.7

“If you miss someone you tell them, because you never know when you will get another chance,” added Jules, Midday Host at HI-99.

A wanted man is still on the loose in 2017. In August, a judge ordered the release of Isiah Benford. The court had no choice due to the delay in his trial. Benford stands accused of knowingly spreading HIV for more than a decade. He is set to face a jury of his peers in February, but officials say Benford could be out of town or even out of state.

“We’re kind of limited resource wise other than to check around, but some of these cities they are giving us are large areas, so that makes it kind of difficult,” said Chief Deputy John Moats, with the Vigo County Sheriff’s Office.

The city also battled its fair share of arsons in 2016. With the most devastating blaze destroying the Light House Mission. Everyone escaped unharmed. However, the fire shut down the Wabash Avenue shelter. 48 residents were displaced and investigators continue to search for the person responsible.

“It’s pretty scary to think that someone could do something like that. I’m just glad nobody got hurt,” said Reverend Timothy Fagg, CEO of Light House Mission.

The transition to the Conner’s Center is still underway.

Perhaps the most shocking moments came during an unexpected FBI raid on the Vigo County School Corporation. Frank Shahadey and Franklin Fennell have been arrested. Both are accused of entering into a kick-back scheme for profit. “This is just shocking it really is,” said a member of the School Board over the summer. Shahadey and Fennell await trial.

These are just some of the many crime stories that made headlines in 2016.