MASON CITY | One of the last times Bernard DeWitt called one of his best friends, he was excited to share that his granddaughter finally said “grandpa.”
“He just called me out of the blue,” John Robinson said, as he became emotional.
His granddaughter, Paislee Humburg, is about 18 months old. Paislee will not remember the grandfather who loved her so much, Bernard’s daughters said.
Bernie, 49, of Clear Lake, died at Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa Tuesday after his motorcycle crashed into the Winnebago River north of Mason City.
He was northbound on Highway 65 about 1:40 p.m. Tuesday when he left the road, traveled into the median and ended up in the river, just north of B-20.
The crash remains under investigation.
Samantha DeWitt, Paislee’s mom and Bernie’s daughter, said Bernie really loved his family. Her sister, Jessica DeWitt, said her dad was "just all-around a great guy."
"He’d give you the sweater off his back," Jessica said.
The daughters said they have so many funny memories of their father, who Jessica said "had jokes for days."
He liked to argue about whose football team was better. Bernie preferred the Carolina Panthers and the Texas Longhorns.
Bernie also helped make sets and paint them for the girls' dance class.
Robinson said Bernie liked to draw panthers and eagles when he was in school. Jessica called him an artist.
Bikers view eagles as a symbol for "free spirit."
“Bern was a free spirit,” Robinson said.
He also loved his dogs, Alfie and Abel. Abel was named after the character from “Sons of Anarchy,” a television show about a motorcycle gang.
Bernie was always riding bikes on his family farm, Robinson said. He got his first motorcycle when he was about 20 years old, around the time when he returned from military service.
A week or so before the accident, Robinson and Bernie went on a motorcycle ride.
“He was making fun of me,” Robinson said, laughing.
Robinson had recently undergone surgery, so the wind was hurting his face. He told Bernie the wind hurt and Bernie told him, “That’s one thing a biker should never say!”
“We had a great talk,” Robinson said. “We had a discussion on what he wanted us to do with him once he passed on.”
Robinson, Bernie and Mike Clayton have been friends since they were about 14 years old and attended Mason City High School. Bernie, who was born in Tye, Texas, graduated from MCHS in 1986.
Bernie enlisted in the Air Force after graduation and moved back to Mason City after being honorably discharged. He worked for IMT in Garner and later at Smithfield.
“He was so dedicated,” said his father, David DeWitt," a wonderful young man."
Bernie’s mother, Virginia, recently had surgery in Rochester, Minnesota. He took almost two weeks off work to shuttle his dad, David, from Mason City to Rochester each day.
Jessica said her father spent every day with his mom when she was in the hospital in Rochester. That’s just the kind of man he was, she said.
To Robinson and Clayton, losing Bernie is losing a brother and lifelong friend.
“We were brothers with different parents,” Robinson said. “We religiously rode bikes.
“Man, he loved to ride. That was his escape.”
After the accident, Robinson got a call from Clayton, who was riding with Bernie at the time of the crash.
“When Mike called me … I knew something was wrong,” Robinson said. “I knew what it was about. I just knew.”
The DeWitt family, including Bernie’s parents and daughters, are reaching out to a witness who rushed into the water to help.
Justin Hop of Newport, Minnesota, was in Mason City for work when he saw the accident.
Hop said he found DeWitt lying in the water, and he and another woman held DeWitt’s head above the current, Hop said, hoping help would come.
David said the family wants to thank Hop and everyone who helped at the scene.
Angie Malave, of Fort Lauderdale, was engaged to Bernie. She was going to fly to Iowa and surprise Bernie on Thursday, so they, with friends and family, could celebrate his 50th birthday Saturday, according to friends and family.
Instead, they all attended his funeral Saturday.
“I just didn’t expect to be 27 planning my daddy’s funeral,” Jessica said, as she cried.
Jessica and Samantha gathered photos Thursday in preparation for the service.
His wish was to be cremated. Jessica and Samantha are having pendants made with his ashes so they can always carry some of him.
“My biggest struggle is that he won’t get to watch us get married, he won’t get to walk us down the aisle, he won’t get so see Paislee grow up, he won’t get to meet any of my children,” Jessica said, emotional.
One day, when Paislee is older, Samantha and Jessica have a lot they want to tell her about Bernie.
“We’re going to tell her how great of a guy he was, how much he loved her, how proud he was of her, how smart he thinks she is,” Jessica said. “There’s just so much I can say about my dad.”
And Paislee's grandpa.
MASON CITY | At this week's city council meeting, City Administrator Brent Trout reviewed the city's current development agreement with Gatehouse Capital, who wants to build a new hotel downtown as part of the River City Renaissance Project.
One of the main financial aspects of that agreement is the city's commitment to $750,000 in pre-construction funding. That money would be used for work like a title and survey review, environmental studies, geotechnical work and other tasks, according to the agreement.
Trout confirmed at Tuesday's city council meeting that this money, along with the $150,000 the city gave Gatehouse in the pre-development agreement, is the total amount of financial risk the city is facing moving forward.
Mayor Eric Bookmeyer and council members, however, noted several aspects of the project would have to turn out negatively for the city to lose $900,000.
The $900,000 is still part of the same $4.2 million loan the city is projected to give to Gatehouse for the hotel, At-Large Councilman Paul Adams told the Globe Gazette Friday.
"The requirement is (Gatehouse founder/CEO David Rachie) has to have work done and invoices submitted to have that money given," Adams said.
The first $120,000 for pre-construction funding will be disbursed in $30,000 increments during the first four months, according to the agreement. Then, the city will disburse up to $630,000 to Gatehouse as it continues pre-construction work.
Councilman Travis Hickey said at Tuesday's meeting that he had concerns about whether Rachie and Gatehouse Capital had personally invested money into the hotel. Trout responded that any work would not have to be provided to the city, as that is not included in the agreement.
Hickey and Rachie could not be reached for comment by phone Friday.
John Lee, councilman for Mason City's First Ward, said in an email he doesn't share Hickey's concerns. He admitted there is some risk, but thinks Trout and city officials have done a good job negotiating with Gatehouse.
"The amount, although a lot of money, is a small portion of the overall project (River City Renaissance Project) and is still a part of the $4.2 million we are allocating to Gatehouse." he wrote. "If our money helps move the project along quicker, then I am happy to supply some money up front."
No matter how much money is ultimately dedicated to pre-construction funding, a lack of state money or a "no" vote on either of the project-related ballot items in the general election would essentially stop the project, council members said.
Trout visited the Iowa Economic Development Authority on Friday, and presented an update on the project. Board members commended Trout and his staff for his work, and seem poised to award Mason City between $7 million and $10 million in funding, given the ballot items pass.
Adams and Lee both said the public's vote on Nov. 7 is vital.
"We need a 'yes' on both items," Adams said. "It would be disappointing if it didn't pass ... We're just hopeful that people have the information and make an educated vote."
"I become very concerned about the future of Mason City without a yes vote by us," Lee wrote in an email. " A yes vote is more than accepting the project; it also shows potential businesses that Mason City is a progressive city, and a forward thinking city."
DES MOINES | Lori Peter shares her devastating experience with opioid addiction often, and all over Iowa.
Everywhere she goes, she brings her son.
Kelly John Peter is forever 24 years old and cannot tell his own tale of heroin addiction because two years ago that addiction claimed his life.
“This is my son,” Lori said, holding up the urn and fighting back tears while speaking this past week at a hearing on opioid addiction, hosted by state lawmakers at the Iowa Capitol, “because of the opioid epidemic.”
Kelly John Peter became addicted to heroin after first abusing opioid painkillers that he took from his parents’ medicine cabinet, Lori said.
The number of opioid deaths in Iowa is not as dire as other states. Iowa ranks near the bottom of the country in the rate of opioid deaths per capita, far below the worst-hit state, West Virginia, which experienced more than 800 opioid-related deaths in 2016, according to the state’s Health Statistics Center.
In Iowa, there were 180 opioid-related deaths in 2016, according to the state public health department. That number is more than triple the number of Iowa’s opioid-related deaths in 2005.
“We do have an epidemic in this state,” said David Heaton, a state lawmaker from Mount Pleasant. Heaton led the two-day hearing on opioid addiction and co-chairs the Iowa Legislature’s health care budget committee.
Heaton pledged that the committee will produce some form of legislation for the 2018 session, which starts in January. He said unlike previous attempts, he hopes lawmakers are successful in passing some measures that will help address opioid addiction in the state.
More than half of U.S. states require prescribers to consult the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program, or PMP; Iowa does not. The PMP can help prescribers catch individuals who attempt to obtain opioid painkillers from multiple sources.
At least 17 states have established limits on the length of opioid prescriptions, according to the Washington Post; Iowa has no limit. Limiting the length of opioid prescriptions can drive down the number of prescriptions.
There are needle exchange programs in 33 states; Iowa does not have a program. Advocates say needle sharing programs prevent the spread of infectious disease and create an avenue for people with addiction to seek treatment.
Forty states have a so-called Good Samaritan law, which provides immunity for an individual who contacts the authorities or emergency personnel to notify them of another individual who has overdosed; Iowa does not.
“I think we really fumbled the ball this last session,” said Chuck Isenhart, a state lawmaker from Dubuque who sat on the legislative panel during the two-day hearing. “I’m pretty confident there are people in Iowa who are dead because we fumbled the ball.”
Of the myriad lawmaking options discussed over the two days, the PMP was most prevalent.
According to state officials, less than half of Iowa prescribers are registered to use the state’s program. Just 4 percent of dentists use the program.
In additional to a general pushback against mandates, some prescribers have complained Iowa’s program is too cumbersome. The state is in the process of upgrading the system.
“We are operating with an Atari when there is a PlayStation 4 available,” said Andrew Funk, executive director of the state pharmacy board.
The many speakers who advocated for mandating use of the PMP say it can save lives by preventing individuals from accumulating high volumes of opioid painkillers.
“This is a tool that they can use for more information about the patient. So we would certainly support any way that makes it easy to register and easy to access the PMP,” said Mark Bowden, executive director of the Iowa Board of Medicine.
Lori Peter, who lost her son to opioid addiction, said she also worked in health care for 22 years doing prior authorizations for a Dubuque medical clinic. She implored lawmakers to make PMP use mandatory.
“If my physician finds checking PMP cumbersome and difficult, I sure as hell don’t want him as my doctor,” Peter said. “That’s very basic.”
Lee Leighter, with the state public safety department, praised the state’s PMP and also encouraged lawmakers to mandate its use.
Leighter also said law enforcement should be able to access the program. Twenty-nine states have no restrictions on law enforcement access to the state’s PMP, or allow for access during active investigations, according to Temple University’s Policy Surveillance Program.
Iowa is among 15 states with the most restrictive access: law enforcement must obtain a warrant to access the state’s PMP.
Opponents of expanding law enforcement access to PMPs cite privacy concerns.
“I think, practically, it would save some lives,” Leighter said. “The taxpayers of Iowa have been paying me for 24 years. If you can trust me with criminal histories, but not the PMP, then there is a problem.”
Legislators have in the past introduced a bill mandating PMP use, but it did not garner sufficient support.
Neither did a bill introduced last year by Isenhart that would create immunity for individuals who call authorities to report an overdose.
Multiple speakers at the hearing advocated for lawmakers to try again so Iowa can join the 40 states with Good Samaritan laws for opioid overdose reporters.
Among the testimonies also were some calling for caution. Some speakers warned against lawmakers over-correcting and causing unintended consequences with new laws.
“This is a big deal and I don’t want to minimize that,” said Dr. Bret Ripley of Des Moines University. “But I also want to remind you that the vast majority of doctors, your doctors, are people of good will who are trying to help you.”
A similar caveat was issued by Thomas Greene, a state senator from Burlington and a pharmacist.
“I’ve been a patient advocate for 45 years and I will continue to be,” said Greene, who was part of the legislative panel. “We have got to address abuse and misuse issues. ... But we cannot take a position that all opioid use is wrong. I mean there are people who need it, who have chronic pain issues.”
Heaton was adamant lawmakers will proceed carefully and thoughtfully, but that they will craft legislation that he said must pass.
“We will put a bill together and this time we will not be turned back,” Heaton said forcefully. “There’s so many things to look at, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to back off this time.”
Lori Peter said the cost of inaction is high. She implored lawmakers to act when they convene in January.
“Please, in the name of my son and all the other people that have died and are suffering, please make changes,” Peter said. “All it can do is save lives.”